Ceasefire in Gaza

– in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee 1:30, 21 February 2024

We now come to the Scottish National party motion on Gaza. I understand that the second motion on the Order Paper will not be moved today.

This is a highly sensitive subject, on which feelings are running high, in the House, in the nation and throughout the world. I think it is important on this occasion that the House is able to consider the widest possible range of options. I have therefore decided to select the amendments both in the name of the Prime Minister and in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Because the operation of Standing Order No. 31 would prevent another amendment from being moved after the Government have moved their amendment, I will, exceptionally, call the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson to move their amendment at the beginning of the debate, once the SNP spokesperson has moved their motion. At the end of the debate, the House will have an opportunity to take a decision on the official Opposition amendment. If that is agreed to, there will be a final Question on the main motion, as amended.

If the official Opposition amendment is not agreed to, I will call the Minister to move the Government amendment formally. That will engage the—[Interruption.] Order. I am going to finish. That will engage the provisions of Standing Order No. 31, so the next vote will be on the original words in the SNP motion. If that is not agreed to, the House will have the opportunity to vote on the Government amendment. Proceeding in this way will allow a vote to take place, potentially, on the proposals from each of the three main parties.

I can inform the House—[Interruption.] Just let me finish. I can inform the House that there is a precedent for an official Opposition spokesperson being called second in the debate and moving an amendment before—[Interruption.] Order. Does somebody want to leave? I am determined to finish. I can inform the House that there is a precedent for an official Opposition spokesperson being called second in the debate and moving an amendment, before a Minister has been called to speak in the debate. In that circumstance, however, no Government amendment had been tabled.

I should also inform the House that the Clerk of the House will be placing in the Library a letter to me about today’s proceedings. I have asked for that letter to be made available in the Vote Office as soon as possible.

Finally, I should tell the House that in my opinion the operation of Standing Order No. 31, which governs the way amendments to Opposition day motions are dealt with, reflects an outdated approach—[Interruption.] Order. Members will be going and not be voting—

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate what you have outlined, but I seek your advice, because obviously I have taken advice from the Clerks. This is the SNP’s Opposition day, and the purpose of an Opposition day is for our party to have the ability to put forward our business. We have already had a significant delay to the moving of this motion, which has significant interest, to the extent that we have dropped our second motion. Now, we appear to be doing things completely in a way that they have never been done before. May I ask for your advice: what is the point of an Opposition day if it is going to be done like this? [Applause.]

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 1:36, 21 February 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel;
notes with shock and distress that the death toll has now risen beyond 28,000, the vast majority of whom were women and children;
further notes that there are currently 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, 610,000 of whom are children;
also notes that they have nowhere else to go;
condemns any military assault on what is now the largest refugee camp in the world;
further calls for the immediate release of all hostages taken by Hamas and an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people;
and recognises that the only way to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians is to press for a ceasefire now.

Our motion calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, from all combatants. I wish to put on record, once again, our unequivocal condemnation of the Hamas attack of 7 October, and to repeat our call both for the immediate release of all the hostages and for seeing those involved in those atrocities called to account for their actions. The war in Gaza is one of the great defining moments of our time, yet, until today, this House has not been given the opportunity to debate both the unfolding human catastrophe and the wider implications for regional and global stability. Nor have we had the opportunity to debate the urgent and pressing need for an immediate ceasefire, as an essential first step in finding a lasting and just peace.

No one would deny that Israel has the right to defend itself—every country has that right. What no country has the right to do, however, is lay siege to a civilian population, carpet-bomb densely inhabited areas, drive people from their homes, erase an entire civilian infrastructure, and impose a collective punishment involving the cutting off of water, electricity, food, and medicine from civilians. And no country, regardless of who it is, can, in the name of self-defence, kill civilians at such a pace, and on such a scale, that in just 16 weeks almost 30,000 are known to have died, with a further 80,000 injured. We cannot allow the core principle of self-defence to be so ruthlessly exploited and manipulated in order to legitimise the slaughter of innocent civilians. If we do that, what hope is there for the future of the international rules-based order, an order created to protect people from atrocities, not to be used as a smokescreen to hide the execution of them?

If we accept what Israel is doing in Gaza as the new norm—as the new accepted standard of self-defence—we undermine that core principle, which is meant to protect and defend us. Therefore we cannot accept that what is happening now is self-defence, because of the precedent that it will set. I have no doubt that that thought contributed to the United States issuing its clearest warning yet to Netanyahu that it would not support his proposed ground offensive in Rafah. This is why the UN Security Council is currently debating a ceasefire as we speak today, and even the US has recognised that a ceasefire must happen for a peaceful political solution. Of course, that does not go nearly far enough, but it does show that things are moving, opinions are changing and the guarantees that Israel has come to rely on are gradually withdrawing.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I think that, at the moment, very few people, not only in this House but across the country, would differ from the sentiments being expressed by the Scottish National party spokesperson. Each night, we all watch the torture of the people in Gaza with horror, and we remember every morning the pain being felt by the families whose loved ones are being held hostage. But does the hon. Member not agree that we would serve their cause, and ourselves in this place, so much better if we built a consensus behind an opinion today, rather than indulging in petty party politics that helps no one?

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am not quite sure what she means about petty party politics. The behaviour that we have seen today has been pretty petty, but we are all about consensus. If there is anything that can build a consensus for peace, which has to be based around peace, justice and an immediate ceasefire, then we will be there.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. I will, if I may, highlight something that I think is more important than some of the conversations that we have had up to this moment. On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement saying that UN experts had uncovered that Israeli forces in Gaza and the west bank are being accused of egregious human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence, including rape. The Israeli Government, of course, have dismissed this without any investigation. Does the hon. Member agree that this Government should be pushing hard for a proper investigation for people to be held to account for these kinds of gross human rights abuses?

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I absolutely agree with the hon. Member. It is vital to say that, whether it is a perceived ally or a perceived foe, an egregious breach of human rights is an egregious breach of human rights and should be taken as exactly that and investigated without fear or favour.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

One thing that has defined this House over the past couple of years has been the unity over Ukraine, and it has been really important that all of us, from all parts of the House, have stood together against Putin. May I appeal to my hon. Friend to reflect on what is required of all of us today? The issue is one of principle for those who are facing famine and death in Gaza. It is important that all of us across this House show the appropriate leadership, come together and speak up against the human rights abuses that are taking place, and woe betide any of us who fail to show that leadership. Now is the time—today is the time—for this House to come together and stand up for those in Palestine who need our support.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I agree with my right hon. Friend. We all have a part to play in bringing peace and saving innocent lives, so I was somewhat surprised to hear the shadow Foreign Secretary on the radio on Sunday seemingly dismiss and downplay the importance of this debate, saying:

“It’s not this vote that will bring about a ceasefire.”

Of course, he is right. Voting for an immediate ceasefire today will not by itself bring about an end to the slaughter, but the impact, and the impact on the optics, of this Parliament, hitherto one of Israel’s staunchest allies, saying that enough is enough, and calling for an immediate ceasefire, would be enormous. While not in and of itself bringing about a ceasefire, support for this motion would further remove that ever-thinning veil of legitimacy that the UK’s continued support gives to Israel’s merciless war in Gaza. It would also show the beleaguered and battered people of Palestine that we care and we have not forgotten them. Calling for an immediate ceasefire would be a pivotal moment in the campaign to stop UK arms sales to Israel. As a South African Foreign Minister said last week, the decision to stop the fighting in Gaza is in the hands of the countries that supply Israel with its weapons. Who knows, it might also help some of the UK’s political establishment and those seeking to aspire to their position to locate their moral compass.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

The hon. Member refers to the way of stopping the conflict. Does he not agree with me that the only way—the most certain way—of ending this conflict is for Hamas to release the hostages, including a nine-month-old baby who was kidnapped by Hamas? If Hamas were to release the hostages straight away, that would be a sure-fire way of achieving a ceasefire, and that is what we should be talking about.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I think the very first sentence that I said was that we utterly condemn the Hamas attack and we implore them to release the hostages, but there has to be a pathway to reaching that.

When the shadow Foreign Secretary said that the vote today would not bring about a ceasefire, he was right, but to try to downplay the importance of the motion does not serve him well. I suspect that, as these moments do not come around very often, he understands only too well the importance of tonight’s vote. It is moments like these that shape the ethical identity of a country. It is the decisions that we take now that will reverberate down the decades, and they will define who we are and what we stand for. That is why we are calling so clearly and unambiguously for an immediate ceasefire. Anything else pre-supposes that there can be a military solution to this conflict. Any other form of words threatens to give credence to the idea that Israel’s deploying its massive military capacity in Gaza will somehow be enough to destroy Hamas. In reality, as everyone knows and as history tells us, the only possible solution to this crisis is a political solution.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I could understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument better if he were talking about what the Americans seem to call a temporary ceasefire to see whether more hostages could be released, but he appears to be calling for an unconditional ceasefire—I see people nodding—which would leave all the hostages at the mercy of Hamas. Does that not put Israel in the position where previously it has had to release 1,000 people who had been criminally convicted in order to get one soldier back? Indeed, one of the people Israel released was the person who organised the Hamas atrocities on 7 October.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I thank the right hon. Member for that intervention. I am absolutely clear that there has to be a roadway—a path—towards peace, and that has to start with an immediate ceasefire. If it does not, there is no pathway. I will address directly the issue of humanitarian pauses in a moment.

When the SNP last called for a vote on the ceasefire on 15 November, the death toll in Gaza stood at 11,320—already a heartbreaking number of people killed. Just yesterday, John Hopkins University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine released their analysis, which showed that if this conflict continues on the same trajectory there will be between 58,000 and 75,000 additional civilian Palestinian deaths in the next six months, so we know categorically what the consequences of inaction will be. No one can claim in the future that they did not know, or that they did not understand the consequences of what they were doing tonight.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while some rules may be more malleable than others, the rules of international law are very clear on self-defence: the use of self-defence must be proportionate, and by any view, 30,000 civilians dead, the majority of whom are women and children, is excessive and not a proportionate use of force.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. If we accept Israel’s response as the new norm, the danger that everybody across the world, regardless of their circumstances, will be put in is terrifying. It is a terrifying example to set, and a terrifying precedent that should worry us all. I thank her for that intervention.

To address the point made by Sir Julian Lewis, no one can argue with any credibility for what they used to call, and some people still do call, “humanitarian pauses”—the convoluted idea of organised fixed-term pauses in the killing that would allow emergency aid into Gaza, only for the carnage to resume at a prearranged date and time. That should be seen for what it always was: a smokescreen for politicians to hide behind while waiting to see in which direction the wind of public opinion will blow.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Well, we have seen the way public opinion is blowing, across the world and here in the UK, with millions taking to the streets, and polls showing 75%-plus support for an immediate ceasefire. The harsh reality is that the Government, having expended so much political and diplomatic capital on defending and justifying Israel’s prosecution of this war, now find themselves stuck on the wrong side of global opinion. [Interruption.] Consequently, the UK’s international reputation has been so diminished that when the process of finding a just, lasting peace in the region begins, the UK will struggle to play a meaningful part in it. [Interruption.] If the Government cannot see the long-term damage that they are doing, it is up to this House to tell them by demanding an immediate ceasefire.

An immediate ceasefire has already been endorsed by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Archbishop of York, Scotland’s Catholic bishops, the Catholic bishops’ conference of England and Wales, the Church of England’s House of Bishops, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Quakers, the leaders of the Methodists and the United Reformed Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the UN Secretary-General, the UN General Assembly President, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation, Save the Children, Amnesty, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, ActionAid, the International Rescue Committee, Action Against Hunger, the Co-operative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Medical Aid for Palestinians, the Council for Arab-British Understanding, the Balfour Project, Islamic Relief, Christian Aid, War on Want, the Carter Centre, War Child, Unite the union, Unison, the King Centre, World Vision, WaterAid, Tearfund, Street Child, Start Network, Peace Direct, Mercy Corps, CIVICUS, and scores and scores more churches, non-governmental organisations, charities and individuals who have seen Israel completely abandon international humanitarian law by imposing collective punishment on a defenceless civilian population. [Interruption.] In just 16 weeks, an estimated 18,000 Palestinian children have been left without a single living relative.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

The only way we can ensure a permanent end to the cycle of violence is by facilitating the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. The main blocker to that is Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has doubled down on his opposition to an independent Palestinian state. Does the hon. Member agree that the UK must show strong opposition to Netanyahu’s plans by unilaterally recognising the state of Palestine as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I could not agree more with the hon. Member. The United Kingdom has shown a dereliction of duty towards the Palestinians. The SNP has been very supportive, and will continue to be supportive, of a Palestinian state.

All the organisations, individuals and churches that I listed will not ignore the evidence of their own eyes. Nor will they turn a deaf ear to the cries of suffering Palestinians. Neither should we. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once wrote that

“in silence we become accomplices, but…when we speak every word has the power to change the world.”

As I bring my remarks to a close, I want to share with the House the words of those being forced to live through this hell every single day. Thirty-year-old Islam Harb lost three of his four children, along with his mother, two of his sisters and both his brothers when a missile hit their home. Islam said:

“my family spent days trying to dig the remains of the dead out of the rubble. The body of my brother Khalil was found 200m away from the house due to the power of the strike, in pieces. My children’s small bodies were torn to pieces.”

His surviving sister, Ahlam, added:

“My brother Mohammed…was only recognized by his hair;
nothing was left of my brother Khalil except his hand”.

Thirty-year-old Ahmad Nasman, a physiotherapist in Gaza, lost his wife and their three children, aged five, four, and just three months, along with both of his parents and his sister when a missile hit their home. He said it took him four days to retrieve the body of his baby daughter Ayla from the rubble; she was only recognised by the clothes she was wearing. The same blast decapitated his five-year-old daughter, Arwa. He said:

“When the war started, I had only one mission in my life, to protect my children. I wish I were with them when the house was hit…My body survived but my spirit died with my children, it was crushed under the rubble with them.”

That is why tonight really matters. That is why it will be times like these for which we are all remembered. We will be remembered for what we did, or for what we chose not to do. Decades hence, people will say to us, “You were there,” and they will ask us, “What did you do?” Some will have to say that they chose to engage in a debate on semantics over “sustainable” or “humanitarian” pauses, while others will say that they chose to give Netanyahu both the weapons and the political cover that he required to prosecute his relentless war. But some of us in this House will be able to say that when we saw 30,000 innocent people killed, when we saw almost 100,000 innocent people injured, when we saw tens of thousands of traumatised children with physical and mental damage that will last for the rest of their lives, when we saw 2 million people displaced from their homes, when we saw refugee camps bombed, when we saw hundreds of journalists killed, when we saw hospitals reduced to rubble, when we saw places of worship and the people sheltering in them attacked, and when we saw ambulances that had been sent to rescue children being hit by missiles, with those rescued children still inside—at that point, we will say that we chose to do everything that we possibly could to make it stop.

We will also say that we chose to listen. We listened to the International Court of Justice when it determined that there were plausible grounds that Israel is in the process of committing genocide. We listened to the anguished pleas of innocent Palestinians begging for our help to make it stop. We listened to the anger of millions of people from across these islands. And then we used our immensely privileged position as Members of this House to demand an immediate ceasefire.

By supporting the SNP’s motion calling for that immediate ceasefire, this House can put itself on the side of peace, it can put itself on the side of justice, it can put itself on the side of the people, and it can put itself on the right side of history. [Applause.]

Hon. Members::

It’s a new rule!

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs 2:00, 21 February 2024

I beg to move amendment (a), to leave out from “House” to end and add

“believes that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences and therefore must not take place;
notes the intolerable loss of Palestinian life, the majority being women and children;
condemns the terrorism of Hamas who continue to hold hostages;
supports Australia, Canada and New Zealand’s calls for Hamas to release and return all hostages and for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which means an immediate stop to the fighting and a ceasefire that lasts and is observed by all sides, noting that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October 2023 cannot happen again;
therefore supports diplomatic mediation efforts to achieve a lasting ceasefire;
demands that rapid and unimpeded humanitarian relief is provided in Gaza;
further demands an end to settlement expansion and violence;
urges Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures;
calls for the UN Security Council to meet urgently;
and urges all international partners to work together to establish a diplomatic process to deliver the peace of a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state, including working with international partners to recognise a Palestinian state as a contribution to rather than outcome of that process, because statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people and not in the gift of any neighbour.”

There are times when this House can come together with clarity and a unity of purpose, and I hope that this can be one of those moments. It is with pain and sadness that this House gathers today—the pain and sadness of war that has gone on too long. It is now 137 days since the appalling 7 October massacre, and since that day, the killing has gone on. Flattened cities, ransacked kibbutzim, teeming refugee camps, hostages in chains—we have seen it all on our TV and phone screens.

A ground offensive in Rafah would be a humanitarian disaster, a moral catastrophe and a strategic mistake. It must not happen. That is our position, it is the position of the European Union, it is the position of our friends in the Arab world, and it is the position of our Five Eyes partners in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We must not just avert a ground invasion of Rafah, essential though that is; all violence against civilians must now stop. That is why Labour is saying unequivocally that we need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the bloodshed and the suffering.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Nature and Rural Affairs)

It is important that we try to come out of this debate not only with the House united, but with the United Kingdom in line with international partners. If Brendan O’Hara had given way, I would have said to him that although the leader of the SNP, Stephen Flynn, spoke during Prime Minister’s questions about being in line with the international community, it is actually Labour’s amendment that would put us in line with international partners. The SNP motion puts us outside the space in which the vast majority of the international community is.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is a moment when the whole House can come together. Let us be clear, whether from the Government Benches or the Opposition Benches, that we all agree that the time for a ceasefire has come, to end the bloodshed and suffering, and to allow a sustained effort to salvage the hope of a two-state solution. There are three motions before us today. Only one can be supported by all sides.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

We all want to see the fighting stopped. We cannot begin to imagine the horrors of what will happen if Israel goes into Rafah. The problem, as I think we can all imagine, is that Israel might ignore international opinion and do just that. Can we start to think about what action we will take—what sanctions we will propose—against Israel if it does that? There have to be consequences for Israel if it behaves in that way, completely contrary to all international opinion.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

My hon. Friend knows that the UN is meeting to discuss those very issues. I think we in this Chamber can all agree that, were that to happen, particularly over Ramadan, as is being indicated at the moment by the Israeli Government, it would be a catastrophic mistake.

Labour supports an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, a stop to fighting by both sides now, the release of hostages, a surge of aid into Gaza, and a two-state solution.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about a humanitarian pause—

Hon. Members::

Ceasefire.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough

Or about a humanitarian ceasefire and humanitarian efforts in Gaza. How did he feel when the Leader of the Opposition said publicly that Israel had the right to withhold power and water from the people of Gaza?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

One hundred and thirty-seven days into this crisis, I say to the hon. Gentleman, having been in this House for almost 24 years, that this is the moment to lift the tone, not lower it.

Let me turn to the SNP motion. It expresses our common desire for the fighting and the suffering to stop, but as drafted—and I listened to Brendan O’Hara—it does not address how the fighting will not restart. It calls for an end to the war, but it does not lay out a path to a sustainable peace. It does not fully explain how a lasting ceasefire can be achieved, and it makes no mention of a two-state solution or Palestinian statehood. It does not reference the ICJ ruling and the need for its full implementation.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I will give way in a moment.

Frankly, colleagues, the SNP motion appears one sided. For any ceasefire to work, it must, by necessity, be observed by both sides, or it is not a ceasefire. That is why we are clear that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continue with violence. Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October cannot happen again. I have no doubt that the SNP agrees with those sentiments—I heard them in the speech of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute—so it should vote for the Labour amendment.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

I am listening closely to the right hon. Gentleman. The problem is that we in this House do not have operational control over the combatants. This war will end when both sides are exhausted, decide that they want it to end, and lay down their arms. I listened to the SNP spokesman, Brendan O’Hara. He read out a very long charge sheet against Israel, but at the end of the day, Hamas are using their own people—men, women and children—as human shields, and they know what they are doing.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

That is why I say that a ceasefire, by necessity, means both sides. Hon. Members should be very careful not to vote for the appearance of this House taking one side, however concerned we are about the loss of innocent life.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

The right hon. Gentleman is talking about a permanent ceasefire. Clearly, that is what we all want—we need peace in the region—but he cannot demand an immediate ceasefire and also that the ceasefire must be permanent, because we cannot guarantee that. Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman wants it to be a permanent ceasefire, that allows the carnage to continue and Gaza to be wiped from the map.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Let me be clear: the Labour party is calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We have been absolutely clear that when that ceasefire comes, we do not want to see the fighting restart—I have been crystal clear about that position.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving way, and for the position he is now adopting around an immediate ceasefire—I think there is more cohesion in this House today than we are showing the public. There are still some people in this House who are demanding that a ceasefire has to be permanent. I do not like making a comparison to our own peace process, but the basic principles are the same. We cannot guarantee the permanence of a ceasefire: we work for a ceasefire and then work to make it permanent, so some people’s bar is too high. If they listen to what the public are saying and watch the TV screens, people are dying today. We have to call for an immediate ceasefire right now, and I thank the right hon. Member for taking that position. I encourage all Members to support any opportunity to vote for an immediate ceasefire tonight.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

The hon. Gentleman reminds this House of the seriousness of the issue before us: not just the ceasefire, but the long yards and roads to peace. That is why in Labour’s motion, we talk about compliance with the International Court of Justice’s rulings and international law, and about Palestinian recognition on the road to the two-state solution. We are also absolutely clear that we should do nothing in this Chamber that cuts across the hard work of Arab partners, EU partners, the United States and our Five Eyes allies that are in the room trying to broker that peace. We on the Opposition Benches say that with some humbleness, because neither of our parties is in the room.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black SNP Deputy Leader

The shadow Minister has talked about how the SNP’s motion does not contain any plan for a long-lasting peace after an immediate ceasefire. I therefore want to know why the Labour motion includes a caveat that notes that

“Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence”.

Hamas is not the people of Palestine, so why is that line in the Labour amendment?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

The hon. Lady is as educated as I am. She understands that a ceasefire takes two sides, so it is crystal clear that if we expect Israel to lay down its arms, we must ask Hamas to do the same.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am very pleased to hear him making the point that any ceasefire has to be agreed and committed to by both sides. Unfortunately, though, there was a ceasefire on 6 October, which was broken by Hamas. The previous ceasefire at the end of last year was also broken by Hamas, so why does the right hon. Gentleman have any faith that if a ceasefire were agreed now, Hamas would stick to it?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but let us be clear: the last pause came before there had been any release of any hostages. It came at a point when very little humanitarian aid was going into Gaza, and it is because of that pause that we saw some hostages released—Hamas did stop the rocket fire at that point. As I say, we are all clear that we need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The humanitarian situation self-evidently needs the fighting to stop, but it is also our belief that if we get that ceasefire, we will see more hostages released. We are listening to what hostage families in Israel are themselves saying.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I will make a little progress before taking further interventions.

Turning to the Government’s amendment, again, there are elements that we agree with, but there is a serious omission: its failure to call for a ceasefire that is immediate. I do not believe that the gap is unbridgeable—and I am looking forward to listening to Mr Mitchell when he gets to his feet. The Foreign Secretary says that he wants the fighting to stop now, mirroring my language and that of the Leader of the Opposition.

Throughout this war, the Government have followed us. We called for violent west bank settlers to be sanctioned on 6 November, and again on 9 November—the Government moved on 14 December. For two years since Boris Johnson’s appalling letter, we have been calling for the Government to accept the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the conduct of all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories—again, the Government moved on 14 December to do just that. For a decade the Labour party has supported the recognition of the Palestinian state, as expressed in our motion—earlier this month, the Foreign Secretary moved to our position.

Therefore, we once again ask the Government to reflect on the mood of the House. We ask Conservative Members to accept the language in our amendment, so that we can speak together with one voice. I say that with all seriousness. We all know that while we can debate these issues in this House, their effect on the ground is something else entirely. However, if the UK Parliament can speak with one voice on this greatest of issues, perhaps we can genuinely make a difference.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I have been listening very carefully to the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has been prosecuting the merits of each of the different amendments. I would point out that there was a Liberal Democrat amendment that answered positively all of the points that have been made so far, but it was not selected for debate, which I feel is a shame. I will be encouraging my party to vote for all amendments that push the cause of peace. He mentions how this debate will be seen on the ground. Unfortunately, after today, it is likely that the headline from Parliament will be that an immediate ceasefire was rejected because of a lack of co-ordination, particularly between the Opposition Benches. Does he agree that we should and could have done better?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I have huge respect for the hon. Lady. Since 7 October, she and I have been in Bahrain together, meeting with middle east leaders to talk about these very issues. The whole point of Labour’s amendment is to give this House the opportunity to come together, and her poignant messages to this House a few weeks ago are a reason why this is the moment to do so.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Shadow Minister (Flooding, Oceans and Coastal Communities)

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and of course I am very pleased to be supporting an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the recognition of Palestine. When that desperately needed ceasefire happens, does he agree that the Government need to do everything they can to urgently ramp up the amount of aid going into Gaza, to try to save more lives?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

My hon. Friend raises the central reason why we are calling for that immediate humanitarian ceasefire at this moment. We all know that before this crisis about 500 trucks a day were getting in, and today that figure is less than 95. Starvation is widespread and medical aid is hard to come by. The last hospitals are closing, and—this is personal to me, because one of my children is adopted—there are now 17,000 young people in Gaza who are orphaned. That is horrendous. It is why the seriousness of this debate demands that we all act with one voice.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there needs to be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but that needs to be in accordance with a clear political framework for a two-state solution, because otherwise we may have the same problem six months or a year down the line. People outside are fed up with politicians—with Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition—saying that they want a two-state solution but not clarifying what that is. Looking at Labour’s amendment, does he now agree with me and other parliamentarians that, when we talk about the recognition of a “viable Palestinian state”, it would need to be in line with the UK-drafted UN Security Council resolution 242 about what a recognised Palestinian state needs to be, so that people know and have a clear framework? Otherwise—as in 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997 and 2007, and now in 2024—we will have just kept calling for it. Let us make it clear what recognition of that state means, and have a clear timeline for when we will recognise that state.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, which is why our amendment talks about the political solution that is necessary. All of us know that it is not the military and weapons that will bring an end to the crisis; it is political discussion and dialogue—the business that we are all in. He talks about the circumstances for such a two-state solution. Recognition in and of itself does not achieve that two-state solution, but it is our commitment, if we could work with partners. We are on a road and a journey, and we have heard partners in other countries speaking to that issue at this time. Most colleagues, when they talk about those two states, are thinking about the 1967 borders, but I hear what he says.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I am going to make some progress, because many Members will want to speak and I do not want to dominate the whole debate. [Interruption.] Let me just make some progress, and I will return to SNP colleagues.

Labour’s amendment reflects the common sense and moral purpose of the British people. They see the endless killing of innocents and find it intolerable. We want it to stop now through an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Labour wants that immediate ceasefire not tomorrow and not in another 100 days, but now. The British people see the prospect of an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah and know it will lead only to more death and suffering. They want it to stop not tomorrow and not in 100 days; they want it to stop now. They see the families of hostages in agony, whose capture is prolonging their agony. They want to see the hostages released not tomorrow and not in 100 days; they want them released now. The common sense of the British people understands that rules exist for a reason, and that the international rule of law must be followed. They want Israel to comply with the ICJ’s provisional measures—not tomorrow and not in 100 days, but now. The common sense of the British people also understands that no ceasefire can be one-sided. They know it is not enough just for Hamas or just for Israel to stop firing rockets; they want both sides to stop, and not tomorrow or in another 100 days, but now.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

The right hon. Member makes the point that only politics and diplomacy can take us to that two-state solution. That underpins why it is necessary to have the ceasefire on both sides and the return of the hostages. However, it is incumbent on all of us—we have debated the two-state solution for decades—that this now has to be a wake-up call, and the international community has to come together to insist that the rights of Israelis and Palestinians are recognised. However, in order to begin that process we need this House to vote today for that ceasefire.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and ask him to vote for Labour’s amendment.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

On the shadow Foreign Secretary’s point about wishing no more days to elapse, the official Opposition were here just 16 days ago with their own Opposition day debate, and they discussed ministerial severance. Can he tell us why they did not give the same priority to the people of Gaza as they gave to ministerial severance just 16 days ago?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

I have been calling for the fighting to stop for weeks. The Leader of the Opposition has been calling for the fighting to stop for weeks. I say to the hon. Gentleman that I was in the west bank, and in Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia—that is how seriously we take the issue. I was also in Israel. None of us—[Interruption.]

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

None of us has more moral authority than each of us acting to pass a motion and speak with one voice in this House today.

The British people have seen the spectre of violence in Northern Ireland over many decades. They understand that a ceasefire is not the final destination, but a step on the road to a lasting peace; one that requires hard negotiation and a road map for a political process. There is no way out of the crisis without the hope that both Palestinians and Israelis have a path to security, justice and opportunity in lands they can call their own. Progress will require genuine partners for peace on both sides of the table. Hamas and Israeli hardliners want to bury a two-state solution, and we must now unite to show that we will not let that happen.

As I said before, my discussions with the United States and with European and Arab leaders in Munich have made clear the widespread acknowledgment of the need to urgently seek that just and lasting solution: a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, and a safe and secure Israel, with strong and trusting relations with the countries in the region. That is the prize. I do not underestimate the great pain and division that must be overcome, or the challenges ahead. The UK cannot advance this agenda on its own, but it cannot sit this one out. It is time for the international community to stand up and achieve an end to the fighting and a path to peace, and the UK must play its part. That is why our amendment makes it explicit that we will not give up on a two-state solution. It makes it clear that we will work with international partners to recognise a Palestinian state as a contribution to, rather than an outcome of, a two-state solution.

In this House we are used to division because our trade is politics, but on this matter we must rise above it. When the British people are so clear and so concerned, from Truro to Inverness, let no one tell us that they take no interest in foreign affairs. Would it not send a powerful message if, for once, we could come together as a House for the sake of the nation and for the sake of peace? In this spirit, we designed an amendment that my hon. Friends to the left and to the right of me, and those on the Government Benches across from me, may vote for. It is my appeal to those in this House that we come together, calling in one voice to end the killing and for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, and calling on both sides to stop.

A united Parliament today can show we are rolling up our sleeves, and committing to the long, hard road to peace. So we will have made the voice of our nation heard to influence this war, and to help these tragic children of the same land to find peace in the beautiful Palestine of tomorrow and in an Israel without tears, where the stones of Jerusalem shall finally be a city of peace. I beg the House to approve the Labour amendment.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I will give way later, but I am not giving way for the moment.

The shadow Foreign Secretary spoke about the huge benefit of our speaking with one voice. Colum Eastwood talked about there being more cohesion in the House than people currently think. The shadow Foreign Secretary talked about the importance of having some humility, because Members of Parliament are not in the room.

I emphasise that the Government are in the room. There was a call for the tone be lifted; the shadow Foreign Secretary said that we should “come together.” I submit that the right thing to do is to support the Government amendment. The Opposition have been supportive in the past, and the House’s speaking with one voice helped Britain’s argument, which he and I share, in the middle east.

Subject to your advice, Mr Speaker, we will move our amendment, which I want to be sure that the House will consider seriously and in the tone that the shadow Foreign Secretary called for. Our amendment states that the House, supports Israel’s right to self-defence, in compliance with international humanitarian law, against the terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas;
condemns the slaughter, abuse and gender-based violence perpetrated on 7 October 2023;
further condemns the use of civilian areas by Hamas and others for terrorist operations;
urges negotiations to agree an immediate humanitarian pause as the best way to stop the fighting and to get aid in and hostages out;
supports moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire;
acknowledges that achieving this will require all hostages to be released, the formation of a new Palestinian Government, Hamas to be unable to launch further attacks and to be no longer in charge in Gaza, and a credible pathway to a two-state solution which delivers peace, security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians;
expresses concern at the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and at the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah;
reaffirms the urgent need to significantly scale up the flow of aid into Gaza, where too many innocent civilians have died;
and calls on all parties to take immediate steps to stop the fighting and ensure unhindered humanitarian access.”

I submit that that carefully crafted amendment ought to carry the vast number of right hon. and hon. Members with the Government as we seek, in this incredibly difficult situation, to forge a common path and a common purpose.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I will do so, but not yet.

This morning I returned from Qatar, as part of the British Government’s collective efforts to make progress on key objectives. I must apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House, because I will need to be absent for part of the debate, as it now extends to 7 o’clock, to engage in other ministerial duties. We all want an end to the fighting as soon as possible, but we must also recognise and understand that a ceasefire will not last if hostages are still being held, and if Hamas still rain down rockets on Israel and maintain control of Gaza with capabilities to carry out further terrorist atrocities. The immediate priority must be negotiating a humanitarian pause, because that will create a window to get more hostages out safely, to get considerably more aid in quickly, and to get further negotiations on a sustainable ceasefire going immediately.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We want the pause to become a complete ceasefire without—I say this to Pete Wishart—a return to fighting. That is the focus of our diplomatic efforts as talk turns to a military offensive in Rafah, which has the potential for devastating consequences. I therefore welcome the opportunity to reflect to the House on the latest developments. As the Prime Minister said to Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, we continue to support Israel’s right to defend its people against Hamas’ terror, but we are deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life in Gaza and the worsening humanitarian crisis.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I will in a moment. Let me also reflect on the terrible impact of this conflict. On 7 October, Israel suffered the worst terror attack in its history at the hands of Hamas. More than 1,200 Israelis were reported killed, and more than 5,000 Israelis were reported injured. Even now, more than 130 hostages are still thought to be held by Hamas in Gaza. Last week saw the first hostage rescue since late October, with two hostages returned to their family. We continue to call for the immediate release of all hostages, including British nationals and their families. We are using all diplomatic channels to push for that, working with partners across the region. Meanwhile, we have helped more than 300 British nationals to leave Gaza. The devastating humanitarian crisis is worsening daily, with hunger and disease spreading. According to latest reports, more than 29,000 people have been killed, 69,000 injured, and 1.7 million people have been displaced. We want Israel to take greater care to limit its operations to military targets and avoid harming civilians and destroying homes.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I wrote to the Foreign Secretary on 2 January and received a reply from one of his junior Ministers in the House of Lords about the plight of the 650 Christians held in the Holy Family church, who are innocent hostages of this appalling situation. I asked the Foreign Secretary if we could give those people asylum as they are clearly in the cross-fire. I received a frankly disingenuous reply saying that the Government would “seek respite” for those people. That means nothing. Are we prepared to offer asylum to those people and get them out?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My right hon. Friend will know that this is a difficult area that involves other Departments. I will ensure that he gets an update on that issue from the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) when she winds up the debate.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Nature and Rural Affairs)

The Minister has just laid out the Government’s position, and the difference between that and the Labour amendment may not be immediately clear to those watching. The Labour amendment calls for an immediate ceasefire, and the Government’s calls for a “pause”, which by definition means that the war is not over but there is a pause in it. The Labour amendment calls for the introduction of a Palestinian state, and is in line with the position of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It opposes the action in Rafah, whereas the Government only have “concern” about it. Will the Minister explain, given those four differences, what he thinks is wrong with what Labour is saying in our amendment?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s recognition that the amendments tabled by the Government and the official Opposition are close. It is a great pity that it is not possible for the official Opposition to support the Government amendment, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider that when he comes to decide how to vote. I will come directly to the other points he mentioned, if he will allow me to do so.

As I have said, we are deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering, including more than 600,000 children. Those are people who have fled repeatedly since the conflict began, and as the Foreign Secretary has said, it is impossible to see how a war can be fought among them. There is nowhere for them to go. They cannot go south into Egypt, and they cannot go north because many of their homes have been destroyed. Hamas, of course, displays the utmost cynicism in lurking among civilians, sacrificing innocent lives in the name of their fanaticism, and we condemn that utterly. But we must also recognise the result of that cynicism: Israeli soldiers will only be able to reach hostages or the Hamas leadership at an incredible cost to innocent lives. We share Israel’s desire to end the threat from Hamas, and ensure that it no longer exerts control over Gaza, but the UK and our partners say that Israel must reflect on whether such a military operation is wise or is counterproductive to its long-term interests and the achievement of the goals that the international community has set out, before it takes any further action.

Britain and our partners are doing all we can to help those suffering. We have trebled our assistance, and we are pressing to get it into Gaza by all available routes—land, sea, air, trucks of aid rolling in from Jordan, and ships loaded with supplies sailing from Cyprus—all while striving to get more crossings open. As I mentioned, last week I was in Qatar, where we discussed the need to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza. I am pleased to say that a joint UK-Qatar aid consignment arrived in Rafah last week, including tents to shelter families in desperate need. Our partnership on that consignment prefigured our new $50 million global humanitarian and development co-funding initiative, which I unveiled with Qatari Minister Al-Khater last weekend. The Rafah crossing is vital to ensure aid can reach the people who so desperately need it. Britain has continually underlined the need for Israel to ease restrictions on humanitarian supplies and to ensure that the UN and aid agencies can reach civilians in need throughout Gaza.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I will give way in a moment to the right hon. Member for Islington North. Let me also reiterate that Israel must obey international humanitarian law in the way it prosecutes the war and in ensuring that food, water and shelter are available to Gazans. It must also take all possible measures to ensure the safety of medical personnel and facilities. The British Government have repeated that point in all our engagements with Israeli counterparts and partners, including during the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Israel on 24 January, and with regional partners, including Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

People poured cold water on the South African submission to the International Court of Justice before it was placed. Could the Minister now give a response from the Government to the interim decisions made by the International Court of Justice—the world court—which effectively called for an immediate unilateral halt to the hostilities by Israel against the people of Gaza? Surely, if the Government believe in the rule of international law, they should respect the International Court of Justice.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I have previously in the House set out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government respect the International Court of Justice. We made it clear that we thought it was a mistake for South Africa to launch that case when it did, and the view of the British Government has not changed since I last told him it.

The most effective way now to alleviate the suffering is an immediate pause in fighting to get aid in and hostages out. That is the best route to make progress towards a future for Gaza freed from rule by Hamas. Britain has set out the vital elements to turn a pause into a sustainable ceasefire without a return to fighting—that is one of the key points that the shadow Foreign Secretary made—and perhaps create the political space for a lasting peace. We can only turn to that if there is first a break in the fighting.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Anything that creates an advance is good, and I welcome the Government move. I am afraid that I cannot support their motion in not calling for an immediate ceasefire, because it does not capture the urgency. I welcome the Government’s sanctioning of the four extremist violent settlers, because there is a link between what is happening in the west bank in the settlements, the political views of the ultra-right-wing in Netanyahu’s Government, especially Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, and the protestations of Netanyahu that he does not want a Palestinian state on ’67 borders. He has been clear about that, and when we put all that together, it in part explains why the assault on Rafah and the rest of Gaza is happening as it is. Will the Minister tell the House a bit more about those sanctions, because they are working? Also, what have the Government said to Netanyahu about a future Palestinian state, because it is a necessary precondition for any kind of truce, ceasefire or whatever we want to call it?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I have great respect for the hon. Lady, as she knows, but on her last point, she may rest assured that the Foreign Secretary, who knows Prime Minister Netanyahu well, and the Prime Minister specifically in a conversation last week have been clear on the importance of that. I hope she will consider that tonight when she decides how she will vote on the various amendments.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

As my right hon. Friend said, and I think the shadow Foreign Secretary said, we are in the business of politics. If my right hon. Friend entered into negotiations this week with the Israeli Government, would we have more chance of persuading them to an immediate ceasefire or more chance of persuading them to the cause of a humanitarian pause?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

Looking at the specific wording of the Government amendment, it mentions

“a credible pathway to a two-state solution which delivers peace”.

With regard to that specific point and the point made earlier, where is the United Kingdom on the recognition of a Palestinian state? I saw comments by the Foreign Secretary recently on that. For a two-state solution to be achieved, the Government need to set out what they consider a Palestinian state to look like. Is it based on ’67 borders and a motion that we, the United Kingdom, drafted and asked others to support? Looking at Ukraine, around the world people say, “If you want us to support you on international law, you have to be consistent in your approach.”

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend will appreciate that it is important not to go too fast and imperil the objective we seek, and I point him to what I said in response to Layla Moran. I am coming directly to that point.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I will give way in a minute; I have been generous in giving way.

We have set out the vital steps for achieving the pause we wish to see. All hostages must be released and a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza formed, accompanied by an international support package. Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel must be removed, and they must no longer be in charge in Gaza. Finally, there must be a political horizon, as the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and my hon. Friend Rehman Chishti mentioned, that provides a credible and irreversible pathway to a two-state solution. The resolution put forward in the Security Council yesterday did not achieve those outcomes. Simply calling for a ceasefire, as that resolution did, will not make it happen. Indeed, as it could endanger the hostage negotiations, it could make a ceasefire less likely.

The way to stop the fighting and then to potentially stop it from restarting is to begin with a pause to get hostages out and aid in. That is what we are calling for, and it could end the fighting now.

We have also taken further steps to hold those to account who undermined the steps to peace in the west bank. Last week, the British Government announced new sanctions against four extremist Israeli settlers who have violently attacked Palestinians in the west bank.

Our long-standing position is that we will recognise a Palestinian state at a time that is most conducive to the peace process, and I submit to the House that that must be the right answer. We must give the people of the west bank and Gaza the political perspective of a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future, and it needs to be irreversible. Likewise, we must give the people of Israel certainty of security. That does not just come down to us, but we can help. Crucially, we have made it clear that the formal recognition of a Palestinian state cannot come at the start of the process, but it does not have to be at the very end of the process either.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for rewarding my perseverance by giving way—I appreciate that. This has been a highly charged debate, both in the House and among the general public. People are rightly angry. Part of the anger is born from a real sense of frustration that this Parliament and this Government do not give the same value to the life of a Palestinian child as they do to the life of an Israeli child. Whether we accept that or not, it is a strongly held belief. We know that 600,000 children are at risk if the Rafah ground offensive begins. No ifs and no buts—will the Minister say from the Dispatch Box that the Government do not support that action?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I have set out the Government’s position extremely clearly. I recognise the point the hon. Gentleman is making. There are strong feelings across the House on this matter. The point that I am trying to make in this speech, and that has been made by a number of Members, is that there is an awful lot in the Government’s amendment that most people in the House can agree with and support.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

My right hon. Friend said that the Foreign Secretary has asked Israel to think again about any further military offensive or incursion into Rafah. I think we would all urge Israel to think carefully about how that would be conducted. However, does he agree that our support for Israel on 7 October, when we said it should be able to eradicate Hamas, was clear, and that there is a danger that our emerging position—certainly that of other parties—would leave Hamas’s terrorist organisation partially intact? That is an intolerable situation for Israel: it would send a clear message that using human shields works and that we will not allow Israel to fully defend itself. How would he answer that question?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I think that I have answered it, because I have made clear the Government’s position in respect of Hamas and Hamas’s future. If my right hon. Friend reads the record and the Government amendment with care tonight, I think he will see that the key point he is making is one that informs the Government’s view.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

Has my right hon. Friend had any discussions with the Israeli Government about how, if the hostages were released by Hamas, Israel would withdraw and the peace process could start moving forward?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am sure the House will understand that I cannot comment in any detail at all about the ongoing hostage negotiations, but I can tell my hon. Friend and the House that Britain is right at the front of trying to ensure that the negotiations are successful.

Let me end by recognising that there will be a huge amount to do in the days after a pause. It will be a starting point on the road to peace, not the final destination. Nevertheless, it is critical that all parties give the process the best odds of succeeding. That means first securing a pause in the fighting, which then progresses to a sustainable ceasefire and—we all hope—a lasting peace. I urge all Members of the House to look carefully at the Government’s amendment tonight before deciding how to vote—if you, Mr Speaker, put it to a vote.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black SNP Deputy Leader 2:51, 21 February 2024

I want begin with something that Frankie Boyle said. He pointed out that it makes no sense to say that the situation in Gaza is too complex for a ceasefire, because ceasefire is one of the oldest and simplest terms to understand. It means stop firing. In fact, it is so simple that it is designed to be heard and understood in the middle of a literal battle. So there is no middle ground when it comes to a ceasefire: you either follow the order or you don’t. You either stop firing or you don’t.

During the 2014 crisis, there were an estimated 2,251 Palestinian deaths. The then Prime Minister rightly called for an “immediate and unconditional” ceasefire. If we fast-forward 10 years to the current conflict, we have a death toll of nearly 30,000, and that is not including the bodies yet to be recovered from underneath the rubble, and yet the very same man—he is now Foreign Secretary—is failing to support a ceasefire. Nearly 70,000 people have been injured. According to Amnesty International, the death rate in Gaza right now is one death every four minutes. It is not just bombs that are killing Palestinians; it is poor sanitation and malnutrition as well.

We know that people are starving. People are being reduced to eating grass and animal feed. In January—last month—over half of all aid deliveries were denied access and could not get through to those who needed it. Less than half of the hospitals in Gaza are even partially functioning, and the few that are will quickly run out of supplies unless Israel allows aid through.

Since 2008, Israel has refused entry to any UN agency individuals, which to me is a giant red flag in and of itself. Despite these attempts to shield themselves and hide from any accountability, we know that war crimes are being committed in Gaza. Churches sheltering hundreds of innocent Palestinians have been bombed to the ground. There have been strikes against people in refugee camps and hospitals. Earlier this week, there were reports that Israeli forces ordered the evacuation of a hospital, only to start sniper fire on those who attempted to leave, leaving 2,500 folk still trapped in the hospital.

Israel’s own Minister of Defence said there would be

“a complete siege on Gaza… No electricity no food, no water, no gas”.

As the occupying power, Israel has an obligation under international law to ensure that the basic needs of Gaza’s civilian population are met. It is not doing that. The International Court of Justice specifically directed Israel to take

“immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of…basic services and humanitarian assistance”

It is not doing that. Israel still refuses to reinstate the water supply it so cruelly shut off months ago. It is stopping medicine getting in. It is stopping food entering Gaza and, despite the growing likelihood of famine that it will have created, it is still not budging.

Let us be absolutely clear that the actions of Hamas were horrific and unjustifiable, but, as I said earlier to Mr Lammy, the people of Palestine are not Hamas. Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate bombing of civilians, combined with everything else that we know, must be the very definition of collective punishment, which as we all know is illegal under international law—it is a war crime.

That is why how this place responds it is so important. In many respects, the ending of the violence in Gaza rests in the hands of the countries supplying the money and the weapons to Israel. The arms trade treaty bans the sale of weapons when there is a concern that they may be used to breach international law. Given that the International Court of Justice has found that there is a plausible risk that Israel is committing genocide, it is upon the UK to revoke all arms licences and military equipment to Israel; otherwise, we break the treaties that we have signed up to. Warm words and platitudes will not cut it—only action will.

One death every four minutes. In the time of this debate, as we all talk among ourselves, 100 more people who were alive this morning will be dead. The least we can do is call for a ceasefire. If we do not, we will be morally and directly complicit in every single life lost and every single family destroyed in Gaza. The route to peace, the route to justice and the route to any humane conclusion begins with an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. Anything less from us, and future generations will quite rightly never forgive us or forget.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset 2:57, 21 February 2024

Whatever anyone’s views are about the history or the politics of the middle east, no one can be in any doubt that since 7 October we have all witnessed a humanitarian tragedy. The attacks of the terrorist group Hamas, including the murder of young people attending a music festival and the taking of hostages, were bound to set in train a series of violence, which Hamas must have fully understood, including a full response by the Israeli Government.

In associating myself completely with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Minister on the Government’s amendment, particularly on the need for an immediate humanitarian pause and a permanent, sustainable ceasefire, including the release of hostages, I want to take up the point made by Ian Blackford, who is no longer in his place, about the role that Britain can have in the more substantive issue around the conflict. As has been pointed out in the debate, we are not participants in the conflict, so we cannot have a direct effect on whether arms are laid down, but we can have an influence in the process that comes later. Sooner or later, this will have to return to a political process, and Britain should now be setting down the rules by which we want to see peace put in place.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset

Not at the moment.

It is highly important that we understand what we mean by peace when the term is being used in this context. Layla Moran had the privilege of being at the Manama Dialogue, and feels strongly about that. We have constantly to make clear to both sides that the concept of peace is not just the absence of war or conflict but freedom from the fear of conflict, oppression or terror. Peace requires mutual respect, freedom from persecution and living without fear of destitution. It comes with self-determination and liberation from arbitrary justice. It needs hope, dignity and enforceable rights. Only when all the people of the region have access to all that could we talk about having achieved a peaceful solution to the conflict.

We need to look at the political process with two addenda. We must move to a two-state solution, because the country that does not want that is Iran, which does not want Israel to exist, and apparently Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want a Palestinian state to exist. We must recognise the will of the international community for a two-state solution in the end. For a political process to be able to exist, we need to deal with the wider security issues. There needs to be a guaranteed security for Israel, to protect it from the sort of attacks that it has seen. It is clear that the Israeli construct of security has failed—otherwise, the Hamas incursions would not have taken place. It is also clear that there has to be a proper guarantee of security for any emerging Palestinian state. Quite self-evidently, that cannot be done by the states on their own. Just as we looked for international security guarantees for Europe after world war two, so we will need international agreement on any security architecture within which a political solution can be found to the Israel-Palestinian issue.

I am sure that this House can unite around the need, as a country, to be concerned about the improved prosperity, hope and opportunity of all young people in the region. It has been my privilege to lead the UK Abraham Accords Group over the past two years, and I welcome the support that we have had across the House, but we must find mechanisms to improve the economic wellbeing of young people, particularly, on the Arab street. Otherwise, there will be no lasting basis for a political solution. People who have nothing to lose will gamble. People who have something to lose will be much more circumspect. That has been the lesson from peace being brought to disputes around the world.

I believe that the important issue of Rafah comes into this, because we are at something of a crossroads. We can move forward with the ideas of hope and prosperity, bridge building and rapprochement that the Abraham accords have brought. The Governments of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco have been far sighted in maintaining that process during the current conflict. If we do not take that path, we run the risk of going back to 1971 and a generation of radicalised young Arabs who will make a political solution impossible.

Much of this debate is quite nuanced in terms of when and how ceasefires should take place, but as a country, we need to set our sights and horizons further, on what happens when the political process does re-engage. Where does Britain play a role? I believe that we have a positive and constructive role to play, and we need to take our debate on to that wider, more important and far-sighted horizon.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. Some 60 Members wish to take part in the debate. Even given the time available, and allowing half an hour for the winding-up speeches—10 minutes for each—we must impose a time limit. I will start immediately with a limit of five minutes, but that is very likely to drop to three minutes in fairly short order.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:04, 21 February 2024

I am speechless at the way this debate began. As the House knows, there has been scant opportunity for me to tell the story not just of my family or the hundreds in the church where they are in northern Gaza, but of Palestinians on the ground and, indeed, those who lost people in the horrendous attacks on 7 October, whether through murder or abduction. I am grateful that we have this opportunity. In the hours of debate in front of us, my first ask of anyone who speaks after me is, please, to hold all those people in their hearts as they say what they say. I believe sincerely that this House is moving towards a right position, and I will explain what I think that is in a moment. On the suggestion that this House is in some way against a ceasefire—I would hope an immediate one, however the semantics play out in the votes later—can we please try to send a message in particular to the Palestinian people perishing in their tens of thousands on the ground, and to those hostage families that, fundamentally, we need this to stop now? I do not care what we call it.

I should have started by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. I sit as an unpaid adviser on the board of the International Centre for Justice for Palestinians.

Last week I went to Israel and Palestine with Yachad, and I will start with a story. On the first day, we went down to the southern border with Gaza, to a place called Nativ Ha’asara, a place I have visited before. We met an incredible woman called Roni, who had lost family members—16 from that kibbutzim had perished. As I went there, I looked across at northern Gaza. I saw the plumes of smoke. I heard the drones and the “pop pop pop” of the gunfire, and I broke down. As I walked back through the village, Roni, an Israeli peace activist, took me to one side, gave me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry”, which I said back. We both cried and held each other.

It is important to remember that although those voices of peace in Israel have been silent for some time, many of the people killed on that day were allies of the Palestinian people who had been calling for decades against the occupation, calling out Netanyahu’s Government, and condemning Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. It is for that reason that I welcome the sanctions on those extremist settlers, because there is a direct link between the right wing elements of Netanyahu’s Government and those extremist settlers. The amendment that the Lib Dems tabled to the motion stated that we should not finish there. We need to continue those sanctions on those people and their connected entities.

I looked across, thinking of my family still in that church in northern Gaza with no food, no water and no way of getting down to the south, even if they could cross at Rafah with the 1.5 million people there. Without an immediate ceasefire, they and other families who are trapped cannot achieve anything. That is even without thinking about whether they would be allowed to come back if they left, or whether there would be a political solution. That political horizon is everything. Without a two-state solution on ’67 borders, we are condemning both Israelis and Palestinians to reliving this nightmare over and over and over again. If there is one message that we send Netanyahu and Hamas today, let it be that we will not accept that.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East 3:09, 21 February 2024

I very much welcome this debate on supporting a ceasefire in Gaza and the steps required to get us there, but let me be clear: as the nation and, indeed, those beyond look on, this is a very sad day for Parliament. Rather than our offering clarity on Parliament’s position, speaking with one voice as we seek to end the fighting, there are not one but three separate texts as this debate turns into a political football. Shame on us for failing to find common ground. What a wasted opportunity this is to exhibit UK leadership and resolve in seeking to get closer to the very objective that we came here to debate.

It is a reflection on how fragmented and polarised our world has become that no single power, or alliance of states, or indeed international organisation such as the United Nations is in control of the events that are now unfolding in the middle east, with all its troubled history—a region on the junction not just of three continents, but of three great Abrahamic religions.

From the start, I supported Israel’s right to defend itself after those terrible 7 October attacks, but I was the only voice here in Parliament, when we reconvened, to warn Prime Minister Netanyahu, before he sent in the tanks, not to invade until there was a clear governance and security plan which any military operation could work towards; and that still eludes us today.

Away from Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel is an important UK ally, a rare democratic state in a troubled part of the world. It deserves our support, but also our frankness. The scale of the collateral damage is shocking—indeed, that phrase seems inappropriate given the loss of life— but there is nothing simple about urban warfare, and future military strategists at Sandhurst and West Point are likely to use the Israeli military invasion as an example of how not to do it, and of how tactics without strategy fail.

On the other side, we look for voices in the middle east condemning Hamas, but they are not there. Bahrain was the only country to say that it condemned what Hamas had done. Are we expecting the Palestinian Authority to step in? It is having its own problems in its own neck of the woods. As I have said previously, before the Israeli tanks rolled in I was the only one to suggest the formation of a temporary technical council by those who had signed the Abraham accords to take responsibility once those guns fell silent.

There is no mention of any of this in the motion or the amendments. Are we suggesting that we should empower Hamas to stay, as they remain committed to destroying Israel? It is in their covenant to do exactly that. Shouting “Ceasefire, ceasefire” alone and unconditionally, will not, I am afraid, change anything; and I say that as someone who has been involved in a few conflicts as a soldier. Perhaps it is symbolic. Surely with our statecraft, our influence and our convening power, we should be doing so much more. A ceasefire is a contract agreed between two sides, and it requires a third party to step forward to ensure that they can control what goes on. It begins with a cessation of hostilities that allows space for other activities to take place, and allows plans to advance. Neither Israel nor Hamas are in that place yet. The alternative is a larger third force, mobilised to enforce a ceasefire, but I suspect that no one here today is advocating that.

A ceasefire calls for timeframes, no-fly zones, buffer zones, emergency procedures to quash any breaches, agreed incentives in relation to, for example, hostage release and humanitarian support, and, of course, international monitoring teams in which the UK could play a part. I do not hear any of that being discussed today; I hear only the clarion call “Let’s have a ceasefire.” This is a detail that we need to discuss before we demand from afar something that will perhaps make us feel better. I simply make the case that, from here, it is easy to shout those words “Let’s have a ceasefire”, but it is harder to implement that in practice.

Britain has a role to play: it has an important, persuasive and active role to play on the international stage. What we have done today is illustrate how much more we need to learn, and how we need to elevate the calibre of our debate in order to deal with these international matters. I will be supporting the Government today, but I recommend that all three parties get together, so that we can come back to the House and agree a unified statement on taking this forward, and how a ceasefire might proceed.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. A number of Members have indicated a desire to withdraw their application to speak, but we will still be playing beat the clock, so I am dropping the time limit to four minutes.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 3:14, 21 February 2024

Much has been said about the deaths and suffering of civilians in Gaza, and I add my condemnation of those responsible on both sides of this conflict.

In the brief time allowed today, I wish to highlight the role of, and the risks taken by, three specific groups of people who receive little media coverage: humanitarian aid workers, health workers, and journalists. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude for the work that they carry out in the most dangerous circumstances, in areas of extreme conflict and suffering, with the ever-present risk of death, serious injury and disease. Since 7 October, at least 136 staff members of the United Nations—humanitarian aid workers—have been killed in Gaza. The UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, said recently that throughout the UN’s history it had never witnessed the deaths of its staff in such large numbers. As for health workers, at least 300 have been killed during the conflict.

The killing of aid workers and health workers is both unacceptable and illegal. The World Medical Association has made that clear repeatedly, and in 2002 it said:

“The right to health is a fundamental element of human rights which does not change in situations of conflict and violence. Access to medical assistance for the sick and wounded, whether they have been engaged in active combat or not, is guaranteed through various international agreements, including those of the Geneva Convention and of the United Nations.”

Israel and those nations supporting her, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have signed up to those agreements, and their neglect in not enforcing them is criminal.

Journalists, too, have paid a heavy price to bring us reports of events on the ground. At least 126 have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, with many others arrested. The presence of journalists in Gaza is essential so that the world can be kept informed of the horrific events taking place there, and, in due course, hold those responsible to account.

The United States and the United Kingdom have much more work to do in challenging all participants in this conflict to respect the human rights of civilians, including humanitarian aid workers, health workers and journalists. Without those humanitarian aid and health workers many more lives would be lost, and without the work of journalists the world would be far less well informed of the horrors that are taking place in Gaza. In the last week, 27 humanitarian and human rights agencies including Christian Aid, Oxfam and Muslim Aid wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and a suspension of all arms exports, and for the UK to ensure that Israel fully implements the orders of the International Court of Justice.

Any continuation of the military operation in Gaza will merely result in innocent men, women and children paying the price for a crime that they did not commit. The only way in which to prevent further loss of civilian lives, and to secure the release of hostages and the entry of lifesaving humanitarian aid, is to secure an immediate and permanent ceasefire which includes including calling off the Rafah offensive—not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but today. I fully support the international demands for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and I will be voting in favour of the SNP’s motion.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 3:18, 21 February 2024

I know that every single one of us in the Chamber wants the fighting to stop and the conflict to come to an end. The loss of civilian life is always a tragedy, no matter the justification for the military intervention that leads to it. So, yes, our Government must use all diplomatic means possible to try to secure another humanitarian pause in the fighting, to get hostages out and more aid supplies in. However, I am afraid that demanding an immediate ceasefire amounts to asking Israel to lay down its arms unilaterally while its hostages remain in peril and while Hamas retains power in Gaza. Hamas official Ghazi Hamad has said that they will repeat the 7 October attack “again and again”. He said:

“On October 7, October 10, October 1,000,000—everything we do is justified.”

That is shocking. Unless Hamas are defeated militarily and removed from power, there is nothing to stop them rebuilding their capacity to commit heinous acts of terrorism.

I appreciate that those calling for an unconditional ceasefire now are sincere and well intentioned, but I feel that such a call means abandoning support for Israel in its time of greatest need, when it is exercising its right to self-defence. We must not forget the 7 October attacks in which 1,000 people lost their lives, involving sickening levels of violence and abuse: murder and mutilation; the killing of babies, children and the elderly; decapitation; and rape and sexual abuse of the most horrific kind.

When I visited Israel in January—a trip recorded in my entry on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I had the chance to speak directly to people suffering the torture of knowing their loved ones remain in the hands of this violent Islamist death cult. We must not forget the hostages still held in Gaza, who may well be being raped or tortured right now. No pause or ceasefire can be workable, sustainable or permanent unless it comes after the release of all hostages, the defeat and removal of Hamas from power, and an end to the terror group’s capacity to repeat their 7 October atrocity. That is why I will be voting for the Government’s motion this evening.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 3:21, 21 February 2024

That is sooner than I expected, Mr Deputy Speaker, but thank you. Interestingly enough, I rose in the House on Monday and quoted a former Member of the House—indeed, a former Member for Dundee and a former Prime Minister—and I would lay the same proposition before the Prime Minister and the leader of the British Labour party, if they were here, regarding their delayed response to the cataclysmic genocide being rained on the Palestinian people: their British policy to Palestine has indeed been weighed in the balance and found wanting. How else can our constituents, and indeed the people of Scotland, view the British Parliament, when its political class has, since November—the last time we dragged it to debate this subject—deflected the reality on the ground in Gaza?

I would like to hear from the Minister, when they sum up at the end of this debate, what assurances the Prime Minister, and indeed any other Ministers, or shadow Ministers from the loyal Opposition, has received since November from the Government of Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the systematic targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure? Have their seemingly pious interventions in any way restrained the Government of Israel from their policy of genocide, all the while enabling Hamas—I have to agree with Theresa Villiers on Hamas being a death cult—making them a partner in death, hate and crime? How does this British political class find itself in this devilish and ominous situation?

One hundred and fifty-three nations have concluded that an immediate ceasefire is necessary to bring an end to the utter devastation in Gaza and to seek a way forward to deal with the death cult of Hamas, who, as we know, are supported by the theocrats of Iran—a regime to which, I remind the House, the British Government have pledged to pay £400 million in regards to an outstanding debt. It is complicated, but the Chamber needs to discuss this, while the Government are, as I see it, pirouetting on the head of a pin. How is it that the French Republic has called for an immediate ceasefire? How is it that NATO allies such as the Kingdom of Spain and the Kingdom of the Netherlands have not only called for a ceasefire, but stopped sending arms to Israel? How have they come to conclude that which this Parliament and its political class cannot? One hundred and fifty-three nations disagree with this British political class, led by the British Prime Minister and the Leader of His Majesty’s loyal Opposition. One asks: opposition to what?

The way the State of Israel has been acting must be challenged. We cannot sidestep the issues faced by the Palestinian nation—as spoken to, I think, by one of the Members from the Liberal Democrats. Palestine’s survival, and indeed that of the state of Israel, depends on it. This is a generational injustice that the Palestinian people have endured. What is the answer? It is an immediate ceasefire. The Prime Minister of Israel’s strategy is to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the west bank. Let us remind ourselves: he is a Prime Minister who is already not only tarnished with a wicked policy in Gaza, but mired in allegations of corruption. In his Cabinet is one Minister who is a convicted terrorist and another who is a confessed fascist.

We must be mindful that in seeking peace, we require justice. That peace, as others have said, must be founded in truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity and put into practice in freedom—freedom, I am sure, that is desired by Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North 3:25, 21 February 2024

I say at the outset to any Jewish people listening to this debate anywhere in the world, “You do have friends and allies here in this Chamber.” The SNP motion calling for a unilateral ceasefire by Israel woefully fails to recognise reality. I am sorry to say that the SNP is not interested in a solution that would both safeguard the civilians of Gaza and enable an Israeli victory over Hamas; if the SNP was so motivated, it would, for example, be putting pressure on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing as a refuge, instead of massively strengthening it. But of course, the focus is all on Israel defending itself.

Israel has been through multiple rounds of conflict initiated by the genocidal Hamas terror group in Gaza. The SNP motion, should it achieve its objectives, would cement the prospects of many more such incursions or attacks in the future. That is, of course, exactly what Hamas want: to secure endless opportunities to destroy Israel, granted by the confused logic of that motion. If the terror group is left standing, they will regroup. Hamas say as much. That is not conjecture; they make clear in interviews that they will continue their onslaught. They must not be permitted to continue as a terror statelet.

I regret to inform the House that the political grandstanding that we have seen in some quarters—although not all—will not make an iota of difference. Hamas have no intention of laying down their arms, and Israel, as a fellow democracy, has a responsibility.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I will not give way just yet. I have to say, I was shocked last night to hear the leader of the SNP accuse Israel of committing war crimes and hear the bandying about of such phrases. This incendiary charge is not borne out by the legality of the situation, and it is not in accordance with the facts. It is worth noting that the ICJ, in its interim ruling, said that Israel has a legitimate right to continue its campaign against Hamas. Let us not forget that all Hamas need to do is to release the hostages, including very small children, and hostilities would cease immediately. Let us not forget the third wave: the thousands of Gazan civilians crossing into Israel during the 7 October attacks. That is why civilians have been able to sell some hostages.

Israel has taken such steps despite being under no international legal obligation to, for example, provide electricity and water to the people of Gaza. It has done so despite the grave security threats posed by Hamas. Of course, Hamas cynically destroyed those very same power lines and water pipes on 7 October, which Israel swiftly repaired.

I notice that Stephen Flynn said that condemning Hamas’s attack is omitted from the SNP’s motion because it goes without saying. I am sorry, but at the moment in this country, and in many other countries around the world, it does not go without saying. Considering that since 7 October several thousand antisemitic incidents have been recorded in the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, and that people were celebrating outside the Israeli embassy in London in jubilation at the deaths of a thousand people before the Israel Defence Forces moved in on 7 and 8 October, it does not go without saying. A responsible Government in any jurisdiction is one that uses every opportunity to stand with the victims of heinous terrorist attacks.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up) 3:29, 21 February 2024

Sir Michael Ellis began his contribution by telling Jewish people watching that they have friends in this Chamber. I wish to reiterate that in the strongest possible terms. Jewish people are not the Israeli Government and Muslims are not Hamas.

In a matter of weeks, Muslims across the world will fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. It is a time to take life at a slower pace. That, however, is far from the reality for people in Gaza. They live with hospitals bombed, homes bombed, ambulances bombed, churches bombed, mosques bombed, UN schools bombed, refugee camps bombed and factories bombed—and the bombing continues. Gaza is under siege from the air and the F-35 stealth bomber, often referred to as the most lethal fighter jet in the world, is being used. Parts for this fighter jet—the laser targeting system and the weapons-release system—are made in British factories. We simply do not know if those weapons are being used by Israeli authorities in the massacre of families and children in Gaza.

Politics is all about choices. The UK Government have the choice to stop or suspend arms export licences to Israel. There is precedent for that. In 2014, the current Foreign Secretary, then the Prime Minister, suspended 12 arms export licences in the light of evidence of human rights abuses. It is morally corrupt, outrageous and sickens me to my core that the UK continues to sell arms to Israel. To all the people of Gaza—mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters—I am sorry. I am sorry that this institution of Westminster has seen your tears yet ignored your pain and suffering. I am sorry that your hopes of returning to the beach to play in the clear blue sea have been snatched away from you. I am sorry that children are experiencing heart attacks and will live a life full of trauma. I am sorry that your dreams and aspirations have changed from becoming scientists and footballers, to dreams and aspirations of staying alive and accessing clean drinking water. I am sorry.

In their hundreds of thousands, the public have marched on the streets, a unified mass movement standing up against the status quo: people from different faiths and no faith, men and women, adults and children, and rich and poor saying that enough is enough and demanding a ceasefire. Here in Westminster, we may have the Whip system and direction from party leadership, but every politician is accountable for their own actions. It does not matter that this debate was tabled by the SNP, which has third party status. It does not matter if this vote is not binding. These are semantics. We cannot continue to accept the systematic and deliberate oppression of the Palestinian people. There must be an immediate ceasefire.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

In terms of the semantics, does my hon. Friend agree that we must remind ourselves of the words of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019, when he stated that as long as Hamas remain in Gaza, he can always argue that there is no partner for peace during our lifetime? He is part of the cause of this situation.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him for his intervention.

Britain of course has a moral responsibility towards the wider middle east region, due to the scars of the British empire, the Iraq war and the incompetence of successive Governments who have promised peace yet failed to deliver. When we look back on this period of history, we will surely be asked and ask ourselves, “What did you do when Gaza was being relentlessly bombed?” Yet here we are in the House of Commons with Members of Parliament playing time-wasting games and abandoning international law. Why?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 3:34, 21 February 2024

The backdrop to today’s debate has two parts. One is the appalling outpouring of antisemitism in this country, which we debated in this Chamber on Monday afternoon. The other part of the backdrop to today’s difficult debate is what I believe is a concerted campaign to pressure and even bully MPs to fall into line behind a very specific wording about a ceasefire, which implies an unconditional ceasefire and has the objective of keeping Hamas in place in Gaza.

Every right-thinking person in this Chamber this afternoon wants to see an end to the fighting and bloodshed. It is an appalling loss of life—we can be united on that. I was in southern Israel last week, and I went to one of the sites of the worst massacres that took place on 7 October. I met Palestinians as well when I was in Jerusalem last week, and everybody in the region is feeling the pain of this. Families are bleeding physically, emotionally and mentally. This time last week I was sitting with a group of parents of children and people still in their late teens who are being held by Hamas in Gaza. These mothers and fathers are worried sick about what their daughters are currently going through.

No amount of wishful thinking, or us passing a simple motion calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire, is going to make it happen. The very difficult practical negotiations and discussions going on involve Egypt, Israel, America, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Do we honestly think that the messy, divided debate we are having this afternoon will make any difference to the kinds of discussions that they are having right now about how we dial down the violence, open up space for aid to go in, and get some kind of negotiation going that will see the release of the hostages? I happen to believe that if there is one single thing that would change the course of the war right now and lead to an end to the violence we are seeing, it would be the immediate release of the hostages. If there is one thing that we could unite around this afternoon, it would be a simple, one-line motion that calls on Hamas to release the hostages immediately. That point should be made time and again.

I have several issues with the SNP’s motion. First, there is no mention of the use of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war against Israeli women. Why is that important? It is important because there is a campaign at the moment—not just on social media; I see it in emails from constituents, and I had a constituent confront me with this last Friday—that seeks to deny that these atrocities happened. People are saying that Israel has somehow concocted this and that these crimes did not take place. Well, they did take place. They were recorded on mobile phones and bodycams, and they were picked up by other security cameras. There is a 47-minute film that people can watch if they make themselves available to do so—Hamas fighters having the time of their lives committing the most barbaric acts. I encourage all Members to grip themselves and watch the film.

My second problem with the SNP’s motion is that it contains no mention of Hamas’s guilt or the fact that they started this round of conflict. The SNP spokesman, Brendan O’Hara, started his speech by saying that he condemns Hamas’s atrocities. Why does the SNP motion not say that? Why does it not spell that out? Fundamentally, my problem with the SNP motion is that, at the heart of it, it lets Hamas off the hook for what happened on 7 October.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

After Carol Monaghan, the speaking limit will have to go down to three minutes.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology) 3:38, 21 February 2024

The recent ICJ ruling means that the UK, as a signatory to the genocide convention, is legally obliged to take measures in the face of Israel’s failure to prevent acts that may be found to amount to genocide. I have been contacted about this issue by many constituents, asking for me to support a ceasefire, but I want to read out the email from one constituent. She contacted me, and I spoke to her yesterday by phone. Her email says:

“I am writing to you again as a Jewish constituent urging you to join your fellow MPs in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. I, like many in my community, have been utterly shaken by these months of violence. As I write over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed—12,000 of them children—and over 1.9 million displaced. Jews in the UK have been in a collective state of shock and distress since the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th. Many in my community lost family and friends in the attack. Yet this only strengthens my resolve to end the utterly heartbreaking violence Israel is unleashing against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. This is not a war. I pray for the safety of both Palestinians in Gaza and the hostages in captivity, but only a ceasefire can provide the relief they desperately need. Lives, livelihoods and families are being destroyed;
the very fabric of Palestinian society in Gaza is being upended. Such a policy of revenge and collective punishment achieves safety for nobody. The UK government is responsible for ensuring international law is adhered to—yet every moment it fails to advance a ceasefire, it is complicit in the perpetration of war crimes and the killing of civilians. The ongoing escalation of violence in Rafah risks further mass atrocities. This cannot go on. As a Jewish constituent I thank you, the First Minister, and the SNP for your actions so far in working towards a ceasefire, the return of the surviving hostages, and a lasting peace. I urge you, my MP, and my government to demand an immediate ceasefire, the safe return of hostages, and the urgent provision of substantial life-saving aid to Palestinians in Gaza.”

This is quite simply the only way we can end this violence and start to fight for a future that guarantees freedom, equality and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 3:41, 21 February 2024

I have just been talking to a lady colleague who received a green card to go to speak to people in Westminster Hall. The moment she explained the Government’s position and her support of their moderate amendment, she was surrounded by a screaming mob videoing her and intimidating her. All this hatred has to stop. We have to pull together in this country. Nobody in this country or in this House was responsible for the horrific attacks by Hamas. We all utterly condemn Hamas and their genocidal activities.

We must support moderates. There are many moderate people in Israel who want a two-state solution and who are horrified by the activities of settlers trying to intimidate Palestinians. We must give hope to Palestinian people. Nothing can justify the genocide on 7 October, but still there is a degree of hopelessness among the Palestinian people at the rate of settlements in the west bank and what is happening in Gaza. We must give them hope.

That is one side of the story, and surely we can unite behind that. I support the efforts of the British Government in trying to do so, but surely we can also take a moderate and sensible position on this issue of a ceasefire. There is no point in having a unilateral ceasefire now if a death cult will use that ceasefire to go on bombing and killing innocent Israelis—it will achieve nothing. We have to have a balanced, sustainable ceasefire in which the hostages are released and Hamas’s leadership is removed permanently from Gaza. Now I am speaking largely on behalf of the people who live in Gaza. There is no future for the Palestinian people in Gaza with Hamas in control. There will be constant warfare, hatred, disaster and bombing. We have to get rid of Hamas. We have to get the Palestinian Authority, for all its faults, back in control, and we have to push the peace process forward. The Government amendment is moderate and sensible. It is trying to achieve peace and we should support it.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West 3:44, 21 February 2024

Late last night I returned from Cairo, which I had visited as one of the members of the International Development Committee to listen to the experience of heads of non-governmental agencies and UN agencies working in Gaza. They described a man-made humanitarian catastrophe, and I am ashamed of the moral cowardice in the response of those in the world who first failed to prevent, and are now failing to stop, the atrocity unfolding before our eyes. I have heard at first hand how Gaza is characterised by death and destruction. Bombs and bullets have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people. Whole families have been wiped out and whole cities left uninhabitable. Those who survive have been horrifically injured and left displaced with nowhere to go. Nothing is off limits for Israeli forces, which have been targeting and destroying places of worship, schools and hospitals. Disease, malnutrition and starvation have become inevitable. In these conditions, hope has been extinguished for so many. Time and again, some of the most experienced humanitarian workers—people who have borne witness to the world’s worst disasters and conflicts—have told me that they have never experienced anything like the horrors of Gaza.

Only 150 aid trucks a day are getting into Gaza. The UK says that it is supplying aid, but that aid is sitting in trucks at the border. Even so, the destroyed infrastructure, the lack of security due to the constant threat of Israeli bombardment, and the huge number of people contained within such a small area mean that aid cannot be distributed once it arrives.

The message from aid workers is clear: an immediate ceasefire must be implemented to stop the slaughter and to deliver lifesaving aid to the trapped people of Gaza. How anyone in this Chamber could vote against this basic notion of humanity is beyond me and my constituents.

Where else in the world has there been a war in which the majority of people killed are women and children? They are hemmed in with no escape and, as one witness told me, they are being killed like “fish in a barrel.” Andrew Gilmour, the former UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, told “Newsnight” last night that the killing of women and children “was probably the highest kill rate of any military killing anybody since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.”

In Cairo, I was told of ambulances and field hospitals being targeted, of people with white flags being shot on the spot and of children as young as five being pronounced dead with single sniper shots to the head. This is not a proportionate response. It is collective punishment, pure and simple, and it is a breach of international humanitarian law. Who here honestly believes that this immense suffering is part of a just war?

I have listened to Prime Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition in this Chamber rightly call for justice for Russian war crimes in Ukraine, despite there being no judicial judgment. Conversely, I have voted to recognise the genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, despite the UK Government refusing to recognise it, as they say that a genocide can only be determined by a court. Yet when the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent genocide, as there is a plausible risk, the UK Government said that

“Israel’s actions…cannot be described as a genocide”.

And the UK Government have not publicly called on Israel to comply with the court’s ruling—

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham 3:46, 21 February 2024

I welcome the opportunity for parliamentarians to have their say on finding an end to this horrific conflict, which has cost so many thousands of innocent lives, both Israeli and Palestinian. I recall coming to this House in October, when the Prime Minister made his first statement. I said that we had seen Hamas commit horrific terrorist acts on 7 October, and those horrific terrorist acts took the lives of innocent people, which is unacceptable.

The backdrop to today’s debate is the terrible loss of innocent lives. The Library’s briefing outlines the number of innocent lives lost: 29,000 Palestinians, with 69,000-plus injured; 1,200 innocent Israelis, with 5,431 injured; and 88 journalists.

I wrote to the Prime Minister on 1 November calling for humanitarian pauses to get aid in and hostages out. All hostages have to be released. It is now February, and we have not been able to achieve the objectives of peace or the release of those hostages. Eight days of confidence-building measures, with the release of hostages, has not happened.

What is my position today? I will be voting for motions that call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, or that call for an immediate ceasefire, because the time has come. If not now, when? The United Kingdom is a member of the Security Council, and the Prime Minister said at Mansion House that the United Kingdom will lead and not be led. If that is the case, we need the United Kingdom to stand up.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

Prime Minister Netanyahu has confirmed that restrictions will be imposed against Palestinian Muslims wishing to visit the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, during Ramadan. As per international law, Israel has no sovereignty over East Jerusalem or al-Aqsa, so does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a deliberate provocation of Palestinians? Will he join me in condemning that dangerous and discriminatory move?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

As the former UK special envoy for international religious freedom, I say that all places of worship must be protected. What we saw about three and a half years ago, when the al-Aqsa mosque was stormed on the night of Laylat al-Qadr, was absolutely unacceptable. We are now coming into the period of not only Ramadan, but Easter and Passover, which is why I said earlier, “If not now, when?”. Of course, I accept that we need hard-edged diplomacy to deliver on a two-state solution, an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages and immediate humanitarian assistance going into Gaza. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister about this, but the UK can have an international donors’ conference for Palestine—we did this for friends of Syria. We are looking at creative ways to move forward and save all innocent lives. Yes, the UK needs to put its position firmly out there on what we see as a two-state solution and a Palestinian state. That has to be in line with the 1967 borders and our position at the UN—resolution 242. We drafted that resolution and therefore we need to ensure that we deliver on it. Today is the time to ensure that we deliver a ceasefire, a lasting peace in the region.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:51, 21 February 2024

How do I find words in my allotted three minutes for the tragedy that has engulfed the Palestinian people? Israeli bombs have killed 30,000. More than 10,000 children have died. The death toll per head of population is greater than in any conflict since the second world war. Gaza lies in ruins. People are starving. Women are enduring caesareans without anaesthetic. And yet this House has been paralysed.

I vividly recall that when I was a journalist in Palestinian refugee camps, Palestinians would come up to show me keys to lost homes their families were forced to flee in what is now Israel, when advancing guerrilla troops spread terror. Along with their old-fashioned keys, they would also show me British Palestine mandate house deeds—issued by us, guaranteed by the United Kingdom and stamped with the mark of the Crown. We owe them. At the very least, we owe them our voices raised in outrage at the collective punishment they are now enduring in defiance of international law. We are talking about innocent people, children, babies, who are not remotely responsible for the atrocities carried out by evil Hamas. Slaughtering, indiscriminately, the innocent for the crimes of the guilty is the very definition of collective punishment.

Some say, “What’s the point?”. We know we cannot force Netanyahu to stop bombing. But we can apply pressure. Silence is tacit acceptance of Israel’s actions. We can show Palestinians, who still imagine that this House has a moral compass, that we do care passionately about their plight, we lament their suffering and we despair at the lost innocence of their children, as another generation learns to associate Israel with cruelty, extremism and hate. The vote at Westminster tonight, the second we on these Benches have called, is not and never was, as some commentators parochially claimed, about embarrassing political opponents. Not everything is about Britain. I will not speak for colleagues in other parties, but I know that many outwith the SNP support our motion; some have lost their Front-Bench jobs because they cannot, in good conscience, remain silent. I hope the majority of Westminster MPs now feel the same. Embarrassed silence will not save lives. If we do not call for an immediate ceasefire now, when will we? How many more innocents have to die? No, it is past time for our voices to be heard loudly and unambiguously: enough bombing, enough slaughter.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 3:54, 21 February 2024

I, too, was on the emotional cross-party visit with Yachad to Israel and Palestine last week. We stood at the site of mass murder in Kibbutz Be’eri and Netiv HaAsara and heard with horror the accounts of the victims and bereaved relatives of what happened there. We also stood on a bluff above Gaza City and saw the artillery landing and heard the gunfire and the drones overhead. I contemplated the futility of 30,000 dead, and, with horror, thought of the assault on Rafah and its 600,000 children.

Various things became clear during that visit. First, there can be no military victory over Hamas—that is widely accepted across the world and is being whispered even in Israel—not least because every bomb and every bullet that lands is a recruiting sergeant for that appalling organisation. Secondly, the security of these two peoples are intrinsically intertwined. Anybody who is interested in the security of Israel in the future has to recognise that this conflict is making things worse, not better, and that the security of the Palestinians is required for the security of Israel into the future.

We also met some remarkable people: Rachel Goldberg, whose son, Hersh, is still being held by Hamas; Maoz Inon and Yonatan Zeigin whose parents were both killed by Hamas; and a group of young Palestinians who yearn for freedom. All of them are dedicating their lives to peace. They were the threads of hope that we met on our visit, and they offered the prospect that these two remarkable peoples could find a way to live side by side.

Then I returned to the United Kingdom, Mr Deputy Speaker, to find us trapped in a crazy battle of semantics. I must confess that I do not understand the difference between “ceasefire”, “pause”, “cessation”, “truce”, which is then qualified by “sustainable”, “credible”, “humanitarian”, or “one that lasts”. The British people think that our moral compass is spinning in this House, that we have no clue what we are doing any more, yet they see the bodies of shredded children coming across the media pretty much every day. They want three simple things: they want the killing of Palestinians and Israelis to stop; they want the hostages to be returned; and they want aid to flow into Gaza.

Our job as Back Benchers is to vote for the outcome that we want to see, not some clever process by which we might get there. It is not to second guess what the parties are going to do, but to say now what we want to happen. I agree with the British people that the violence must stop. If those people who hold out the prospect of hope in Israel stand a chance, there must be an atmosphere of peace. It was Menachem Begin who said that war is avoidable, but peace is inevitable. It is time for the bloodshed to stop and for the talking to begin, and in this House, in this country, we must do what we can to make that so.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care) 3:57, 21 February 2024

We sometimes rattle off statistics in this place and they have no real meaning, but what we do know is that, in this dreadful conflict, there are 1,200 innocent Israelis who were brutally and evilly murdered, beheaded, raped and kidnapped on 7 October. The consequence of that has been the unfolding of utterly horrific images across the Gaza Strip, with almost 30,000 men, women and children—innocent citizens—tragically killed in this brutal conflict.

I will be voting for an immediate ceasefire tonight, because the fighting needs to stop and it needs to stop now, but I will be doing so on the basis of the Opposition amendment (a), which was set out so eloquently by my right hon. Friend, the shadow Foreign Secretary. Words matter and it matters that we call for a ceasefire—not a unilateral ceasefire, but a ceasefire of both sides, otherwise it is not a ceasefire. [Interruption.] Those on the SNP Benches can laugh, but if Hamas do not lay down their arms, too, it is not a ceasefire. That is a simple fact. I want to ensure that the offensive on Rafah does not happen, that we get aid into the Gaza Strip in the quantities that we want to see. Aid is not mentioned in the SNP motion. We need to ensure that the ICJ’s provisional rulings are implemented and upheld, because international law matters, and that we get a two-state solution and a peace process. We need to tackle the wrongdoings in the west bank. The illegal settlements have to end. We also need to ensure that there is justice for the Palestinians, and that we get a Palestinian state. None of that is in the SNP motion.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

There is no reference to water or oxygen in the SNP motion. Does the hon. Gentleman presume, therefore, that the SNP does not want people to have water or oxygen? Don’t be so silly, man. You know exactly what this is about. This is about stopping the killing now.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

Yes, we know exactly what it is about. The hon. Member is playing party political football—[Interruption.] He is playing party political football with the most atrocious situation that is going on in the middle east. As Colum Eastwood rightly said, there is a lot more that brings people together in this place. We want to see a ceasefire. We want to see an end to the killing.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that I was playing party politics. I am not in a political party. He should know that.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

The hon. Member can still play political football.

We need a Palestinian state. We need to get justice and an end to this conflict, which has lasted for seven decades. As those on both sides of the House have said, the brutal reality, and the real tragedy, is that there is a lot of consensus but the extreme voices in the debate have been the loudest. That is true in Israel and Palestine as well. It is a simple fact that the moderate voices on both sides have been drowned out for two decades. Those who believe in a two-state solution have been left at the edges. Both the Netanyahu Government, together with his allies, and Hamas have thrived on, and needed, each other’s extremism. Enough is enough. Let peace prevail, and let us have a ceasefire now.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 4:01, 21 February 2024

I do not think that anyone in this House, or anywhere else, does not want to see a ceasefire in Gaza. I am sure that we have all been deeply moved and concerned by the horrific sights of people suffering in Gaza. No one wants to see an escalation, and I add my voice to those saying to Israel, “Think very carefully before escalating your action into Rafah,” but a real ceasefire has to be an agreement between both sides. Unless Hamas agree to lay down their weapons and keep to a ceasefire, a ceasefire effectively becomes Israel surrendering. We all know that Hamas are very unlikely to do that. There was a ceasefire on 6 October, and Hamas broke it with the most appalling action in killing more than 1,200 Israelis and committing the most despicable gender-based violence, sexual assault and rape.

The point has been made that the one thing glaringly missing from the SNP motion is an utter condemnation of the actions of Hamas on 7 October, and their gender-based violence. [Interruption.]

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I will not give way, because of the time.

Hamas broke the ceasefire that was in place in November, when the initial tranche of hostages was released. My understanding is that Egypt proposed a peace deal in December that involved a ceasefire, but Hamas refused to take part in it. We need to be very clear in this place that the biggest obstacle to a ceasefire is Hamas. That is where our attention needs to be. I would have far more time for SNP Members if they put just as much energy into putting the focus on Hamas and calling for Hamas to end their threat to Israel, to renounce violence against Israel and to remove from their charter the objective of seeing Israel destroyed, as those Members spend putting the spotlight on Israel. The real barrier to a ceasefire is Hamas, not Israel.

I want to see a two-state solution. I want us to be able to start recognising Palestine as a proper state, but that will never happen while Hamas continue their leadership in Palestine. The only way forward in my view is an end to Hamas and a proper ceasefire in place, so that we can start to build a two-state solution for the future peace and prosperity of Israel and Palestine, but that will not happen while Hamas stay in place.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 4:04, 21 February 2024

In the short time available to me, I would like to discuss the value of a Palestinian life and why, for some in this place, it seems to be worth less than a Ukrainian life or an Israeli life.

We all watched in horror as the 7 October atrocity unfolded. No one in this place was not disgusted—sickened—by the act of evil of perpetrated that day. Similarly, we all watched on, horrified, as Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine and carried out unspeakable acts. We spoke as one in our complete condemnation of those acts. That is where the indefensible double standards begin. Government and Labour Front Benchers were able to talk about near genocide and war crimes in Ukraine, yet they are unable to do so now in respect of Gaza.

I want to tell the story of just two families and the tragedy that has befallen them—war crimes. Associated Press reported:

“The sound of gunfire crackled over the phone as the teenage girl hid in the car and spoke. An Israeli tank was near the vehicle as she and her family were trying to heed Israel’s call to evacuate their home in Gaza.

Israeli troops were firing on the car, the teen said in terrified calls to relatives and emergency services. Everyone in the vehicle was killed except her and her 5-year-old female cousin, Hind, she said.

‘They are shooting at us. The tank is next to me.’

And then there was a burst of gunfire. She screamed and fell silent.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent sent an ambulance but lost contact with the crew. The report continues:

“12 days later, the ambulance was discovered blackened and destroyed.

The two medics were dead. The Palestinian Red Crescent accused Israeli forces of targeting the ambulance as it pulled up near the family’s vehicle. The organization said it had coordinated the journey with Israeli forces as in the past.

The family car was found as well with six bodies, including Layan’s and Hind’s.”

Fifteen-year-old Nahed Barbakh was waving a white flag in Gaza when he was shot dead. It was all witnessed by his nine-year-old sister, Rimas, who told ITV News:

“They fired and hit him in the leg and he fell. My father kept telling him to crawl back towards us. Then he was hit in his neck and back… My brother Ramez wanted to go to him. My father grabbed him by the jacket but he got free and ran towards Nahed. Ramez tried to pull him, but then he too was hit, in his heart, and fell on his brother. He looked at us with a smile and then passed away.”

The report goes on:

“She added that she can’t sleep because she cries her ‘eyes out’ every time she thinks of her brothers.”

Their father said:

“They used loudspeakers to tell us to evacuate, when we did they killed my sons before my very eyes.”

Nowhere in Gaza is safe, even when the IDF promise that it will be. It is IDF state-sponsored barbarism.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

Anyone in Gaza watching their daughter having a C-section under a tarpaulin without anaesthetic, picking up parts of their brother from around the neighbourhood or burying a child is not worrying about the wording of a motion. They want to see a ceasefire to stop all that now. Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever happens tonight—whether we vote for the SNP motion or the Labour-amended motion—the House should vote for a ceasefire? That is what is needed.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I could not agree more. That makes some of the nonsense that happened earlier on, which does not do this House any justice whatsoever, even more shameful. Some people need to reflect on their actions this day.

Everything that I have described was carried out while the Government and Labour Front Benchers collectively covered their eyes, put their fingers in their ears and pretended not to see and hear what the rest of us cannot unsee. I asked at the start what the value of a Palestinian life is. Honestly, that question should haunt the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, because I can tell them that 24 Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli killed on 7 October, and that number is going up every single day that we sit here and do nothing.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland 4:09, 21 February 2024

It has been a truism across so many of today’s speeches that we have a universal desire for the violence to stop, and for it to stop immediately. The only question that exercises us in this Chamber today is, what is the most effective method to achieve that immediate cessation of violence?

I will do the SNP the courtesy of addressing its motion. This is an SNP debate, and it is that party’s motion that is important. However, as has been referred to multiple times today, the SNP motion makes no reference at all to the Hamas attack on 7 October last year. It makes no reference to the stated intention of Hamas to repeat atrocities again and again, similar to and worse than that which was achieved on 7 October. We know that removing Hamas from Gaza—again, something that the SNP motion makes no reference to—is the only way to stop civilians, Israeli and Palestinian, from being killed. If we address only half of the issue, we will condemn any ceasefire to failure and bring about a renewed cycle of killing time and time again and a repetition of that appalling history of violence.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland

I will not give way, because I have so little time. I am sorry.

The most important thing for people in the region right now is an immediate cessation of violence, which will be achieved through a humanitarian pause. Such a pause would stop the fighting, get the aid in and allow for the hostages to come out. It is not delayed by the wider ceasefire negotiations—those are inevitable, because this is a complex matter—but it makes space for those negotiations to take place. Those negotiations are going to have to deal with the release of all hostages. A one-sided ceasefire is no ceasefire at all, nor is a ceasefire that leaves Hamas in possession of their hostages.

The negotiations will also have to deal with the recreation of a Palestinian Government for both the west bank and Gaza, freeing the people of Gaza from the terror of Hamas: they terrorise not just Israelis, but Palestinians too. Crucially, the negotiations have to lead to a credible and irreversible pathway to a two-state solution. That all takes time, but the fighting needs to stop now, so the Government are absolutely right to call in their amendment for an immediate humanitarian pause to give space for ceasefire negotiations but to stop the killing now.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 4:11, 21 February 2024

On 13 November, I had the honour of meeting Adi and Dvir Efrat, a mother and daughter kidnapped by Hamas on 7 October. Thankfully, they were rescued by brave IDF soldiers. For the last number of weeks, I have stood in Parliament Square holding posters containing the names of people such as Tsachi Idan, Ran Gvili, Inbar Haiman and others who were kidnapped—not just Israelis, but people from around the world who remain kidnapped today by Hamas and tortured today by Hamas and its instigator the Muslim Brotherhood.

All of this is a consequence; the awful war that we are witnessing in Gaza is a consequence. It is a consequence of the unjustifiable attack on Israelis and Jewish people on 7 October—an attack that Jerome Mayhew quite rightly identified as not even being mentioned in the motion that we are being asked to vote on today. We are not being asked to vote for the comments of Brendan O’Hara, no matter how sincere or mealy-mouthed they may have been; we are being asked to vote for a motion that does not contain any word about the rape of the women, the murder of the children or the unjustifiable attack. It is as if it did not happen; it is as if it were invisible. Other people in the 20th century denied things that happened to Israel and Jewish people. That is essentially what we are seeing tonight: the denial of an attack on Israel. [Interruption.] Yes, it is utterly vile that it did not appear in the motion.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We have all heard much today about what various motions and amendments contain and do not contain. Let us focus on the situation and what we all agree on: as the hon. Gentleman well knows, all of us in this House condemn the despicable behaviour of Hamas. We all call for the release of the hostages—their poor families must be in absolutely terrible situations. We all want people to stop being killed, women and children particularly, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that the remarks he just made, in which he conflated things that should never be conflated, do not show this House in the best way. We are all entitled to our views, but we need to treat this particular subject seriously and with the dignity and respect it deserves. I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that he did not do that.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I am sorry that the hon. Lady’s motion, which she is asking me and other Members to vote on tonight, does not contain a single word about 7 October. It is a denial, and it is invisible because it is as if it did not happen. That is what we are being asked to vote on tonight by the SNP.

The tragedy of the thousands of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza is the moral responsibility of Hamas, just as the Israeli casualties are the moral responsibility and the actual responsibility of Hamas, who have deliberately and cynically initiated a high-intensity conflict in one of the most densely populated areas on earth specifically to maximise civilian deaths and to turn global opinion against Israel. Today, Israel faces attacks on eight fronts: Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, the west bank, Yemen and Iran, plus the one the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute wants us to open up as another front, which is the parliamentary front against Israel. He wants us to oppose Israel in this place. The SNP fails to recognise that this House can be pro-peace and pro-ceasefire, but also recognise Israel’s right to exist, and it is a shame that the SNP could not do that tonight.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope you can direct me. I have just been called an “antisemite” by Ian Paisley, and I think it is an absolute disgrace that that is where he taking this debate today.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Mr Speaker has pointed out time and again that we must use temperate language, particularly in debates that are very heated, so I would ask Members to be very careful. I did not hear what was said, but I must reinforce: please use temperate language whether you are on your feet or you are sitting down yelling something. I would prefer you not to yell anything, but please use temperate language.

Photo of Rob Roberts Rob Roberts Independent, Delyn

Last week, I wrote to Israel’s ambassador in the UK. It occurred to me that, for as long as I can remember, we have heard that Israeli military strength is among the greatest in the region, and that Israeli intelligence networks, led by Mossad, one of the largest espionage agencies in the world, are second to none in gathering information. In my letter to the ambassador, I asked why, with such a strong military that is presumably led by such a brilliantly informed network of intelligence, it was not possible to be surgical and precise about the strikes. I explained that I would be embarrassed, if I was one of them, not to be able to tell the difference between an innocent civilian and an enemy combatant.

Can one of the world’s greatest intelligence networks really not isolate and take out these terrorists without needing to simply level entire city blocks? If they cannot strike with more precision, I said, arguably they should not be striking at all, because every time they do so, they put innocent people in harm’s way. Now, in a completely foreseeable and obvious development, having been told to flee south by Israel, the plan seems to be to attack the southernmost city. I have to say that, if I were in the Israeli military and intelligence services, I would be ashamed of some of the things I was being asked to do. If I was in the Israeli military command, I would hope that I would be brave enough to say, “Stop. This isn’t right. This is no longer self-defence.”

A friend of mine asked me, “Why do you think they’ll listen to your letter when they have disregarded everyone else?” I replied, “Well, they probably won’t, any more than either side will listen to calls for a ceasefire.” She said, “If it’s your view that either way both sides will ignore calls whatever, but you believe that stopping the killing is right, and if it was your family in Gaza, why would you not vote for a ceasefire, at least for your own conscience?” That simple point of logic from my friend won the debate, and has shaped the speech I am making today.

As I have mentioned family, I would like to take a moment to metaphorically reach out across the Chamber, as I am sure the whole House does, to Layla Moran not only for facing the horror of having family trapped and, indeed, killed in the region, but for having had to deal with ignorant and bigoted comments in media interviews because of her Palestinian heritage. It may not always feel like it, but I am sure that if we allowed ourselves to be humans and not politicians, the whole House would conclude that we are all with her and our hearts go out to her, as indeed they do to the families of the hostages held by Hamas.

In the words of Martin Luther King:

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I hope that this House can stop its foolish bickering, and reinforce a clear and unequivocal message of hope for the people embroiled in this conflict. I hope that they can recognise the sanctity of all life, and bring this madness to an end. As the right hon. Members for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) said earlier, we must not dance on the head of a pin about the wording; we must get behind a simple message of peace.

Photo of Rosena Allin-Khan Rosena Allin-Khan Labour, Tooting 4:20, 21 February 2024

I returned last night to Tooting from Egypt, where I had been with colleagues from the International Development Committee, meeting some of the world’s leading humanitarian workers, medics, and representatives on the ground of the United Nations agencies in Gaza. None had ever witnessed a humanitarian catastrophe so hopeless and so bleak. They described the bitter stench of death, dead bodies, sewage, one latrine for every 600 people, not enough water to drink or food to eat, and people eating weeds growing on the roadside, or eating food made for animals. Every representative spoke of violations of international humanitarian law—children being shot in both feet, people so desperate to feed their families that they ran towards food trucks amid gun battles, and mothers waving white flags, attempting to cross the street, shot dead in cold blood.

It was truly obvious to me, as it is obvious to us all, that there has not been adequate protection of civilians. Indeed, 65% of those killed were women and children, which is the complete opposite to every other battle and war where the majority is men of fighting age. Psychologists on the ground are reporting children under five years old talking of wanting to take their own lives, because they have watched their siblings hanging dead from buildings, their parents exsanguinating in front of them, and they are now left alone to face this world. Health workers have not been protected from the war, and there have been over 300 attacks on health facilities in Gaza. Medicine has been blocked at the border, and most hospitals are non-functioning or overrun by critically injured children who are unable to be treated.

Yes, we need a peace process; yes, the hostages must be freed; yes, the wheels of international law must turn; and yes, the Palestinian people must have a recognised state. But first, today, this minute, now, we must have an immediate ceasefire to save tens of thousands of lives. This country has an historic responsibility to the people of the middle east, and it is in our strong national interest to secure a two-state solution. What this Parliament does today will resonate with leaders, Governments, and peoples across the globe. The mother of all Parliaments has something to say, and I will say this: when we are elected to this place, we want to feel that when we are looking at ourselves in the mirror in the twilight of our lives, and when people no longer know who we are, we will be proud of who is looking back. Today, let us say clearly that an immediate ceasefire must come, justice must be done, and peace must be won.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:23, 21 February 2024

War is terrible and, as we have heard today, the tragic consequences of all fighting are dreadful. War should be avoided at all costs, but sometimes it cannot be. Sometimes war is necessary, such as when accommodation cannot be made, when there is no possibility of good faith negotiations, or when the cost of allowing the enemy to go unchecked is just too great. The war in Gaza is just such a war: devastating, tragic, appalling, yes, but unavoidable because of the 7 October massacre.

Members have reminded the House of the appalling, depraved and unspeakable crimes that were committed that day against Israeli civilians. Any Government who did not then act to prevent such things from happening again would be failing in their duty to protect their citizens. There simply is no other way to keep Israelis safe than to destroy Hamas. We might wish it were otherwise, but that is the reality of the situation. We are all appalled by the loss of life in both Israel and Gaza, and we are all calling for a pause to the fighting to allow much more humanitarian aid to get through. But to call for an unconditional ceasefire now shows, I am afraid, a naive judgment of the situation on the ground.

There is no moral equivalence between a bunch of murderous terrorists and rapists attacking civilians with glee for the sole purpose of inflicting evil. [Interruption.] I will not give way, as so many want to get in. There is no equivalence between those murderous terrorists and a nation state using conventional forces to root out a dangerous enemy, however much we may criticise their tactics. For Hamas, the civilian deaths, including of Palestinians, are the point of the conflict and were the point of the original attack. We must be clear that Hamas bear responsibility for all the deaths in this conflict. The only outcome that will secure a lasting peace is for Hamas to be destroyed. I ask those calling for an unconditional ceasefire now: do they not want Hamas to be destroyed? Why are they not calling for unconditional ceasefires in other conflicts across the world? Why are they not calling on Egypt to assist refugees, as the Polish did upon the invasion of Ukraine?

I am afraid to say that Benjamin Netanyahu is not listening to this debate. It will not change the outcome on the ground. I understand that MPs are facing extreme pressure. They are facing threats, and I feel particularly for colleagues on the Opposition Benches, but we cannot allow those threats to influence our democracy, our speech in here or parliamentary procedure. Those demanding votes for a ceasefire tonight will not stop at that; they will call for boycotts of Israel, an arms embargo and prosecutions of Israel in the UN. Yet again, Israel is being singled out. As the world’s only Jewish state, it is being exceptionalised. We are seeing the rise in antisemitism here on the streets in the UK. We cannot afford to give into that pressure. We must respect Israel’s right to defend itself and to prevent the most atrocious crimes that have happened in my lifetime from ever happening again.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member) 4:26, 21 February 2024

For too long, the leaders of the western world, including in this Chamber and those who populate these Benches before us, have turned a blind eye to the decades-long suffering of the Palestinian people—a blind eye to the occupation of their lands, a blind eye to the expansion of illegal settlements and a blind eye to the theft of their homes. We are and have been complicit in the continued futility of their struggle for self-determination and complicit in their pain and suffering. Arms sales to Israel from this place, which are then used to murder innocent women and children in Palestine, make us so complicit. Ministers will stand at that Dispatch Box time after time and attempt to justify those arms sales and those deaths.

Since 7 October and the deplorable actions of that day, which have been universally condemned by my party, we have been asked to do more than turn a blind eye to the collective punishment of innocent Palestinians; we have been asked to endorse it. If it is not collective punishment, what is it? Is it merely a conflict? Is it a war, or is it more than that? Is it genocide? If it is, are we truly prepared to keep turning a blind eye? We on these Benches say: no longer. Some 30,000 Palestinians lie dead, and 12,000 are innocent children. Some 60,000 more have been injured, their lives forever altered by the horrors of war. We say, “No more.”

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the focus today must be on the bloodshed and slaughter in both Israel and Gaza? Some of the antics, games and name-calling we have seen today in this Chamber paint this Chamber in an unedifying light.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. She is absolutely on the money. We cannot afford to sugar-coat the truth of the harsh realities being faced on the ground in Israel, in Gaza and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or the potential for further atrocities in Rafah. Two thirds of those who are dead are women and children. Is this just another conflict? Does that seem to be proportionate?

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

No, I will not, and no, it is not proportionate. We are being asked to turn a blind eye to genocide. It is high time that the world recognised it as such: genocide. That is what is happening in Israel and Palestine. Innocent lives are being wiped out, families are being ripped apart and communities aare being decimated before our very eyes, never to return. The concern and the anguish that our Muslim and Jewish communities here in the UK are experiencing must be intolerable, watching the lives and the potential of their countrymen and women being destroyed by the senseless and horrific violence being meted out upon them. Their anguish is our anguish, their struggle is our struggle, and their fight for justice and peace is our fight for justice and peace.

The world is watching. We need an immediate ceasefire now. The SNP motion gives the House the opportunity to tell the world what kind of people we are; what kind of world we wish to live in; what kind of Parliament is this. I urge all those who believe in the inherent dignity and worth of every human life to stand with me, stand with us, and support our motion by voting for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza today.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East 4:30, 21 February 2024

What I have said in private scores of times before today I will now say in public. I want, my constituents want and Gaza needs an immediate ceasefire. Teisen. Tinghuo. Waqf’iitlaq alnaar. Hafsakat-esh. Jang bandi. No matter what language we say it in, a ceasefire is what we need. In keeping with the point made by my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, it is not about a sustainable ceasefire or a long-lasting ceasefire—which is basically just sustainable in other words—or a kind of ceasefire, in hope of a ceasefire. With 28,000 people now dead in Gaza—11,500 of them children—playing around with words is just playing around with people’s lives.

Israel has gone too far. It has not just gone too far today; it has already gone too far for months. I am concerned about Rafah, because we have heard time and again about innocent people’s lives in Gaza and how they would not be hurt, but we have reached that figure of 30,000. How can we have any trust and belief that the 1.5 million people now in Rafah will be left untouched?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

The hon. Member is making a powerful speech. Too often in this House we reflect on what happened in Rwanda and Srebrenica, and on how we did not take action. He is correct that if we do not take action now to demand a ceasefire, when will we do it? The House has an opportunity today. For goodness’ sake, let us come together and show that we will stand up to stop the conflict, deliver peace and get to the two-state solution.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

I agree 100% with the right hon. Member. Members on my side of the House have talked about the motion being merely symbolic or virtue signalling, but at the end of the day we are MPs not to fix potholes or to follow up on whether a hedge is growing into next-door’s garden; we are here to protect lives. We have the opportunity today to call for an immediate ceasefire. Yes, that may just be signalling to an extent, but that signal must be given today to Israel, one of our close allies in the region. Twenty years back, with the United States in Iraq, we thought we were being the good friend by going along with them. No. The better friend says, “No, this must stop now; this must stop today.” A ceasefire must happen now.

No longer in good conscience can I continue to back in public the line that Government Members have taken, regrettably. Even from a geostrategic perspective, I do not see what favours that does for Israel in the long term. Israel has had a difficult time in the region that it is sat in, but this will not create any more friends for Israel. I come from Northern Ireland—I see Ian Paisley, a villager from the same neck of the woods as me—where, in the last 30 to 40 years, 3,500 people died in the troubles, and I know the trauma that has caused. But in five months, 30,000 people have died—how will people ever get over that? In our experience, Hamas are bad people, and they have to be called out. The people behind them have to be obliterated. We do not want to work with Hamas.

The SNP motion could have gone further to call out Hamas. We in Northern Ireland have dealt with those troubles, when very bad people hid behind political leadership. The ceasefire must happen. That is also in the interests of Israel in the long term. Now is the time for the United Kingdom to step up and take a leadership position with other middle powers, not wait for the next United States election.

In my own good conscience, I cannot acquiesce to the Government’s position on Gaza anymore, and neither can the people of Bolton. Although you sit diagonal to me today, you are not diametrically opposed to me—

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 4:35, 21 February 2024

This call for an immediate ceasefire is about limiting the horrific slaughter to the 30,000 civilians already killed, and stopping more civilians from being killed by bombs and bullets, starving to death or dying from disease. Currently, one in six children in the north Gaza under the age of two are suffering from malnutrition, and 90% of children across Gaza under the age of five are already affected by one or more infectious diseases. We know that aid is available, but it is blocked by Israel, which breaches the interim ICJ ruling. If denial of electricity, food, water and medicine is not collective punishment, what is it? It needs to be called out for what it is, and Labour and the Tories need to look at that. The 2 million displaced citizens by the instruction of the occupying power breaches international law by violating article 49 of the Geneva convention. Where is the condemnation from the Government and Labour of the displacement of civilians?

On reprisals, the Hamas attacks were brutal, but 25 innocent Palestinian civilian deaths for every Israeli death is not justice. The ICJ will make a judgment on genocide, but the Israeli ambassador stated:

“every school, every mosque, every second house has access to tunnels”.

She asked Iain Dale live on air in the UK if there was any solution other than destroying every building in Gaza—she is justifying genocide in terms of physical destruction, which is a breach of article 2 of the convention on genocide. Where is the condemnation of those comments by the Israeli ambassador to the UK? There is a deathly silence.

Rightly, when debating the merits of ceasefire, the issue of the release of hostages comes up. It is quite clear that a ceasefire is required if there is to be any chance of them being released safely. It is obvious that unless there is a ceasefire, the hostages are also at risk of death from disease and starvation, or even being killed by the IDF, who unfortunately have already killed some of their own brethren. Perhaps it is time to listen to the brave families of the hostages, who have protested against Netanyahu and called for a different approach. It is time to listen to organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians, or the 25 humanitarian organisations demanding an immediate ceasefire. It is horrific to hear that humanitarian aid workers are dying right now before us. It really is time for a ceasefire, and then to look at building a two-state solution and helping the survivors, who will be traumatised for life.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West 4:37, 21 February 2024

I believe that everyone in this House wants to see peace in the middle east. We all want the killing to stop. I was not sure that I would be able to speak today, because I got a green card from a constituent who is in his late 80s who came up to Parliament. I thought it was my duty to speak to him, because he is so concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people and what is happening in Gaza. When I was on doorsteps over the recess, I spoke a constituent who is married to a Palestinian man. He came to the door and told me that he had lost 20 members of his family in Gaza.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the SNP Opposition day motion, but I do not think that we can forget the events of 7 October. We cannot forget that it was a shocking and barbaric attack by a terrorist organisation—I believe that we are united on that point. More than 1,400 people were murdered, one by one. More than 3,500 were wounded, and almost 200 were taken hostage. Innocent women were raped, their bodies desecrated and even booby-trapped to kill others when they found them. In the wake of that heinous attack, Israel had not only the right but the duty to protect its citizens and oppose the grave threat presented by Hamas, which has not gone away.

However—I think this is very important—there is a night-and-day distinction between Hamas terrorists and innocent Palestinian civilians who are facing a devastating and growing humanitarian crisis every day. That is why it is incumbent on Israel to do all that it can to minimise civilian casualties by ensuring that its campaign targets Hamas leaders and operatives as much as possible.

Make no mistake: all of us in this place want to see a ceasefire, but it must be a sustainable ceasefire. The reason I cannot support the Opposition motion is that it completely ignores the fact that Hamas is still holding more than 100 innocent Israelis captive in Gaza. No nation can be expected to abandon its own citizens to captivity, and in the Opposition motion the ceasefire is not seen as contingent on the release of those hostages. It is the release of hostages that is the key to sustainable peace, and that is why I support the Government’s amendment. I think it is moderate, and I think it recognises the balancing of interests in a very difficult region.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. There are no further speakers on the Government side, so if Members can say what they need to say in fewer than three minutes, they will be helping their colleagues.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee, Chair, Energy Security and Net Zero Committee 4:41, 21 February 2024

I will endeavour to do that, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I think we all abhor the deaths by Hamas on 7 October, as we all should, particularly those of Israeli peace activists. I can hazard a guess at what they would have wanted, and it is certainly not what has unfolded. The deaths on 7 October, or on 6 October, or at whatever time before or since, are all very sad and lamentable.

In August 2023, the United Nations noted that 172 people had been killed by Israeli forces on the west bank alone—not in Gaza, but on the west bank. Why did the UN report that figure in August? Because it had passed the grisly milestone of 170 killed on the west bank in the entirety of 2022. It is sad that this has been going on for so long—too long. The killing by Israel of 25 times as many people as were killed by Hamas on 7 October is another grisly and sad fact, especially as the majority of the 30,000 dead are children and women.

There can be no room for hate, and we all condemn antisemitism for fear of where it can lead and has led in the past, but we see daily on our televisions where anti-Palestinianism has led: it has led to genocide. The Labour amendment supports efforts to achieve a lasting ceasefire, not a call for a ceasefire but efforts to achieve it. The Tory amendment talks of

“moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire”.

The main motion talks of a ceasefire, meaning that this has to stop. What is or is not in the motion is beside the point; it is not a history motion, but a ceasefire motion to stop the killing of people.

If I were to be critical of the SNP—and I am not in the SNP—I would say just one thing to its Members. Efforts to establish any sort of relationship with the Labour leader have not worked well, and they do not bode well for the time after any election when they hope to secure a referendum. However, that is beside the point.

The House cannot impose a ceasefire, but it can be an important domino towards that ceasefire. It can be good for the immediate saving of lives, and it can mean a safer future for Israel itself in the long term. The alternative to a ceasefire is to continue fire, and that will mean the deaths of hundreds and thousands and perhaps tens of thousands more people. No more, Mr Deputy Speaker, no more.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 4:43, 21 February 2024

The SNP motion today raises the important point that we must all be calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, specifically to prevent the impending humanitarian catastrophe in Rafah, which cannot be allowed to continue. However, I cannot vote for the SNP motion without the amendment tabled by my party. Labour’s amendment provides an opportunity for the whole House to speak with one voice and call for a ceasefire that is sustainable; one that will last and put an end to the starvation, suffering, injury and death that has gone on for far too long.

That is why we cannot call for a ceasefire without an amendment that understands that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting while Hamas continue with violence and holding hostages. We cannot have a meaningful and enduring ceasefire if we do not recognise that it must, by definition, be two-sided. All Palestinian civilians in Gaza must be protected. Hamas must be disarmed and have no role in the future governance of Gaza. All hostages must be freed and returned to their families. The international community must act to instigate a Marshall plan for rebuilding Gaza and the innocent lives of all those touched by this conflict. Without those conditions, I fear any ceasefire would be unsustainable and would simply destabilise the environment further, causing more suffering.

With Labour’s amendment, the House has an opportunity to come together alongside our colleagues in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and call for an end to this horrific period of violence. A ceasefire must stand as the start of a new chapter. There must be genuine progress towards a negotiated two state-solution. The international community must play its role in creating a pathway towards the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state, recognised as such—one that can thrive in peace side by side with Israel, within secure and recognised borders, with Hamas’s operations demilitarised and their weapons decommissioned beyond use. Colleagues from across this House should join our call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire with a clear plan for how that can be achieved, and vote for our amendment tonight.

Photo of Amy Callaghan Amy Callaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 4:46, 21 February 2024

The situation in Gaza is beyond horrific. Around 1.5 million people have been squeezed into the city of Rafah, where they fled after the Israeli Government told them it was a safe zone. They fled believing they were escaping the horrors of bombing, but that is not the case.

We have all seen the videos and heard the stories of the horrors coming out of Gaza. We have seen the stories of kids being forced to have their limbs amputated without anaesthetic. We have seen the stories of women being forced to use scraps of cloth from tents as sanitary products. We have seen the stories of journalists killed while trying to document the Israeli Government’s atrocities so that the world can see. Indeed, just recently, we heard the tragic story of six-year-old Hind Rajab. Because of a conflict that was not of her making, and because of this Government and this place’s unwillingness to take meaningful and effective action, Hind has become yet another casualty of the Israeli Government’s vendetta in Gaza—a six-year-old casualty. Let history remember them. Let history remember what we do here tonight.

It is a simple fact that the best way—the only way—to guarantee not only the safety of the Palestinian population in Gaza, but the release of all remaining hostages is through an immediate ceasefire. It is not through continuously bombing a civilian population or continuously moving the people of Gaza from one area to another, and it is certainly not by assaulting the last remaining safe zone in Gaza. It is time for us all to show moral courage and recognise that the only way to bring an end to the suffering is by voting for an immediate ceasefire.

We saw injured Palestinians forced to travel south on foot as there were no ambulances available, and thought: surely now they have to back a ceasefire. We saw a pregnant woman burned to death, and thought: surely now they have to back a ceasefire. We saw hospitals and safe routes bombed, and thought: surely now they have to back a ceasefire. We saw premature babies dying in incubators, and thought: surely now they have to back a ceasefire. We saw white phosphorus falling from the sky, and thought: surely now they have to back a ceasefire. Now we are seeing a death toll of almost 30,000 civilians, most of whom are women and children. Surely now, tonight, they all have to back a ceasefire.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

We need to recognise the gendered face of conflict, as the hon. Member has said. Hamas have weaponised sexual violence against female civilians in Israel, and UN experts warned on Monday that the IDF may have killed Palestinian women and girls who were holding white flags. Does the hon. Member agree that we need an immediate bilateral ceasefire?

Photo of Amy Callaghan Amy Callaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I agree with the hon. Member that we absolutely need a ceasefire and that we need a ceasefire now, so I hope she joins me in voting for the SNP motion this evening.

People across these isles, including many of my constituents in East Dunbartonshire, demand through marches, rallies, petitions and emails that the UK Government back a ceasefire. We must end the suffering. We must stop this humanitarian tragedy. We must have a ceasefire now.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero) 4:49, 21 February 2024

Some 23% of my casework since October has been on the humanitarian disaster in Israel and Gaza. The vast majority of my constituents seek a ceasefire, and to see the death and destruction of communities, and the intolerable and unimaginable misery of innocent civilians, brought to an end. Angus constituents also highlight Israel’s right to defend itself and the plight of the people who were slaughtered by the murderous criminal terrorists who are the members of Hamas in their appalling attacks on 7 October. I have unity with all my constituents in their varying ambitions, because the situation in Gaza is a disaster for everybody, no one more so than the innocent civilians within Gaza itself, but also for the people of Israel. I refuse to believe that we have some sort of moral superiority in this country when we call for a ceasefire. I also believe that there are people—good people—in Israel who are desperately sad at what is happening to innocent people in Gaza. That is why we need to give voice to them, and their ambitions, in this Parliament and in this state.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Has the hon. Gentleman, like me, been struck—I am sure he has—by the extraordinary number of decent ordinary constituents, who normally would not get in touch with their MP, getting in touch on this particular issue?

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Yes, I have. That is why it is a great sadness that it has taken so long for this Parliament to have such an in-depth debate on this global issue of utter catastrophe. I am very pleased that my SNP colleagues have tabled this Opposition Day motion, which is important in allowing Members on both sides of the House to give voice to their constituents’ anguish over what is an utter disaster zone: 30,000 civilians dead; a stain on all our consciences. Civilians who played no part in the atrocities of 7 October

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

No, I will make progress. Too many Members need an in.

We are approaching five months of intolerable incarceration for those who were taken hostage on 7 October. Trying to extract the remains of your family from the rubble does not bear contemplation. As the state of Israel, you know you are in difficult territory when the United States of America tells you that you have gone over the top. The semantics in this Chamber are much to be regretted: a debate on the type of ceasefire is an indulgence that people who are not living in fear for their lives can allow themselves. A ceasefire is a self-explanatory, simple term, which the people of Gaza would very much like us to get to grips with and move in one motion or one amendment, so that the people of the United Kingdom can have their voice heard on this issue.

One troubling issue is the false equivalence that pervades the debate. The 30,000 civilian deaths in Gaza do not atone for the tragedy that befell Israeli civilians. The IDF represent the democratically elected Government of the state of Israel and the people of Israel. Hamas do not represent the people of Gaza. The equivalence is completely false. What is most important is that humanity must prevail, whatever the detail. That is why I will be supporting the SNP motion.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Nature and Rural Affairs) 4:54, 21 February 2024

We have heard some compelling speeches today. My hon. Friend Dr Allin-Khan, Ms Qaisar, Layla Moran and many other Members gave the perspective of people on the ground living in that hell that is Gaza right now. We should listen carefully to their incredibly powerful contributions.

I am proud to speak to the amendment tabled in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and it is important to focus on what it says. The amendment says that we oppose the ground offensive in Rafah, which “risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences”. It would put us in line with

“Australia, Canada and New Zealand’s calls for Hamas to release and return all hostages and for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

The amendment calls for

“rapid and unimpeded humanitarian relief” for the people of Gaza,

“demands an end to the settlement expansion and violence” and

“urges Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures”.

The amendment also demands a two-state solution, to which the people of Palestine are entitled, and says that Palestinian statehood is

“not in the gift of any neighbour.”

I challenged Mr Mitchell to tell us what is wrong with the amendment. We have heard many speeches from Conservative Members, and not a single one has outlined what they oppose in the amendment. Anybody who says that they are in favour of an immediate ceasefire is compelled to support the amendment or explain why they do not. It is not enough simply to say that they are supporting the Government motion, because that is very different. The Government motion calls for a pause, not a ceasefire. This is not semantics. A pause means that the fighting is interrupted but then continues. A ceasefire continues to hold until someone breaks it, which is very different.

The Government motion does not oppose the action in Rafah or speak about the need for a Palestinian state. The Government motion does not bring us in line with our colleagues in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and it does not urge Israel to comply with the ICJ verdict. I am afraid that people who vote for the Government motion but do not vote for the Labour amendment are voting against all those things, and it is really important that that message is heard.

I am very pleased to hear that the SNP will support the Labour amendment. The party is right to do so, and I hope that all those—from both sides of the House—who have argued powerfully in this debate for an immediate ceasefire will support the Labour amendment and see this House united behind those words.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber 4:57, 21 February 2024

This is a really important day for all of us in this House. Our constituents have written to us in droves, asking us to speak out for a humanitarian end to the crisis. I want to reflect on some of the speeches we have heard from right across the House, particularly that of Rehman Chishti. He said, “If not now, when?” That is a question we should all be asking ourselves.

As a Chamber, we are very good when we reflect on the horrors of genocide, when we think about what happened in Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur, and we ask ourselves why we did not stop the killing in those situations. Yet here we are again. Twenty-nine thousand people—women and children—have been murdered. Why? We are members of the UN Security Council and in a position of leadership, and we should be standing up today. Yes, we extend a hand of friendship to our allies in Israel, but we see that the only way we can resolve this is if we have an end to the fighting now. We recognise everything we have said about the two-state solution over many decades, and we now have to push on.

We are politicians and diplomats, and we are meant to improve people’s lives. We have come together, thankfully, to support our friends in Ukraine. The House has come together to say that Putin must be defeated, but we need to recognise that we cannot have any more of the needless slaughter taking place in Gaza. Yes, we want to see Israelis being able to live in peace and security. Yes, of course we want the removal of Hamas—that vile terrorist organisation—but for goodness’ sake, today is the day that we must come together. Let us stand united. Let us say, “No more should innocent civilians lose their lives in Gaza.” Let us make sure that today is one that this House can be proud of.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 4:59, 21 February 2024

When the House last voted on a ceasefire in November, 11,320 Palestinians had been killed, including 4,650 children. When the ICJ’s plausible genocide ruling made clear the right of Palestinians to be protected from genocide, the death toll in Gaza had surpassed 26,000. I find myself asking again—just as I asked when 10,000 were killed and when 20,000 were killed—now that over 29,000 men, women and children have been killed, whether this Government believe that there should be any limit at all to the number of civilians slaughtered. People all over the UK are struggling to grapple with the fact that the Government seem not to understand that starving civilians, destroying schools and hospitals, and targeting refugee camps can never be viewed as part of a legitimate military campaign. We cannot allow benchmarks of humanity to be eroded in the way that we are seeing in Gaza. This cannot be the future.

I shall keep my remarks brief, but I want to talk about the chilling, shocking disregard for Palestinian life and the dehumanisation and racism that we have witnessed across much of the mainstream UK political establishment. Any expression of Palestinian identity has all too often been deemed unacceptable over the recent period, and long before. I am shocked by this, Members on all sides of the House are shocked by this, the general public are shocked by this and countries all over the world are shocked by this, yet the US continues to use its power, along with the UK, to ensure that this nightmare continues. This is utterly shocking and it will never, ever be forgotten.

Why are Palestinians being treated differently and denied any sense of humanity? Why are Palestinian lives and dignity not being protected? I will be voting for a ceasefire again tonight and I will continue to do so until the horrors of what is happening stop. I urge others to do the same, because human rights are inalienable, because all lives matter—Israeli and Palestinian—and because the weight of duty and history is on our shoulders.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath 5:02, 21 February 2024

Today my boys celebrate their 18th birthday, so for me this is a special moment, in that I hope we will come to a decision that will make the world that they step into as adults a better place. I would have hoped that one of the most serious humanitarian crises in living memory would have brought consensus instead of competition. We are supposed to be voting to bring peace to a deeply polarised conflict, but that will not be achieved by political factionalism in this place.

Despite accusations of tribalism in the Scottish independence movement, Alba intends, as we have often done before, to support the SNP motion today. My party’s position was set out by my party leader Alex Salmond on 9 October:

“There has been a long and sorry catalogue of atrocities throughout the history of this conflict. Terrorist action against civilians can never be justified and neither can military reprisals which lead to killing and maiming of children. Both sides should be told by the international community to now choose the path of de-escalation and ceasefire. There can be no lasting settlement which ignores long-standing United Nations resolutions and there is no path to peace which can be initiated by violence against civilians.”

He was right, as has been evidenced by the subsequent violence, death and destruction. This serves no one, and an end to bloodshed should be the only guiding principle we observe.

At the start of the current conflict, many of us met a young Israeli man who had lost both of his peace-campaigning parents in the 7 October attack. Despite his loss, his appeal was for de-escalation, peace and the amplification of moderate voices in Israel. He described the anger in his country towards the current Israeli Government. We have also heard from Palestinian representatives who have lost every generation of their family in the ensuing IDF attacks. Those families had followed the instruction from Israel to move to the south of Gaza but they were wiped out anyway. We have heard testimony from Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, which are witnesses to alleged war crimes. The ICJ has found it plausible that Israel’s actions may amount to genocide. The Jewish Voice for Peace rabbinical council has condemned the continuing violence against Palestinians and those countries that support and enable it.

If this House cannot co-operate, and if it calls those of us who seek peace naive on a matter of such humanitarian significance, how can we expect others who are so invested in this conflict to lay down their arms and talk?

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South 5:05, 21 February 2024

Members across the Chamber have set out, in moving terms, the context and the consequences of the last few months in Gaza, so I will not try to capture it.

I worked for relief and development agencies for 10 years before being elected to this place, and I never encountered a humanitarian context as hellish as the people of Gaza are experiencing. Our constituents are watching in desperation and distress, and they feel powerless to the point of complicity. That is not the main issue, but it has consequences for their faith in politics and international law, and I want to give voice to the feelings of dread that people feel when the images they have seen on their screens become permanently etched in their mind.

I feel the same way. I look at my sweet, smiling, innocent six-year-old daughter, and I see a six-year-old trapped in a car for days, with nobody listening to her cries, surrounded by the bodies of all the people she loves. Those stories will never leave people.

Worse, people who express basic human emotion and solidarity with people who face the unimaginable are being met with slurs and distortions. They are smeared as being pro-Hamas and slurred as being antisemitic, as we heard in this Chamber just a few moments ago. Like most of my constituents, I stand in full solidarity with the victims of the wicked Hamas attacks of 7 October. Those vile, indefensible attacks were carried out by a cynical organisation that has not allowed the people of Gaza to vote for a generation, but the attacks do not justify the horrors that have followed.

I defend Israel’s right to exist. I stand in solidarity with Jewish people here and around the world, including those standing against the far-right Netanyahu Government and their excesses throughout the last summer. Netanyahu is a man who, in word and deed, has repudiated the two- state solution that many of us in this Chamber advocate, and that is the only possible outcome that does not condemn the region to years of this nightmare.

Comparisons between the middle east and Northern Ireland are shallow, and I avoid making them. The one lesson that can be learned is that the first step is to stop the killing. Those who ask for a permanent ceasefire are setting an impossibly high bar. Even when the paramilitaries were dragged to that point in Northern Ireland, it took a decade for their ceasefires to be made permanent.

We need to stop the bombs and the rockets, we need to release the hostages, we need to release the aid, and then we need to work every day to make it sustainable. Only politics can do that. There is no military solution here, and there never was. I do not care which amendment is passed tonight and I do not care about the form of words, so long as this House sends a clear message calling for international momentum towards an end to this slaughter and a pathway to a just and lasting settlement. Israel has failed to reach its objectives. If we do not support a ceasefire now, when will we?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian 5:08, 21 February 2024

Obviously, Israel is entitled to defend itself. It is unquestionable that Hamas’s actions were totally reprehensible, but we are long past the point at which Israeli action was legitimate. It has not been a matter of days or weeks; it is now months. Israel has gone beyond what international law views as acceptable.

What Israel is now doing is not a natural consequence of what Hamas did, which was evil and wicked—the retention of prisoners and the holding of hostages remain so. What is now happening is not a consequence; it is deliberate. Israel is acting to the plan of Netanyahu and others to make Gaza unliveable, which is why we have to support a ceasefire and call out Israel’s actions. Israel is not simply defending its own. It is not simply looking for hostages in tunnels; it is crushing the life out of Gaza so that it will be unliveable, not for weeks or months but for years, if not forever. It is Israel’s intention to flatten Gaza, which is why we have to require not just an immediate ceasefire but, ultimately, genuine peace.

That comes back to the role of Britain, which has been supine towards Israel and towards the US. The tragedy now is that it is moving from being supine, in failing to vote at the UN, to being complicit. We know that RAF Akrotiri is not simply being used by the RAF to fly into Israel; we have handed it over to the US so that it can move things into Israel. Of course, when we ask the UK Government what America is moving from Cyprus into Israel, they cannot answer. When we ask the Americans, they say, “We can’t tell you, because it is a British base.” This is a deliberate distortion, in order to allow Israel to be supplied through the UK, acting in complicity with the USA. We also know that intelligence is being used and carried out by Britain, and that it is being shared with others. We are told it relates to the hostages, but what else do we know? We are simply not told. We know that the British Army is training the IDF and that the British military machine is seeing companies making huge profits.

The time has come for an immediate ceasefire, but the time has also come for the UK to stop being complicit with the United States, to stop being supine to Israel and to stand up for humanity. The developing world is speaking out and it is about time the UK stood with it.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 5:11, 21 February 2024

Everyone here knows that what is unfolding in Rafah, in a refugee camp the size of Cardiff, but with treble the number of people crammed within its boundaries, is an irrevocable disaster. Yet in the light of that evidence, the Government’s refusal to support calls for a ceasefire is shameful. That is important, as it is doing reputational damage to the UK’s interests at home and abroad.

While dismissing a ceasefire, the Government claim to be working to prevent the loss of civilian life in Gaza. But where is the action and the urgency? What could the Government be doing to make a difference? Where are the export bans of arms to Israel, given the clear evidence of their use against civilians? Where is the diplomatic pressure on the Israeli Government to comply with the ICJ ruling? Where are the UK efforts to restore funding to the UN in Palestine, given the dire humanitarian situation there? Where, even, is the provision of treatment for injured Palestinian children in UK specialist hospitals? Those are all things we could do tomorrow.

Emily Fares of Llwyngwril, who is my constituent and British citizen, is desperately seeking support via crowdfunding to bring over family members from Gaza. She told me this morning:

“My father-in-law was messaging me most of the night as Al Mawasi came under intense fire. On loudspeakers Israeli forces were asking displaced women and children to stay in their tents, and for men to surrender themselves. We did not hear until this morning that his brother and sister and children survived. This is meant to be a designated safe zone. They are living in terror.”

The Government must be aware that the inconsistency with which Palestinians seeking to escape a warzone are being treated is set to be the subject of a legal challenge. My constituent has seen the support provided by the UK Government to Ukrainian refugees for two years. Both she and I can conclude only that the lack of similar support to refugees first from Afghanistan and now from Palestine must now be morally and legally questioned. Will the Minister justify to Emily why there is no such scheme for people trapped in Gaza?

We know that only a diplomatic means can solve this crisis, which has brought so many new horrors since 7 October—one where the fighting stops, where Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners are released and where, finally, there is a route to a sustainable two-state solution. The longer we allow death and violence to continue, the more the rising reactionary forces of antisemitism and Islamophobia will continue to spread through all our communities.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration) 5:14, 21 February 2024

I have listened intently to those Members who are supporting the Government amendment, and they are asking us to ignore two key facts. They are asking us to ignore the International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israel, and they are asking us to ignore the order from the International Court of Justice, which urges the UK Government to uphold their own legal obligations to prevent Israel from committing genocide.

Difficult though it may seem for some, the act of voting today for an immediate ceasefire is the simplest of actions required of Members of this House. The harder task is finding an effective means of applying pressure to do so. We could start with halting the provision of arms to Israel. The UK Government already have the means to do so through articles 6 and 7 of the arms trade treaty, which they have signed and which ban sales where there is a concern that arms may be used to breach international law.

A YouGov poll in December showed that 71% of the UK public believe that there should be an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Palestine, with only 12% against. The military escalation since then, and the impending threat to Rafah, have only strengthened those views. As Oxfam pointed out, more than 100 countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, support an immediate ceasefire. These numbers will grow and we may increasingly find ourselves on the wrong side of history and humanity.

Both the international community and our own individual constituents are aware of what is continuing to happen. Israel has intensified the airstrikes on Rafah ahead of its threatened ground offensive. Let us remember that Rafah has 1.5 million people, including half a million children, all shielding in 20% of the Gaza Strip, without access to adequate shelter, water, food, and medical facilities. That needs to stop.

I am blessed to represent a diverse constituency. Like so many others, I have had local organisations write to me. I wish to end with the words from the Crookston Community Group, which is represented by people of all faiths and of none.

“In the midst of conflict and turmoil, the pursuit of peace becomes more crucial than ever. A ceasefire between Palestinians and Israelis is not just a regional issue;
it is a call for humanity to come together and prioritise dialogue over violence. By embracing peace, we can pave the way for a brighter future for all mankind.”

I ask all Members to support the motion.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. After Richard Foord, there will be only Labour Members left to speak. If they can lose a couple of paragraphs from their speeches, they will be really helping their colleagues.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 5:17, 21 February 2024

I will spend my three minutes drawing on some lessons from counter-insurgency campaigns in years gone by and then I want to quote from one of my constituents.

When we talk about being a friend of Israel, we should think about what a friend is. To my mind, being a friend involves being listened to. At present, I see no evidence that the British Government are being listened to by Israel. This was particularly evident when the Foreign Secretary said that the UK might recognise a Palestinian state. It was a suggestion that has been utterly rebuffed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The insurgents—Hamas terrorists if you prefer—sought on 7 October to provoke an excessive reaction. Fifteen years ago, counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen wrote:

“If insurgents can provoke an excessive government reaction against a population, this can become a very powerful motivator for retributive action.”

On this basis, the terrorists who cheered those atrocities on 7 October—the film of them is terrible disgusting and appalling—are still celebrating, because another generation will mourn dead parents and dead children and be attracted magnetically to Islamism, to the very Islamist ideology that Israel is trying to expunge by destroying Hamas.

A more successful counter-insurgency campaign would have sought to use distinction to distinguish the terrorists from the innocents—to separate the insurgent from their support. A more successful counter-insurgency campaign would have used proportionality—not parity of lives lost, but a response that is proportionate to a limited military objective. A more successful counter-insurgency campaign would have involved long-term post-insurgency planning of the sort Mr Ellwood said earlier should have happened in advance of Israel sending in tanks.

I am proud to represent Rupert Joy, a former senior British ambassador who served in several countries in the middle east and north Africa. He wrote to me:

David Cameron’s statement that Britain could formally recognise a Palestinian state—before the end of negotiations—is an important step. It could serve to right historical wrongs, and give Palestinians hope for the future.

But I remain deeply concerned that the UK Government’s response to Israel’s indiscriminate actions in Gaza and the rhetoric is not only ineffectual and morally indefensible but hugely damaging to the UK’s current global standing and international interests”.

I will vote this evening in favour of the motions or amendments that call for an immediate ceasefire, because I am reminded of Tacitus, who wrote in “Agricola”:

“They create a desert and call it peace.”

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:20, 21 February 2024

In January, I visited Israel and saw for myself the aftermath of Hamas’s attacks last October. In the kibbutz Kfar Aza, I walked the burned-out streets and saw the homes, razed to the ground. This was not the scene of a battle, but of a well-planned and ruthlessly executed massacre: a pogrom. Surprised as they slept in their beds, the residents had no chance to defend themselves. More than 60 people were murdered, 20 were taken hostage, and an unknown number of women were subjected to horrific acts of rape, torture and mutilation. Such scenes were repeated throughout the border communities of southern Israel, and at the Nova music festival, where more than 360 young people were murdered. In Tel Aviv, I visited the exhibition that tells the story of the festival and the appalling events that unfolded there. Our guide, a survivor who had helped to organise the festival, told us that she had lost so many friends in those few bloody hours that she had to choose which of their funerals to attend.

We urgently need an end to the fighting, and a permanent and sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, but that requires the perpetrators of the 7 October attacks to be disarmed, and to have no part in the future governance of Gaza, so that they can never again—as they have repeatedly pledged to—repeat the horrific crimes that they committed against Israeli men, women and children nearly 140 days ago. It also requires Hamas to immediately release the more than 130 hostages that they continue to hold—hostages who we know Hamas have beaten, tortured and raped. Among the hostages is the British citizen Nadav Popplewell, whose sister Ayelet Svatitzky I met in Israel. Ayelet’s 79-year-old mother, Channah, was also seized at the kibbutz Nirim, and her brother Roi was shot and killed behind his home at the kibbutz.

I also want to mention events closer to home. Within hours of the Hamas attacks, anti-Israel protesters massed outside the Israeli embassy in London, and they have continued to demonstrate in our towns and cities ever since. Some have chanted antisemitic slogans and carried racist signs. Others have glorified Hamas’s butchery, and many more appear not to have noticed, or not to have been concerned, by what was occurring around them. This Manichean view of the conflict, which seeks to cast one side as victim and the other as villain, will do nothing to promote or further a desperately needed, genuine peace process that fulfils the Israelis’ right to security and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

I do not doubt the sincerity of those in this House who take a different view on Israel’s actions in Gaza. We all feel distraught at the suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. We all know that there must be a massive and immediate increase in humanitarian aid. We all fear the impact of a significant Israeli military operation in Rafah; however, the SNP motion is one-sided, and does not—

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Labour, Ilford South 5:23, 21 February 2024

Like so many in Ilford, I have watched with horror the deaths of so many innocent civilians in Israel and Gaza. I have received literally tens of thousands of emails, letters and phone calls from constituents of all backgrounds, faiths and political persuasions, and from the mosques, temples and churches, including the churches in Ilford that have raised money for Gazan hospitals for over 40 years. They are outraged by the atrocities that they have been witnessing, livestreamed for the past four months, and they will no doubt watch how all of us vote in this Chamber today.

Israel of course has a right to defend itself, and no one here is denying the horror of the 7 October attacks, which saw the largest loss of Jewish life since the holocaust. We must be clear, though, that the subsequent actions of the IDF in the past five months have gone far beyond self-defence. The scale of the carnage of the ground is unimaginable. The humanitarian system has collapsed. Thousands of civilian men, women and children are dying in their droves, with refugee camps, religious buildings, schools and UN facilities targeted and levelled on a daily basis.

At the same time as those atrocities, we have heard repeated chilling remarks from top Israeli Government Ministers appearing to condone and encourage those actions. The Minister for Agriculture called the war “the Gaza Nakba”, the Minister for Heritage raised the idea of dropping an atomic bomb to flatten Gaza, the Minister of National Security stated that encouraging emigration from Gaza is a necessity, the Defence Minister said that they are fighting “human animals”, and the Israeli Prime Minister himself compared Gaza to Amalek, referencing a Bible passage that says:

“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them;
put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

I note that a motion was proposed in the Knesset yesterday saying that it would never, ever support a two-state solution.

Those are not cherry-picked comments. They are statements from top Israeli Government Ministers. That rhetoric was a key component of the ICJ’s ruling that South Africa’s claims of genocide in Gaza are plausible. The place of Gazans, we were told, would be safe if they fled to Rafah. That is why, as we listen to that language, we dread the devastation that is about to be unleashed, and why only an immediate and permanent ceasefire would halt that violence.

We must work with neighbouring Arab nations to facilitate the release of the hostages, and to allow for the restoration of essential services and for international humanitarian assistance to reach those in need. We must not stop at a ceasefire. The international community must use this moment to facilitate a dialogue that builds a genuine and lasting peace. We must put our faith in the ordinary people of Palestine and Israel for a peaceful solution.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East 5:26, 21 February 2024

Every member of this House will have been horrified by the bloodshed, suffering and horrors witnessed on our TV screens night after night. Many of us will never look at the world in the same way again. The question that we have to ask ourselves today is: what we are going to do about it? How do we use our influence as a nation, as a member of the UN Security Council, and as a country with huge diplomatic weight, to help put an end to the nightmare that we are witnessing?

In late October, I tabled a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire, which was subsequently signed by 100 MPs. At that time, around 5,000 people in Gaza and Israel had lost their lives. When this House first voted on a ceasefire in mid-November, around 11,000 Palestinians had been killed. Had Parliament done the right thing then, it could have been part of a global push for action that saved lives, but this House failed. Let it not fail again today.

Now 29,000 Palestinians have been killed, two thirds of whom were women and children, so the priority for us all must be to do everything in our power to help stop the loss of any more civilian life, and that means backing an immediate ceasefire. The UN Secretary-General, the vast majority of Governments, and some of the world’s most respected human rights bodies, including Oxfam and Amnesty International, back an immediate ceasefire. And let us be totally clear: so do three quarters of the British public. It is shameful that our Government have repeatedly refused to support one.

As the UN Secretary-General said in October, those heinous attacks—crimes that we all condemn—by Hamas in October

“do not justify responding with collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

An immediate ceasefire would save civilian life, allow the aid needed to enter Gaza, and help to ensure the safe release of the Israeli hostages. It could be the catalyst for the peace process that we need and for a way of meeting the International Criminal Court rulings on the genocide convention.

The alternative is thousands more deaths, ever deeper human suffering, more war crimes and the risk of a wider regional war, so it falls to every one of us today to send a signal to our Government to do the right thing; to demand that they use every diplomatic channel to push, if possible, for an immediate ceasefire as the key way to help bring an end to this crisis. Tonight, I will vote for an immediate ceasefire. Every other MP should do the same. Enough is enough

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green 5:28, 21 February 2024

The Prime Minister has on several occasions stood before this House and professed his support for a two-state solution to the crisis in the middle east. On that, I agree with him wholeheartedly. A viable and sovereign Palestine co-existing with a safe and secure Israel is the only path towards peace that remains open. Indeed, when I put that very question to the Prime Minister in October, during a statement to the House, he responded that he would recognise Palestine as a state when the time is right. If the time is not right now, when is it going to be?

It is precisely for that reason that I will vote to support an immediate ceasefire today. The violence in Gaza has now left over 30,000 dead, with millions displaced. It is therefore clear that if the violence continues, the prospect of a two-state solution diminishes, along with any hope of a lasting and just peace for the region. That is why I believe any commitment to a two-state solution must be more than words; it must be matched by actions and deeds. The best action towards that goal would be for the UK to work towards an immediate ceasefire, the release of any remaining hostages, and the recognition of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.

The vast majority of British people want a ceasefire. The path to peace will be a political solution: violence and military action will not achieve peace. The members of the United Nations Security Council want a ceasefire, yet the USA has vetoed it twice, with the UK abstaining on 8 December and again yesterday. I say to this Government that they should get off the fence and be on the right side of history. That said, while a ceasefire is clearly a necessary condition for peace, it is not sufficient. The recent ICJ ruling states that it is “plausible” that acts that could amount to genocide are being committed in Gaza against the people of Palestine. The British Government must therefore end the sale of arms to Israel—weapons that are being used to kill innocent Palestinians.

Finally, in making these demands I am not speaking for myself. Over 10,000 constituents in Birmingham, Hall Green have recently written to me calling for a ceasefire, for the recognition of Palestinian statehood, and for the ending of the arms trade to Israel. Never have I witnessed such passionate advocacy on any issue by the people of Birmingham, Hall Green, and I am proud to stand in the Chamber today to be their voice and their vote in this debate.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Order. The wind-ups are expected at 5.50 pm, and the Division is expected from 6.10 pm. Contributions a lot shorter than three minutes will help—please look towards two minutes.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East 5:32, 21 February 2024

For 137 days, tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians have been killed. Entire families have been wiped out by intense bombing that has spared no one. Israeli forces have opened fire on unarmed civilians in hospitals, in queues for aid lorries and in fishing boats. They have killed children, such as six-year-old Hind Rajab—her desperate call to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, trapped in a car alongside the bodies of her dead family members, should haunt us all. The UN has expressed serious concern about the detention of women and girls, with credible reports of degrading treatment and sexual violence by Israeli soldiers. People have lost everything they own, from their homes to their most cherished belongings, and we have seen videos of Israeli soldiers stealing or destroying those people’s possessions, including the food they have had to leave behind.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians face forced starvation. In one heartbreaking video, a girl begs her cat, “If we die, please don’t eat us.” This horrific situation is not some unfortunate accident. It could not be clearer that what Israel is doing in Gaza is immoral. It is wrong. And the International Court of Justice has ruled that it amounts to a plausible risk of genocide, yet Israeli leaders continue to defy the Court’s orders.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I am afraid that I need to make progress.

If there is one moral principle that all of us in this House should share, it is that genocide should never be allowed to take place. The ICJ has said that, under article 1 of the genocide convention, states must

“employ all means reasonably available” to prevent genocide, within the limits permitted by international law, so what are the means that our Government have? They surely include doing everything they can to bring about an immediate ceasefire, increasing humanitarian aid, and ending the arms sales and military training that are enabling Netanyahu’s hard-right Government to continue their atrocities, while continuing to call on Hamas to release all hostages.

For decades, the world has been far too indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians, who are subject to oppression and discrimination simply because they are Palestinian. Israel cannot continue to deny their right to self-determination. It must end its 67-year-long illegal occupation of the west bank and its brutal siege of Gaza. The UK Government must stop their selective empathy and help create a path to safety, security and freedom for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I urge colleagues to try to stick to two minutes. I could get everybody in if they did that.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley 5:34, 21 February 2024

I welcome the clear calls for an immediate ceasefire in the SNP motion tabled today, for that is what is required. I have been consistent in my calls for an immediate ceasefire since the horrific massacre by Hamas on 7 October, and the declaration of the Israeli Defence Minister on 8 October that the Gaza strip would pay a heavy price. I remain steadfast in my belief that a ceasefire is required. As everybody today has commented, it is only a political solution that will lead to peace in the region. The ceasefire must be sustainable, and we also need humanitarian aid to go in. Hostages and prisoners must be released, and we must stop the arms export licences to Israel. However, the key thing is a ceasefire at this point to stop the killing.

In the very limited time I have, I want to focus on the gendered nature of the conflict and the horrific impact it is having on women and children in Gaza. Over 70% of the 30,000 people killed are women and children. Every hour, two Gazan mothers are killed by Israeli attacks, and every day almost 200 women in Gaza are giving birth without adequate care. All this is because 1.7 million Gazans have been displaced from their homes and are living in squalor. I have lots of testimonies provided by ActionAid and other charities about the impact this is having disproportionately on women and children.

What is happening to the Palestinians is collective punishment, as the Secretary-General of the UN and countless agencies have stated, and as the main motion before us rightly says. The ICJ—others have said this, but it is extremely important—has said that there is a plausible risk of genocide by the state of Israel. We are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe, and we stand on the precipice of mass civilian slaughter if the Israelis attack Rafah.

To conclude, I welcome the statement by the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, in the House today that this is the moment to come together. The only way this can be done is by consistently calling for and supporting those calls for an immediate ceasefire. Therefore, I hope that all Members across the House will support both propositions.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North 5:37, 21 February 2024

I thank the SNP for using its Opposition day to bring about a debate on Gaza. The House has not covered itself in glory today, with all the delays at the start of this debate, and I cannot quite understand why we are now finishing early.

The issues before us are the reality of the horror of people’s lives. Layla Moran, who spoke earlier, talked about the pain of those killed on 7 October, the pain of those in a church and the pain of the relatives of those who have been killed in Gaza, as well as the continuing destruction of the lives of almost 30,000 people in Gaza since this conflict began. There is the use of unbelievable levels of ordnance in destroying Gaza, with the carpet bombing of the whole place. Some 29,000 bombs had been dropped on Gaza by the Israeli forces. By comparison, the US dropped 4,000 bombs on Iraq during the five years of that particular conflict.

What we are seeing is the total destruction of society, life and hope in Gaza. I keep meeting Palestinian people who tell me how many of their relatives have been killed in Gaza. Our good friend Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador, has lost 100 members of his wider family in this conflict. I met a man going through unbelievable trauma, Wael, in Bristol two weeks ago, who has lost 17 immediate members of his family.

Israel’s lack of support or recognition for international law goes back a long way. It has been found wanting under the fourth Geneva convention in so many cases in relation to the power of an occupying force. The International Court of Justice—and I attended the hearing in The Hague—listened very carefully to the South African application, and in effect demanded an immediate ceasefire, which has not happened.

When this happened and the whole thing kicked off, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said that this did not “come from nowhere.” It comes from decades of the encirclement of Gaza and the occupation of the west bank. It comes from the settlement policy. It comes from the inability of Palestinian people to live their lives in peace. A ceasefire now is essential, and it has to go on to end the occupation, end the settlement policy, and recognise the plight of those thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Syria, Libya and so many other places around the world.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has been defunded. We are sending arms, not aid. We should be sending all the support we can. The best support we can give is to stop the arms trade with Israel, end the battle in Gaza at the moment, and bring about peace and hope for the Palestinian people.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Defence) 5:40, 21 February 2024

I want a ceasefire. We need a ceasefire, and how I wish that the simple act of calling for one was enough to deliver it, as some people seem to believe. In reality, it will take a bit more than that, and we must accept that if the hostages are not released, that is a major block to a ceasefire. We should throw our weight behind talks in Egypt and Qatar and at the UN, and with the people who are making practical negotiations possible to try to bring this thing to a conclusion. It is not enough to wish for it or to march down the streets, block traffic, invade railway stations, and chant “ceasefire now.” That might make someone feel momentarily good, but it does not change anything at all. We need a much more practical approach to what we are going to do, and that has been absent from this debate, which at times to me sounded like a prosecution of Israel.

As a Labour Friend of Israel, I am happy to criticise some of the actions of the Israeli authorities at the present time. I have no problem with that. But I know what happened in Israel on 7 October, and I do not think that should be written out of history by people chanting for something else. In the time I have available, I will say simply this: I want a ceasefire; I want the hostages released, aid delivered, and support for genuine efforts to build peace. I will work with those of good will from any political sphere who share those views, but we should be careful of sanctimony and lectures from Holy Willies on this subject, because the reality is that we do not get something by wishing for it or by preaching at others; we get it by working for it.

Photo of Claudia Webbe Claudia Webbe Independent, Leicester East 5:42, 21 February 2024

According to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Israeli has killed, seriously injured or maimed well over 100,000 people in Gaza since 7 October, the vast majority of them civilians, and the vast majority of them women and children. More than 1,000 children have lost limbs, and many have had to undergo amputations without anaesthetic. Whole families and generations have been wiped out, and just this week the United Nations Human Rights Office said it believes that Israeli soldiers have engaged in arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killing and sexual violence, including the rape and execution of women and girls, and intentionally and publicly humiliated and degraded others. Israel itself has posted videos of its humiliation of civilian men.

Israel did not even pause for breath in its slaughter in Gaza when the International Court of Justice put it on trial for genocide and ordered it to protect Palestinian lives. Yet our Government continue to enable and assist the Israeli military. The UK Government must explain why they have issued at least 27 arms licences to Israel in the last 137 days—British-made bombs and weapons killing civilians in Gaza. The UN World Health Organisation and others have been warning for weeks that famine and disease in Gaza are starting to kill more civilians than bombs and bullets. The health system in Gaza has been bombed into collapse. Famine is now in Gaza, and 80% of the world’s hungriest people are in that tiny enclave. Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war. Palestinians are forced to eat grass just to survive. Palestinians in Gaza are forced to grind animal feed into flour just to survive. Cutting off funding for UNRWA, the United Nations aid organisation for Palestine, is a death sentence. Only a fraction of the bare minimum for survival is being allowed through in aid. Israel is bombing Rafah, where it drove almost the whole population for their supposed safety. Israel says that it plans a full invasion, which would trigger a catastrophe that would dwarf the horrors we have seen so far.

The UK Government are under an obligation under international law to do everything in their power to stop genocide, yet they have not taken a meaningful step to do so, and they will not even call for an immediate ceasefire to end the devastation. We must call for an immediate ceasefire, and it is ludicrous that we are engaged in collective punishment. Collective punishment is a war crime. Forceable transfer and slaughter are war crimes. We therefore need the motion that the SNP has put forward today, which calls for an end to these war crimes and an immediate ceasefire. I support it.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East 5:45, 21 February 2024

Since this House first held a vote calling for the Government to press for a ceasefire, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed. More than a million have been displaced, not just once, but multiple times over and over again. Nearly half of Gaza’s population are starving, as food and water are restricted. The brutal bombardment has killed almost 30,000 men, women and children, while more lie beneath the rubble of homes, schools, churches, mosques and hospitals in a tragedy that should be unthinkable. In Gaza, where more than 11,000 of those killed are children, this unthinkable tragedy has become a reality. A 15-year-old child growing up in Gaza today has never known peace, but this conflict has been the deadliest they have ever seen.

Almost every day for almost five months, Gaza’s children have faced a multitude of dangers, whether that is from the Israeli military’s bombs or sniper bullets, the grave health risks of wounds treated without anaesthetic or infection control, the acute malnourishment and disease ripping through the population or the psychological torment of being exposed to such death and destruction. These are not combatants, and they are certainly not acceptable collateral damage; they are children. It is shameful that children are wasting away, that most babies under the age of two are starving and that nearly all children under the age of five languish with disease.

Within weeks of the attack on Gaza, we saw haunting images of children begging the international community to protect them, but in the months that followed, the international community made it clear that it is not listening. The question we must ask ourselves is: what is the point of having declarations, charters and institutions if they will not even protect children? What benefit do international courts that the UK touts as the bedrock of a rules-based order offer if they will not halt the killing of children? What purpose does this international order serve if it ignores Palestinian children as being as deserving of protection as any other? The answer is simply that it has failed. Today, we can either continue that legacy of failure, or reject it and vote for an immediate ceasefire to end the bloodshed.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South 5:48, 21 February 2024

Madam Deputy Speaker,

“what I witnessed…in Gaza was not war—it was annihilation.”

Those are the words of an American doctor, Irfan Galaria, who recently returned from Gaza having volunteered at one of its remaining working hospitals. On his return, he described the carnage inflicted by Israel’s bombardment. He spoke of the “sea of tents” around Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced. He spoke about how every few minutes his hospital would shake as airstrikes rained down nearby. The doctor described the medical equipment he had to use for amputations as being

“a Gigli saw…essentially a segment of barbed wire.”

He spoke about one occasion where parents carried a group of children into the emergency room. Their families had tried to return to their homes in Khan Yunis after Israeli tanks withdrew, but Israeli snipers remained. The children, all aged five to eight,

“had single sniper shots to the head”.

Not one of them survived.

For the last 137 days, Gaza has been subjected to indiscriminate assault. More than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 10,000 children, with many more buried in the rubble. More than 70% of Gaza’s homes have been destroyed, and all 2.3 million inhabitants are now classified as facing either crisis, emergency or catastrophic levels of food insecurity.

As I have said in the Chamber before, what is truly horrifying is that Israeli politicians and officials have said that they would unleash this atrocity on Gaza. At the start of the assault, an Israeli defence official said that Gaza would be reduced to a “city of tents”. Remember the American doctor’s description of Rafah. An Israeli Government Minister said there are “no non-combatants” in Gaza. Remember the number of children killed.

Another official said that the aim was to make Gaza a place where no human being could exist. Remember the number of people starving in Gaza. What Israeli officials said would happen has happened. The Government, to their eternal shame, have given Israel the green light, refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire and continuing to arm the Israeli military. That could change today. Voting for an immediate ceasefire—I mean immediate—would tell the word that Britain demands that the war, this brutal assault, must end now. In the face of the moral calamity we are witnessing, that is the bare minimum that the House must do. We must call for an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages and all those unjustly imprisoned, and a lasting peace, respecting the fundamental rights of all Palestinians and Israelis. I say to my colleagues and those across the House with a conscience: history will remember this. I urge and implore them to vote for an immediate ceasefire.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 5:51, 21 February 2024

I am heartbroken and horrified alongside my constituents about the terror attacks and hostage taking, and the horrendous death, suffering and destruction in Gaza. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I have been on two trips to Israel and Palestine in the last six months. One, last September, just before the attacks, was with the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Medical Aid for Palestine. The other was last week, along with many other hon. Members, with Yachad. We visited the Kibbutzim attacked on 7 October, Jerusalem and the west bank. I met Rachel Goldberg, the mother of Hersh, a 23-year-old, similar to my 21-year-old. He loves travelling and music festivals. He waved his mum goodbye and went off to a music festival on 6 October. At 8.20 in the morning on 7 October, he sent his mum two text messages: “I love you” and “I’m sorry”. She has not heard from him since.

Rachel, Hersh’s mother, is an extraordinary woman. She summarised the war this way: it is not a competition of pain and tears; it is just a bunch of pain and tears. We should learn from this. We should learn about solidarity both for the Jewish people and the Palestinian people, and find words to say that here and across our country.

In the short time I have, I want to highlight issues in the west bank. There can be no peace in Gaza without peace in the west bank. I went to a village destroyed by illegal settler occupation. The term “settlers” sounds like a nice farming fringe activity, but that is not the case; it is an illegal and violent occupation movement that undermines peace on the west bank and in Gaza. They must be stopped now with more sanctions and calling out and dismantling the illegal outposts. What needs to happen now? We need an immediate ceasefire, with no attacks on the 1.5 million people in Rafah, a surge in humanitarian aid, the release of the hostages, a freeze on the demolition of Palestinian homes in the west bank, and the dismantling of settlement outposts.

The people of south Israel and Gaza must be able to return to their homes and rebuild. There must be international recognition of the state of Palestine, and we need resolution of the contested holy sites in Jerusalem. The Israel Defence Forces has said that it is planning 2024 to be a year of war. We are here today to say no.

Photo of Michael Shanks Michael Shanks Shadow Minister (Scotland) 5:53, 21 February 2024

The list of babies killed in Gaza before their first birthday is beyond heartbreaking. This week, at least four were killed before they had even got to the stage where they had a name. At the same time, footage emerged this week from Khan Yunis of Israeli hostage Shiri Bibas and her sons, aged four and nine months, still being held by Hamas. When we debate this issue, we should keep in mind all those innocents caught up in the conflict. The debate has certainly not risen to the occasion at all times.

The fighting must stop. We must have a ceasefire, I think there is now cross-party agreement. I have heard many people in this House and outside say that the situation is not complex but simple: “Vote for a ceasefire. It’s symbolic; it is sending a message. It doesn’t matter if you agree with every word of a motion, just vote for it so you vote for something.” They have said, “Think of the headline on BBC News, not the detail.” How debased our politics has become, that that is what passes for foreign policy. Words matter. Detail is important. Not mentioning something in a motion matters. That is why tonight I will vote for the Labour amendment. It matters that we say what is important. We all know that the only way to get to the peaceful resolution that we need is through the hard yards of diplomacy, and for both sides—Israel and Hamas—to agree to stop.

Photo of Michael Shanks Michael Shanks Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I do not have time. This conflict is raging far beyond this place, and the tone and the tenor of the debate matters. In a week filled with politics, it is important that we have the chance to vote tonight for a ceasefire and, more importantly, that we spend time after this debate trying to build a consensus—which was starting to emerge on the Conservative side—on what this looks like going forward. We need a ceasefire, but we need to build a consensus for it. Dividing this House will not achieve that and it will not save lives in Gaza.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 5:56, 21 February 2024

On Sunday I returned from four days in Israel and Palestine as part of a cross-party delegation with Yachad. We met hostage families, displaced Palestinians, NGOs working in Gaza, peace activists on both sides of the conflict, and Israeli and Palestinian official spokespeople. It was a distressing, moving and humbling experience.

The conflict in Israel and Gaza has brought unimaginable horror on Israelis and Palestinians. It has intensified the violent displacement of Palestinians by Israelis in the west bank. In the very short time that I have, at the end of this debate, I want to bring to this House the words of an extraordinary young man, Yotam Kipnis. We met Yotam in the Be’eri kibbutz, which he returned to with us for the first time since 7 October, to visit the home from which his parents were abducted and subsequently murdered by Hamas. As we stood outside the rubble of Yotam’s home, he said “Vengeance is a valid feeling. It is not a valid policy.”

In Israel and Palestine, they talk about the day after this conflict: to get to the day after, we must first have a ceasefire. We must have a ceasefire now, before more atrocities are committed in Rafah. We need a ceasefire so that humanitarian aid can get into Gaza. We need a ceasefire for people like Yotam, who are working for peace. If they can set aside their differences and focus on what really matters—the future that Israelis and Palestinians can build of peace and security—we can put aside our differences in this House tonight and vote for a ceasefire.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:58, 21 February 2024

I thank the speakers who have come and raised their voices on behalf of the people of Gaza today.

We are here today in condemnation of the atrocities committed against innocent people in Israel by Hamas on 7 October. We are here today in condemnation of the atrocities committed by Israel against innocent people in Gaza every day since then. We are here today in condemnation of the taking of hostages, indiscriminate violence, maiming, use of snipers, rape and sexual assault, starvation, and attacks in places of worship, schools and hospitals. It must stop now. A pause is not enough. Filling the bellies of starving weans one day just to bomb them the next is not acceptable.

Pregnant women—those who have not miscarried or suffered stillbirth due to the unimaginable strain of living in a war zone—cannot time their labour for whenever that pause might fall. ActionAid has reported that Al-Awda, the only functioning maternity hospital in northern Gaza, was hit three times in the past week. It is intolerable.

Members on both sides of the House have outlined the horrors in Gaza. We have heard of wee Hind Rajab, aged only six; of the poet Refaat Alareer; and of Dima Alhaj, who lived in Glasgow and was killed alongside her six-month-old baby, her husband and two brothers. Dima was a health worker for the World Health Organisation. Dr Abdullatif, a colleague of my hon. Friend Dr Whitford, lost 50 members of his family, including children and grandchildren, when their home was bombed. The journalist Wael al-Dahdouh lost his wife, his daughter, two sons and other family members.

I highlight those stories because when we get beyond the more than 100 journalists, the 150 United Nations workers, the estimated 400 health workers—the 30,000 of our fellow human beings who have been killed—their stories become a cacophony of tragedy. It cannot be anything other than collective punishment. As the International Court of Justice has found, there is a plausible risk that genocide is being perpetrated by Israel. More deaths will follow without a ceasefire and without the full flow of humanitarian aid, which Israel has been holding up, being allowed in. The Palestinian Red Crescent has seen its lifesaving work disrupted by Israeli forces. There is a real fear for the people now sheltering in Rafah—1.4 million of them—if a further attack lands on them.

There are many ways to die in Gaza, from disease or starvation as well as from bombardment. And what of those who survive—the 1.9 million displaced, homeless and destitute, left among the rubble of their lives; those who are orphaned; and the 70,000 injured and suffering enduring trauma? We must not forget those people either.

I have listened carefully to activists from the Gaza Families Reunited campaign who want to allow those with families in the UK to be reunited with them, and to bring families to sanctuary here. The UK has granted very few visas to Palestinians over the years—only 1,300 since 2014. My hon. Friend Peter Grant has talked previously about Dr Lubna Hadoura. In Glasgow, there is my constituent Sama. There is Reem, to whom I listened on a call yesterday. There are Grace Franklin and Alison Phipps, who have Palestinian friends. None of them have found a safe and legal route, because none exists. People are fundraising to bribe their way out of Gaza for lack of a safe and legal route, all the time worrying and waiting for news of whether their relatives are dead or alive. There has been a scheme for Ukraine. Why is there, as yet, no scheme for Gaza?

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Some of the questions that have been asked of us today have been about how we can know what will happen if there is a ceasefire. Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is that we know exactly what will happen if there is no ceasefire, and that that alone should be enough to ensure that we vote for one tonight?

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That point is crucial. We know what the consequences will be if there is no ceasefire and we continue as we are now: thousands more people will die. We do not need to question that, because we know that it will happen, and it will be on our conscience if we choose not to act.

I have never received more emails about an issue, and I know that I have that in common with many other Members in all parts of the House. So far, more than 3,000 people have contacted me about this issue. The ongoing demonstrations outside the House and in towns, villages and cities across these isles show the strength of feeling about the conflict in Gaza, which brings together people from all backgrounds—people who have never protested before, but who see an injustice happening and want us, as parliamentarians, to do something about it.

We all know that peace can be possible, but that it starts with tentative steps. Ceasefires are not easy. The hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) described their experiences, and others brought dispatches from their conversations and visits to the region. We are under no illusions about the challenges, but we must try. In this place we have a duty. We have an obligation, a very special obligation, when it comes to the middle east. During every moment for which we delay and equivocate, more people die. It could not be more crucial than that. This is not a debate about semantics or procedures; it is about principle. It is about the people of Gaza. It is about saving lives.

The hostages must be released. Aid must be allowed in. Negotiations must begin. It is on all our consciences here in this place if we do not stand with our international partners, with countries around the world, with international aid organisations and with the United Nations. We must have a ceasefire, and we must have it now.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that Mr Speaker is a servant of this House and that he takes his responsibilities to us extremely seriously. It is that duty towards us and our rights as Members in this place that commands our respect of him.

We all have obligations in this place to ensure that all views can be expressed, and that individual Members and parties of all colours and sizes can have their say. As a Member on the Government Benches, sometimes that is difficult during Opposition day debates, as motions are always deliberately confected to try to engineer the greatest possible backlash against Members. But we on the Government Benches have never asked that the procedures of this House be upturned to militate against such pressures, even when we have faced extreme abuse. Mr Speaker has stated in the decision that he has taken today, and that he is entitled to take, that he wished for all propositions on the Order Paper to be put to the House.

However, that decision has raised temperatures in this House on an issue where feelings are already running high, and that has put right hon. and hon. Members in a more difficult position. It also appears, from the advice of his Clerk, that the decision was taken against the long-standing and established processes and procedures of this House, and that the consequence may be that the Government are not able to respond to Opposition day motions. As such, the Government do not have confidence that they will be able to vote on their own amendment. For that reason, the Government will play no further part in the decision this House takes on today’s proceedings.

I would like to stress that the Government’s position on Israel and Gaza remains unchanged, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined today. We want to see the fighting in Gaza end as soon as possible, and we never again want to see Hamas carry out the appalling terrorist attacks that Israel was subject to. We know that just calling for an immediate ceasefire now, which collapses back into fighting within days or weeks, is not in anyone’s interests. We will be reiterating the Government’s position via a written ministerial statement. I fear that this most grave matter that we are discussing this afternoon has become a political row within the Labour party, and that regrettably—[Interruption.]

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I fear that, regrettably, Mr Speaker has inserted himself into that row with today’s decision and undermined the confidence of this House in its ability to rely on its long-established Standing Orders to govern its debates—long-established conventions that should not be impaired by the current view of a weak Leader of the Opposition and a divided party. I ask that Mr Speaker take the opportunity to reassure all right hon. and hon. Members that their Speaker—our Speaker—will not seek to undermine those rights in order to protect the interests of particular Members, and that future Opposition day debates will not be hijacked in this way. I say that for the benefit of all Members. [Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I thank the right hon. Lady for alerting me to her point of order. I will take further points of order, but I think it will be helpful if I explain that if the Government do not move their amendment, the Questions will be first on the current amendment, and secondly on the motion itself, either as amended or in its original form. I hope that is helpful. [Interruption.] It would be helpful if I could be heard, thank you. [Interruption.] Order. I will first take a point of order from the shadow Leader of the House.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Obviously, I did not have advance notice of the point of order from the Leader of the House, so I am responding in terms. Of course, we support what Mr Speaker was intending to do today—[Interruption.] Hang on a minute. [Interruption.] Hang on a minute. We support—[Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We are going to listen to the points of order. The Leader of the House was heard. The shadow Leader of the House will be heard, and then I will come to the SNP leader. I expect everybody to be heard with respect.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last time I looked, those on the Government Benches had a majority in this House. If they do not like the amendments before them, they could vote this evening to defeat them. [Interruption.] But they have now decided, I understand, not to vote on them, so perhaps we have to ask whether they do still command a majority in this House and whether they are trying to hide behind some other reason. [Interruption.] Keep shouting, keep shouting. You’re just embarrassing yourselves, quite honestly.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Absolutely given up governing. Mr Speaker is trying, I think, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. It is so bad just to be shouting the shadow Leader of the House down. Right hon. and hon. Members should think about what they are doing in behaving like that. The shadow Leader of the House will be heard, and I am sure she is coming to the point of order that she wants me to rule on.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

There are a large number of Opposition Members who want to express their view this evening by being able to vote for an amendment in their name. [Interruption.] Government Members are still shouting me down, Madam Deputy Speaker. They have an amendment in their name, which they clearly do not have the numbers to get through the House. It is astonishing that the Conservative party suddenly finds itself standing in defence of the Scottish National party—something I did not think I would see. If they have the numbers to command a majority in this House, they should vote for their amendment.

Mr Speaker had every right to let us have a say on our amendment this evening and to have the maximum number of options. The Leader of the House might want to consult the former Leader of the House, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said that Mr Speaker had in fact taken the right decision in making sure that the maximum number of options were available to the House this evening.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Let me just confirm again that if the Government do not move their amendment, the other amendment and the main Question will be taken.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn SNP Westminster Leader

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I begin by re-emphasising that we are all here tonight to vote on a motion on the civilian deaths in Gaza and the appalling situation that is being faced by nationals in Israel, too? We all must remember that.

First, if I have listened correctly to what has just been said, on an SNP Opposition day, should the Labour party’s amendment be carried, the SNP’s vote will not be held. Secondly, if I have correctly read the Clerk of the House’s letter to all Members, which was sent to the Speaker, this was a consequence that the Speaker was warned of. Madam Deputy Speaker, can you please advise me: where on earth is the Speaker of the House of Commons, and how do we bring him to the House to explain to the Scottish National party why our views and our votes in this House are irrelevant to him?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. [Interruption.] Order. For as long as it takes, I will answer the point of order and then I will take other points of order, but I suggest that Members allow me to speak first.

Further to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, I have explained that, as I understood it, there were going to be three votes tonight. The Government have withdrawn their amendment. The consequence is, as the hon. Gentleman says, that if the Labour party amendment is passed, it will be added to the SNP motion. He is right to say—[Interruption.] No, let me finish. He is right to say that if there is a Division, there will be just one vote, but if it goes through, we move on to the next business.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. My understanding from the advice I have seen is that Standing Order 31, whereby the motion is put first, did not apply because there were two amendments. If there is now only one amendment, surely we should revert to Standing Order 31.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the Chair of the Procedure Committee for her point of order, but if the Government amendment is not moved, we revert to the amendment from the Labour party and that amendment has been moved. If it is passed, the SNP motion is amended and then the Question is put on the SNP amendment.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn SNP Westminster Leader

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Further to my earlier remarks, and on the back of the remarks that have just been made, I am afraid that you did not provide me with clarity in relation to, first, where the Speaker of the House of Commons is and, secondly, what mechanisms are available to Members to bring him to this House to explain why the SNP Opposition day has turned into a Labour Opposition day. Thirdly, and most importantly, I must insist to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the SNP motion is voted on first, as the Chair of the Procedure Committee has just outlined.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

First I am going to take the other member of the Procedure Committee, then I will come back to the point raised by Stephen Flynn.

Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On such a serious debate and topic and on a personal note from me, having given Mr Speaker a great deal of support in his election to the House on the basis that we were going to have a fresh start and that the conventions that govern our proceedings would not be meddled with to seek one particular political view at any one time, I am hugely disappointed by what has transpired. We as a House are not showing ourselves to the country as anywhere near our best or what we are capable of. I wonder if you can advise me on the nature of the early-day motion tabled in my name and those of a number of my colleagues, which will appear live at the close of proceedings today, and on whether those in receipt of Government payroll are by convention eligible to sign such an early-day motion?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I imagine the SNP Chief Whip wants to add to what has already been said on this.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have to say I am slightly confused. I do not want to break any confidences, but I was assured that I would have a vote on the SNP motion today. As I understand the advice from the Clerks, if the Labour amendment were to be put first and passed, that would amend the text of our motion. Given that that amendment would remove all of the text of our motion, we would not have a vote on the text of our motion, on our Opposition day. How can that possibly be allowed to happen?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Let me first address the point from the hon. Member for Aberdeen South, the leader of the SNP. The Speaker set out very clearly this morning the reasons for his decision to give the widest possible scope for different views to be heard and voted on. Owen Thompson, the SNP Chief Whip, knows that we would have been able to vote on all three propositions. However, because the Government motion has been withdrawn, that is not possible—[Interruption.] That is the correct position. We finished the wind-ups at 6.15, and there would have been the opportunity for three votes. Because the Government are no longer participating, I will put the Question on the Labour amendment

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am responding to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South—[Interruption.] I am responding to him, so he needs to sit down. I will put the Labour amendment—[Interruption.] No, I am answering his point of order. Sit down. He asked me whether that would amend the SNP motion. Yes, it would. If it is passed but SNP Members do not agree with the wording, they can vote against it. Let us be clear—[Interruption.] That is the situation.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It seems that Mr Speaker was put under intolerable pressure. Nicholas Watt, the political editor of BBC “Newsnight”, tweeted:

“Senior Labour figures tell me @CommonsSpeaker was left in no doubt that Labour would bring him down after the general election unless he called Labour’s Gaza amendment.”

Can the—[Interruption.] A Labour figure told him that, so do not say it is rubbish.

Madam Deputy Speaker, can you assure the House that everything will be done to identify who put that intolerable pressure on Mr Speaker?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. That tweet is wrong. The statement is incorrect, and I know he would want that reassurance.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn SNP Westminster Leader

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that I will have to try for a third time. Can you please advise me on where Mr Speaker is? What mechanisms are available to bring him to the House? As we wait for the deliberation on that question, I move that you use the power that I trust you have to suspend this House until Mr Speaker is brought here. [Interruption.] You can do that.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The hon. Gentleman raises a point of order, which he then interrupted. I will not be suspending the House. We need to put these questions. Mr Speaker will be in his place tomorrow.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Where is Mr Speaker?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to make do with me, which I know is a great disappointment. Mr Speaker will be here in his place tomorrow.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that, many years ago, Opposition day debates were taken seriously by Governments, and if a Government lost a vote, as happened on the Gurkha motion when Labour was in government, they would put the motion into effect? Successive Conservative Administrations have largely ignored Opposition day debates. They have refused to take part in many votes, and they have widely ignored the result of votes in which they did not take part.

Madam Deputy Speaker, do you agree that it is a bit rich for that lot opposite to give lectures about the importance of Opposition day debates when they routinely ignore them?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. First, unless there are very exceptional circumstances, Opposition day votes are not binding. She knows parliamentary procedure, so I think she knows that.

Secondly, the hon. Lady is correct to say that the previous but one Leader of the House said that if an Opposition day motion were passed, even if the Government had not participated, she would come back with a response within 20 days. That is my recollection. I do not believe that is currently followed, but the hon. Lady is right that it is what used to happen.

It is absolutely up to the Government, as it is for any Member of the House, as to whether they do or do not vote. It is their decision.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The House and its procedures have descended into absolute chaos, simply because of a decision taken by the Speaker earlier today. Is it too much to ask that the Speaker is asked to come to this House to explain exactly why he took those decisions, the consequences of those decisions and how he intends to get this House out of the mess it finds itself in? For what reason would you not suspend the House in order for the Speaker to come here to sort this mess out?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have said twice already that Mr Speaker set out this morning in detail why he had made his decision, and he will be in his place tomorrow.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

No, you will listen to the points of order and listen politely. It looks so bad, on such an important issue—[Interruption.] There is no point in shouting me down now. It looks so bad to our constituents if they see Members who are raising perfectly reasonable points of order just being shouted down. It is not good. I call Sir Chris Bryant.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There are perfectly legitimate views, on different sides, as to the propriety of today’s proceedings. However, I just say gently to some Conservative Members who have said that we cannot possibly have an Opposition day motion being amended by another Opposition party that some of the Members who are shouting the loudest—[Interruption.] I just remind some of those who have been shouting the loudest on the Conservative Benches that they personally voted on 13 May 1999 for a Conservative Opposition motion amending a Liberal Democrat motion on an Opposition day.

Far more importantly, surely, is the fact that the behaviour of many hon. Members in the Chamber today will have made a lot of people in this country very nervous about the way we conduct our business when dealing with some of the most important matters of state. Most significantly, it has been the tradition of British parliamentary democracy that if a Government lose control of their foreign policy, they have lost the confidence of the House, by definition, and consequently there is an immediate general election.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I will take the point of order from Sir Charles Walker, but I do want to move on and put the Question shortly.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not know how we got to this point today, but it does not reflect well on Parliament. His Majesty’s Opposition have clearly behaved—and I do not mean this in any way as an offence—[Interruption.] Please, I do not. They have behaved—[Interruption.] People are frightened. People have weaponised this debate in this Chamber. Whips are frightened for their flocks, because Members of Parliament now feel that they have to vote in a certain way in order to safeguard their safety and that of their family. That is a far bigger issue than the debate we are having tonight, because if people are changing their votes or their behaviour in this place because they are frightened of what may happen to them or their family out there, we have a real problem. So this point scoring off each other is not going to resolve many issues.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He speaks with his usual passion. He is absolutely right to say that what we now need to do is to move on. I want to put the Question and then we will move on to a further debate.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I do hope that Mr O’Brien is following in that spirit.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I believe that today the SNP has been treated unfairly. But it is not just the SNP that has been treated unfairly. Those of us who would like to vote for the SNP motion must now, if we want to do so, vote against the Labour party’s amended motion—a motion that Sir Chris Bryant has just said would, if we voted for it, lead to an immediate general election, so we are being placed in an unfair position if we wish to support the SNP motion. We have now seen the exit of SNP Members and many Conservative Members from the Chamber. We are clearly in an intolerable situation. It is a sad situation, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I believe that the current Speaker is a man of honour who has done a great deal over recent years to restore the reputation of the Chair after a dark period for this House. However, even if he believes that the constitutional innovation that he has introduced today is a good one, this was not the time to change the rules. We have heard from the Chair of the Procedure Committee that there is a serious question about the order here and the constitutional propriety of the order in which these questions are being taken—a question being put by the SNP too. May I suggest, Madam Deputy Speaker, that if you are not prepared to suspend the House, we at least defer the Divisions that are supposed to be happening this evening until we can resolve these issues?

Finally, because in this House it is courteous and traditional that the person about whom one is talking is always in the Chamber when they are discussed, we should defer those Divisions so that we can hear from Mr Speaker himself before we come to vote on these issues, because otherwise a great injustice is being done to the SNP and to other Members of the House.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I just want to be clear again that there was the ability to have a vote on all three motions that were before the House. The situation has changed, but that does not mean that I would then withdraw the questions and not put them, because they are still before the House, and I intend to proceed with them in the way that I have suggested.