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House of Commons Hansard
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East Aleppo: Evacuation
12 December 2016
Volume 618

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

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I rise to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the need for immediate and concerted international action to evacuate from east Aleppo approximately 40 doctors and 70 nursing staff, up to 500 children, at least 100 of whom have been wounded and are receiving rudimentary care, and thousands of terrified civilians caught between the different fighting groups in a 10 km by 10 km enclave where most of those who are trapped now are.

Mr Speaker, I make no apology to the House for raising this vital issue again. You granted a debate on these matters two months ago. On that occasion, the Foreign Secretary made his first major speech from the Dispatch Box and expressed the horror so many feel at what is happening in Syria and Aleppo.

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that if you grant this emergency debate the whole House will hope to hear an update from the Foreign Secretary who has already shown his deep and principled concern about what is taking place. The debate will enable us to explore, with the Government, how Britain’s immense diplomatic muscle—the finest foreign service in the world—can do more to secure a deal that will ensure a ceasefire for at least 24 hours to enable innocent civilians to be rescued from the hideous circumstances that now prevail in east Aleppo.

Britain took a lead some years ago at the United Nations in developing the international community’s responsibility to protect. We said after Srebrenica, Darfur and Rwanda, “Never again.” It is happening today as we meet. There are reports this afternoon, accompanied by the most hideous photographs, of the use of sarin—a nerve gas—by the regime in Hama. At dawn today, a chlorine bomb, the second in three days, hit a medical point at Kallaseh. There is no escape from chlorine bombs—civilians are forced to come out from the rubble and cellars where they are hiding. The use of chlorine munitions is a war crime. Their use defies every facet of international humanitarian law.

Many of these terrified civilians trapped in this hellhole, which now resembles Stalingrad at the end of its destruction, are children. They have few places to hide. Tomorrow night in Aleppo, the temperature is expected to reach minus 4°.

Mr Speaker, as we contemplate a warm and secure Christmas here in Britain, I hope you will agree that the House should urgently discuss not “Something must be done,” but “What in the name of humanity we, the international community, will do to save those who today are in such dreadful jeopardy.”

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The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely international action to protect civilians in Aleppo and more widely across Syria. I have listened carefully to the application and I am satisfied that the matter raised by him is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. I now put it to the House.

Application agreed to.

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The right hon. Gentleman has obtained the leave of the House. The debate will be held tomorrow, on Tuesday 13 December, as the first item of public business. I must simply remind the House, as the prelude to what I am about to say, that there is other important scheduled business to follow and there is flexibility and discretion with the Chair in terms of the timing of such debates. I have decided that the debate will last for two hours, and will arise on a motion, “That the House has considered the specified matter,” as set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application. I hope that that is helpful to the House.

I am hinting to the House, by the way, that if lots of Members who are showing up today also show up tomorrow, there is no reason why they should not be called to speak. If it is helpful to the House, the emphasis will perhaps be on hearing pithy speeches from several people.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a different matter, today marks precisely 150 years since an explosion at the Oaks colliery killed 383 Barnsley miners. A number of the victims were under 14 and the youngest were just 10 years old. I seek your guidance on how best to ensure that this House commemorates the service and sacrifice of all those who lost their lives at the Oaks colliery disaster 150 years ago today.

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First, I think the hon. Gentleman has gone some distance towards achieving that recognition and commemoration by virtue of his ingenious use of the device of the point of order. Secondly, it is open to the hon. Gentleman, with colleagues, to table an early-day motion on the matter. My hunch is that he will not find it difficult to identify colleagues who are willing to assist him. Thirdly, if the hon. Gentleman is still not satisfied with what will by then be his prodigious efforts, it is always open to him to seek an Adjournment debate in which the matter can be more fully marked. I hope that is helpful to him.