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Commons Chamber

Volume 738: debated on Monday 16 October 2023

House of Commons

Monday 16 October 2023

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

I know that Members across the House will have been shocked by the recent terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas. I invite the House to stand with me and observe a minute’s silence in recognition of all those innocent Israelis, Palestinians and others who have lost their lives, all those taken hostage and all those affected by the conflict in the region. Please join me now in standing.

The House observed a one-minute silence.

New Member

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Michael Shanks, for Rutherglen and Hamilton West.

Business before Questions

Committee of Selection

Ordered,

That Lilian Greenwood be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Holly Lynch be added.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Secretary of State was asked—

Brownfield Land: Development

The Government strongly encourage the reuse of suitable brownfield land. Our national planning policy framework makes it clear that local authorities should give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes and other identified needs. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will further empower local leaders to regenerate urban centres by strengthening and adding to existing measures.

Homes England proposes to build up to 10,000 houses on greenfield sites west of Ifield in my constituency. What directive has my right hon. Friend’s Department given to the executive agency Homes England on the Department’s brownfield-first building policy?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. I cannot go into individual planning cases, but Homes England is leading a programme of urban regeneration. The work that we are doing in London’s docklands and in Leeds, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and other areas demonstrates our commitment both to levelling up and to making sure that, for environmental and economic reasons, we develop brownfield land first.

My I help out the Secretary of State? He is aware of the Grove Lane site on the Sandwell-Birmingham border, in which the West Midlands Combined Authority and its Mayor are also interested. It is opposite the new Midland Metropolitan University Hospital site and it is an ideal brownfield site for housing. Will his Department get on with it?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who refers to the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, the only metro Mayor to significantly exceed housing targets in the delivery of new homes. He is that rare thing: a Labour MP who welcomes house building in his own constituency. Of course I will support him.

My right hon. Friend may know that, in Durrington in north-west Worthing, more than 1,000 new homes have been built. Will he ask his inspectors—and the Leader of the Opposition—to recognise that Chatsmore Farm and Lansdowne Nurseries should not be built on? We must have some green fields between one habitation and another.

The Father of the House makes a very important point. Of course, his beautiful constituency—situated as it is between the sea and areas of outstanding natural beauty—has already seen significant development and we do need to ensure that settlements have the green belts around them protected.

On developing brownfield sites, will the Secretary of State consider giving powers to councils such as Westmorland and Furness, and to planning authorities such as those in the Yorkshire dales and the Lake district, to ensure exclusive provision for affordable and social rented housing so that we do not see communities such as ours dying out because all the houses built end up being sold for second homes?

From his perspective as an assiduous constituency Member, the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but may I commiserate with him? At the recent Liberal Democrat conference, I am afraid he was defeated, and his party adopted a housing policy that he describes as Thatcherite. It is a source of sadness to me to be outflanked on the right by the Liberal Democrats, but may I welcome more defections to the Thatcherite cause from those who once embraced my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) as one of their own?

My constituents are frustrated with the planning system in that, although sites are allocated and protected in neighbourhood plans, when applications come in, their concerns about those sites are not listened to by local planning committees and by the inspectorate. Will the Secretary of State tell my constituents in Witham what measures are in place in local neighbourhood plans and local development plans to protect these sites from being built on, so that the focus is on brownfield sites first and foremost?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. If her local authority has an up-to-date plan, that is the best protection against speculative development. If, however, a local authority does not have a plan in place, there can be a presumption in favour of sustainable development and that can be upheld by the Planning Inspectorate, which could mean development on sites where local communities do not wish to see it. That is why it is so important for local authorities to adopt plans.

The Secretary of State is a very clever man, and he must know that if there had been a large amount of brownfield land, it would have been built on. The fact of the matter is that we in this country must bite the bullet and build on land other than brownfield, because there is not enough of it. Does he agree that courage along with intellect would help us solve the housing problem?

The hon. Gentleman is a man of independent mind, and he is straying from Front-Bench policy by decreeing me a man of intelligence—that is not the official Labour party position on these issues—but I should say that he is right. It is not only brownfield land that can be developed, but it must be brownfield first, and there is significant room for additional brownfield development if we invest in urban regeneration, which we are doing.

Regional Inequalities: Coastal Communities

2. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s levelling-up policies in reducing regional inequalities. (906510)

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. May I use this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who bravely used this moment to raise the challenges faced by people with chronic migraine? I thank her for her work and wish her the best of health. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

We have established 12 levelling-up missions principally aimed at tackling regional inequality and ensuring that, wherever someone lives—in cities, towns, island, rural or coastal communities—their opportunities are the same. Progress on the missions will be formally reported through an annual report as set out in our landmark Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which returns to the House of Commons tomorrow.

The Secretary of State says that we must have infrastructure that allows us to move towards zero-emission vehicles as quickly as possible, but the biggest 14 cities in the north of England have fewer electric vehicle charge points than the City of Westminster alone. How does the chasm between the number of charge points in London and those elsewhere demonstrate levelling up?

The hon. Gentleman will know of the £20 billion reserved for transport investment in the north, and I am sure that some of that can be dedicated towards electric vehicles.

A conservative think-tank recently reported that coastal communities such as mine have lower life expectancy, inadequate transport links and people who are comparatively poorer. After repeated rejections for towns and levelling-up moneys, are my constituents not right to blame the Government of the last 13 years for this deliberate levelling down?

The hon. Lady, like me, represents a north-east coastal community, and she will be aware of our devolution agreement with the North East Combined Authority, which hopes to address some of the challenges in her area.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his new post. May I remind him of the huge opportunity and pent-up potential in former industrial mill towns such as those in my constituency? One of the most gratifying things about the Government’s levelling-up programme has been how it has seen the potential in towns such as Rossendale, Rawtenstall, Bacup and Darwen and supported that with real money, with £120 million of town deal money for Darwen and £17.8 million for Rossendale. Does he think that this is the right Government to drive forward the ambition of people who live in mill towns?

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. This morning, I met the leaders of Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen, and Blackpool, and they all agree with me that a devolution agreement in Lancashire will be fantastic. I am sure that you agree as well, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the Minister to his new job. Several months ago, Essex MPs met his predecessor to talk about the possibility of a combined authority for Essex. We were overwhelmingly against it. The people of Essex do not want this ridiculous white elephant; there is no demand from them. This is all being brought about by some highly ambitious Essex county councillors and some officers who think they would do well out of it. As most people in Essex do not even know that it is going on, will he and his boss meet me and other Essex MPs to hear our objections?

Given the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on High Speed 2, when will local government leaders and Metro Mayors in the midlands and north of England get to know what additional resource they will get as a consequence?

That question is best answered by the Department for Transport, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman when I have further details.

I am absolutely delighted to hear that the Minister met the leaders of Lancashire County Council, and Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool councils this morning to discuss the enormous opportunity that devolving transport and skills responsibility to Lancashire presents. Will he and the whole of the Treasury Bench look favourably upon this? It is an opportunity that we are keen to take to deliver for people in Lancashire and South Ribble.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and to you, Mr Speaker, for your point. I hope to meet Lancashire MPs next week to discuss devolution. I hope that we are able to announce a devolution deal in advance of Lancashire Day at the end of November.

I welcome the new Minister to his place. In the Secretary of State’s address to his party conference there was barely a mention of levelling up, and no mention whatsoever of the Government’s 12 missions, which were central to the original White Paper designed to tackle regional inequalities across England. There now exists a gaping chasm between a transformative change promised by the rhetoric of levelling up and the actual reality. Is the truth of the matter not that Downing Street has totally lost interest in that agenda, while the Department’s leadership bumbles on directionless and toothless, its bold promises unfulfilled and, in many cases, utterly disregarded?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and her question, though I completely disagree with her. At the party conference we announced £1 billion for our long-term plan for towns, which will help us level up towns right across the country. I hope she welcomes that.

First-time Buyers

The Government have a range of schemes available to first-time buyers, including First Homes and shared ownership. The mortgage guarantee scheme helps to increase the supply of 95% loan-to-value mortgages. We have also doubled the threshold at which stamp duty land tax becomes due to £250,000, and expanded first-time buyer relief.

In West Fenham recently, Mr and Mrs Joyce told me how their daughter and prospective son in-law had lived with them for five years while they tried to realise their dream of home ownership. Even after saving a deposit, the failure of the Minister’s Government to build houses meant that they were constantly outbid on the few homes available. Labour has set out plans to get Britain building again. Will the Minister match our ambition, or is living with the in-laws the new Tory dream?

The hon. Lady asks whether we will match Labour’s ambition. I have news for her: from what I picked up from the Labour party conference, it announced the same targets that we are getting on with. I draw her attention to the fact that more than 860,000 households have been helped to purchase a home since spring 2010, through Government-backed schemes including Help to Buy, Right to Buy and First Homes.

I welcome the new “young” Minister to his post. I want to attach myself to tributes to his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who is sitting next to me.

Last week, a freedom of information request showed that the Lib Dem-Labour controlled Greater Cambridge Partnership, which handles city deal money in my constituency, spent £4.7 million developing plans for a congestion charge that was then dropped because it was opposed basically by everyone. It also spent £16.5 million on the Cambridge South East Transport bus route, also now dropped, and £18 million on new car parks, none of which are actually open. That is a total so far of £160 million on transport projects, and virtually none of them functioning. It is now asking the Government for £200 million more. It is no wonder that in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, people think that the Greater Cambridge Partnership is unelected, unaccountable and a waste of public money. Does the Minister agree that we have to ensure public value for money? Will he meet me to talk about the details?

Order. That question is too long, and I am not quite sure how it fits in with first-time buyers.

Green Spaces: Protection

Through the Levelling Up Parks Fund we have made available £9 million for local authorities in areas of high deprivation to create or significantly refurbish green spaces. The fund also includes the planting and maintaining of trees and encourages projects to work towards green flag award status.

I thank the Minister for that answer. What steps is she taking to ensure that proposed sites for housing that are completely unsuitable for reasons of biodiversity or lack of access or proximity to a site of special scientific interest are not taken forward and built upon? Although this is a national, not local, question, I am thinking particularly of a contentious application on Water Lane in Knaresborough, which has previously been refused.

My hon. Friend will, I hope, understand that I cannot comment on that specific case or situation, but it is really important that local authorities make decisions according to their local plans, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out earlier. If local authorities have a plan in place, it allows them to set out where they would like to see development that benefits their natural environment take place.

In England, we have also set out that from January 2024 biodiversity net gain will apply to mitigate the impact of major development. That requires developers to deliver 10% biodiversity net gain.

In 10 days’ time Bradford Council is likely to give the green light to yet more houses to be built in Silsden on valuable green space. If approved, the additional 140 houses will follow many hundreds of houses currently being built in Silsden, and many more are awaiting planning approval. Silsden’s infrastructure simply cannot cope. Does the Minister agree that Bradford Council should prioritise Silsden’s infrastructure first, rather than seeing the area as a quick win for achieving its housing targets?

My hon. Friend is completely right. As ever, he champions his constituents over the actions of Labour-run Bradford Council, which obviously has a detrimental impact on his constituent’s lives. Local authorities have an obligation to spend section 106 receipts in line with the purpose for which they were agreed, for exactly the reasons he gives. We are committed to introducing new measures through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill that will give greater certainty to local communities about the infrastructure that will be delivered in their area.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is going through its local plan process at the moment. I welcome the fact that the Conservative-led administration has reduced the overall number of new homes to 7,000, from the 11,500 in the previous, Labour-led local plan, which would have carpeted over our green spaces, as the Leader of the Opposition seemingly wants to do everywhere. Nevertheless, some people are unhappy. Would the Minister join me in urging the council in its next draft to further prioritise brownfield development, which is the key to regeneration?

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is the Government’s policy to strongly encourage local authorities to make the most of brownfield land first, especially for new homes. It is right that if local authorities want to alter a green belt boundary, they have show exceptional circumstances. We Conservatives believe in preserving our green spaces, and it is interesting to hear the proclamations from the Opposition. I will be very interested to see whether they propose concreting over the green spaces surrounding their own constituencies.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings. We have undertaken an inquiry and sent the report through to Ministers. The recommendations from that were clear: while it is good to have healthy, energy-efficient homes, it is really important to have green space around those houses. Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the report from the APPG? If not, I will ensure that she gets a copy, and I hope that she will then come back to me on the recommendations.

I thank the hon. Gentleman so much for his comments, and I would be delighted to read the report from his APPG and respond to him. I fully agree with his broader point that green spaces are vital for mental health and wellbeing, as well as physical health.

Towns Fund: Project Delivery

We are supporting 101 towns through our £6.1 billion towns fund, helping to level up across the country. I thank my hon. Friend for all his efforts locally in ensuring that the £25 million Dewsbury town deal delivers the positive outcomes that we all wish to see for his constituents.[Official Report, 25 October 2023, Vol. 738, c. 8MC.] My Department proactively engages with local authorities through our monitoring and evaluation process to determine the delivery support they require, including specialist support from the Department where needed.

On behalf of the people of Dewsbury, I thank my hon. Friend for the additional £20 million announced for our town centre, on top of the £24.8 million I secured after being elected. In light of Labour-run Kirklees Council’s financial mismanagement and failure to deliver regeneration projects in the past, how can we ensure that the towns fund monies are used to transform the town centre and not squandered because of the council’s inability to deliver anything on time or within budget?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being such a fantastic champion for Dewsbury. My officials are monitoring the town deal and working closely with Kirklees Council and the town deal board to ensure that projects are delivered quickly. Like my hon. Friend, I was pleased to see that there is an extra £20 million for Dewsbury as part of our long-term plan for towns, and I look forward to hearing more about Dewsbury and its ambitions soon.

Fifty-five towns receive support from the towns fund in England, Scotland and Wales, but none in Northern Ireland do. The excuse has been given that the Executive is not formed, although that is as much the responsibility of the Government as that of people in Northern Ireland, but given that the criterion has already been set, why has it not been possible to select towns in Northern Ireland to benefit from the towns fund?

We want to see the Northern Ireland Executive up and running as soon as possible, and I think that that is an ambition shared across the House. I hope that when it is up and running, we will be able to help it with the funds that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

We all know that this Government claim a lot, but now they are claiming that they have a long-term plan for towns while continuing to build them without any of the infrastructure that people want and need. Residents of Mid Bedfordshire know that all too well: like many others, they struggle to see a GP or get a dentist, and the council’s budget is half what it was in 2015. The Tories have gutted the elements that make a town a home. Can the Minister please explain why they persist in prioritising developers in our towns over the people living in them?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I completely disagree with her. Members need only look at the measures that we are introducing in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which will come to the House tomorrow, to see the huge changes that we intend to make to high streets to allow them to work better for local people.

New Homes

We have announced £10 billion of investment in housing supply since the start of this Parliament, and we are also investing £11.5 billion in the latest affordable homes programme to provide thousands of new homes across the country for people to rent or, of course, to buy. In July we set out our long-term plan for housing, with regeneration programmes in Cambridge, London and Leeds.

When the Department tried to change the nutrient neutrality rules, the Labour party fell at the first hurdle, showing that it had changed since its claims to be the party of house building. It blocked that, so will Ministers commit themselves to pushing through these essential changes afresh?

Absolutely. We have just heard from the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) a crude nimbyist appeal to the voters of Mid Bedfordshire, a week after the leader of the Labour party said he was in favour of

“the builders, not the blockers”

—but who could be surprised, given that, as my hon. Friend has rightly pointed out, when we put forward legislation for 100,000 new homes, Labour blocked it? It is unbelievable that the crew of gangsters over there are peddling the same nonsense week in, week out.

For all the sound and fury from the Secretary of State, he knows that the maths does not lie and that the Government have failed on their targets. They have downgraded their affordable housing targets, and have still failed on those. When will the Secretary of State bite the bullet and provide more properly affordable social housing for people in my constituency and others who simply cannot afford to buy their own homes?

I withdraw the word “gangster”, Mr Speaker; I should have said “huckster”.

I will tell the hon. Lady who has downgraded their social housing targets: it is the hon. Lady herself. When she was running for the deputy leadership of her party, she said that she wanted 100,000 new social homes every year. What is the target now? Zero.

It is essential that we boost the number of new homes built each year for private sale, but just as important is the need to significantly increase the supply of new affordable homes to buy and rent. The National Audit Office has confirmed that the Government’s target for its flagship 2016 to 2023 affordable homes programme was 250,000 starts by March 2023. Can the Secretary of State explain how on earth the public can trust this Government to address the housing affordability crisis when recent figures reveal that they have failed to deliver on their share of that target outside London?

The significant increase in the affordable homes programme that I outlined earlier is the means for that to be done, but the difference between us is that we have a target for social and affordable homes, while Labour has none.

Leaseholders: Residential Building Remediation

10. What recent progress he has made on supporting leaseholders with (a) cladding and (b) non-cladding remediation to residential buildings. (906518)

16. What recent progress he has made on supporting leaseholders with (a) cladding and (b) non-cladding remediation to residential buildings. (906524)

The Government expect those who have caused defects to step up to solve them. As the House is aware, 50 developers have now signed contracts to resolve cladding and non-cladding defects in more than 1,100 buildings. For other properties, the Government are making extensive taxpayer subsidy available to support cladding remediation, along with other mechanisms to pursue those who are responsible.

Help for people living in under-11 metre buildings that have fire safety defects does not go far enough, because of the huge amount of money involved. One of my constituents has described her experience as a “never-ending nightmare”. Will the Minister bring that nightmare to an end for constituents such as mine who are forced to pay to fix the mistakes of others?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising a specific question about under-11 metre properties. Every property, be it over or under 11 metres, needs a fire risk assessment, and I encourage her constituent to ensure that a fire risk appraisal of external walls is undertaken against that property. If the FRAEW indicates that extensive work is necessary, I would be happy to receive a copy of it and look into it personally in order to deal with this.

I have written to the Minister about a constituent of mine who is a leaseholder living in an under-11 metre property and so is not protected by the Building Safety Act 2022. The cladding costs alone will be well over £100,000 and any non-cladding costs will be substantial. That is completely unaffordable for my constituent and it will bankrupt him. So when will the Minister provide a full update, which was promised to me back on 18 August?

As I say, if the hon. Lady wishes to raise the case of this individual building once again with me or talk to me separately outside, I will be happy to enable that. For every under-11 metre building we are made aware of as requiring additional remediation, we are going through and checking things, and compiling audits, where necessary, to get to the bottom of it. The Government strongly believe that under-11 metre buildings do not need extensive remediation, and we will be happy to talk more about any buildings where these issues have been raised.

Does the necessity for the Government to take that sort of action show the danger that leaseholders are under from the abuse of freeholders’ power? May I, through him, gently remind the Secretary of State of an assurance he gave me when talking about leasehold? He said:

“We need to end this feudal form of tenure and ensure individuals have the right to enjoy their own property fully.”—[Official Report, 20 February 2023; Vol. 728, c. 3.]

Is that still intended to be in the King’s Speech?

My right hon. Friend knows that I am not able to anticipate what will be in the King’s Speech. We are clear that, particularly with regard to remediation, some freeholders have stepped up and should be credited for doing so, but others have absolutely not done so. The Secretary of State and I will not hesitate to call out that activity where it occurs.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the action he and the Secretary of State are taking against developers that refuse to remediate tall buildings. What action will he now propose to take against developers that deliberately do not carry out this work and leave leaseholders with their lives in peril and potentially not able to sell or even insure their properties?

As my hon. Friend is aware, we are ensuring that developers uphold the promises they have made, through the developer contract and through the responsible actors scheme, which makes sure that if they fail to do so they could, in extremis, be banned from building in this country again. If there is any indication what he describes is occurring, we will be happy to take action and I will be happy to receive any information from him or others in the House.

More than six years on from the Grenfell disaster, where 72 people lost their lives, Sam, a disabled resident in a Galliard Homes building, is one of the hundreds of thousands of people still trapped in buildings that have not been remediated. Is this the new “do nothing” approach from the Department to building safety that was highlighted in The Guardian today, an approach that forced the resignation of a senior civil servant from the Department?

I think that question is somewhat beneath the hon. Gentleman, but let me state clearly what the Government are doing. They have recognised that there is an issue and have legislated to resolve that. They are working extremely hard to ensure that developers are held to account for that, and over the past few months, they have had success in ensuring that that process takes place. Where developers are no longer around, they are also stepping up and making sure that the cladding defects are covered. Hundreds of buildings have concluded their remediation over recent months, which demonstrates the progress that is being made.

Levelling Up across the UK

Levelling up is a UK-wide project. That is why we have delivered city and growth deals across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; why we have launched our investment zones programme, including zones in the north-east of Scotland and Glasgow; and why we are investing £4.8 billion through the levelling-up fund in projects ranging from the transformation of Burnley’s historic mills to the development of a cultural quarter in Peterhead.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, as he develops these policies further, will he remember that even in apparently affluent areas, there are pockets that would benefit significantly from levelling-up investment, especially across Basildon and Thurrock? Will he therefore tell the House what plans he has to include those areas in the next round of investment?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and in particular, it is vital to make sure that we level up that community in Thurrock. Our plans to extend the economic development of Docklands east to make the Thames estuary a powerhouse for economic growth have been inspired by my hon. Friend’s work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price).

It was a pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister to Burnley two weeks ago, when he announced that Burnley was one of the many towns getting money as part of the long-term plan for towns, on top of more than £32 million from the levelling-up fund. I was particularly pleased to see that a key part of the long-term plan for towns is community engagement. Will the Secretary of State set out what that community engagement will look like? In particular, will it be a one-off, or can communities expect to be consulted throughout the decade for which the £20 million is allocated?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that this is a decade-long investment in 55 towns across the United Kingdom. We will work with people in Burnley, with its excellent Member of Parliament and with other representatives to ensure that we can tackle antisocial behaviour, revive high streets and make sure that the pride that people have in Burnley is reflected in investment from Government.

One of the economic sectors that provides levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom is the creative industries, whether that is film production, theatre, the arts, video games or modern high tech. Will the Secretary of State have conversations with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury about the proposals to change business rates, which may have a dramatic effect and curtail the opportunities for the creative industries?

Absolutely. The vital role that our creative industries play across the United Kingdom in levelling up is one we need to not just protect, but enhance.

The delivery of local services is so important to levelling up all areas of Britain. The Secretary of State will be aware that in rural areas, the cost of delivering public services is much higher than in their urban counterparts. In rural counties such as Shropshire, for example, the cost of providing social care is much higher and the proportion of people who need that care is higher, because there are older residents. Will the Secretary of State consider taking into account the cost of providing those services when determining the local government settlement in the future?

It is a very fair point, and absolutely, on the Government side of the House, we understand that rural communities need additional investment, not least when it comes to the cost of adult social care.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) has said, there are pockets of deprivation even in wealthier areas, including Lichfield. Will the Secretary of State give some indication of what sort of timescale there is for the next round of applications?

I simply cannot believe that there are any pockets of deprivation in Lichfield, given who has been representing that constituency since 1992. The idea that there is any home unvisited by its Member of Parliament or that there is any hearth where there is a chill seems to be inconceivable. But nevertheless, we will make sure that levelling-up fund round 3 is brought forward just in advance of the autumn statement, and Staffordshire, I hope, will have its voice heard.

We understand that the Secretary of State is planning some rushed, back-of-a-cigarette-packet devolution deal with Hull and the East Riding. Can I urge caution? After 13 years of deliberate, sustained and savage cuts to our city, the last thing we need now is a botched deal ahead of the general election. The very least I expect the Secretary of State to guarantee is proper consultation, so that the people of Hull, who have been badly let down by this Tory Government, get the opportunity to understand the implications and to speak on the issue. Will he guarantee that?

I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but we are not rushing or embarking on any botched process. We are talking to representatives from both the East Riding and Kingston upon Hull councils in order to ensure that we can get a devolution deal that works. We have devolution in York and North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire; as far as we are concerned, east Yorkshire should not be left out in that progress, but it is important that we get that right. In the meantime, we are developing a levelling-up partnership with Hull, in order to ensure that vital investment, not least in transport, matches the investment that we have already secured on the south bank of the Humber.

Prior to Scotland’s being dragged out of the European Union against its will, EU regional development policies allocated up to £827 million from 2014 to 2020. Crucially, the Scottish Government played a key role in directing the funding, in stark contrast to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which bypasses Scotland’s Parliament and undermines devolution. Will the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues stop playing politics and devolve levelling up to Holyrood?

We are devolving levelling up—we are devolving it to local government. That is why our recent towns fund announcement was welcomed by all councils, including SNP-led councils. I say to the hon. Lady, with respect, that the SNP conference, meeting in Aberdeen today, has decided that if the SNP gets 29 MPs, that is a mandate for independence. Given the rate at which the SNP is losing MPs to defection and by-election, it will be at 29 by Christmas, so let us discuss it then.

Voter Identification: Minority Groups

14. What assessment he has made of the impact of the Government’s voter identification policies on the turnout of minority groups at elections. (906522)

As we committed to doing in legislation, we are conducting an evaluation of the impact of voter identification at the May polls. We will publish that evaluation no later than November this year.

The Electoral Commission’s report into voter ID is utterly damning. It found that awareness of the new rules was lowest among black and minority ethnic communities, and take-up of voter authority certificates was minimal. Even the Government’s own MPs can see the reality of this failed experiment. The right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) said:

“Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them”.

Does the Minister agree with her own Conservative colleagues?

I remind the hon. Lady that 99.75% of the electorate were able to vote successfully. I also remind her that it was the Electoral Commission that called for voter identification. It has existed in Northern Ireland for two decades and was introduced under a Labour Government, and it exists in most European countries.

On the hon. Lady’s point about ethnic minorities, everyone deserves fair and free elections, and it has been ethnic minorities in areas such as Tower Hamlets and Birmingham who have been the victims of electoral fraud.

Social Housing: Accountability to Tenants

15. Whether his Department is taking steps to help ensure that social housing providers are accountable to tenants. (906523)

We are taking action to improve the quality of social housing. The Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, which received Royal Assent in July, will deliver transformative change across the sector, introducing proactive consumer regulation and rebalancing the relationships between landlords and tenants, ensuring that landlords are properly held to account for their performance.

I welcome the steps the Government are taking to support people living in social housing, but many people in Carshalton and Wallington who live in social housing are still concerned about the level of service they receive from their providers. I have received complaints about a number of housing associations, including Liberal Democrat-run Sutton Council’s housing arm, Sutton Housing Partnership, and Metropolitan Thames Valley, which provides housing in Roundshaw. Will the Secretary of State assure those residents that they have somewhere to go when things go wrong?

Yes, those residents absolutely do have somewhere to go. My hon. Friend, the excellent Member of Parliament for Carshalton and Wallington, stands up not just for his constituents, but for the most vulnerable in society, with clarity and moral authority. Our legislation will make sure that Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing and, indeed, Liberal Democrat-led Sutton Council are held to account for any failures.

Topical Questions

Last Thursday, I was privileged to be invited to join a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary at which we heard from the Community Security Trust about the deeply unfortunate rise in antisemitic incidents following the terrorist attack that we marked at the start of today’s sitting. The increase in antisemitic incidents recorded by the Community Security Trust and its partner, Tell MAMA, is 494%. It is a melancholy trend, and I know that everyone in this House will join me in doing everything we can to defeat antisemitism and to promote peace and justice.

I welcome the comments that the Secretary of State has just made, but may I take him to task about some of the comments that he made earlier? He talked about having conversations with Hull City Council about transport. This comes after the Government’s decade-long refusal to back the electrification of a line to Hull. It also comes after the exclusion of the northern Mayors in the decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2. Why should any of the people in Hull and East Riding—

Order. Topicals should be short and sweet. The right hon. Lady should just finish her question very quickly.

I am a huge fan of the right hon. Lady. The proof of the pudding will be in the continued engagement that we have with the people of Hull and, indeed, with their Liberal Democrat council.

I have been running a “fair deal for new estates” campaign in my constituency to ensure that new estates are completed in a timely manner. I am talking about not just the housing, but the play areas, the planting, the drainage and the pavements. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss this campaign, which is important locally and is achieving progress for residents in Harrogate and Knaresborough?

My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job in raising the concerns of his constituents on the Floor of the House. I know that those concerns are also raised with many other colleagues. That is why, in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we are strengthening planning enforcement powers, including powers to tackle uncompleted developments. I hope his constituents will welcome that, and I would be pleased to meet him and discuss it in more detail.

It is a pleasure to face the right hon. Gentleman for our first questions. I hope he enjoyed his party conference, cancelling a meat tax that nobody had planned, abolishing seven bins that do not exist and announcing that they would build a series of transport links that already do exist—not so much conference season as panto season. I shall keep my question to a problem that definitely does exist. One million families are waiting for social housing. How can he justify handing back to the Treasury billions of pounds that are desperately needed to tackle the housing crisis?

It is because we spend our money effectively. The affordable homes programme—the £11.5 billion investment that we are making—will lead, and has led, to investment in social and affordable housing across the country. The right hon. Lady has a challenge when it comes to credibility on social housing. She secured the deputy leadership of her party by saying that the Labour party should be building 100,000 social homes every year, and yet its current target is zero. Why did she retreat?

The right hon. Gentleman just comes out with flannel—I think he is auditioning for panto season this afternoon. He can dress it up however he likes, but the truth is that he could not spend this vital funding quickly enough in the middle of a housing crisis. It is clear that the Prime Minister shares his disregard for struggling families. In his hour-long speech in Manchester, the Prime Minister did not mention housing a single time—not once—but the Housing Minister did tell conference that renters are not all weed-smoking gangsters, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows all about, as he mentioned gangsters earlier today. Can the Secretary of State assure us that, despite the tone of those remarks, the Renters (Reform) Bill will not be scrapped before the King’s Speech?

Yes, we are bringing reform to the rental market, but I note that at her own party conference the right hon. Lady shared with the public not just her policies but her recipe for a cocktail called Venom, which apparently contains a bottle of vodka, a bottle of Southern Comfort, 10 Blue WKDs and a litre of orange juice. We know what the real lethal cocktail from the Labour party is: a mix of unfunded spending commitments, massive borrowing, greenbelt development and hypocrisy on housing.

T7. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the amazing Hope Centre in Northampton, which for 50 years has been turning the lives around of people who have been homeless, getting them into a home of their own and into a secure job. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all the staff and volunteers at that amazing charity? (906541)

I am delighted to congratulate the staff and volunteers at the Hope Centre on 50 amazing years of supporting venerable people in Northampton. That work is critical in meeting the Government’s commitment to reduce homelessness and to end rough sleeping for good, which is backed by a Government investment of £2 billion over three years.

Antisemitism is abhorrent and hateful, and there must be meaningful legislation to protect Jewish people. I appreciate that the Department introduced the anti-boycott Bill to help to tackle that, but as the Minister may recall, in Committee the Bill was not supported by many human rights organisations and no Opposition amendments were accepted. We need to work on a cross-party basis, so will the Secretary of State and the Minister meet with me to discuss what support the SNP can provide to tackle the hatred of antisemitism?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the way in which she couched her question. I take this opportunity to thank the First Minister of Scotland who, in his visit to a synagogue in Edinburgh last week, I think spoke for all of Scotland in expressing his solidarity with the pain being felt by Scotland’s Jewish community. I look forward to working together on a cross-party basis if we can.

T9. The new Levelling Up Minister has got off to a flying start by awarding £20 million to Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. Barry is Wales’s largest town and has been ignored by the Welsh Government for decades. What reassurance can my hon. Friend give me that local priorities will determine how that money should be spent? (906543)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is a persistent champion of Barry in his constituency. I am delighted that Barry has been chosen as one of the 55 towns and will receive £20 million to deliver its plan. I look forward to working with him to see Barry’s potential realised.

T2. Chester, like city centres up and down the country, as well as rural and coastal areas, is seeing rents going up and the supply of long-term private rented lets going down. The Government consulted on short-term lets earlier this year. What progress has been made in tackling the issue? (906535)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question. As she rightly points out, the abuse of short-term lets is a significant issue in rural and coastal areas, and we will respond to the consultation shortly.

Over 200 of my constituents at the Mill development in Ipswich have been living in a cruel form of limbo for over 10 years. The building has deep cladding and structural problems. RSM, the administrator, could run out of money next March or April. My constituents fear that they could be turfed out of their homes. What steps are the Government taking to support my residents, give them clarity over their future, and come to a lasting settlement that funds the problems of the building and allows residents to move on with their lives?

Like my hon. Friend, the Department and the Government want to see a resolution to the Mill, which is complex and challenging. We accept the points that he makes. I look forward to continue meeting with him, and we will try to find a positive resolution.

T3. Local authorities are struggling to retrofit ageing rural council housing stock, which has allowed mould to set in. What will the Minister do to avoid councils having to spend huge sums of council taxpayers’ money on positive input ventilation units to provide mould-free homes? (906536)

The scourge of damp and mould, particularly but not exclusively in the social and private rented sector, is an issue that the Government recognise that we need to tackle. That is why we are providing additional support to local government and to housing associations in order to deal with that issue. I look forward in particular to dealing with the hon. Gentleman to assess the situation in Tiverton and Honiton.

I thank the Secretary of State for the tremendous support he has provided to Blackpool, with more than £140 million in levelling-up moneys allocated so far. Is he able to provide an update on the plans for further housing-led regeneration in the Bond Street and Revoe areas of my constituency?

I fully recognise the importance of supporting Blackpool and places across the country in their ambitions for regeneration. Homes England and my Department are continuing to work closely with Blackpool Council to level up the town and improve the quality of housing. I look forward to my Department’s saying more about that in the future.

T5. The Secretary of State, in our consideration of his Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill tomorrow, intends to remove reducing child poverty as a levelling-up mission. Does he think it is possible to level up without reducing child poverty, or is it just the case that the Government do not care? (906539)

That is a fair question. Of course we care about reducing child poverty; that is why the steps we are taking across 12 levelling-up missions, including on education and welfare, are designed to reduce poverty across the United Kingdom.

Berkeley Town Council has created a much-needed regeneration plan that will make the town worthy of the tourist attractions nearby, such as Berkeley castle and the Dr Jenner’s House museum, but we have little faith that the Green and Labour-led district council will get the levelling-up bid over the line. It failed before and its local plans have also been withdrawn. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue?

T6. Some 4,240 households in London alone were evicted last year using the no-fault possession grounds that the Government first promised to scrap four years ago. How many more households will be evicted before the Government meet their promise? (906540)

We are committed to introducing our Renters (Reform) Bill, which will end section 21—something that, when Labour were in government, it did not do.

Levelling up is about levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom—north, south, east and west, including areas that did not get levelling-up funding in rounds 1 or 2 or the recent announcements, such as Gillingham town centre. Will the Secretary of State visit Gillingham with me and ensure that we get our fair share and allocation of resources?

T8.   Some 54 months ago, the Government promised the Renters (Reform) Bill. Since then, 10,000 Londoners have been threatened with eviction and renting is simply too insecure. We are trying again to ask this: when will the Government be bringing in the Bill? (906542)

That is a good question; I liked it even better when the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) asked it. As I explained, we will be bringing forward our legislation shortly.

As he is reforming the national planning policy framework and introducing a new infrastructure levy, how will my right hon. Friend ensure that our constituents get the doctors and dentists capacity that must go with new homes?

The infrastructure levy that we are bringing forward will ensure, through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, that the money is there to provide services when new development takes place. We will work with the NHS to ensure that GP and dental provision is part of that. We have a plan for an infrastructure levy; Labour has no plan.

Israel and Gaza

The attacks in Israel last weekend shocked the world. Over 1,400 people murdered one by one; over 3,500 wounded; almost 200 taken hostage; the elderly, men, women, children and babes in arms murdered, mutilated, burned alive. We should call it by its name: it was a pogrom. The families of some of the missing are in the Public Gallery today. We call for the immediate release of all hostages, and I say to them, “We stand with you. We stand with Israel.”

The murdered and the missing come from over 30 countries, including the United Kingdom. The terrible nature of these attacks means it is proving difficult to identify many of the deceased, but, with a heavy heart, I can inform the House that at least six British citizens were killed. A further 10 are missing, some of whom are feared to be among the dead.

We are working with Israel to establish the facts as quickly as possible, and we are supporting the families who are suffering unimaginable pain. We are also helping British citizens who want to leave Israel. We have organised eight flights so far, bringing out more than 500 people, with more flights leaving today. We are working with neighbouring countries on land evacuations for our citizens in Gaza and the west bank. I have spoken specifically to President Sisi about supporting civilians to leave Gaza by the Rafah border crossing, which remains closed at present, and we have a Border Force team in Egypt working with our embassy to help citizens when they are able to cross.

I will come back to the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza in a moment, but I want first to address the British Jewish community directly: as I said at Finchley United synagogue last week, and at the Jewish school I visited this morning, we stand with you now and always. This atrocity was an existential strike at the very idea of Israel as a safe homeland for the Jewish people. I understand why it has shaken you to your core. I am sickened that antisemitic incidents have increased since the attack. We are doing everything we can to protect you. We are providing an additional £3 million for the Community Security Trust to protect schools, synagogues and other Jewish community buildings, and we are working with the police to ensure that hate crime and the glorification of terror are met with the full force of the law. I know that the whole House will support that and join me in saying unequivocally that we stand with the Jewish community.

I also recognise that this is a moment of great anguish for British Muslim communities, who are also appalled by the actions of Hamas but are fearful of the response. We must listen to those concerns with the same attentiveness. Hamas are using innocent Palestinian people as human shields, with the tragic loss of more than 2,600 Palestinian lives, including many children. We mourn the loss of every innocent life, of the civilians of every faith and every nationality who have been killed, so let us say it plainly: we stand with British Muslim communities, too.

Israel was founded not just as a homeland for the Jewish people, but as a guarantor of their security, to ensure that what happened in the holocaust could never happen again. Through its strength and resilience, Israel gradually achieved some of that longed-for security, despite the strategic threats on its borders, including Hezbollah in the north with Iran at its back. Israel normalised relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain through the Abraham accords, and moved towards normalising ties with Saudi Arabia—steps that were considered unthinkable not long ago.

One reason this attack is so shocking is that it is a fundamental challenge to any idea of co-existence, which is an essential precursor to peace and stability in the region. The question is: how should we respond? I believe that we must support absolutely Israel’s right to defend itself, to go after Hamas and take back the hostages, to deter further incursions, and to strengthen its security for the long term. That must be done in line with international humanitarian law, while recognising that Israel faces a vicious enemy who embed themselves behind civilians.

As a friend, we will continue to call on Israel to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians. I repeat President Biden’s words: as democracies, we are

“stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.”

Humanity, law, decency, respect for human life—that is what sets us apart from the mindless violence of the terrorist.

There are three specific areas in which the United Kingdom is helping to shape events. First, we are working to prevent escalation and further threats against Israel. On Friday, RAF surveillance aircraft began patrols to track threats to regional security; I have deployed a Royal Navy task group to the eastern Mediterranean, including RFA Lyme Bay and RFA Argus, three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines, ready both to interdict arms and to support the humanitarian response; and we are bolstering our forces in Cyprus and across the region. Let me be clear: we are not engaging in fighting or in an offensive in Gaza, but we are increasing our presence to prevent broader regional instability at this dangerous moment.

Secondly, I am proud that we are a long-standing and significant provider of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. I can announce today that we are increasing our aid by a third, with an additional £10 million of support. An acute humanitarian crisis is unfolding, to which we must respond. We must support the Palestinian people, because they are victims of Hamas too. Like our allies, we believe that

“Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, or their legitimate aspirations to live with equal measures of security, freedom, justice, opportunity and dignity.”

Hamas simply do not stand for the future that Palestinians want, and they seek to put the Palestinian people in harm’s way. We must ensure that humanitarian support urgently reaches civilians in Gaza. That requires Egypt and Israel to allow in the aid that is so badly needed.

We also need to keep the situation in the west bank at the forefront of our minds at this moment of heightened sensitivity. Earlier today, I spoke to Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, to express our support for his efforts to provide stability.

Thirdly, we will use all the tools of British diplomacy to sustain the prospects of peace and stability in the region. Ultimately, that requires security for Israelis and Palestinians and a two-state solution, so we are increasing our regional engagement. I have spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu twice in the last week, along with the US, France, Germany, Italy and others. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was the first to visit Israel after the attacks. I met His Majesty the King of Jordan yesterday —a long-time voice of reason and moderation. I have spoken today with the leaders of Turkey and, previously, Egypt, and I will speak to others in the coming days. Our partners in the region have asked us to play a role in preventing further escalation, and that is what we will do. However hard it is, we need to ask the tough questions about how we can revive the long-term prospects for a two-state solution, for normalisation and for regional stability, not least because that is precisely what Hamas have been trying to kill.

In conclusion, unequivocally backing Israel’s right to defend itself, stepping forward with humanitarian support, working to protect civilians from harm, and straining every sinew to keep the flame of peace and stability alive—that is our objective. It is the right approach for the region, and it is the right approach for Britain. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement and for the updates the Government have provided to Labour Front Benchers over the past few days.

Last Saturday, Israel was the victim of terrorism on an unimaginable scale: the senseless murder of men, women, children and even babies; the horrors of hostage taking; music festivals turned to killing fields; innocent Jews slaughtered within their own kibbutz—an attack with no cause other than bloodshed. I am sure that over the last few days, every Member of the House has seen images from this crisis that will never be unseen: tiny bodies, wrapped in bundles, in Israel and now in Gaza; mothers and fathers grieving—Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, Jew; the innocent, dead.

As in any time of grave crisis, it is crucial that this House speaks with one voice in condemnation of terror, in support for Israel in its time of agony and for the dignity of all human life, because Hamas do not wish to see peace in the middle east; they just want to see Israel wiped off the map. But Hamas are not the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people are not Hamas.

Labour stands with Israel. Britain stands with Israel. The attack is ongoing, terrorists are at large and hostages are still being held, some of them British citizens. Israel has the right to bring her people home, to defend herself and to keep her people safe. While Hamas have the capability to carry out attacks on Israeli territory, there can be no safety. As Secretary of State Blinken said last week:

“We democracies distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard—even when it’s difficult”.

He is right.

As the Prime Minister has said, there is an acute humanitarian crisis unfolding. Israel’s defence must be conducted in accordance with international law, civilians must not be targeted and innocent lives must be protected. There must be humanitarian corridors and humanitarian access, including for food, water, electricity and medicines, so that hospitals can keep people alive and so that innocent people do not needlessly die. And there must be proper protection for all those who work selflessly so that aid can be delivered to victims.

There can be no doubt that responsibility for this crisis lies with Hamas. They have no interest in Palestinian rights and no interest in the security of the people of Gaza. They unleash terror and then hide among them—women and children used as human shields; hostages held, who should be released. Hamas are destroyers of lives, of hope and of peace. And we cannot give them what they want.

We must keep striving for a two-state solution: a Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel. We cannot give up on that hope. We cannot let Hamas brutality be a catalyst for conflict in the wider region. Engagement between Israel and Arab nations must be strengthened, not abandoned. International co-operation, the rule of law and a political road to peace—Hamas want us to abandon all three. In defiance, we must be resolute on all of them.

These attacks are having a huge impact on communities across the United Kingdom. Many in this House will have heard devastating stories from people who have lost friends and family, and from people who are deeply worried about the future of those they know in Israel or Palestine—including the First Minister of Scotland, who I spoke to at the weekend. We stand with all of them. We stand against the worrying rise in Islamophobia and against the antisemitic abuse, threats and assaults that we have seen on British streets, because we must never underestimate the burden of history that Jewish people carry with them.

I do not want Britain to be a place where Jewish schools are closed, where Jewish children stay at home out of fear and where Jewish families feel compelled to hide their identity. I do not want Britain to be a place where British Muslims feel they have to apologise for the actions of people who do not act in their name. We cannot allow community cohesion in our country to be destroyed. We all bear a responsibility to do all we can to stamp out hate, and we fully support police action to provide extra assistance for our communities.

The events of the past week have seen horrors beyond our imagination, so let us send a strong message that Westminster is united, and Britain is united: with Israel, against terror, for international law and for the protection of innocent lives. There are difficult days ahead, but our values cannot be compromised. Terror cannot win.

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his remarks. Let me say at the outset that this is an unprecedented and extraordinarily difficult situation. It is likely to remain difficult for all of us in the days and weeks ahead, but we must always have at the forefront of our mind that responsibility for this crisis lies with Hamas, and with Hamas alone. It was a barbaric act of terrorism that has inflicted untold suffering and misery on so many people, and we have felt that acutely here at home.

We have seen the impact on our streets over the past week, and it has sickened all of us. We stand united in saying that antisemitism has no place in our society. Let me be unequivocal that those who incite racial or religious hatred on our streets, or who inflict violence and cause untold suffering to people, will be met with the full force of the law. I know the whole House will join me in making sure that happens: that the police have all the tools, resources and powers they need to bring that about.

In conclusion, let me say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that this House stands united: united in condemning unequivocally this terrorist attack by Hamas, and united in saying that we will be steadfast in our support for Israel, and steadfast in our support for the Jewish people—not just today, not just tomorrow, but always.

The House will be grateful to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the lead that they have given in today’s statement. This is not the time to point out the faults of Benjamin Netanyahu. What we have to say is that the inexcusable terror attack on Israelis was intended to bring awful harm to the Palestinians.

Rather than quote international leaders, I want to quote a senior constituent, who said: “This is a very harrowing time for Jews all over the world. There are about 16 million of us worldwide. Why can’t they leave us alone?”

If we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we want to try to bring security, both to the people of Israel and to the Palestinians in Gaza. Does the Prime Minister know that he will have our support as he tries to do that?

I thank the Father of the House for what he has said, and I simply agree with his constituent in saying that all of us will pray for peace in the region, but especially for peace for those families who have been so tragically affected by what has happened over the past week.

Rabbie Burns once poignantly wrote that

“Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!”

It is with those words echoing in all our hearts that we send our thoughts and prayers to all those suffering in the middle east. The abhorrent terrorist attack by Hamas on the Jewish people and the Israeli state was a crime against our common humanity, and it must be condemned unequivocally. What more powerful response can we have than to seek to protect the shared innocence and shared humanity of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians?

That will require a lot. It will require the defeat of Hamas; it will require the safe return of all those hostages who have been taken; it will require the opening of humanitarian corridors, so that people can escape Gaza and aid can get in; and it will require medicine, water and electricity for hospitals, so that people who are injured can be treated. It will require no collective punishment. Making all of that happen will require international leadership and diplomacy. On these isles, that responsibility will fall to the UK Prime Minister, and I very much wish him well in making that happen.

Right across this Chamber, we all need to be very conscious that history will judge us on our response not just to these abhorrent attacks but to the humanitarian crisis that is undoubtedly unfolding in Gaza. Let us not be on the wrong side of history.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and I agree that this crisis demands that the United Kingdom steps up diplomatically to make a difference—to bring about peace and stability. That is what we have done over the past week, as I alluded to in my statement. The Foreign Secretary was the first person to visit Israel and has spoken to multiple counterparts. In the same vein, I myself have been working with allies across the region to make sure that we can work together to bring about a successful and peaceful resolution. We also recognise the scale of the humanitarian situation that is unfolding and are playing a leading role in helping to alleviate it, not least with our announcement today of considerably more aid for the Palestinian territories, building on our strong track record as one of the leading providers of aid to the region. That will continue.

The attack on Israel by Hamas terrorists was barbaric. Terrorists must be defeated, whoever they are and wherever they are. I commend my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for the stance that the Government have taken in support of the Jewish community here in the UK, and in support of Israel and its right to defend itself. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that action must be taken in line with international humanitarian law, but will he give a commitment today that the Government will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to prevent regional escalation of the conflict? In doing so, will he reflect on the role of Iran?

I can give my right hon. Friend that reassurance. It is not only something that we have discussed extensively with partners in the region, but why last week I deployed surveillance aircraft and assets to the Mediterranean, and they are already engaged in ensuring that arms shipments do not find their way to people such as those in Hezbollah, and that Iran does not see this as an opportunity to escalate the conflict. The support that we have put into the region has already been welcomed by our partners, who share our aim to ensure that action is constrained to dealing with Hamas and what they have done. No one wants to see any escalation. Again, that is something that Prime Minister Netanyahu and I discussed, and he very much agrees that his objective is to deal with Hamas and not to see the conflict spread more widely.

The scale of Hamas’s terrorist attacks has been utterly horrifying and the atrocities they have committed are truly sickening. We stand with the people of Israel and with the Jewish community, who are grieving and afraid. We call for the unconditional release of all hostages and urge the Government finally to proscribe as a terrorist organisation the funders of Hamas: Iran’s revolutionary guard.

Israel unquestionably has the right to defend itself and its citizens. That means targeting Hamas, not innocent civilians, in line with international law. I am concerned about the forced evacuation of hospitals in Gaza, which means death for innocent Palestinians who will not survive being taken off life support. The World Health Organisation has said that this may be a breach of international humanitarian law, so will the Prime Minister set out what advice he has received on the matter?

Unlike Hamas, the Israeli President has said that the Israeli armed forces will operate in accordance with international law. Israel’s attempt to minimise civilian casualties by warning people to leave northern Gaza has been further complicated by Hamas terrorists telling the local population not to leave and instead using them as human shields. We will continue to urge Israel, as I have done when I have spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu, that while it exercises its absolute right to defend itself and ensure that such attacks can never happen again, it should take every possible precaution to minimise the impact on civilians.

Saturday’s terror attack on Israel constituted crimes against humanity—crimes so heinous that they violated our understanding of the depths of human depravity. That depravity continues today, as innocents remain held hostage by Hamas terrorists and their patrons, the state of Iran.

Israel has a legitimate right to self-defence and to defeat Hamas. We can support Israel and grieve with its people while recognising that how a counter-terrorism operation is conducted matters. It matters because Israel’s actions as a rule-of-law nation, and our words as its friend, shape our ability to be a legitimate arbiter in future conflicts and to have the right to call out abusers such as Russia. It matters because although there is an imperative to defeat Hamas in the immediate term in order to secure Israel’s future, how they are defeated will shape the region’s future, and because the people of Gaza are not Hamas—1.2 million children bear no collective guilt for Hamas’s terror.

So today I repeat my call for the creation of a special envoy for the middle east peace process. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House more about what actions are being taken to prevent conflict and loss of life on the west bank and in East Jerusalem? When will we finally proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?

With regard specifically to the west bank, this is something about which I spoke to Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority this morning. I also spoke yesterday to His Majesty the King of Jordan. We discussed the measures that are necessary and the support the UK can provide to ensure the strong stability of the west bank. No one wants to see the situation escalate. I assure my hon. Friend that we are in active dialogue with both partners to see how we can help bring that stability to the west bank. Indeed, it is something I will also continue to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is important that the west bank remains calm, and that is what we will help to bring about.

On Saturday, I went to shul and sat next to a constituent whose cousin is one of the hostages. My thoughts and prayers go out not only to him, but to all families and hostages currently detained.

While conflict escalates in the middle east, we see the effects on the streets here in Britain. I welcome the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition standing behind Israel’s right to defend itself and the £3 million increase in funding for the Community Security Trust. However, unfortunately, in the past week we have seen an increase of around 500% in antisemitic incidents and an 850% increase in suspicious behaviours, and even this weekend glorification of Hamas and genocidal chants on the streets of our cities, in some cases mere feet away from police officers. Will the Prime Minister join me in applauding the efforts of the CST in keeping the Jewish community safe, but also commit to ensuring that anyone found to be preaching this hate speech on our streets faces the full extent of the law?

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I met the CST and police chiefs last week, in Downing Street, not just to provide extra funding, but to reiterate that there is zero tolerance in the United Kingdom for antisemitism. It is tragic that we have seen a significant increase in incidents over the past week, but those who perpetrate these crimes will be met with the full force of the law.

I want to add my voice to all those who stand with Israel and her inalienable right to defend herself against an unspeakable crime. As someone born in the middle east, as a father and as a human, it was too painful to watch. Israel has to take the necessary steps to root out this evil virus of fundamentalism that has so clearly infested those in Hamas and, of course, destroy it. Just as we stood together against ISIS, we will stand together again. My request to my right hon. Friend is that, when this has been done, the UK encourages Israel to set out for all to see the positive actions it will take to change the reality in Gaza once and for all. Gaza and the world will need Israel to show her best self after this war.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his powerful statement and also agree with him, We must think about the future, and in spite of this awful tragedy, we cannot lose sight of the better future that we all want to strive for. Indeed, in my conversations with leaders we have already been thinking about that, and it is something I raised with the Prime Minister of Israel as well. We all want that better future for the Israeli and Palestinian people, and hopefully out of this tragedy we will find a way to move closer towards it.

The massacre of Israeli civilians was a heinous act of terrorism that we all utterly condemn and the hostages must be released immediately. In the words of the United Nations Secretary-General,

“the horrific acts by Hamas do not justify responding with collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

But that is what we are seeing in Gaza, with civilian areas bombed and food, electricity, water and medicines all cut off. Such collective punishment is a war crime under the Geneva conventions, so will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to make it clear to the Israeli Government that this collective punishment of Palestinian civilians must end immediately?

I would say gently to the hon. Gentleman that I actually believe that we should support absolutely Israel’s right to defend itself and to go after Hamas, recognising that it faces a vicious enemy that embeds itself behind civilians. Of course, Israel will act within international humanitarian law—and, as a friend, we will continue to call on Israel to take every precaution in avoiding harming citizens—but we must acknowledge always that the responsibility for what is happening here is with Hamas and Hamas alone.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the step that you took at the beginning of last week in lighting up this Palace in the colours of blue and white as an act of solidarity with the Israeli victims of Hamas terrorism? I know that it was appreciated by those British families mourning loved ones who were slain in that action as well as by families living with unimaginable fear right now because they have family members who have been taken hostage in Gaza. Some of those family members are with us in the Gallery.

Does the Prime Minister agree that after the acts of barbarism by Hamas, there is no going back to the situation before where, right under the noses of the international community, Hamas were allowed to rearm time and again? They were allowed to misappropriate aid into terrorist infrastructure, building those tunnels, amassing armaments and hiding them behind civilian families. Does he agree that the international community must take a stand and not allow the Gaza strip to go back to becoming a terrorist statelet?

First, I thank my right hon. Friend for everything he does to support the Jewish community here and overseas. I agree that no country can or would tolerate the slaughter of its citizens and simply return to the conditions that allowed that to take place. Israel has the right—indeed, the obligation—to defend itself and to ensure that this never happens again.

Mr Speaker,

“No stone can remain unturned in finding a political solution.”

Those are not my words, but those of the Israeli and Arab mothers’ collective Woman Wage Peace, echoed in recent days by survivors from Kibbutz Be’eri, the family of those murdered at Netiv Ha’Asara, organisations such as B’Tselem, Omdim Ben Yachad, and thousands of peace activists and ordinary Israelis who are desperately praying for the cycle of violence to end and a lasting peace to be secured. What will the Government be doing to heed that call and mobilise international actors to find the political solution, however far away it feels right now, so that there may be a way out of the nightmare that Hamas has unleashed for all in Israel, Palestine and the wider region for good?

We must provide an alternative to the vision of violence, fear and terror presented by Hamas, and that is what the United Kingdom will do, standing with Israel but also working together with its people and our allies across the region—all of those who remain committed to a vision of a more peaceful, more integrated, more secure and more prosperous middle east. That is what we will work towards.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I welcome in particular his urging of the state of Israel to act in line with international humanitarian law and his call for Israel to take every precaution to avoid harming civilians. May I ask him to press upon our Israeli friends the principles of distinction and proportionality in their action to avoid any sense in which it looks like a collective punishment is being meted out on the Palestinians in Gaza, as well as ensuring that we do nothing that will leave the democracies worse off at the end of this, which is not in line with the principles all of us would wish to hold?

As I said, we support Israel’s right to defend itself, but, as a friend, we will continue to call on Israel to take every precaution to avoid harming civilians. That is something that I specifically discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we will continue to do so.

A six-year-old Palestinian child was murdered in Chicago because of his Muslim faith, and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas. In the last week, we have seen a sharp rise in Islamophobic rhetoric and the dehumanisation of Palestinians. Tragically, yesterday, we saw the consequences in the murder of that little boy. Will the Prime Minister review his statements about the conflict and ensure that he does not add to the further vilification of Palestinians and Muslims when condemning the actions of Hamas?

I gently urge the hon. Gentleman to examine what I said earlier from the Dispatch Box, particularly about standing with the British Muslim community at this difficult time. We will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred in any form, and we will seek to stamp it out wherever it occurs. I am pleased to say that, in June, the Security Minister confirmed additional funding of £24.5 million available this financial year to provide protective security at mosques and Muslim faith schools as a demonstration of our intent to deliver on what I said. But I say to him: please see what I said earlier from the Dispatch Box. We stand with all communities at this difficult time.

In the long litany of attacks against Jews around the world, this is the single most murderous since the end of the Holocaust in 1945. The Prime Minister’s support for the Jewish community in this country and for Israel has been heroic. This is an historic moment, and the response of His Majesty’s Government has been all anyone could have asked. Does the Prime Minister agree that Israel has acted entirely in accordance with international law, despite Hamas using human shields and every type of horrific provocation? Israel has not only a right to defend itself but a duty to defend its people from sadistic and vicious murderers.

My right hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point that Israel has not just the right but the duty. One only needs to imagine, if a similar incident had occurred in our country, what we would do to secure the safety and security of our citizens. That is what Israel is doing, it has every right and duty to do so, and it will have our support as it does.

I condemn unreservedly the actions of Hamas and the horror that has unfolded in the region, and I ask that the hostages are returned safely as soon as possible. However, from speaking to aid workers based in Gaza, the reality on the ground is that despite the evacuation order, people who are ill, frail, in hospital or just getting old cannot get out. This morning, I spoke to aid workers who told me people are returning from southern Gaza to northern Gaza because they have no water and there is nowhere to go. They cannot escape. Will the Prime Minister urge the Israeli Government to bear in mind the reality for ordinary Palestinian people living in the nightmare that is unfolding around them through no fault of their own?

As I said, I have spoken to President Sisi about the importance of the Rafah crossing being open for humanitarian purposes and I will continue to do so, and about the importance of allowing humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza. Today’s announcement of more support will hopefully make a difference. Again, I contrast Israel’s attempt to minimise civilian casualties by warning people to leave Gaza with Hamas, who are urging the local population to stay to use them as human shields. It is unacceptable, and we should call it out for what it is.

Every tragic loss of life in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas alone. Some people in this place would do well to remember that fact. A week on from the pogroms, what do we have on the streets of Britain? We have some people attending pro-Palestinian marches, holding up banners in support of terrorists, whether it be hang-gliders, chanting anti-Jewish chants, supporting the racist boycott, divestment and sanctions movement or, in the case of a protest in Glasgow, reminding Jews where they were in 1940. Jews need no reminder of where they were in 1940. Those scenes are deeply distressing to British Jews, many of whom do not believe that the police will take action. Could I urge the Prime Minister to look at what some of our European partners are doing, and to take stronger action against some of those marches?

I thank my hon. Friend for everything he does to support the Jewish community in our country. I join him in saying that these acts are appalling. I want to make sure that we provide security and relieve the anxiety in the Jewish community here in the United Kingdom, which is why I quickly took steps last week to provide that reassurance. I am clear that where people incite racial or religious hatred, or where people’s conduct is threatening, abusive or disorderly or causes distress to others, we expect the police to take action, and those committing such crimes should face the full force of the law.

I join this House in its condemnation of the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine. The 2 million Palestinians in the open-air prison of Gaza faced a dire humanitarian emergency long before today, yet indiscriminate airstrikes and siege tactics have turned what was a critical emergency into a devastating catastrophe. Will the Prime Minister make it clear to the Israeli Government that laying siege to civilians in Gaza by cutting off food, water, power and medical supplies and through indiscriminate airstrikes killing civilians is in clear violation of international law? Just what is the international community doing to stop the horrific and inhuman treatment of Palestinians?

I again point out gently to the hon. Gentleman that Hamas are the entity responsible for the suffering we are seeing, and Hamas alone. Of course we in the international community will do our best to alleviate the impact on innocent people, which is why we have today announced further aid to the region. We will make sure that we provide as much humanitarian support as we can and indeed, in all our conversations with leaders around the region, we are discussing the humanitarian situation and finding ways to work together to alleviate the impact on innocent lives, and that is what we will continue to do.

Does the Prime Minister accept that what Hamas did was not terrorism for its own sake, but an act of calculated barbarism with a strategy behind it? The present war will not feature Egypt and Jordan as enemies of Israel as was the case in previous wars, so does he agree that that strategy is to try and prevent similar peace agreements with countries such as Saudi Arabia? Does he accept that Hamas are a creature of a client state of Russia, and while we are talking about this we must remember that Russia is still at war in Ukraine?

I thank my right hon. Friend, and he is right to point to the broader situation and welcome the progress that had been made on normalisation between Israel and other countries in the region, which speaks to the brighter future that we all hope we will see one day. Let me reassure him on our support for Ukraine: we remain committed to that, and just this Friday I was at the Joint Expeditionary Force summit in Sweden talking with our northern European, Scandinavian and Baltic partners and hearing directly from President Zelensky about how we in the JEF will continue to support Ukraine in the coming year. My right hon. Friend can rest assured that we are able to do both.

Noam Sagi, his wife Michal and their son are here today to watch you give your statement, Prime Minister.

Ada Sagi, Noam’s mum, was taken hostage from her home by Hamas on Saturday 7 October, and is currently being held hostage in Gaza. Ada booked a ticket to the UK to celebrate her 75th birthday. Noam has written to the Prime Minister to ask for his immediate intervention and assistance. Joe Biden has made personal calls to his citizens. I ask the Prime Minister if he will please—remember, the family are watching—spare just five minutes to have a quick conversation with them.

Of course I am happy to have a quick conversation, but I am also engaged actively with our partners in the region to try to ensure the safe release of our hostages, which I am sure the House will support me in doing any which way we can. We will use all the tools at our disposal to ensure their safe return, not just for the hon. Lady’s constituents but all those British nationals and others who were taken by Hamas in that appalling act. They should know that we are doing absolutely everything we can to try to bring them back home as quickly and safely as possible.

We in this House are all absolutely horrified by the terrorist atrocities in Israel and the appalling way in which the Hamas terrorists have murdered, tortured and kidnapped men, women and children. I thank the Prime Minister for his important and significant statement today, and for the way in which—as he has just said—we are giving all the support to the grieving families right now. That is paramount. Can he explain from his conversations with President Sisi how the opening of the border crossings between Gaza and Egypt on humanitarian grounds will be undertaken in a way that prevents Hamas terrorists from leaving and potentially creating further atrocities in the region?

My right hon. Friend has made an excellent point.  That is why there is complexity to opening the Rafah border crossing, but she should be reassured that we are engaged in those conversations with the Egyptians and with other partners, including the Americans, to find a safe way to open the crossing—ideally, for the evacuation of British nationals who may be in Gaza, but also to send humanitarian support into Gaza, which I know we would all like to see happen.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has stated that

“hospitals in Gaza risk turning into morgues without electricity.”

The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has said that the agency’s colleagues in Gaza are no longer able to provide humanitarian assistance, and the number of people seeking shelter in UNRWA facilities in the south is absolutely overwhelming. Some civilians have no choice but to stay in the north of Gaza, and must be protected at all times. What conversations has the Prime Minister had with his Israeli counterpart about creating safe zones and humanitarian corridors in Gaza? Has the Prime Minister raised the urgent need to prevent the perpetration of atrocities on all civilians? Will he increase financial support for UNRWA, and the surrounding host nations, given that the increasing needs of refugees from Palestine will only, sadly, increase further for many years?

I am proud that over the past few years we have been one of the leading donors to UNRWA, accounting for about 10% of all its support for the region. Today we announced an increase of about a third in our humanitarian support, and we will work with the relevant partners to see how best to ensure that those funds can make a difference in the region as quickly as possible.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing us a one-minute silence to reflect on the victims of what has taken place in the middle east.

There can be no greater contrast between the actions of the Israel defence forces, which attempt to prevent the loss of civilian life, and the sheer brutality of the terrorists who kill and maim as many people as they possibly can. There can be no comparison between those two aspects of what is happening. This operation by the terrorist group Hamas was clearly well planned, well resourced and well equipped, and had clearly been planned for many months. It is beyond belief that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which funds and supports Hamas, was not behind this whole operation. Will my right hon. Friend now take the action that the whole House has asked him to take, and proscribe the IRGC in its entirety?

We have already taken strong action against the Iranian regime, including the sanctioning of 350 individuals and entities including the IRGC in its entirety. Furthermore, the National Security Act 2023 implements new measures to protect the British public, including new offences of espionage and foreign interference and tougher powers to arrest and detain people suspected of involvement in state threats. As the House knows, the Government have a long-standing policy of not commenting on whether specific organisations are being considered for proscription, and our approach, as currently stated, is completely in line with that of our allies.

The Israeli Government have the right, indeed the duty, to protect their civilians against these bloody terrorist attacks, and we wish the Prime Minister well in his advice and guidance to the Israeli Government to enable them to achieve the aims that they need to achieve in protecting their citizens. His statement indicated that we would not tolerate the glorification of terror, which would be met by the full force of the law. Will he therefore join me in condemning the Irish language-speaking school in west Belfast whose students held pro-Palestinian demonstrations this week, which were facilitated within the school? Does he agree that schools should be places where pupils are taught that it is morally wrong to support terrorism, and they should not facilitate such demonstrations?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I do not know the details of the incident that he has described, but he is right that this malicious activity should not be happening in schools. We are absolutely clear about the fact that under the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006 it is an offence—there is a range of offences—to encourage terrorism, glorify and support groups that have been proscribed as terrorist organisations under UK law. The police will use all the tools at their disposal to stamp that out and arrest those who perpetrate such acts.

One of the many things Bournemouth is known for is its large Jewish community; indeed, our first citizen and mayor, Councillor Anne Filer, is Jewish. Those people in my constituency will have heard and drawn comfort from the calm and measured words of not just the Prime Minister, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, this afternoon. What we have seen is not just an attack on the territorial integrity of Israel, but an attack on Jews and those of the Jewish faith. Will my right hon. Friend join everyone else of good will in this House to make it clear—not just this week, last week, this month, next month, but always—that antisemitism has no place in our society?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. This was an attack on Jews and we should call it out for what it was. That is what Hamas believe and what they have tried to do, but they will meet firm resistance from us. We will not tolerate antisemitism in any form on our streets, not just today or tomorrow, but always.