Israel and Gaza

– in the House of Commons at 1:17 pm on 27 February 2024.

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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) 1:17, 27 February 2024

May I start by congratulating you, Mr Speaker, on your successful visit early last week to St Helena?

With permission, I shall now update the House on the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Let me begin by reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. We condemn the slaughter, abuse and gender-based violence perpetrated on 7 October 2023, Hamas’s use of civilian areas, their continued failure to release hostages and their ongoing launching of attacks into Israel. Equally, we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, with tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed and injured.

The most effective way to end the fighting in Gaza—the absolute focus of our diplomatic efforts right now—is to agree an immediate humanitarian pause. That would allow for the safe release of hostages and a significant increase in the aid going to Gaza. Crucially, it would also provide a vital opportunity to establish the conditions for a genuinely long-term and sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life. That is the position shared by our close partners. It is an outcome that we believe is in reach right now and we urge all sides to seize it.

Many people may ask, including some in this House, why we are calling for a pause but not an immediate ceasefire. We do not believe that doing so, hoping that it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward. Simply calling for a ceasefire will not make one happen. There is a different and better way to stop the fighting permanently: to push for a pause and, in it, secure a sustainable ceasefire that can hold for the longer term without a return to the fighting.

The British Government have set out the vital elements to achieving a lasting peace: the release of all hostages; the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel; Hamas no longer being in charge of Gaza; the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza, accompanied by an international support package; and a political horizon that provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution. Once we secure a pause, we will need to take action on all those elements to create irreversible momentum towards peace.

Meanwhile, Britain and our partners continue to do all we can to alleviate the suffering. We trebled our aid commitment this financial year, and we are doing everything we can to get more aid in and open more crossings. Last week, Britian and Jordan airdropped life-saving aid to a hospital in northern Gaza. The airdrop provided 4 tonnes of vial supplies, including medicines, fuel and food for hospital patients and staff. The Tal al-Hawa Hospital, set up by the Jordanian armed forces, is located in Gaza City and has treated thousands of patients since the start of the crisis.

Women are bearing the brunt of the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza today. Many thousands are pregnant and will be worrying about delivering their babies safely. That is why over the weekend we also announced £4.25 million of new funding for the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency in response to an appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. That new UK funding will help make giving birth safer and will improve the lives of mothers and their newborn babies.

It is clear, however, that the flow of aid needs to be rapidly and significantly scaled up. We have reiterated the need for Israel to open more crossing points into Gaza, for Nitzana and Kerem Shalom to be open for longer, and for Israel to support the UN in distributing aid effectively across the whole of Gaza. The Foreign Secretary’s representative for humanitarian affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Mark Bryson-Richardson, is based in the region and is working intensively to address the blockages preventing more aid from reaching Gaza.

We also continue to urge Israel to limit its operations to military targets and avoid harming civilians and destroying homes. We have expressed our deep concern about the prospects and consequences of a military incursion into Rafah. More than half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area, including more than 600,000 children, and they have nowhere to go. The Rafah crossing remains vital to ensure aid can reach the people who so desperately need it.

The path to a long-term solution will not be easy. Ultimately, a two-state solution is the best way to ensure safety and security for Israelis and Palestinians. The Foreign Secretary underlined that at the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Rio last week. The Prime Minister and all ministerial colleagues will continue to press for that in engagements with regional partners, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

We welcome the prospect of further normalisation agreements between Israel and Arab partners. We are committed to supporting their enduring success and efforts to ensure that normalisation delivers benefits for the Palestinians too. Our long-standing position remains that we will recognise a Palestinian state at the time that is most conducive to the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority has an important long-term role to play and will need continued support from us and our partners, but it must also take concrete steps on reform. The Palestinian people need a technocratic and effective Administration that can win the confidence of the people of Gaza. We stand ready to support the Palestinian Authority to achieve that aim, following the announcement yesterday of the resignation of the Prime Minister and the previous set of Ministers. We also remain concerned about the situation in the west bank, and have taken action in response to extremist settler violence.

I repeat our commitment to finding a lasting resolution to this conflict that ensures that Israelis and Palestinians can live in the future with dignity and security. The goal of our diplomacy in the middle east is to see an end to the fighting and create a permanent peace based on a new political horizon for the region. We will continue working tirelessly to make that happen.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs 1:25, 27 February 2024

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Once again, I note with disappointment that, given the seriousness of the geopolitical environment, the Foreign Secretary is absent from scrutiny by Members on both sides of the House.

Since the Minister’s last statement, there has been another month of intolerable civilian death, famine and disease in Gaza; another month of hostage families in Israel living in anguish; another month of worsening regional escalation; another month of war that cannot and must not go on.

Unlike the Government, Labour has always been clear that Israel must comply with the International Court of Justice’s orders. The ICJ said:

“Israel must take measures to ensure humanitarian access”.

But last week the World Food Programme suspended its aid operations in northern Gaza. Médecins Sans Frontières said:

“We no longer speak of a humanitarian scale-up;
we speak of how to survive even without the bare minimum.”

The Association of International Development Agencies tells me that visas for 100 humanitarian workers in Gaza and the west bank have expired or are about to expire. There have been no humanitarian visa renewals since the outbreak of this war, leaving humanitarian workers facing deportation when the Palestinian people need them most. Will the Minister tell the Israeli Government that humanitarian visas must be renewed now, that aid into Gaza must flow unimpeded now, and that Israel must comply with all measures set out by the ICJ now?

It is with modesty that we debate Gaza in this House, because it is through diplomacy, not debate in Westminster, that we will ultimately secure an end to this war. There appears to have been progress over the weekend in Paris, so will the Minister update the House on the deal involving a truce in exchange for hostages? Is he optimistic that it will be achieved by Ramadan? We all fear the war continuing into Ramadan. Will he assure us that the Government are being absolutely crystal clear to Israel that its threatened full offensive on Rafah must not go ahead?

I hear the Minister when he says that simply calling for a ceasefire will not make one happen, but neither will calling for a pause, which confuses our shared desire for fighting to stop and not restart. I therefore ask the Minister, in all good conscience, whether he really disagrees that our goal should be an immediate ceasefire now. Does he disagree that both sides should stop the fighting now? Does he disagree that all hostages should be released now? Does he disagree that aid should flow unimpeded into Gaza now? Does he disagree that Britain should work with international partners to recognise the Palestinian state now? Does he disagree that we should work together to establish a diplomatic process to deliver a two-state solution?

I respect the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman, greatly, and I strongly suspect that he agrees with every word of Labour’s position, and that the Foreign Secretary does too. Can we speak together, as we have done on Ukraine? Our words bring pressure and send a powerful signal that, for once, we can put the political games aside and meet as the Government and the official Opposition to agree a shared position and put out a statement calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire now.

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 thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for what he said. I must say to him that I set out at some length in the debate last week the Government’s position in the amendment that we tabled. Having listened to him with great care today, I must say that his position, on behalf of the official Opposition, is incredibly close to what the Government set out in our amendment last week. He asks me to set out clearly our position; our position was very clearly set out in that amendment. I am warmed by the fact that his position today appears to be almost identical to that.

The right hon. Gentleman asks what the Government’s position is. We have been clear: we are trying to negotiate. He asks me whether I agree with him on an immediate pause to get hostages out, and to get incredibly badly needed aid in, leading to a sustainable ceasefire. He mentions the position on humanitarian visas and humanitarian workers. There is nothing between us on that; we are doing everything we can to advance that position.

The right hon. Gentleman asks me about recent humanitarian entry. I can tell him that on Sunday 25 February, 94 trucks got in, but on 22 February, 220 trucks got in—178 through Kerem Shalom and 42 through Rafah. That was the highest number since 17 January. Those figures show that it is possible to get vital humanitarian aid in, and we must do everything we can to ensure that those higher levels continue.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the hostage negotiations. There has been a great deal in the press over the weekend. He asks whether I am optimistic. The answer is that I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but I can tell him that the British Government are doing everything we can to ensure that negotiations are successful.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am sure that the Minister agrees that it is profoundly in the British interest for there to be a properly functioning system of international rules and laws, and that the International Court of Justice is central to that system, so what concrete steps are the Government taking to enforce the Court’s ruling on the conflict—not condemn, press or discuss, but enforce it? Is it the Minister’s view that an assault on Rafah, given its impact on civilians—including, as he pointed out, 600,000 children—would be in line with the ruling of 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)

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

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

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

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

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

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 simply do not think the idea that the Government have looked the other way carries any possible credibility at all. The hon. Gentleman might remember that the source of all this was the 7 October pogrom committed against the Israeli people—the worst killing of Jewish people at any time since the end of the second world war. There needs to be some balance in what is said, and the language that he uses is not helpful to the central aim that we all have: to bring about a ceasefire, and get hostages out and aid in.

Also, the hon. Gentleman should remember that Britain has the toughest weapons regulation and arms export regime of anywhere in the world. He talks about collective punishment, but the point that he misses is that our determination since day one has been to get as much food as we possibly can into Gaza. If he looks back at everything the Government have said on this, we have been working as hard as anyone to get that humanitarian relief into Gaza. I submit that beneath the sound and fury of what he says, there is more substantial agreement between his party and the Government than he recognises.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to the House and setting out a clear and principled statement. As he knows, our position is thoroughly in line with that of our partners—the ones who are involved in very serious and sensitive negotiations right now to end the fighting. Will he say a bit more about the concrete steps towards reform? He mentioned the Palestinian Authority and the resignation of Prime Minister Shtayyeh yesterday. Do the reforms that he has in mind include an end to endemic corruption, to incitement to violence through the school curriculum, and to the terrible policy of paying convicted terrorists a reward for having carried out murder?

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

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

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

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)

The Chairman of the Select Committee makes a very good point, and I look forward to meeting her later today to discuss this and other matters. I believe that the point that she has made is addressed by the fact that, just as in the UK military, targeting in Israel is subject to lawyers being present in the room and legal advice. That should give her some comfort on her specific point about drone targeting.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

On the post-conflict governance of both the west bank and Gaza, does the Minister share with me some concern that while the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority has resigned, there are still key Fatah people in place? He will know that in 2007, the Palestinian people in Gaza rejected Fatah, and we all saw where that ended up on 7 October. Why does he, along with the United States, think that Fatah will be part of the—albeit technocratic—post-conflict governance solution for both the west bank and 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)

My right hon. Friend makes an important and interesting point. The new Government on the west bank who have resulted from the resignation of the Prime Minister over the weekend are an interim Government, and many of these points can be addressed during the period of interim Government before we move to a new Government on the west bank.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

I welcome the Minister calling publicly for Israel to limit its military operations to military targets. In turn, we should recall that hostage taking is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law, and the International Committee of the Red Cross should be granted access to captives held by Hamas. In the long term, I and the Liberal Democrats believe that Israel would be more secure following a successful negotiation based on a two-state solution. Does the Minister agree with us that negotiations should begin from the position that the Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 borders?

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)

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but he will have seen from the Government’s amendment last week that a very clear process is going on. I very much hope that his party can support it.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

I know that the Government are doing everything they can to get food into Gaza, but we hear increasing numbers of reports of malnourishment and even starvation of adults and children. Will the Government say to the Israelis that there really is no acceptable reason to not allow food in now?

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 is right: there is no acceptable reason. That is why the Government are pressing so hard to get additional humanitarian support into not only the southern part of Gaza, but the northern part.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

The Minister told the SNP spokesperson, Brendan O’Hara, that there needs to be some balance, yet the word “accountability” seemed to be missing from his statement. The UK Government recognise the jurisdiction and independence of the ICJ, which is of course investigating the alleged war crimes and genocidal actions of the Israeli Government in Gaza. As a champion of international law and human rights, will the Minister confirm that his Government recognise that Israel has an obligation to comply with the ICJ’s ruling of 26 January, and that the UK will support the Court’s decision to issue an opinion examining the legality of the occupation?

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)

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, we are very much in favour of accountability and transparency. That is at the heart of the reason why both our parties have been strong supporters of the International Criminal Court. He will be aware of the legal position on the ICJ’s rulings, which I set out a moment or two ago.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

In attempting to build confidence for a humanitarian pause, we have to remember that the last time a pause was negotiated, Hamas broke it, rearmed and started firing again, and stole the international aid that was going in to help those poor Palestinians. What measures will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the precondition for a humanitarian pause is the release of hostages; that international aid actually gets to the people who need it, and is not diverted by Hamas; and that Hamas respect such a pause?

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 is correct. He underlines the great difficulty in negotiating and agreeing a pause or ceasefire when one of the parties is absolutely clear that they do not want one, and that they wish to replicate the events that took place on 7 October. That is the official position of Hamas.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

What is the Minister’s assessment of the effect of the UK’s abstention on last week’s Security Council vote on the US and its position?

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 are working towards a further United Nations Security Council resolution. Britain is continuing, as it has from the start, to try to bring people together behind the common position that I set out earlier. We will continue to do so in respect of future United Nations Security Council resolutions whenever we can.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

Hamas is a terrorist organisation full of rapists, murderers and repressors—that cannot be overlooked at any time in these conversations. The reality is that the Gaza area has had hundreds of millions of dollars and other currency invested in it. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and associate myself with everything in it. He has talked about how the rebuilding will happen afterwards, so I ask him to ensure that as part of that rebuilding, the aid that will need to go in is used effectively to make that area the prosperous area it can be once it is free from the tyranny of those terrorists.

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 sets out very well one of the key aspects of the five-point plan, which Britain is doing everything we can to see implemented.

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

Just a few weeks ago, in a debate on arms exports to Israel, the Minister for Trade Policy told Westminster Hall:

“We take our obligations in this space exceptionally seriously. As I have shown before, we have acted to change policy in relation to changing circumstances on the ground.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2023;
Vol. 742, c. 272WH.]

The circumstances are tragic and brutal, and crystal clear to anyone willing to see them: Gaza is being razed to the ground and civilians actively targeted, potentially using the very equipment that the UK is exporting to Israel. Over 12,000 children have been butchered, with the Israel Defence Forces busy taking selfies over the ruins and bodies. What exactly will it take for this Government to suspend arms exports to Israel?

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)

The position that the Minister set out in Westminster Hall was absolutely correct. The Government take legal advice on this matter, the arms export Committee does its work effectively, and we will continue to act on the advice that we are given when we are given it.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

As I said last week, a ceasefire is a contract between two sides that is overseen by a third party. Neither side is agreeing to a ceasefire right now, nor is there a third party in place to oversee it. I am happy to say today that I want a ceasefire and the steps to get us there, and I also want Parliament to speak with a single voice, which is so much more powerful than our tabling motions that we then divide the House on. Speaking with one voice will require consensus and compromise, so before we risk repeating last week’s fiasco that saw tensions rise, I invite the Minister—as he has alluded to in his remarks—to quietly bring together the Opposition parties at No. 10 to see whether a consensus line can be agreed to avoid this House returning to the circus we saw last week.

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 thank the former Chairman of the Defence Committee for his wise and sensible approach. As I said earlier to both the shadow Foreign Secretary and the SNP spokesman, if we study carefully the Government amendment that was tabled in the SNP debate last week, we see a very substantial degree of agreement. We must try very hard to build on that so that the House speaks with one voice, as my right hon. Friend says.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

It has been three months since the pause between 24 and 30 November, and at that point the aid could not reach people because of the infrastructure challenges. Today, those infrastructure challenges have escalated, and certainly a pause would not serve to get that aid into the places it needs to go. Why will the Minister not review his position in light of the fact that, to date, it has not achieved what it needs to: ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches all the people who need it? That will require a ceasefire, will it not?

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)

The hon. Member accurately sets out the fact that what was hoped for some weeks and months ago has not been realised, but that should merely incentivise us to redouble our efforts to get the necessary aid and support into Gaza. I would point out that Jamie McGoldrick, the highly experienced UN resident co-ordinator, said over the weekend that he hopes it will be possible for the United Nations to return to Khan Younis when military operations end there. That shows that the situation is dynamic, and we are doing anything we can to move with it to achieve the results that she and I both want.

Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Conservative, Gravesham

Given the humanitarian situation in Gaza, what does the Minister think is stopping Hamas releasing the hostages?

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)

To some extent, my hon. and gallant Friend answers his own question. Dealing with an organisation such as Hamas is extraordinarily difficult, as we have seen over recent weeks and months.

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)

The review of UNRWA, as the right hon. Member may know, is being conducted first and foremost by the independent UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, and secondly, Catherine Colonna, the former French Foreign Minister, is engaged in writing a separate report. It is to both those two organisations that the evidence is required to be delivered.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

Few would deny Israel’s right to self-defence, but the ongoing events in Gaza are difficult to stomach. Can the Minister please confirm to the House that everything possible is being done with our international partners to demand Israeli restraint?

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice)

The Minister made great play in his statement of saying that

“we also announced £4.25 million of new funding for the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency in response to an appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

How can he compare that £4.25 million figure with the amount of money that UK companies are benefiting from in arms sales that are slaughtering thousands of children?

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)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have tripled our aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. While it may seem like a relatively small figure, we are careful guardians of British taxpayers’ money and we spend it on what we know we can do effectively. He will understand, from the position that exists at the moment on the west bank and in Gaza, the difficulty of making these subventions really count on the ground, but he will also understand the great need for them.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

Can the Minister understand that some of us who are calling for an immediate ceasefire now are doing so against the backdrop of the horrific loss of innocent lives—1,200 innocent Israelis and 29,000 Palestinians? Our previous strategy from November of getting hostages out and getting aid in through humanitarian pauses, which I supported, has not worked. That is why we are advocating for a new strategy.

The world is looking to the United Kingdom to lead at the Security Council, so can the United Kingdom now lead and get that ceasefire, and ensure as part of that motion that religious places of worship are protected? If that is not included—given what we saw with the storming of al-Aqsa—that would kick things off again. Please can we ensure that there is an immediate ceasefire and, as part of the Security Council resolution, that all places of worship are protected, especially as we are coming into Ramadan, Passover and Easter?

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 cannot will a ceasefire unless both the protagonists are willing to endorse it. That is why Britain has argued consistently that the first thing to do is to get a humanitarian pause, so that we can get the hostages out and humanitarian aid in, and then build on that towards a ceasefire. That is the right thing to do in these circumstances. As far as the next United Nations Security Council resolution is concerned, we are doing everything we can to ensure that we make the progress the House quite rightly wants to see.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

We have heard details of the most appalling humanitarian situation in Rafah, with Palestinian civilians surviving on weeds, animal feed and even birdseed. Have the UK Government sought or secured any assurance that Israel will not launch a ground invasion of Rafah?

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)

The hon. Lady will know that we are not in control of events. We have given our very strong advice and view, and the voice of this House will have been heard on the specific point she makes.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

I thank the Minister for his statement, and I welcome the fact that the UK is now promising more humanitarian support for women and girls, who always bear the brunt in conflict situations around the world. I welcome the £4.25 million of new funding for the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, but what are we doing to make sure that the money actually gets out of the agency and down to the ground to help the thousands of women who he says are waiting to give birth?

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 accurately identifies the need, and we are seeking, through this small but vital amount of money, to meet as much of that need as we practically can. I give her and the House the commitment that, if there is in due course the opportunity to do more on this front, we will certainly do it.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

While over 1 million people continue to starve, the aid delivered to Gaza over this month fell by half compared with January. The Minister speaks about wanting to see more aid reach Gaza to alleviate the humanitarian nightmare that Palestinians face, but he is clearly ignoring reports from Human Rights Watch that Israel is blocking aid to Gaza. That is in direct contravention of the ICJ’s instructions for Israel to ensure the delivery of aid to Gaza. Does the Minister not see the huge flaw in arguing for more aid to Gaza at the same time as he refuses to endorse the ICJ’s interim ruling? It is the Government’s refusal to back one of the world’s highest courts that has given the Israeli Government the diplomatic cover they need to prevent aid from reaching 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)

The effort to get aid and supplies in through Rafah is ongoing. The hon. Member will be aware of the great difficulties there have been in getting aid in through Rafah because of demonstrations there, because of bottlenecks and because of restrictions. That is why Britain has been pushing for the largest number of entry points, so that the aid that is available in the area can be got through those entry points to relieve people who are in the desperate need that he so eloquently summed up.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

It goes without saying that aid is only of any use if it actually reaches the civilian population that needs it, and there is evidence that Hamas are misappropriating up to 60% of humanitarian aid entering Gaza, which is part of their long-term pattern of prioritising their fighters, abusing aid to produce rockets and using construction materials to build hundreds of miles of terror tunnels for their activities. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Hamas are flagrantly disregarding the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in Gaza, and that there can be no peace and no two-state solution until they lose control of 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)

My hon. Friend could not have put it better. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Hamas do not care at all about the suffering and the humanitarian need that exists in Gaza, and at no point have they shown any understanding of what is happening as a result of their using the population of Gaza as a human shield for their vile activities.

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

Will the UK continuing to sell arms to Israel result in fewer innocent civilians losing their lives in 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 have set out the fact that Britain has the toughest arms export regulations anywhere in the world. Ministers rely upon the legal advice and other advice that accompanies the work of an independent committee within Government.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The scale of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza is beyond words. The Times journalist Amal Helles has reported that Gaza is a place now with no schools, no jobs, no homes and no streets, yet the United Nations is saying that the reduction in the number of food trucks from January to February is 50%. Apparently, the average is 62 a day, compared with 500 a day before October. Can my right hon. Friend share with us what progress has been made in the talks on a six-week pause that would surely allow more aid to get in and more hostages 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)

Our determination, which my hon. Friend articulates accurately, is to get that pause to enable the hostages to be released, and to get food in. That is the absolute burden of our activities. As I mentioned to the House, the number of trucks getting into Gaza is patchy. On Sunday, 94 trucks got in, but on 22 February 220 trucks got in, which was the highest number since 17 January. What the House can determine from those figures is that not enough aid is getting in, and we need a substantial increase in that number. That is why the negotiations we are pursuing are so important.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We are less than two weeks from the start of Ramadan, and the general consensus is that the ground offensive in Rafah would add to an already catastrophic situation, as well as the Israeli operation in Gaza. More than 30,000 people have died. There is nowhere else for civilians in Gaza to go. Will the Government listen and join me, my constituents and many other people, to say that the only way we can stop this is to have an immediate ceasefire?

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 explained to the House why calling for an immediate ceasefire will not make it happen. It is the events that go with the purpose of achieving a pause and then a ceasefire that command the full attention of His Majesty’s Government.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

The Minister is obviously extremely well aware of the International Court of Justice judgment and the interim rulings that came with it. He will also be aware that Israel has not adhered to the requirements made by the Court. In that context, will he tell the House exactly what military aid has been sent to Israel, and exactly what the nature of the military co-operation is, and will he assure the House that no more arms will be supplied to Israel until that judgment is adhered to?

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)

As I set out to the House, and to the right hon. Gentleman, the former leader of the Labour party, these issues are governed by a rule of law in Britain, and by the arrangements that I set out to Drew Hendry. The Government have no plans to deviate from those.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

The weakness in the Minister’s statement is that it makes his Government a commentator rather than an actor in the situation in Gaza. If this House and our international partners speak with one voice in calling for an immediate ceasefire, it would carry more weight with the Government of Israel. If he accepts that the absence of a ceasefire has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, and the horrific suffering of 2 million Palestinian civilians, does he not have a duty to call for a ceasefire now? Would that make the Government’s case stronger?

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)

As I have set out, a ceasefire that collapses back into fighting within weeks is not in anyone’s interest. The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Government are a spectator, but nothing could be further from the truth. If he looks at what the Foreign Secretary has been doing, at the way Britain’s humanitarian representative in the Gulf has been acting, and at all the discussions that have been going on in the region and at the UN, he will see that Britain is at the forefront of trying to achieve a humanitarian pause, leading to a sustainable ceasefire, and that is what we will continue to do.

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)

The Foreign Secretary has called for a stop to the fighting now, but the Ministry of Defence signed a contract with arms manufacturer Elbit Systems on 17 January. That company reportedly supplies up to 85% of Israel’s drones and land-based military equipment. The Minister called for advice in looking at how arms are exported. Does he not agree that in light of that, the UK’s approach appears to be deeply hypocritical? What advice does he need to stop the sales of arms?

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

Only an immediate ceasefire can protect civilians and implement the ICJ’s historic plausible genocide ruling. With Ramadan less than 15 days away, aid agencies warn that a ground offensive in Rafah could be catastrophic for the 1.5 million people taking shelter there, including 600,000 children. If the Government only call for an immediate ceasefire if and when a full ground offensive in Rafah begins, what assessment has been made of whether they will have upheld their own obligations under international law, particularly in relation to the ICJ’s provisional measures, including measures around the prevention of genocide?

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 understand the passion with which the hon. Lady speaks, but simply calling for an immediate ceasefire will not make it happen. The best chance to stop the fighting is for an agreement in the hostage negotiations, which we can then use as the opportunity to deliver a full and permanent ceasefire.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

The Minister keeps referring to the Government’s amendment last week, but those are just words on bits of paper in the recycle bin. They could have been the resolution of this House, but the Government chose not to give this House that choice. Instead, the resolution of this House is that there should be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. What message does it send to the UN Security Council and wider international community if the Government will not adopt the language that has been agreed by the democratic legislature to which they are accountable, namely this House of Commons?

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)

The hon. Gentleman is rewriting history. Last week saw the Leader of the House, a member of the Government, defending the rights of minority parties, in particular the hon. Gentleman’s party, from this Dispatch Box.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his statement and for his answers, which have been helpful to everyone in the House. What progress has been made to attempt to reunite the Israeli hostages with their families? What progress has been made to ensure that refugees who have to leave their homes can stay in family groups and will have access to food, water and a semblance of education?

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)

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, we will continue to do everything we can in that respect, and I am grateful for his comments about my answers being helpful to the whole of the House. He asked about the hostages, and he will have seen newspaper reports over the weekend about the hostage negotiations. Although I cannot comment in any detail on those negotiations, all of us are hoping that they will continue to make progress, ultimately to success.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Clearly the need for humanitarian aid is desperate. We are hearing reports of forced relocation up to 15 times, and many people in Gaza are reduced to eating weeds and birdfeed, with healthcare reduced to medieval methods. Clearly an immediate humanitarian ceasefire is required. Does the Minister agree that the 500 vehicles a day need to be restored as a matter of urgency, and that we should also look to restore and support UNRWA?

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)

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that we need a massive increase in the number of trucks getting into Gaza. He will have seen that we have been working with the Jordanian armed forces. There was a drop of important humanitarian support last week, and we hope very much that there will be more. He will also have seen that we have been working on the maritime side too. A meeting is going on today, but the hope is that it may be possible to pre-clear humanitarian aid and support. That would require the use of Ashdod as an entry point into Israel, and the Government are doing everything we can to facilitate that.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

On UNRWA, the inquiries that the Minister has told the House about will no doubt take some time, but having a hobbled UNRWA is undoubtedly exacerbating the humanitarian crisis that he has fully acknowledged. What consideration is he giving to urgently resuming UK funding to UNRWA?

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)

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, Britain has fully funded UNRWA, and under our agreement with it, no funds from Britain are due until the next financial year. I can tell him that both Norway and Guyana have put forward additional funding in recent days that will mean UNRWA is at least fully funded until the end of March.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian

Development assistance for the Occupied Palestinian Territories had already reduced from £95 million in 2013 to £26 million in 2023, before the suspension of UNRWA funding. Despite questions today and specific written questions, the Government have refused to declare what the source was for the basis of the allegations, and where that source came from, leaving many to speculate that it is simply Israeli allegations or Israeli propaganda. Other countries, including Ireland and Spain, are continuing to fund UNRWA. Will the Government not ensure that UNRWA funding is restored, to avoid the perversity that we can find weapons and munitions for Ukraine, but not money for humanitarian aid in 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)

The hon. Gentleman will know that we are waiting for the interim report—the forensic report—into collusion, which the UN Office of Independent Oversight is preparing. It is right to wait for that report and Catherine Colonna’s report as well. As I explained to Sir Stephen Timms, British funding is up to date, and it will be paused until we have seen those reports, but additional funding has been made available to UNRWA. As the House will accept, UNRWA’s logistical support—its warehouses and vehicles—are essential to the distribution of aid within Gaza.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Minister (Women's Health and Mental Health)

On UNRWA funding, I want to follow up on his comments that we are up to date and waiting on the report. Can he give some assurances today that the Government will commit to bringing back the funding? What are the timescales on that?

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)

The issue of British funding to UNRWA does not arise until the next financial year, but it is only right that we wait for the two reports. As I say, one is from the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, and the other is from the former French Foreign Minister. We are seeking an interim report so that progress one way or the other can be made.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Will the UK Government take the evidence of the collective punishment in Gaza with the dehumanisation of Palestinians in the occupied west bank and come to the conclusion that the Israeli Government are authorising an oppressive regime with the goal of the complete displacement of the Palestinian people?

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I make a plea to the Minister to go one step further and join the chorus, now including our allies in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire now. It would send a powerful message.

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 explained to the House that no matter how desirable it might be to achieve an immediate ceasefire, just calling for one and willing it will not make it happen. That is why the British Government have set out clearly, along with our allies, what the necessary steps are to reach the conclusion that the whole House would devoutly like to see.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Returning to the recent ICJ ruling, as I understand it one of the problems is that no country has ever responded to a call for pre-emptive steps when the court has made such a ruling. Part of that challenge is that no clear criteria have previously been set out for any country to meet. Can the Minister have discussions with his counterparts about agreeing a set of steps that would be made available to countries in the future, so that everyone can meet their obligations?

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)

The hon. Lady makes an interesting theoretical and legal point, and I suggest that those discussions might go on usefully between theorists and lawyers.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Clean Power and Consumers)

I have raised with the Minister and other Ministers the case of my constituent who is trying to get his wife and baby daughter through the Rafah crossing. Very frustratingly, he cannot get the mother on to the approved list. I know it is not the only case like that. Will the Minister focus with a renewed urgency to press the Israeli and Egyptian authorities to resolve these delays and make sure that these people can get through to safety?

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 answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes. He and I have discussed the specific case, as well as the general cases to which he is alluding. I can tell him that the experts in the Foreign Office, extremely experienced in these matters, are doing everything they possibly can to advance that objective.

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

The horror and huge numbers of casualties in Gaza are unfolding for all the world to see. Alone of the three largest parties in this House, the SNP has called for an immediate ceasefire—not a humanitarian pause or a humanitarian ceasefire. We have also called for an end to collective punishment, which constitutes a war crime and has cost 30,000 lives so far and left 500,000 facing death by starvation. Our constituents are rightly outraged. Regardless of the Minister’s personal views, does he share my concern that Members of this House have been denied a recorded vote to express their views on these life or death matters, which is what our constituents want to see?

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)

Without revisiting the events of last week, I have no doubt of the worry of our constituents to which the hon. Lady refers. That is why I set out at the beginning why I think the British Government’s position, as articulated in the contents of the amendment that I failed to move last week, commands widespread support among our constituents. Although it was not voted on, as she rightly says, the amendment sets out the Government’s position, which I think should be widely supported among our constituents.

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

Some 5% of children under the age of two are malnourished in Rafah. I note that in the Minister’s statement, he expressed concern about the prospect of military incursion, but Rafah cannot happen; the consequences would be unbearable. Will the Minister go further, and do everything he can with the international community to prevent the Rafah invasion from occurring?

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)

On the hon. Lady’s first point, she is right about the degree of malnutrition, and that is why Britain is working closely with UNICEF and the World Food Programme. She set out the huge humanitarian consequences of a military attack on Rafah, and she will have seen what the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and I have said about the dangers of that.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

The possibility of an end to the killing—whatever we call it—brings hope in Gaza, Israel and, indeed, here, but I fear that divisions in our communities will remain. Many constituents have written to me upset at the difference they see in how Palestinian lives, Palestinian dignity and Islamophobia are valued in comparison with Israeli lives, Israeli dignity and antisemitism. Can the Minister go some way to perhaps addressing those concerns by condemning, for example, the Israeli Ministers and others who have ruled out a Palestinian state? Will he condemn the occupation, as well as settler violence? Will he condemn the Israeli soldiers who filmed themselves posing on the bicycles of dead Gazan children or rifling through the clothes of dead Gazan women?

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)

Let me make it clear, as the Prime Minister has, that in our country there is no tolerance whatever for antisemitism or Islamophobia. I reiterate that at the hon. Lady’s request across the Dispatch Box. She asked me about the importance of ensuring that all lives are treated equally and whether we care deeply about all those who are suffering in this conflict. Let me assure the House that we do.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

In response to my many written questions, the Government continue to say that they are keeping arms export licences under review, including with regard to international humanitarian law, and they confirm that Ministers are able to amend, suspend or revoke licences as circumstances require. One of the licences currently in place allows L3Harris in my constituency to manufacture components for the kinds of F-35 fighter planes used by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza. Will the Minister publish the details of any reviews that have taken place? Will he tell us what threshold the Government are waiting to be crossed before they will suspend or revoke licences while there is a risk that they are being used to commit or to facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law?

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 look into the burden of what the hon. Lady has said. If she tables a written question on precisely that point today, I will give her the Government’s answer.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

The situation in Rafah is at a critical juncture. Disease and famine are setting in, and millions of Palestinians have nowhere else to go after being told by the Israeli Government to move south—the very place where the Israeli Government are now threatening military action—for their own safety. So far, the Israeli Government have remained belligerent in the face of international pressure to show restraint. Beyond words of advice and to “express deep concern”—to quote the Minister—what will be the response from the British Government if Israel decides to launch a ground offensive in Rafah?

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)

The hon. Lady asks a theoretical question. What I can tell her is that the British Government are working together with our allies through the United Nations, and our friends and contacts throughout the region, to advance the situation in the way I set out in my statement. That is to try to ensure that there is a humanitarian pause, which enables us to get the hostages out and to get aid and humanitarian relief in, leading to a sustained ceasefire. That must be the right thing to seek to achieve, and that is what the Government will continue to attempt to do.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

It has been suggested that if what Israel has done in Gaza becomes the accepted standard of self-defence, that core principle, which is meant to protect us all and is at the core of the international world order on which democracies are founded, is greatly undermined. How does the Minister respond to that?

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)

An unprecedented set of calamities has taken place. I reiterate that Israel has the absolute right of self-defence but must remain within international humanitarian law. It is important to hang on to those principles as we navigate this catastrophe.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Justice)

Like Members across the House, I have had hundreds of emails from concerned constituents who are horrified by what they are seeing in Gaza—in particular, by scenes in hospitals where children have been operated on without anaesthetic. Will the Minister outline what specific steps the UK Government are taking to ensure that people from Gaza can get the medical treatment they so badly need?

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 are acting at every level to achieve the results that the hon. Lady and I both want. That is seen in: the work we are doing internationally in the region to try to facilitate the entry of medicines; our work with the Jordanian Government to make air drops, which include medical equipment; and our support for medical charities, some of which are based in Gaza. In every way, we are trying to alleviate the suffering to which she so eloquently referred.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

As we approach the five-month mark of this horrific conflict, nearly 30,000 Palestinians have died and children in Gaza are dying of starvation. Diplomatic efforts must yield results before thousands more die—it will be tens of thousands if the Rafah offensive goes ahead. Does the Minister agree that time is of the essence and that, unless there is a ceasefire now, there will not be a deal to make?

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)

The statement that the hon. Gentleman makes and the question he asks me underline the importance of the international community and Britain working with our allies to double and redouble efforts to ensure that we reach the situation that I have set out before the House on a number of occasions this afternoon.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

Of course, an end to the threat of bombardment is the crucial step, but the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic. What specific assessment have UK officials made of the allegations against the UN Relief and Works Agency with a view to properly funding that organisation, whose infrastructure and capacity is crucial to meeting the basic everyday needs of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children?

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)

The hon. Lady underlines the centrality of UNRWA in Gaza. It has the necessary assets, which are essential for the delivery of aid and humanitarian relief. That is why we are urging the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services to produce an interim report looking into the collusion that allegedly took place. As soon as we have that report, along with the report from the former French Foreign Minister, we will be able to make the necessary dispositions not only about UNRWA but about how we get essential aid and support into Gaza.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the taking of hostages, and particularly civilian hostages, is considered an abomination. It is a war crime. Does he agree that one of the things that is driving the Israelis on is a desperate desire to get their people home and that anything that can be done diplomatically to try to make that happen—to get the hostages back—would really help the effort for peace?

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. and learned Friend is absolutely right: the taking of hostages is an abomination. That is why we are doing everything we can to ensure that the hostages are released, including the two British hostages and others with a close connection with the United Kingdom. He will have seen the reports both from Paris and from Qatar over the weekend, which indicate that every sinew is being bent to try to get the hostages back.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Order. I detected some unrest on the SNP Benches when I called Sir Oliver Heald. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been here for the whole of the statement; he chose to come in at this point and I gave him permission to do so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Let us make certain that we adhere properly to the rules, as Members know that I will.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

As we seek to tackle the rise in the evil of racism of all kinds in our communities in response to the tragedy unfolding in Israel and Gaza, is it not vital that we distinguish between, on the one hand, the awfulness of the Netanyahu regime and their outrageous actions and, on the other hand, the decency of the Israeli people and the right of Israel to exist? Yesterday, my right hon. Friend Ed Davey met Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, the liberal party of Israel. He is a former—and I hope future—Prime Minister of Israel who supports a two-state solution and desires peace. Are the Government keeping in close contact with Israeli opposition leaders who seek a peaceful resolution?

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)

The hon. Gentleman will have seen that the Foreign Secretary has recently been in Israel, as have many other members of the Government, including the Attorney General. We have a close relationship with many people across the political spectrum in Israel. He will also be aware that Israel is a rumbustious democracy in a region where there are not many democracies, and there are divergences of view among senior people in Israel. That is reflected in what we hear from Israel today.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

I note the Minister’s earlier remarks on the topic, but Amnesty International UK is calling for the UK Government to suspend the supply of arms to the Israeli authorities given that serious violations amounting to crimes under international law are being committed. Will he accept the moral case for doing that? Will he revisit his policy? Will he also recognise that the killing of 12,000 children does show clear evidence of collective punishment?

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)

The earlier part of the hon. Lady’s question underlines the fact that these issues should not be resolved at the whim of Ministers but through the arms export Committee, which is both independent and legally advised. It is the toughest regime in the world and Ministers should look to it for guidance, which we do.

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

I hope the Minister will agree that there is clear consensus in this House that we want an end to the horror that we are seeing in Gaza and to the misery of the Israeli families who are missing those taken hostage. The Minister has made a great deal of the fact that a humanitarian pause is all that can be achieved, but that it can be a route to a ceasefire. We are hearing promising noises from the talks that there may be a pause in hostilities. While that is not enough, can the Minister assure us that our Government will do everything they can to reflect the will of this place and the people we represent in pursuing an end to the horror in Gaza and the long-term establishment of a two-state solution in the middle east?

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 can assure the hon. Lady. Her point underlines the degree of agreement rather than disagreement across this House. She said that the Government believe that a pause is all that can be achieved, but that is not the case. The Government believe that a pause will enable us to get the hostages out and aid and support in. It is part of the journey towards a sustainable ceasefire. It is certainly not all that we believe can be achieved, but it is necessary for the other things that we want to achieve.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

This weekend it was reported that the Government are finally starting to withdraw support for the Israeli military, suspending assistance for Israeli F-35 fighter jets and helicopters at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, and cancelling a planned joint exercise over the Negev desert. But British-made arms are still being sold to the Israeli military, including parts for F-35 jets. First, can the Minister tell the House on what basis the Government have suspended the aforementioned military assistance, and secondly and related to that, will he heed the call from UN experts on Friday, who said that arms exports to Israel must be suspended immediately in the light of the ICJ ruling on Israel’s plausible violation of the genocide convention?

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 not only the principles by which Britain addresses the issue of arms exports but the practice of what we are doing in this situation. I am afraid I have nothing to add to what I have already said on that matter.

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

The Minister has quite rightly reminded us that, as a matter of international humanitarian law, Israel has the right to defend itself against any aggressor. He also pointed out that that right must be exercised in compliance with international humanitarian law. Could he clarify the Government’s understanding of those specific conditions? Will he confirm that self-defence cannot justify attacks on a civilian population who pose no threat to anyone? Will he also confirm that self-defence does not apply to military action that is clearly disproportionate or, as President Biden said last week, over the top?

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)

In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s latter questions, the position is covered by what I have made clear from the start of this statement: Israel has the right of self-defence under international law, but it must be conducted within international humanitarian law. That is that context that I have reiterated, and it answers his latter two questions.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

Yesterday, the UN reported that very little humanitarian aid has entered Gaza this month, having reduced by 50% compared with January. The commissioner-general said that the obstacles to aid getting in were a lack of political will, regular closing of the two crossing points, and insecurity due to military operations and the collapse of civil order. With increasing hunger and disease in Gaza, why does the Minister not agree with me and my constituents that we need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, or is there a lack of political will by his Government for that, too?

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 are working towards precisely that—a humanitarian pause upon which we can build. On getting extra food and support, the hon. Lady will have seen that we have been working closely with Jordan and the World Food Programme on convoys that have left the Jordan border. We are doing everything we can, using our taxpayers’ money and our humanitarian expertise, to drive forward the common aim that she and I both wish to achieve.

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

Arms sales from the Netherlands to Israel have been halted after the Netherlands court found that there is a clear risk that components were used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law. The court highlighted evidence of Israel’s deliberate, disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, failure to warn civilians and incriminating statements by Israeli commanders and soldiers. Does that clear court ruling not make a nonsense of the Minister’s claim that the UK has the toughest arms exports licence controls in the world? If the UK does not stop selling arms to Israel, will it not also be complicit in breaches of humanitarian law?

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 do not agree with that analysis. We have to look at the small print of how our arms exports restrictions and operations work in order to see that that is not the case. I have set out clearly the way in which the arms exports regime works, and I am afraid I have nothing to add.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Palestinians desperately need aid, so which organisations are the Government working with to replace the humanitarian efforts of the UN Relief and Works Agency while it is unfunded, especially if there is a ceasefire or pause? Can he assure the House that not a penny of UK funding is still reaching the hands of the terrorists who committed the October atrocities, and who still hold 134 hostages?

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)

UNRWA is not unfunded. As I set out, Britain has funded it until the next financial year. I set out how other countries were also producing the necessary funding. The hon. Gentleman asked who else we work with apart from UNRWA: we work very closely with UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Egyptian Red Crescent, as I saw on my relatively recent visit to Cairo. We continue to explore every possible way, not just through UNRWA, of getting aid and support into Gaza.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

The Government continue to be selective when they deploy the language of war crimes to different conflicts around the world. Notably, it is used in Ukraine freely, but not in reference to what is happening in Gaza. In refusing to endorse the interim ruling of the International Court of Justice, what assessment has the Minister made of the wider implications for rules-based international order? Surely, if international law is to have value, it must be applied universally not selectively.

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)

Britain has been at the heart of building the international rules-based system since 1946. The hon. Gentleman should give credit to that. When it comes to the different conflicts to which he alluded, the British Government have a uniform way of supporting international humanitarian law, supporting the rules of war and doing everything we can to stand up for the international rules-based system.

Photo of Michael Shanks Michael Shanks Shadow Minister (Scotland)

The UN has said this week that a famine stalks Gaza, especially in the north where aid has not reached people since more than a month ago, on 23 January. The UN has confirmed that its inquiry into UNRWA will not report until 20 April. On a number of occasions the Minister has said that the issue of funding does not arise until the next financial year, so if we reach the next financial year and the report has not been issued, how will the Government decide whether we should re-fund UNRWA, and what evidence have they seen directly to suggest that we should not fund it now?

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)

The hon. Member is right on the timings of the report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, but we are hoping for an interim report and the report of the former French Foreign Minister to inform any decisions that we make. It is important to make clear that UNRWA has sufficient funds to get it to the end of March at least, thanks to the actions of Norway and Guyana.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Scottish National Party, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Does the Minister agree with the International Court of Justice findings that there is a plausible risk that Israel has been committing genocide against the Palestinian people, and just what will his Government do about 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)

It is hard to overestimate the offence caused by the extraordinary rhetoric of accusing Israel of being guilty of genocide, given the antecedents and events that took place in the holocaust during the war and the fact that more Jewish people were murdered on that one day of 7 October than at any time since the end of the second world war.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

It is now one month since the International Court of Justice ruled that there is a plausible risk that Israel’s actions in Gaza are in breach of the genocide convention. Since then, 3,000 more Palestinians have been killed, food and essential aid is still being prevented from getting into Gaza, and now Israel is threatening to invade Rafah. Given Israel’s obvious breaches of the Court’s legally binding ruling, what conversations has the Foreign Office had with the Trade Secretary about suspending arms sales to Israel, and should that not now be what is happening?

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)

Whether right or wrong, the analysis that the hon. Gentleman puts before the House underlines the importance of the initiatives that Britain has taken, and the work that is being done both regionally and internationally at the United Nations, to try to secure a sustainable ceasefire through a pause so that we can get the hostages out and also get necessary support and humanitarian aid in. I hope that he will share with me a common view that, on driving forward those initiatives, the five-point plan that has been set out so clearly by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary is the right way to address the very serious difficulties to which he alludes.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

We have heard many times about Israel’s right to defend itself. In fact, the Minister started his statement by reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself. On Sunday evening in Gaza City, the Israel Defence Forces fired on Palestinians who were waiting for food aid trucks to arrive. Ten were killed. Does the Minister believe that that was a legitimate act of self-defence?

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)

Unlike the other forces involved in this dreadful conflict, Israeli soldiers and members of the IDF are taught, as part of their basic training, about international humanitarian law. As I mentioned, there are lawyers embedded in the military forces as they make decisions on actions. That is not something that we see in other forces in the region and non-state actors. Although all deaths are to be regretted, we underline that international humanitarian law is very clear that all parties must respect it. We are deeply concerned about the lack of humanitarian access, and we are deeply concerned about the protection of civilians. As I set out in my earlier remarks, we believe that last week’s Government amendment, which was not moved but was tabled, outlines a set of circumstances that everyone across the House should be able to support.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

That concludes proceedings on the statement. We have taken rather longer than usual for a statement, but I have deliberately allowed this matter to run on, to make sure that everybody who wished to have their voice heard was heard.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In response to a question from Gavin Newlands, the Minister said that the arms export Committee does its work effectively. However, that Committee, formerly known as the Committees on Arms Export Controls, no longer exists. It last met publicly in December 2022, and last month its responsibilities were transferred to the Business and Trade Committee, which will scrutinise arms exports alongside a huge number of other matters. That means that, contrary to what the Minister suggested, this House no longer has a Committee specifically focused on scrutinising arms exports. What advice can you give me on ensuring that the Government take seriously the scrutiny of arms exports, given the Minister’s apparent lack of understanding?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

The hon. Lady knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair but a continuation of the discussion. She asks for advice on how the matter might be drawn to the Government’s attention; I think I can call on the Minister to make a point further to that point of order.

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)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The structure of these matters is approved by the House of Commons. The regime is clear, no matter where responsibility for it sits—and it is, I believe, among the toughest to be found anywhere in the world.