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Commons Chamber

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

House of Commons

Tuesday 24 October 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Bishop’s Stortford Cemetery Bill [Lords]

Bill read a Second time.

Royal Albert Hall Bill [Lords]

Lords message (23 October) relating to the Bill considered.

Ordered,

That this House concurs with the Lords in their resolution.(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sudan: Peace and Democracy

Britain continues to advocate a return to a civilian-led Government in Sudan and improved humanitarian access. We have vigorously condemned the atrocities taking place in Darfur, as well as the other regions of Sudan.

Labour stands in solidarity with the people of Sudan, who want only peace, justice and democracy, and who reject the generals’ war. What are the Government doing to support civilian organisations, including the Sudanese community here in the UK, to build unity in opposition to the conflict and military rule?

It is not just Labour that stands in solidarity, but the whole House and the whole country. In respect of the civilian leadership, I spoke last Friday to Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian political leader. He and many of his colleagues will meet in Addis Ababa this week. We very much hope that those meetings will yield some progress.

The all-party parliamentary group on Sudan and South Sudan has heard how people in Darfur still face daily bombings, killing, rape, pillage and torture. Members of the Darfur community here are deeply worried about the ethnic cleansing. What is happening to try to reduce the flow of weapons and to get urgent humanitarian aid to the 24 million people who desperately need it?

My right hon. Friend is entirely right. We have recently contributed £600,000 to open-source investigative reporting to verify and preserve information on attacks on civilians and breaches of international humanitarian law. As she will know, we are providing £22 million of support for Sudan—£5 million was announced recently to help people who have gone across the border into Chad and South Sudan. She will also know that something like 19 humanitarian workers have been murdered, but we are doing everything we can to try to get aid and help in.

Israel and Palestine

10. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the Palestinian Authority on a two-state solution. (906666)

17. Whether he has had discussions with his Israeli counterpart on the (a) compatibility with international law and (b) proportionality of Israel’s response in Gaza to the attacks by Hamas. (906673)

23. What steps his Department is taking with international partners in the middle east in response to the situation in Gaza and Israel. (906680)

Since Hamas’s brutal terror attacks on 7 October, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have visited the region and have spoken and met extensively with counterparts totalling almost 20 countries, as part of our extensive diplomatic efforts to prevent escalation, to sustain the prospect of regional peace and to secure the free movement home of British nationals in Gaza and the release of hostages.

It has been reported that the Palestinian Authority is to pay up to $3 million a month in so-called martyr salaries to the families of dead and captured Hamas terrorists. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those payments to rapists, torturers and murderers, some of whom have killed Brits? Will he use his good offices to ensure that no British aid money has gone towards this filthy practice?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we always ensure that UK aid money is protected from misappropriation. I can confirm to him and the House that no British aid money goes directly to the Palestinian Authority. We have raised this issue with the Palestinian Authority and highlighted our belief that it is not conducive to good relations and a future two-state solution.

What are the prospects of a two-state solution, given the pace of Israeli settlements on the west bank?

The Government’s long-standing position is that we oppose settlement expansion, for the reasons I have highlighted extensively in the conversations that I have had with the Israeli Government and the leadership of countries in the region. Despite the terrible circumstances we are experiencing, there is a renewed desire for a meaningful resolution that means that the terrible images that we saw on 7 October will never be repeated.

Close to 1,000 constituents have contacted me, deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza, the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding and the need for a ceasefire. Nearly 5,000 people have died in Gaza, including 1,700 children. While the whole House rightly condemned the Hamas atrocities, we must be unequivocal in our condemnation of violations of international law. Will the Foreign Secretary set out in what circumstances he believes it is legal for Israel to cut off water, fuel, food and electricity in Gaza?

There is always much debate in this House about the interpretation of international humanitarian law. I have raised directly with my Israeli counterparts the need, in whatever actions they take to secure their protection, defend Israeli citizens and secure the release of hostages, for them to act in accordance with international law. I have received assurances from the Israeli President to that effect.

There have been countless reiterations from the Israeli authorities, including in a joint speech with the Prime Minister last week, that they are taking precautions to avoid civilian casualties. However, more than 4,650 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the last 16 days. Palestinian lives matter, so what more action, other than just repeating promises about civilian protection, is the Foreign Secretary’s Department taking meaningfully to ensure that innocent Palestinians are kept safe?

I am on record mourning the Palestinian lives that have been lost in this conflict, just as we mourn, and I mourn, the loss of Israeli lives in this terrible situation. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the UK Government take the loss of life, from whichever community, incredibly seriously.

I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that Hamas routinely and consciously put civilians in harm’s way, specifically to generate fatalities that they then use as part of their media operations. We are conscious of that and the Israeli armed forces are conscious of that—that is why, they explained to me, they have given notice of future areas of military operation. We have seen evidence that Hamas are routinely preventing Palestinians from leaving areas that are going to be engaged by the Israeli Defence Forces.

In contrast to the last two questions from the Opposition Benches, I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and our Prime Minister for their important recent visits to our ally Israel. The Government’s unequivocal message that Israel has the right and must be able to defend itself against the Hamas terrorist group is right and just. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to support Israel in its efforts to secure the release of the 200-plus captives still held in Gaza, including any British citizens? Can the Secretary of State ensure that they receive immediate assistance from the international Red Cross?

My hon. Friend reminds the House that the Government remain focused on the protection of British nationals in Israel, the west bank and, of course, Gaza. It would be inappropriate for me to go into detail, but I can assure him and the House that we speak with all parties who we believe could have influence on those holding hostages: Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others. It is incredibly difficult. We do not have direct lines of communications, but we will not rest—we will not rest—in trying to secure the release of hostages and the evacuation of British nationals from Gaza.

I am clear that the international community, backed by the UN, must now work together to dial down the rhetoric, open humanitarian corridors, encourage restraint and protect life. Will the Foreign Secretary commit the UK to expanding the Abraham accords as a priority, which will not only bring strategic partners to the table but may offer a future peace between Israel and Palestine?

I have said regularly how much I value the Abraham accords. The improving of relationships between Israel and the Arab nations in its near neighbourhood is an extremely positive step. There is a realistic belief that part of the aim of the attack of 7 October was to derail future normalisation and negotiations. Again, I think that highlights the fact that Hamas are not a friend to the Palestinian people. They are not trying to improve relationships between Israel and the Arab world. They brought down the Oslo agreements, and they have consistently blocked all attempts to normalise relationships between Israel and the wider Arab world. We must not let them win in that endeavour, and we must work to bring peace between the Palestinian people and the Israelis.

I have been inundated with emails from constituents terrified for the future of the internally displaced Palestinians in Gaza. Since 7 October, nearly 600,000 internally displaced persons have been sheltering in 150 United Nations Relief and Works Agency facilities, 35 UNRWA staff have been killed, and 40 UNRWA installations have been damaged. When the ground invasion inevitably starts, where are these people meant to go? Who is expected to host them? Who will administer them, and where will the support come from? Finally and fundamentally, what does the Foreign Secretary believe is the Israeli politicians’ long-term objective?

All the conversations that we have had with Israel, with Egypt and with intermediaries who are able to maintain lines of communication with Hamas have been about the preservation of human life. Let me put this on the record once again: we completely support Israel’s right, and indeed duty, of self-defence. We are only just starting to see the scale of the brutality. Video evidence retrieved from those individuals who brutalised and murdered Israeli citizens on 7 October has now been put in the public domain, and it is worse than any of us could have imagined. We absolutely stand by Israel’s right to self-defence, and we have said that we want to work with Israel, with Egypt, with the countries in the near neighbourhood and, of course, with those who are the de facto Government in Gaza to minimise civilian casualties. We have had that commitment from Israel; we have had no such commitment from Hamas.

Since I raised this question with the Prime Minister last week, indiscriminate airstrikes and a total siege blocking food, water and medical supplies have killed thousands of innocent Palestinian men and women and more than 1,000 children. Let us be absolutely clear in this House: this is now beyond a humanitarian catastrophe. Even as we stand here today, innocent blood continues to be spilt on the streets of Gaza, and mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, bakeries, water plants and homes continue to be flattened by the Israeli military.

I have a very simple question for the Foreign Secretary. Just what will it take? How many thousands of innocent Palestinians must be slaughtered before this Government condemn the brutality and bloodshed?

We have consistently said that we want to minimise further loss of life, and the lives lost among the Palestinian people are of course something for which we grieve, but we must never lose sight of the fact that during the period since 7 October, thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Indeed, according to an assessment that we now have, one of the most high-profile losses of lives in Gaza, which was covered extensively by the British and international media, was likely caused by a rocket emanating from Gaza and targeting Israel. While I respect the hon. Gentleman’s passion about the preservation of life, and I assure him that I share his passion, we must be thoughtful, and we must remember why this is happening. It must not be forgotten that the single largest murder of Jews since the holocaust was initiated by Hamas, who then put Palestinians intentionally in harm’s way as part of their operations.

One of the appalling hallmarks of the terrorist attack by Hamas on the state of Israel has been hostage taking, and we are now seeing hostage taking increasingly being used in state-sponsored terrorism. With that in mind, and given the number of British hostages who are currently being held, does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary think that now is the time to appoint a prime ministerial envoy for hostages, with full diplomatic immunity, so that the British state can keep in touch with Britons who are being held and use our soft power to negotiate their release?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. We have one of the largest and most effective diplomatic networks, so our diplomats on the ground are often best placed to initiate those negotiations, but he raises a good point and I will take his suggestion seriously.

I, like many others, have received hundreds if not thousands of emails from my constituents expressing their despair at what they are seeing happening in Gaza. It is more than a humanitarian emergency. Does the Secretary of State agree with Labour’s calls to work with international partners to give UN agencies such as UNRWA the long-term resources they need, as well as to insist that fuel is allowed into Gaza?

The Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Development Minister and I have had extensive and regular talks on ensuring that humanitarian supplies get to the Palestinian people in Gaza. Indeed, the Development Minister has virtually daily conversations with Martin Griffiths, the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Prime Minister has recently announced an additional £30 million of humanitarian support on top of our pre-existing £27 million, making us one of the most generous contributing nations to humanitarian support for Palestinians in Gaza.

George Mitchell, the great American peacemaker, said that diplomacy was

“700 days of failure and one day of success”.

Labour recognises the hard, quiet diplomacy required to secure the release of hostages and eventually long-term peace, but in this bloody war we cannot afford 700 days without success. Overnight, we saw reports of the possible release of 50 hostages, only to learn that those talks had stumbled. Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on the progress to secure the release of all the 200 hostages so cruelly taken by Hamas terrorists?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the calm professionalism that he has displayed throughout. I can assure him and the House that this remains an absolute focus of our attention. It was raised by the Prime Minister, by me, by my right hon. Friend the Development Minister and by others in our bilateral conversations with leaders around the region, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will stay relentlessly focused on this.

The situation in Gaza is heartbreaking and deeply troubling. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Israel must follow the laws of war by taking every possible step to protect civilians and by ensuring that aid is rapid, safe and unhindered, that blocks to water, food, medicines and fuel are lifted immediately, and that Palestinians who are forced to flee are not permanently displaced? Does he also agree that upholding these laws is not just a legal and moral obligation, but necessary to prevent Israel’s campaign from undermining long-term prospects for peace and stability.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is exactly the tone of the conversations we are having. The preservation of civilian life remains a priority, and we discuss this regularly and at every level with the Israeli Government. Of course we reflect on the point that Israel itself—as well as the countries in the near neighbourhood—is trying to prevent this from becoming a regional conflict. As I say, professionalism and restraint by the Israeli Defence Forces are an important part of preventing this from becoming a regional conflict.

Has the Secretary of State seen any evidence, been made aware of any evidence or had reasonable grounds to believe that Israel has breached international humanitarian law in its response to the Hamas atrocities on 7 October?

I am not in a position, and indeed it is not my role, to make an assessment of the interpretation of events that are unfolding as we speak. There will, of course, be assessments of the nature of international humanitarian law. We are trying to make sure that, in all of its actions for its legitimate self-defence, Israel abides by international law.

If it is not the Foreign Secretary’s responsibility to make that assessment, I wonder whose it is. He knows that international humanitarian law is unambiguous in saying that the collective punishment of a civilian population is illegal. Is he telling us that he is unaware, or has seen no evidence, that people have been forced from their homes and that their water, food, power and access to medicine have been cut off? Or is he actually saying that all of this has happened but the UK Government have unilaterally decided that international humanitarian law does not apply to this conflict?

The hon. Gentleman undermines his own question by making the assertion that his interpretation of international humanitarian law is, by default, one to which I have to subscribe. His definition of what is happening is not one that I necessarily agree with.

Iran: Support for Hamas

3. Whether he has received reports on the potential role of Iran in providing financial and other support for Hamas for terrorist attacks on Israel. (906658)

8. Whether he has received reports on the potential involvement of Iran in providing support for Hamas for terror attacks on Israel. (906664)

Hamas is responsible for these appalling terrorist attacks. We know that Iran has been a long-term funder and supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Iran’s support for these militant groups has a destabilising impact on regional and international security, and we remain ever watchful of its actions.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that answer. Iran’s fingerprints are all over Hamas’s brutal massacre in Israel. Iran’s blatant arming, funding—worth $100 million a year—and training of terror groups around the region is no secret. Hamas’s leaders have even publicly lavished praise on Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for their support. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must be absolutely clear about the threat posed by Iran abroad and at home, and that now is the time for a policy reset?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s assessment of Iran’s malign influence. The Government and the FCDO are well aware of this, and I can assure him that we have been clear-eyed throughout the work we do with regard to Iran and its influence in the region. We will remain ever watchful. I am sure that no reset is required, because we are very conscious of Iran’s impact on the region.

What diplomatic efforts are His Majesty’s Government taking to protect and, indeed, enhance the Abraham accords in the light of the fact that the Iranian regime is clearly seeking to engender discord and, indeed, conflict in the middle east?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Abraham accords have been a force for good. We need to protect them and ideally enhance them. Anything that sees greater co-operation between Israel and the Arab world has to be a step in the right direction when it comes to the creation of a sustainable two-state solution. I can assure him that we remain focused on that outcome.

This Government have rightly imposed sanctions on those states and organisations that support terrorism. Can the Secretary of State therefore clarify that if it is found, following an independent investigation, that Israel has also broken international law and committed war crimes in Gaza, his Government will consider the introduction of appropriate sanctions?

The hon. Gentleman invites me to speculate about our future response to future events. At the moment, I am dealing with events in the here and now. I am trying to prevent loss of life. I am in constant conversations with the leadership in the region to try to prevent further Israeli and Palestinian loss of life.

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting families whose loved ones have been taken hostage. They came here to share their testimony, which was deeply moving. They raised the fact that Iran is very much behind this, so why have we yet to proscribe the IRGC? It was time a year ago, so it is surely time now. What is the excuse for waiting?

I have a huge amount of sympathy for the plight of the families who have either lost loved ones or have loved ones who are still held hostage in Gaza. I will be meeting families who have members held hostage later.

As I have said regularly, we are well aware of Iran’s influence. Any decision about proscription will be a cross-Government decision. The advantages and disadvantages of proscribing will always be at the heart of any decision-making process, but as the hon. Lady knows, we do not comment on future sanctions or proscription designations.

Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), I emphasise that Labour has been calling on the Government for many months to proscribe the IRGC. Evidence is emerging of Iranian involvement in the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel. We also understand that the United States has called on the United Kingdom to follow its example. I therefore press the Foreign Secretary: when will the Government act, by using either existing terrorism legislation or a new process of proscription directed at the IRGC?

I remind the House that the IRGC—as well as certain individuals who are members of it—is sanctioned in its entirety. As I said in response to the question of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), no international measure comes without cost. There are advantages and disadvantages to proscription, which fundamentally would mean that we could have no direct diplomatic relations with Iran. As I have said, we always take those issues seriously, and any decision will be made cross-Government, but we do not speculate on future sanctions or proscription designations.

Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme

4. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to provide rapid resettlement routes under pathway 3 of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. (906659)

The FCDO has referred more than 1,450 people under ACRS pathway 3 to the Home Office. We are supporting more than 900 Afghans in third countries, for instance with accommodation, and we are grateful to Pakistan for the work we do together to that end. Of course, we remain committed to relocating all eligible Afghan families to the UK. We are working closely with the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that they all have suitable accommodation on arrival.

Before I ask my supplementary question, I would like to put on record that my thoughts are with everyone who is affected by the disturbing scenes we have witnessed in Israel and Palestine.

Shortly after the evacuation in Afghanistan, I told Ministers that many of my constituents have relatives in Afghanistan who work for the British Government. What is the Minister doing to keep the Government’s promise of further support for those who helped the UK’s mission in Afghanistan?

We continue our diplomatic efforts, including through supporting those Afghans in third countries. We have relocated more than 21,000 Afghans under the Afghans relocations and assistance policy—ARAP—and the ACRS, and we will continue to do that.

Last week, the Government made the right decision to lift the quota for pathway 3, thus allowing all eligible British Council contractors to come to the UK. However, many contractors and their families are waiting in Pakistan for clearance to come to the UK because accommodation has yet to be arranged. May I urge the Government to resolve that housing issue urgently, given the Pakistani authorities’ threat to return the contractors to Afghanistan next month? That would be a disaster, and we need to sort it out now.

We are acutely aware of the challenge to which my hon. Friend alludes. We are working at pace with our mission in Pakistan and we are seized of the natural justice required and the fact that we need to do our duty to those people. That is why the full pace of our institutional effort is focused on doing just that. We look forward to keeping colleagues updated.

I, too, wish to put on record my solidarity with those who are living in fear and heartbreak in Gaza and Israel.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was an absolute debacle. It is a continuing source of shame to this country that so many people who helped us, trusted us, relied on us, have been absolutely abandoned. We are hearing horrifying reports from those who have done the right thing and taken terrible risks to escape to Pakistan, who are now living in constant fear of arrest or deportation because this Government have left them in limbo. My question is simple: how many are still waiting and how much longer will they have to wait?

Respectfully, we have not left them in limbo. The situation is extremely difficult. It is difficult because of the depredations of—let me be very clear—the tyrannical regime of the Taliban; that is why we are in this situation. We have relocated more than 21,000 people, and we continue to work at pace with our mission in Pakistan and elsewhere to ensure that these people, despite the local troubles and difficulties, get the support they need.

Israel, Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Humanitarian Access and Human Rights

5. What steps his Department is taking to support the monitoring of potential human rights abuses in (a) Israel and (b) the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (906661)

9. What diplomatic steps he is taking with his international counterparts to help open humanitarian corridors in Gaza. (906665)

18. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the safety of (a) Palestinian and (b) Israeli civilians in the Gaza-Israel conflict. (906674)

19. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure access to Gaza by humanitarian organisations. (906676)

21. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure access to Gaza by humanitarian organisations. (906678)

I talk to Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost every day, and on Friday I attended a meeting with development Ministers convened by Samantha Power, the head of the United States Agency for International Development.

How are the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers working with international counterparts to prevent any deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Israel and Palestine?

At a vigil outside Parliament this morning, the names of some of the more than 2,000 children killed so far in Gaza were read out. Children in Gaza have begun writing their names on their hands so that they can be identified and buried with their families when they are killed. What action are the Government taking to prevent more children being harmed in Israel’s military action and to ensure a rapid end to this conflict?

The Prime Minister set out yesterday very clearly what our policy is. We are doing everything we can to protect children. British aid is already making a difference by supporting the international relief effort, which is going in through Rafah.

I completely endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) just said about the impact on children. Trucks at the Rafah crossing are welcome, but the aid getting through is nowhere near enough to avert humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Fuel is urgently needed for the desalination plants that would ensure drinking water and for the energy generators that would power hospitals, which would prevent huge loss of life. Why is that fuel not being allowed through?

The hon. Lady is entirely right that the Rafah crossing is currently the only way we can get food and relief supplies in. Supplies are coming to El Arish, but the number of trucks going through every day is far too small. We will continue to press all the relevant authorities to allow humanitarian support and aid of the type she describes through the Rafah crossing to help those whose circumstances are precisely as she describes.

With thousands of innocent civilians dead, tens of thousands injured, hundreds of thousands displaced and a denial of humanitarian need, what level of civilian suffering will it take before this Government back calls for a ceasefire?

The hon. Gentleman sets out the tremendous suffering that is happening, but he, like me, will agree with the Prime Minister that the source of this was the appalling terrorist, murderous action by Hamas, which, as the Foreign Secretary said a few minutes ago, killed more Jewish people than on any day since the second world war and the holocaust.

As the fighting continues, the UN estimates that about 160 women will give birth every day in Gaza; meanwhile the lives of at least 120 newborns in incubators are at risk due to lack of power, fuel, medicine and water. These women and children are not terrorists. Will the Secretary of State listen to the increasing calls for a ceasefire, which would be the best way to ensure the release of hostages, who are in a terrible situation, and the delivery of aid for Palestinian citizens?

On delivering aid and support, I had the opportunity to meet a very large number of the British charities and non-governmental organisations that are trying to help in Gaza, and I keep in very close touch with them. On the issue of access and support through these trusted agencies, we will do everything that we can to help.

Thousands of innocent people have been killed, and aid workers are included in that devastating loss. UN experts on the ground have given repeated warnings that the current Israeli military strategy could lead to the permanent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box that there were mechanisms to deal with breaches of international law. Can the Minister tell us more on what the Government are doing to support independent investigations and the International Criminal Court?

The answer to the hon. Lady’s perfectly proper question is that international and legal organisations all around the world will be looking at this and giving their opinions.

People in Cheadle are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and welcome the doubling of aid that was announced by the Prime Minister. However, we know that Hamas have a history of diverting and misusing aid that is given to them for their own terrorist purposes. What steps can we take to ensure that this much-needed aid gets to the people in need?

My hon. Friend is quite right to warn about the proper use of aid. I can tell her that this is probably the most scrutinised programme of humanitarian relief and support that Britain has. If ever we see anything that we think is untoward, we immediately stop using that group. None the less, we operate through trusted partners, and the proof is that they are trusted and are partners.

Last week, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency stated that Hamas had stolen fuel, medical supplies and food intended for Palestinians. It then subsequently deleted that statement, but the way that Hamas have repeatedly compromised UNRWA operations in Gaza has been well-documented in recent years. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give that that aid will be targeted correctly and will reach the people who so desperately need it?

My right hon. Friend is right that UNRWA operates in difficult circumstances, but I can tell him that we talk to it all the time about the proper use of these resources and we will do everything we can always to make sure that they go to the intended place.

My constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden and I thank the Foreign Secretary for all the work that he is doing to ensure that aid is getting to Gaza, but we know that the UN has stated that it needs at least 100 trucks a day to take the aid to those who desperately need it. Can my right hon. Friend set out what conversations he is having with his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts to make sure that that aid is getting to where it needs to be?

Foreign Office officials, the Foreign Secretary and others are talking to all the relevant authorities in Egypt and Israel. My hon. Friend will understand that the key thing is to increase the number of lorries that are getting through Rafah. The current number is wholly inadequate. I talk to Martin Griffiths virtually every day about the operations that the UN is conducting to try to beef up that number.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that we would finally challenge actions that undercut legitimate aspirations for Palestinian statehood, and there are none more fundamental than 57 years of breaches of the fourth Geneva convention by the illegal occupation of the territories, and then with 750,000 Jewish settlers being placed in those territories making a two-state solution very, very difficult. Are we actually now going to do something about that, or does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the meaningful resolution to which the Foreign Secretary referred may include the transfer of the people of Gaza and Gaza itself out of the state of Israel into the hands of another state or state system, and, more concerningly, that that would be followed by the expulsion of the Palestinians from the west bank?

My hon. Friend has a long-standing and principled view on these matters. I do not share his view and nor do the Government. Nor do I think that the latter part of his question and the specific points that he made are likely to come about.

May I take this opportunity to thank the Minister of State for Development and Africa for the constructive cross-party way that we have been able to work together since I was appointed to this post in such grim times? He will know that every minute counts right now in Gaza. Incubators have been switched off and children are drinking dirty water. Fresh water and power are the most pressing issues, but despite our shared hopes of progress this week, fuel was not permitted in the convoys that entered Gaza, while several hospitals have been hit and many given multiple warnings to evacuate. Can he share with the House what the Government are doing to help broker an agreement that will protect hospitals and get fuel into Gaza so that international law is upheld, hospitals can power up and water and power can flow?

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. It is one that I held for five years from 2005 and I very much hope that she will hold it for five years—[Laughter.] It is one of the best jobs in opposition and in government. She will know that we are having humanitarian discussions with everyone, intent as we are on getting humanitarian supplies to those who need them. She asked specifically about attacking a hospital. Attacking a hospital is a war crime. We should be in no doubt about that.

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Humanitarian Support

7. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that humanitarian support reaches people affected by the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. (906663)

Following the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh last month, the Government called for an end to the violence, direct talks between parties to the conflict and urgent humanitarian access. We have provided £1 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet humanitarian needs, and of course the UN has had access to the region. We encourage Azerbaijan to continue co-operation in that regard.

I thank the Minister for his answer, and I refer the House to my role as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Azerbaijan. What support are the UK Government and British companies providing in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan to help to clear the landmines laid by Armenian forces, as well as to support the reconstruction of the towns and communities that were destroyed and looted during the occupation?

My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge on this subject, and I am pleased to confirm that the UK is continuing to assess humanitarian needs in the region, including in relation to de-mining in Armenia and Azerbaijan. We have provided £1 million to the UN development programme since 2020 to aid de-mining efforts in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and our embassy in Baku has had discussions with the Azerbaijani Government on reconstruction and reintegration of the region.

While unspeakable horrors unfold in Israel and Palestine, we must not forget other conflicts around the world in which crimes against humanity have been committed against innocent civilians. Following Azerbaijan’s military intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh, almost all of the ethnic Armenian population has been forced to flee. With more than 100,000 people displaced, and reports that as few as 50 but a maximum of 1,000 remain in the region, does the Minister agree that it bears the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing?

I do not agree, but I should say that we have urged both sides to resume dialogue. Talks will be the basis of a sustainable peace. I have made that point to Foreign Ministers from both countries in recent weeks. I will make that point again when I travel to both countries in the coming weeks.

Topical Questions

In response to the terrorist attacks on 7 October, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, other Ministers and I have of course engaged intensively with allies in the region, but we are equally determined to deliver on other vital priorities, notably supporting Ukraine, tackling illegal migration, supporting stability in sub-Saharan Africa and alleviating poverty around the world.

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the Government of France have announced today that they are sending their Foreign Minister to the United Nations Security Council to argue for a humanitarian truce in Gaza, which in their words would be capable of leading to a ceasefire and necessary for the distribution of aid to civilian populations. It would also allow the focus to concentrate on the release of hostages, which I would have thought would commend itself also to the Government of Israel. Will the Government support—

Order. Being first on the Order Paper is not permission to take all the time. Topicals should be short and sweet. The right hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are trying to find every avenue to alleviate humanitarian suffering. We will be represented at senior ministerial level at the Security Council later today. We want to take action that will actually deliver aid and support to the Palestinian people who are suffering in Gaza.

T3.   Seven years ago, my Dartford constituent George Lowe was brutally murdered in Cyprus. We know who the killers are, and the Cypriot police know who the killers are, yet they have never been brought to justice. Although I accept that this is a complicated diplomatic situation, will the Minister assure the House that the Foreign Office will not rest until justice for George Lowe is forthcoming? (906683)

My sincere condolences go out to George Lowe’s family. Consular staff remain in contact with the Cypriot authorities and the family on this case. We passed to the Cypriot authorities a letter from George’s family regarding the investigation, and have followed up for a response, most recently on 5 October. I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s advocacy in this case. We will, of course, keep in touch to see what we can do.

On 27 June, this House passed Labour’s motion calling on the Government to bring forward within 90 days legislation to seize and repurpose Russian state assets for Ukraine’s recovery, but it has now been 120 days since that motion was passed and we have heard nothing but vague words. When will the Foreign Secretary do what Labour has called for and deliver what Ukraine needs by taking difficult but necessary steps to ensure that Russia pays?

The state seizure of private assets is a serious act that we typically condemn in other countries. The Government have made it absolutely clear that the people who are responsible for brutalising Ukraine will ultimately pay for its reconstruction.

T8. Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the most important messages that Palestinians need to hear from the international community right now is that the two-state solution is not dead? Will he say a bit more about his discussions with Israeli counterparts on what more can be done to resuscitate faith and optimism in a two-state solution? (906688)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the prospect of a peaceful and secure Israel alongside a peaceful and secure Palestine—a two-state solution—is our best route to navigate these terrible situations successfully, and it will remain at the heart of UK foreign policy in the region.

T2. Does the Minister agree that the delivery of fuel supplies into Gaza is essential to prevent further humanitarian catastrophe and to ensure that the delivery of aid achieves its full impact? (906682)

We are doing everything we can. The hon. Gentleman will understand that these are complex negotiations, both to get the food and other humanitarian supplies into the region and to deliver them to those who need them. All I can assure him of is that all those negotiations are taking place with vigour and speed.

T10. On my recent visit to the Pinner United synagogue, I heard from constituents about the impact of the Hamas terrorist attack on their family and friends in Israel. Will my right hon. Friend restate the commitment that we all share to ensure that promoters of terror are unable to do their work from the sanctuary of safe countries such as ours? To that end, will he work with our allies to proscribe the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? (906690)

With regard to the proscription of the IRGC, my hon. Friend will have heard the answer that I gave some minutes ago. The work that we are doing, in close co-ordination with the Home Secretary and her team, to ensure that communities here in the UK feel safe and secure remains an absolute priority for us. Limiting, and ideally stopping, the ability of organisations and countries to fund terrorism will remain a priority for us.

T4. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said yesterday that an immediate and“broad humanitarian ceasefire is essential for both Gaza and Israel”and that“if more aid for Gazans, including fuel, medicine, food and water, does not arrive in days…many more people in Gaza will die.”He added:“The violence will never end unless leaders stand up and take the brave and humane choices that are required by fundamental humanity.”Will the Secretary of State heed those calls from the international community and support an immediate humanitarian ceasefire? (906684)

In order to have a ceasefire, all parties have to agree to it. I refer the hon. Gentleman to other answers that have been given during this session of questions. We are doing everything we can to address the humanitarian problem that he sets out, and we will continue to do so.

Building on the legacy of successive Governments on the threat of antimicrobial resistance, will my right hon. Friend commit to building a coalition of higher-income countries pledging to improve access to antibiotics, diagnostics, education and prevention, which we all know are vital to stopping AMR?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: AMR is the third biggest killer now. Meetings took place at the UN General Assembly, and I was there in April attending an AMR meeting. We will do everything we can, and we are greatly enhanced in our abilities by the presence of Sally Davies, who is an envoy on AMR. I can tell my hon. Friend that this has the absolute attention of the Government.

T5. Fifty thousand women in Gaza are pregnant, with 5,000 due to give birth now in truly hellish circumstances. If bombing a hospital is, as the Minister just said, a war crime, how would he describe the deliberate withholding of fuel to power those hospitals and keep them working? (906685)

The hon. Lady is ingeniously asking the same question that she asked earlier. I can tell her that we are doing everything we can to address the issue she has raised. It is as much a concern to us as it is to her, and we will continue to do that.

It is vital for peace that the rule of law is established and upheld in both Palestine and Israel. Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of whether the weakening of the judiciary in Israel will impact on legal decisions relating to the Israel defence forces’ rules of engagement in the current conflict?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. While I was in Israel prior to the 7 October incidents, we of course discussed the proposals for judicial reform. Those proposals have not yet been taken forward by the Israeli Government, but I can assure her and the House that we remain committed to international law and will always communicate that to all parties involved.

T6. If Government will not back an actual ceasefire, will they at least consider supporting a humanitarian pause, to allow essential supplies to reach the 2 million civilians trapped in Gaza? (906686)

The Government, along with their partners, are doing everything to try to progress humanitarian support and supplies into Gaza.

Strong parliamentary democracy is crucial to the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has a central role as one of the oldest Commonwealth institutions, with you as one of our co-presidents, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend’s Department acknowledges that new legislation is needed to recognise the CPA as an international interparliamentary organisation, to keep it headquartered here in the UK. When does he plan to have that new legislation in place?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the extraordinary contribution that the CPA makes around the world. We are very anxious to address the issue she has raised and to find a mutually acceptable solution. I hope that this can be done by legislation once parliamentary time allows, but if it is not possible to place it in the King’s Speech, she will know that there are other ways of pursuing the matter.

T7.   Do the Government agree that there needs to be a full independent international inquiry into the recent terrible events in Israel and Gaza, with full access to the Gaza Strip as well as Israel? Do the Government agree that the only way forward is a proper process of accountability for those responsible for the commission of any crimes—including war crimes—identified, whether Israeli or Palestinian? Will the Government review their position on the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court? (906687)

I have no doubt that, in the aftermath of the brutal terrorist attacks on 7 October and Israel’s defensive response, there will be an assessment of what has happened. We would want any such assessment to be as comprehensive and independent as possible.

Will the Foreign Secretary make representations to his Pakistan counterpart about deeply worrying human rights abuses committed against Hindus and other minorities, especially women and girls subjected to forced conversion and forced marriage?

Notwithstanding the challenges in Israel and Gaza, protecting freedom of religion or belief, including for minority communities, remains central to the UK Government’s human rights engagement, including in Pakistan. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the persecution of religious communities, which includes Hindus, with Pakistan’s Prime Minister on 25 September.

T9. On Saturday I stood with thousands of Glaswegians whose overwhelming message was clear that we need a ceasefire now. The only way we can begin to de-escalate this conflict—a conflict that has led to a humanitarian catastrophe—on both sides is by ending the bombardment of Gaza, ensuring the flow of humanitarian aid and creating a space for engaging in diplomacy and dialogue. In the light of all that, why do the British Government not call for an immediate ceasefire now? (906689)

As we have seen over and over again this morning, calling for a ceasefire is the easy bit; actually negotiating something meaningful is considerably harder. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box, we are working with all parties. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) has made reference to Israel’s actions, but I remind the House that a ceasefire without Hamas stopping its bombardment of Israel is not a meaningful ceasefire.

Last week, China put export restrictions on graphite, which is essential for electric vehicle batteries. Four out of 10 of the top producers of graphite are Commonwealth members. Will the Government pursue a partnership agreement on critical minerals with the Commonwealth to reinforce those supply chains?

I commend my right hon. Friend on his pursuit of this subject, which I know was very much in his thinking when he was in my position. I can assure him that a critical minerals strategy is something that I regularly discuss with Commonwealth leaders and others, particularly in Africa. It is in their interest and ours that they protect their natural resources.

Let us have another try: has the international development Minister had direct discussions with his Israeli counterpart about getting fuel into Gaza? Once the fuel runs out, hospitals stop and people die.

I have not had those discussions with my Israeli opposite number, but the hon. Gentleman may rest absolutely assured that the contact with the Israeli Government—not least during the visit of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary over the past few days—focuses on every aspect of this issue.

The war in Ukraine is undoubtedly the largest land war in Europe for decades. Notwithstanding other pressures around the world, will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reaffirm the UK’s commitment to its support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people?

I can confirm to the House that Ukraine’s ability to defend itself remains a focus of the Government. The Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and I discuss this matter regularly, and I continue to have regular communications with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister. This matter may have fallen temporarily from the headlines of the British newspapers, but it has not fallen from the mind of the British Government.

When atrocities take place, we have a duty to call them out. When Hamas murdered and kidnapped innocent civilians, we rightly called it out, and when Putin targeted innocent Ukrainians and Assad targeted hospitals, we expressed our horror in this House. Now we also have a duty to speak on behalf of innocent Palestinians who are being collectively punished, starved, and indiscriminately bombed in their homes by Israeli forces. Children’s bodies are lying in the street. It is wrong, and it is why we need a ceasefire. Will the Secretary of State convey that to his Israeli counterpart?

Again, the hon. Lady asserts her interpretation of international law, which is not necessarily one that is shared by the Government. The preservation of all life, including Palestinian life, remains at the forefront of our thinking.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with Ministers Kamikawa of Japan and Wang Yi of China about their respective countries’ role in easing tensions in the Israel-Gaza conflict?

I have not had the chance to speak with the Chinese Foreign Minister on this issue, but I have spoken a number of times with the Japanese Foreign Minister about it. Of course, we are more than happy to work with any international partner that can alleviate the pain and suffering of both Israelis and the Palestinian people, particularly those in Gaza, and we will continue to do so.

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in congratulating Narges Mohammadi on being awarded the Nobel peace prize for her outstanding work to raise awareness of the struggle for women’s rights and equality in Iran. Will the Minister publicly support the brave women who are campaigning against the forced hijab laws in Iran, and once again, will he commit to proscribing the woman-hating regime that is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?

On the proscription of the IRGC, the hon. Gentleman will have heard the answers I have already given a number of times from the Dispatch Box, but I can assure him that we continue to stand with the brave women of Iran, who are standing up for their rights in the face of their Government’s oppression. Indeed, I met with women Iranian campaigners a number of weeks ago, and the hon. Gentleman and the House should know that we stand in full solidarity with them.

I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and their teams for their important diplomatic efforts in the middle east in recent days. The potential implications of the conflict between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas are deeply concerning for the wider region, so can the Foreign Secretary update the House on the steps the Government are taking to prevent this conflict from spreading to the wider region?

In the conversations I had with the Israeli Government in the immediate aftermath of the 7 October attacks, they expressed a desire for this not to turn into a regional conflict. That desire was echoed by all the leaders of the Arab world that I have spoken to. It remains an absolute priority for this Government, and indeed the Governments of the region, to prevent this from turning into a regional conflict. That is exactly what Hamas wants, and therefore is exactly what we do not want.

Is it not simply impossible to get aid in on the scale that is needed if we are to end the humanitarian nightmare under way in Gaza without a ceasefire?

The hon. Member has heard the detailed responses from the Dispatch Box today on the difficulties entailed, and I reiterate what I said earlier: we are doing everything we can to try to make sure that we help those who are suffering in Gaza today.

War in Ukraine

Since I last updated the House in my opening remarks in the debate on Ukraine on 11 September, the situation on the ground has remained largely unchanged. Slow and steady progress is being made by the Ukrainian armed forces, which continue to grind their way through the main Russian defensive position. Defence Intelligence estimates that the number of Russian permanent casualties —in other words, those who are dead or so seriously wounded that they cannot return to action—now stands at between 150,000 and 190,000 troops. Total casualties are estimated to number up to 290,000.

A limited Russian offensive is under way at Avdiivka on the outskirts of Donetsk city. Fighting has been fierce, and we assess that the average casualty rate for the Russian army was around 800 per day in the first week of the offensive. As ever, Putin and his generals show no more regard for the lives of their own troops than they do for the people of Ukraine.

However, even this ex-soldier can admit that wars are not only about the fight on the land. Since the last debate on Ukraine, the Ukrainians have opened up a new front in the Black sea, destroying a Kilo-class submarine and two amphibious ships, as well as making a successful strike on the Russian Black sea fleet headquarters. The consequence, as President Zelensky has rightly said, is that the Russian Black sea fleet is no longer capable of resistance in the western Black sea. As we move beyond day 600—it is day 608, to be precise—of Putin’s “three-day” illegal war, he has still not achieved any of his initial strategic aims, and he has now ceded sea control in the western Black sea to a nation without a navy.

The UK continues to donate significant amounts of ammunition and matériel, paid for from the £2.3 billion commitment for this financial year. That follows the same amount being given the year before, and that is an important point. Our gifting is about more than headline-making capabilities such as Challenger 2 or Storm Shadow. It is the delivery, month after month, of tens of thousands of artillery rounds, air defence missiles and other small but necessary items of equipment that positions the UK as one of the biggest and most influential of Ukraine’s donors. The UK is also the only country to have trained soldiers, sailors, aviators and Marines in support of the Ukrainian effort; we have now trained over 50,000 soldiers, sailors, aviators and Marines since 2014.

Events in the middle east have dominated the headlines, but in the Ministry of Defence and across the UK Government—and, clearly, in His Majesty’s Opposition, as they brought forward this urgent question—Ukraine remains a focus. I think that seeing this very timely question will matter enormously to our friends and colleagues in Kyiv. I remain every bit as confident today as I have been on all my previous visits to the Dispatch Box over the last two years that Ukraine can and will prevail.

Members from across the House, and people across the world, are rightly focused on the middle east after Hamas’s horrific attacks. That terrorism must be condemned, civilians must be protected, humanitarian corridors must be opened, international law must be followed, and escalation risks must be managed. I welcome the Defence Secretary’s Gulf visit later this week, and I hope that he will report back to us in the House. I also welcome President Biden’s oval office address, in which he said:

“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy”.

Today lets President Putin know that the UK remains focused on, and united in, solidarity with Ukraine.

Last week, as the Minister said, we passed the grim 600-day milestone since Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. War still rages, cities are still bombed, and civilians are still raped and killed. Ukraine has made important gains in recent days on the Dnipro river. Will the Minister update the House on that? I am proud of the UK leadership on Ukraine, but we must work to maintain that leadership and accelerate support. I fear that UK momentum is flagging. There has been no statement on Ukraine to Parliament from the new Defence Secretary since his appointment in August, and no statement from any Defence Secretary in this House since May.

Labour backs the recent announcements on UK military aid, the new British Army training to protect critical infrastructure, and the £100 million, raised with allies, that will come from the International Fund for Ukraine, but Ukrainians are asking for winter support, air defence, and more ammunition—and where is the UK’s planned response? No new money for military aid for Ukraine has been committed by this Prime Minister. The £2.3 billion for this year was pledged by his predecessor, and the £2.3 billion for last year was pledged by her predecessor. This year’s money runs out in March. Seven months after announcing £2 billion for UK stockpiles in the spring Budget, not a penny has been spent and not a single contract signed. Why? Putin must be defeated, just as Hamas must be defeated. We must not step back. We must stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to win.

I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s words about the despicable attack from Hamas and the absolute right of Israel to defend itself. As I said, I believe strongly that it is important that Putin does not see this as a moment of opportunity to sow more chaos, and does not think that the western donor community is distracted or has a preference for supporting Israel over Ukraine. He must know that our resolve is to support both.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly noted that the Secretary of State will be in the Gulf later this week. I am sure that he will want to talk about what he hears there, but I suspect that he will also want to keep some of that counsel private, as we seek to calibrate how we posture ourselves in the region in order to reassure our allies and deter those who might seek to make a bad situation even worse. The Secretary of State was in Washington last week, and has had a number of calls with other partners around the region. So too have the Chief of the Defence Staff and I, as part of a Ministry of Defence-wide effort to ensure that we constantly calibrate our response alongside that of those who we traditionally work with in the region, and we make sure that nothing we do is misinterpreted.

The right hon. Gentleman and I are, I think, friends, so there is some dismay that he dismisses all my efforts at the Dispatch Box to keep the House updated on the war in Ukraine. I stood here as recently as 11 September to lead an excellent debate on the subject, and have given a number of statements on behalf of the Secretary of State. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman is so rank-conscious as to deem my efforts unworthy, but I have done my best.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to point to the fact that the excellent financial contribution made over the two previous financial years is, as yet, unconfirmed for the next financial year. It will not surprise him to know that that has already been the subject of conversation across Government. It is not for me to make that announcement in an urgent question today, but a major fiscal event is forthcoming, and I know that he will not have to wait too long. That does not mean that our plans are uncertain. In fact, I push back strongly on the suggestion that they are. For a long time over the past two years, there has been a sort of misunderstanding that the UK’s capacity to gift is entirely either from our own stockpiles or from our indigenous industrial capacity. The vast majority of what the UK gifts is what we are able to buy internationally, often from countries that Putin would prefer were not providing us with that stuff. However, we have been able to get our hands on it and get it to the Ukrainians with some haste. That is exactly the sort of thing that the right hon. Gentleman asked about.

It is about the small but necessary things, such as winterisation equipment, small arms ammunition, artillery ammunition and air defence ammunition, and our ability to buy that while in parallel stimulating UK industry. I reject what the right hon. Gentleman said about contracts having not been placed; substantial contracts have been placed directly to replenish UK stockpiles of NLAWs, Starstreak, lightweight multi-role missiles, Javelin, Brimstone, 155 mm shells and 5.56 mm rifle rounds. As far as I can see, there is a steady state contribution to the Ukrainians that amounts to tens of thousands of rounds per month, plus air defence missiles, plus all the small stuff, alongside the replenishment of our own stockpiles, which can only happen at the pace at which industry can generate it, but none the less it is happening.

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the situation in the Black sea with sea mines and how they are breaking loose. Our allies in Turkey are doing an incredible job in maintaining the Montreux convention and trying to keep those sea lanes safe. Is he having any conversations with our Turkish allies about any support they may need in no matter what way to try to ensure that those sea lanes are safe—if we can get the grain deal up and running again and get grain out through maritime? We are aware that sea mines are breaking free.

My right hon. Friend is an expert on these matters, and I commend him for the work that he and colleagues across the House do as part of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to ensure that Parliaments across NATO stand united in our support for Ukraine. He rightly notes the importance of the Montreux convention in keeping non-home ported ships out of the Black sea, and the Turks have applied that scrupulously. Turkey is entirely confident and comfortable in its ability to continue to enforce the convention. Clearly, for other Black sea nations, such as Romania and Bulgaria, de-mining is already a concern and they are getting on with that. I met my Romanian counterpart at the Warsaw security forum only two weeks ago to discuss exactly that.

We cannot forget this autumn that we are seeing a broader escalation of the conflict in Ukraine into the frontiers of our Euro-Atlantic homeland. I speak in particular about the recent announcements by the Governments of Sweden, Finland and Estonia that undersea assets linking those countries have been intentionally damaged by third parties. I should declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Estonia.

My primary concern, which I am sure the Minister shares, is closer to home. Events in the eastern Mediterranean and the Baltics demonstrate the diffuse nature of the threats we need to face, but they also demonstrate the importance of keeping a singular focus on the areas that the Government can best hope to influence. While supporting the heroic and excellent bilateral support for the people of Ukraine as they continue their fight, on the day that the Defence Committee publishes a report into the Government’s Indo-Pacific tilt, can I ask the Minister to reiterate his Government’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic security as a central strategic concern of these islands of the north Atlantic that we inhabit together, and critically, to update the House on the security of our North sea oil and gas infrastructure?

It is fantastic to hear the SNP’s epiphany on the strategic importance of North sea oil and gas. We take seriously the requirement to protect our subsea infrastructure, whether oil and gas, fibre-optic cables or energy interconnectors. The Royal Navy has ships permanently at high readiness to ensure that our national economic zone is secure.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point. Is a time of growing instability in the Euro-Atlantic and the near east one also to be committing more military resource to the far east and the Indo-Pacific? Every defence review—the original integrated review and its refresh—has been clear that the absolute foundation of all our military effort is around security in the Euro-Atlantic, but if our principal ally in the United States is ever-more concerned, as it is, about its competition with China and the challenge in the Indo-Pacific, it is surely necessary to show our willingness to contribute to Indo-Pacific security alongside the United States, so that the United States remains engaged in Euro-Atlantic security, too.

Before I ask my question, may I quote the former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace)? In an important article in The Daily Telegraph at the beginning of October, he said:

“Before I left office, I asked the PM to match or increase the £2.3 billion for Ukraine to add to the £4.6 billion we have spent already. The UK is no longer the biggest European donor to Ukraine—Germany is.”

Does the Minister agree that this is a helpful exchange of views, because it will enable him and his team to go to the Treasury and express how united the House is on the need to continue this important—indeed, decisive—level of contribution to Ukraine’s fight for freedom?

The previous Defence Secretary never needed any help from me in making his case to Prime Ministers. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UK has won a position in leading the global donor community, because we have resourced that commitment and have been willing to go through capability thresholds before anybody else, but our position as a leader internationally depends on our continued willingness to be so. The previous Secretary of State, the current Secretary of State and indeed the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are all on the same page about the importance of maintaining that UK position.

I completely agree with the comments made and concerns raised by the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). Part of the reason we want the Secretary of State in the Chamber is that we really need to up the game, in convincing the British people why it is essential that we continue our massive ongoing support for Ukraine, and of the importance of defeating Russia. It is clear that Ukraine needs more resources—equipment, ammunition, armaments and so on—so we need to step up further. Will the Minister go back to the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues and say that we really do need to put more resources into supporting Ukraine?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should not take for granted the cross-party and national consensus that has existed on support for Ukraine. All of us in the House continue to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian armed forces, and I think we set the tone that the media and the nation follow, but it involves a significant amount of money at a time when everybody else around the Cabinet table will also be seeking resource for their Departments, so we must make that case, as he said. As far as I can tell, though, the case is a completely compelling one.

What the Ukrainians are doing is standing up to our main adversary—the nation that challenges security in the Euro-Atlantic most profoundly—and it is through our support for them that we are making a clear stand about how we want the Euro-Atlantic to be and, in so doing, reassuring all our NATO allies along NATO’s eastern frontier of our resolve to stand up to Russian aggression with them, under the terms of NATO’s treaties.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s clarity about how critical it is for the security of the world and the rules-based international order that there is a successful outcome for Ukraine in this conflict. Will he do everything he can to ensure that the critical longer-range missiles and air defence systems, which are having a very detrimental effect on the Russian armed forces, continue to get through? May I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis)? We take it as read that extra money will be announced in the autumn statement—at least as much as before, if not more—to help sustain Ukraine in this dreadful conflict.

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about the need to maintain our support for the Ukrainian armed forces. A number of step-change capabilities will come into Ukrainian hands over the next 12 months or so—most obviously combat air. While the UK is not an F-16 nation, it is part of the F-16 coalition and does basic pilot training before the aircraft go on to F-16 nations for conversion. I know that the Prime Minister agrees with all in the House who make the case for the need for us to continue to support Ukraine into the next financial year.

In recent days, there has quite rightly been a lot of interest about the law of armed conflict: a subject about which the Minister knows from his own time serving in the armed forces. While the conflict in Israel and Gaza has rightly made us reflect on the protection of innocent civilians, in the last couple of years we have seen a war in Ukraine in which Russia has shown little regard for civilians. What does the Minister understand by the term “proportionality” in the context of the war in Ukraine?

I think that some of the false equivalence that Lavrov and others from the Russian Government have sought to create is deeply misguided. The point of proportionality is not an eye for an eye or a numerical thing; it is about military necessity to achieve legitimate and proportionate military aims. It is clear in the way that Putin has prosecuted his war, most obviously in places such as Mariupol as well as in how he has systematically targeted civilian infrastructure, not as part of the initial shaping of a legitimate military operation but as part of a deliberate sustained campaign to terrorise the Ukrainian people, that there is no equivalence between what is happening in Gaza at the moment and what has been happening in Ukraine. We must stand up every time that Lavrov or his cronies try to make the opposing point, and be clear on the difference in international humanitarian law.

It cannot be extraordinary that on the same day the Russians assaulted Avdiivka, Iranian-backed Hamas decided to commit their murderous assault on Israel. We cannot fight Hamas, but we can do so much more to crush their Russian allies.

It is important that I do not suggest that we have any evidence that somehow the Kremlin and Hamas were co-ordinating in the awful events that happened two Saturdays ago. What we have seen is that the Kremlin is incredibly effective at spotting opportunities presented to it that would further subvert and destabilise. We have seen that in coups across western Africa and in how Putin quickly moved to contribute to a challenging narrative to the west over what happened in Israel two Saturdays ago.

I know it is difficult to get exact numbers, but the calculations so far of wounded Ukrainian troops are anything between 100,000 and 120,000, as well as about 18,000 civilians. What support is being provided to Ukraine’s health services to help them cope with the wounded and injured? What support is being given with regard to specialist service link-ups between the UK and Ukraine, also to provide the best support that we can?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are significant casualties on the Ukrainian side, though it is important to note that they are less than those suffered on the Russian side. Those are both military and civilian. On the military side, there is a coalition of nations, just as there is with all other types of capability to provide military aid. There are UK medics based in Lviv as part of that. When I was Rzeszów in Poland just two weeks ago, my plane pulled up alongside a Swedish air force plane that was about to evacuate Ukrainian troops back to Sweden. In addition, the UK is rehabilitating some troops injured on the Ukrainian side to our rehabilitation facilities here. In addition to that, as part of the wider support that the UK Government provide to Ukraine, we are of course always looking for opportunities to support the wider humanitarian and civilian medical services, too.

May I return to stockpiles and supply chains? The Minister is right that the UK has provided a great deal of matériel, but we need a steady supply of orders to restock our own cupboards and to supply the Ukrainians. Will he outline what he is doing to make sure that we have supply chain resilience? Could he reassure me that he will keep a laser-like focus on the logistics capacity needed to get kit from here to there?

My hon. Friend is right on both counts. First, the industrial capacity needs to be re-established not just to replenish our supply chain, which is an important point. The Department is not seeking simply to make a single order to replace whatever has been gifted to the Ukrainians. Instead, we are looking to create orders that run on and on so that the industrial capacity can be maintained. Those contracts are being placed as the industrial capacity comes online. In the meantime, other contracts are being placed that allow more like-for-like replacement from stockpiles elsewhere in the world. He is right that having all the industrial capacity and the fighting echelon works only if we have the logistic enablers to match it all up. We are making investment in that, as was set out in the defence Command Paper refresh.

We must not forget Ukraine and we must continue to stand with Ukraine, but the war efforts there rely on a strong supply chain here in the UK. A crucial part of that supply chain are the GMB members at Defence Equipment and Support, who assemble and transport missiles to the frontline, but they have had to take weeks of industrial action over unfair pay. Ukrainian politicians and trade unions have urged a resolution to the dispute, because they know how valuable those workers are. Will the Minister join me in doing the same?

I am unfamiliar with the issue of which the hon. Lady speaks and I would not want to comment on the fly. Clearly, those who work within our excellent defence industry do very important work. In my experience, many of them see themselves as contributing to a national endeavour and are motivated by patriotism every bit as much as by money. I hope that they will continue to work as hard as they have so that we can support our own armed forces as well as those of Ukraine.

Given that precision, remotely piloted and autonomous weapon systems, not to mention close air support, could be decisive to an attritional land campaign, will the Minister please update the House on the delivery of air power to Ukraine?

In response to an earlier question, I mentioned the F-16 coalition, which is a combination of both gifting the jets and munitions and pilot training. I have nothing to add beyond what I said earlier, other than that it is expected that those capabilities will arrive with the Ukrainians within the next 12 months. Clearly, everyone is working as quickly as possible.

If the news is to be believed this morning, we are about to see another German U-turn—this time on providing Taurus missiles—just as we saw a U-turn on Leopards and the F-16s. Indeed, right across the Ukraine contact group, we keep seeing the same pattern of countries dragging their heels on a certain capability, only to finally give in. Admittedly, that does not include the Minister and the Government, but why does it keep happening in the contact group? Will he say a bit more about how the training of F-16 pilots is going?

I am minded to be much more charitable to nations who have again and again challenged themselves to go through a capability threshold—often one that the UK has demonstrably gone through first. If we consider the position that the Germans have traditionally taken and where they are now post-Zeitenwende, the level of gifting that they are providing is extraordinary. It would be invidious of me to be in any way critical; in fact, I will go the other way and say how full of admiration I am for the way that German policy has shifted so completely over the last two years.

They say that infantry wins battles but logistics wins wars. With western stockpiles diminished, what conversations has the Minister had with the defence sector about supporting Ukraine to produce its own munitions?

As keener followers of defence affairs will have spotted, the chief executive of BAE Systems was in Kyiv at the back end of the summer. BAE has already announced its intention to manufacture in Ukraine. Clearly, the British Government support that. We will look at how the wider UK industry can not only support the UK MOD’s support for Ukraine but increasingly manufacture directly in support of the Ukrainians.

Due to Putin’s illegal invasion of a sovereign neighbouring nation, Ukraine is now the most heavily mined country on earth, leading to countless deaths of innocent civilians. As the Ukrainians continue making progress with their counter-offensive, what steps is the Defence Minister taking to significantly expand our support in providing mine-clearing equipment to Ukraine?

With the exception of the northern Kharkiv oblast, which was recovered at some pace last autumn, I am not sure that the frontline has moved anywhere near enough to start to talk about a civilian de-mining effort in the defensive belts that have been laid over the last year or so. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman’s gesticulation seems to be suggesting that the progress made over the last four or five months is such that the 30 km defensive belt that was well-seeded with mines by the Russians is still very much within artillery range and a part of the defensive action by Ukraine. He is absolutely right, however, that the use of mines—even anti-armour mines, not just anti-personnel mines—is an appalling reality of modern warfare. There must be some urgency in clearing up the battlefield thereafter, but I gently suggest that the military facts do not lend themselves to any such effort right now.

With the world rightly focusing on the middle east, I welcome this question as an opportunity to show our solidarity with Ukraine once again. I welcome Labour Front Benchers likening Hamas and Putin as barbaric bedfellows in trying to annihilate neighbouring democracies. At the recent NATO Parliamentary Assembly summit, we had a briefing from Colonel Maksym Suprun, commander of the 66th mechanised brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces. He talked about the urgent need for more anti-tank weaponry, unmanned aerial systems, electronic warfare capability and, of course, ammunition. How is the Minister making sure that we can deliver the munitions and military capabilities that the Ukrainian armed forces need on the frontline to so bravely defend their democracy?

For more than two years, the UK MOD, alongside the US Department of Defence, has had an incredibly strong relationship with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. Those political and military relationships and the connections between our defence procurement agencies allow us to have a close understanding of the Ukrainian requirement for the fight not just right now but in six months’ time. We will continue to maintain those relationships. We will continue to invest in the resources that are needed. Quite obviously, we are guided by what the Ukrainians need to stay in the fight tonight and tomorrow and, eventually, to prevail. Everything that we set out to procure on their behalf is with those plans in mind.

We all stand with Ukraine, but there is considerable concern about the likely length of the war. Earlier this month, I attended the Pentlands Ukrainian support group for the Ukrainian refugees in Edinburgh South West, which is supported by the Currie Balerno rotary club in my constituency. Many of the women there asked me what will become of them if the war continues and their three-year visas are up. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Home Office about the need to extend humanitarian visas to Ukrainians or to look at giving them indefinite leave to remain?

Those are not conversations I have had, but since the hon. and learned Lady mentions them I will undertake to have them. First, I commend her local rotary club for leading the support of the Ukrainian community in her constituency. It is really uncomfortable that, while all I want to say to her constituents and the Ukrainians living in my constituency is, “Don’t worry, this will be over soon; you’ll be home soon,” the reality is that it will probably take a while longer yet. It is important that when we stand up in this House, we show Putin our resolve to support the Ukrainians for as long as it takes, with whatever it takes, even if that takes years, because Putin must not think the west will lose patience.

Depriving Russia of the revenue from oil sales is a central platform of the west’s response to its invasion of Ukraine. Twelve months ago, significant efforts were made which had a significant effect. However, at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly a few weeks ago, we heard evidence that all the blockades have now been circumvented and that Russia’s oil revenue has increased. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to work with international allies to see what else can be done in this dynamic environment?

Clearly, it is a cause of enormous concern when international sanctions regimes are not working as intended. If I may, I will follow up with my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Parliamentary Assembly to understand exactly what it was that they heard. I will then speak to colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office about it, and perhaps write to him and his Parliamentary Assembly colleagues with a Government response.

At the end of last month, the Defence Secretary suggested that the UK training of Ukrainian troops could be moved in-country into Ukraine. He also suggested that there might be a possibility of UK warships on the Black sea. Can the Minister say whether those plans still stand?

I heard a slightly different statement, and one that I think is self-evidently true. In a post-war Ukraine, the UK will absolutely seek to demonstrably support Ukrainian security on land, at sea and in the air, but obviously that is not something that we would do while a conflict is still live, for very obvious reasons.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to Ukraine and I am proud that Stevenage-based MBDA supplies Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles, but we know from a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute’s open-source intelligence and analysis team that North Korea is now massively supplying Russia. Are there any plans to work with international partners to try to disrupt that supply or increase our supplies?

There are a number of outcomes that one might say reflect strategic defeat for Putin: Finland and Sweden joining NATO; growing distrust of Russia throughout its near abroad; and more recently its having to go to countries such as North Korea cap in hand to seek weapons because it is unable to sustain its own arms industry. That is not to mention the rapidly changing dynamic between Russia and China. Of course, the UK and our allies look at ways of disrupting Russian supply chains, but that would not necessarily be a matter we would discuss any further in public.

The Minister will have heard concern raised in a number of places about the potential for a loss of focus or a lack of resolve, given the pivot of interest and attention to the middle east and the harrowing scenes over the last fortnight. He has robustly responded to those concerns. A second element of concern—he invoked the spectre of our main ally, the United States—is the political turmoil and turbulence that appears to be going on in the US Congress and the dissolution of the resolve that was rightly there for Ukraine in certain political circles. I am not asking the Minister to solve that as a problem, but is he concerned by it and can he assure the House that, from the engagement he has had with his counterparts in the United States, in the Executive tier their resolve is undiminished and they will find the resource to continue their support for Ukraine?

The Secretary of State was in Washington last week. Indeed, his meeting was the third he has had with Secretary Austin since he was appointed. Within the Executive, there is absolutely no change in approach whatsoever. Furthermore, although what we see in the news might suggest that there is a growing impatience or a lack of resolve in Congress, that is definitely not what we are hearing in our engagements with colleagues in Congress. America has a very strong sense of what its role in the world is and what this moment of challenge is. Despite whatever domestic politics may or may not be playing out, the resolve of Congress to stand firm on the side of freedom is as strong as it has always been.

Earlier, the Minister highlighted developments in the Black sea. Clearly, they are so important for grain and feeding the world. Will he update the House on the Government’s position on the Black sea grain initiative and how we can ensure that grain is getting out to feed the world?

The Government continue to be affronted by the idea that grain to feed the world should be traded as part of some deal. The Turks have shown admirable leadership in seeking to facilitate the movement of grain out of the Black sea and the UK continues to support those initiatives. If I may, I will write to my hon. Friend with a more fulsome response on the Black sea grain initiative specifically.

I recently met Ukrainian refugees in my constituency and they are really worried about the war lasting a lot longer than was originally anticipated. What they really want is the security to know that they can remain safe here in the UK for as long as this appalling war continues, past 31 December 2024. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with the Home Office about ensuring that Ukrainian refugees can continue to remain here in safety for as long as they need to?

The hon. Lady might have been momentarily distracted, but that exact same question came up 10 minutes or so ago. I will add her name to that of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) in my conversations with Home Office Ministers.

Providing matériel support and logistical cover is crucial to pushing back the Russian aggression in Ukraine, but so is a strong sanctions regime. Earlier today, a worrying report surfaced stating that while the UK has banned Russian copper, aluminium and nickel, the EU has not done the same, as it deems them to be critical minerals. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what the Government are doing to ensure that we present a united front in our battle against Russia?

When it comes to EU sanctions on Russian critical minerals, my hon. Friend has exposed a significant flaw in my knowledge. I will need to write to him.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, I would like to thank the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), for calling this urgent question and the Minister for his update. The Minister spoke about the new and particularly important phase of the war regarding the Black sea and Crimea. Ukraine will not be free until every Russian soldier has left Crimea. The Ministry of Defence has trained Sea King pilots and, I understand, delivered three Sea Kings, but they are for search and rescue. What naval aid is the UK supplying to Ukraine for this next vital phase of the war?

The UK has provided a number of capabilities that have been used by the Ukrainians in their effort in the Black sea. None of those is explicitly naval, but the challenge with the Montreux convention is that, for example, the two minesweepers the Royal Navy has transferred to the nascent Ukrainian navy cannot enter the Black sea while the convention is in place. That, of course, constrains our ability to generate a genuine naval capability until the convention is lifted.

When Putin launched his attack on Ukraine, he not only expected to conquer a neighbouring democracy but to split the international community. Instead, he united it because people cannot remain neutral when they see that type of behaviour. The biggest rebuff to him would be a strengthened and enlarged NATO, so what conversations is the Minister having, in particular with his Turkish and Hungarian counterparts, on ensuring that the ratification of Sweden’s membership proceeds forthwith?

It remains our firm expectation that Sweden will accede to NATO, and we continue to press all allies to ensure that that happens sooner rather than later. It is also of note—there has been a great deal of discussion about this in the Swedish media—that it is increasingly in Putin’s interests to style out some of the activities that have been happening in Sweden precisely to affront the sensibilities of some other NATO allies. It is important for all our eyes to be open to that possibility.

That concludes proceedings on the urgent question. I will now pause for a moment to allow a change of dramatis personae before the statement.

Illegal Migration

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on illegal migration.

The Government have made it our top priority to stop the boats, because these crossings are not only illegal, dangerous and unnecessary, but deeply unfair. They are unfair on those who are genuinely in need of resettlement, as our finite capacity is taken up by people—overwhelmingly young men—coming to the UK directly from a place of safety in France, but most of all they are unfair on the law-abiding British public who face the real-world consequences of illegal migration through housing waiting lists, strained public services and, at times, serious community cohesion challenges, and it is the interests of the British public that we have a duty to advance.

We have developed what is among the most comprehensive and robust plans to tackle illegal migration in Europe, and over the last year the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I have focused on delivering it. The plan starts with taking the fight to the people-smuggling gangs upstream, long before they are even in striking distance of the United Kingdom. We have already doubled the funds for the organised immigration crime work of the National Crime Agency, and at a meeting of the European Political Community earlier this month the Prime Minister announced new, tailored initiatives with Belgium, Bulgaria and Serbia, which come in addition to the enhanced strategic partnerships that we have already agreed this year with Italy and Turkey. Our two agreements with the French Government have elevated our co-operation to unprecedented levels. This is degrading the organised immigration crime groups, and in the last few weeks new physical barriers have been installed to make it considerably harder for the flimsy dinghies to be launched.

As we are increasing disruption abroad, so we are restoring deterrence at home. We are breaking the link between arriving here illegally and a life in the UK. The number of removals of those with no right to be in the UK has increased by more than 75% in comparison with last year’s figure. Since we struck our enhanced returns agreement with Albania in December, we have returned more than 4,100 Albanian immigration offenders, and, as I saw for myself in Tirana last month, some of those individuals are being returned home in as little as 48 hours.

In August we announced the biggest shake-up in a decade of the penalties imposed on rogue employers and landlords who encourage illegal migration by hiring or renting to illegal migrants, and as we proceed with that, more unscrupulous businesses are getting the knock on the door. We have increased the number of enforcement raids by more than two thirds since this point last year. The surge has led to a doubling in the number of fines imposed on employers, and has tripled the number issued to landlords. However, for those who are complicit in the business model of the people smugglers, severe financial penalties are not enough, which is why we have dramatically increased the number of company directors who have been disqualified for allowing illegal working.

Our concerted efforts at home and abroad are making progress. For the first time since the phenomenon of small boat arrivals began four years ago, they are down by more than a fifth in comparison with those in the equivalent period in 2022, and in recent months we have seen still further falls—and let me dispel the myth peddled by some of our increasingly desperate opponents that that is because of the weather. The weather conditions this year were more favourable to small boat crossings than those in 2022, but we have still seen a marked decrease. By contrast, in the year to June 2023 detections of irregular border crossings at the external borders of Europe increased by a third, and irregular arrivals in Italy from across the Mediterranean have almost doubled. However, we must and will go further to stop the boats altogether. We remain confident of the legality of our Rwanda partnership and its ability to break the business model of the people smuggling gangs once and for all, and we look forward to the judgment of the Supreme Court. As the success of our Albania returns agreement has shown, with swift removals driving a 90% reduction in the number of illegal migrants seeking to enter the UK, deterrence works.

The real-world impacts of illegal migration on our communities have been raised many times in the Chamber. One of the most damaging manifestations of this problem has been the use of hotels to meet our statutory obligation to house those who arrive illegally and would otherwise be destitute. Ever since the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I assumed office a year ago, we have made it clear that that is completely unacceptable and must end as soon as practicable. Those hotels should be assets for their local communities, serving businesses and tourists and hosting the life events that we treasure, such as weddings and birthdays, rather than housing illegal migrants at an unsustainable cost to the taxpayer.

We therefore took immediate action a year ago to reduce our reliance on hotels. We significantly increased the amount of dispersed accommodation, and we have increased funding for local councils. We reformed the management of the existing estate: by optimising double rooms and increasing the number of people sharing rooms we have created thousands of additional beds, and in doing so have avoided the need for a further 72 hotels. We have mobilised the large disused military sites that are more appropriate, and have worked closely with local authorities to ensure that they have less impact on communities. We are in the process of a re-embarkation on the barge in Portland, and, as of 23 October, occupancy had reached approximately 50 individuals. That will continue as planned, in a phased manner, in the days and weeks ahead.

Nearly a year on, as a result of the progress we have made to stop the boats, I can inform the House that today the Home Office wrote to local authorities and Members of Parliament to inform them that we will now be exiting the first asylum hotels—hotels in all four nations of the United Kingdom. The first 50 exits will begin in the coming days and will be complete by the end of January, with more tranches to follow shortly. But we will not stop there: we will continue to deliver on our strategy to stop the boats, and we will be able to exit more hotels. As we exit those hotels, we are putting in place dedicated resources to facilitate the orderly and effective management of the process and limit the impact on local communities.

We made a clear commitment to the British public to stop the boats, not because it would be easy but because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. We are making solid progress, and our commitment to this task is as strong as ever. We will continue to act in the interests of the law-abiding majority, who expect and deserve secure borders, and I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.

At the time of the last election, the asylum backlog had already spiralled under Conservative mismanagement, but the number of small boats crossing the channel was close to zero, as was the number of emergency hotels being used. If we fast-forward four years, we see before us a picture of Tory boats chaos. For the third year running, more than 25,000 people have crossed the channel in small boats, while the number of hotels being used is about 400, at an eye-watering cost to the taxpayer of £8 million a day—higher than the cost last year. And what is the Government’s response? A Rwanda plan, but they have sent more Home Secretaries than asylum seekers to Rwanda; an Illegal Migration Act that is counterproductive and has not even been brought into full force yet; and a new barge that was meant to bring down hotel costs, but has only added to them. Also, the military bases promised by the Prime Minister last December are still not ready. All of this has left the Prime Minister with an asylum strategy this summer that was less akin to the Australian asylum model that he is so desperate to replicate and more in tune with the Australian cricket team during this summer’s Ashes: cross your fingers and pray for rain. Surely the Prime Minister knows that this was the wettest summer since 1912, and surely he recognises the impact that this had on small boat crossings.

The Government also like to claim to be bringing the backlog down, but it stands at 176,000. They like to talk about a legacy backlog, but this is just nonsense. It is a figment of the Prime Minister’s imagination. He is taking last year’s workload but ignoring this year’s workload. The backlog is the backlog is the backlog. You can slice the cake however you want and spin it however you want, but the cake is still the same size: 176,000 in the last quarterly figures—up, not down. As for those who are being processed and rejected—slowly, it must be said, at half the productivity of seven years ago—are they actually being returned? Removals are down 70% since Labour left office, with a 40,000 removals backlog.

On the issue of hotel use, today’s announcement illustrates better than any other the utter lack of ambition the Prime Minister has for our country. It beggars belief that the Minister has the brass neck to come here today to announce not that the Government have cut the number of hotels being used but that they simply plan to do so, and by a paltry 12%. Is that really it? Is it really their ambition that there will still be 350 asylum hotels in use at the end of the winter, despite promises last year that they would end hotel use this year?

Further questions for the Minister. Is it really true that the hotels he is considering closing will be in marginal constituencies? Does he really think that the public might not see through that ruse? Will he publish a list of the hotels he plans to close over the next six months? And why does the Minister not come back to update this Chamber when he has actually achieved something—not when he plans to achieve something or done a small part of what has been promised, but when the Prime Minister has actually achieved what he said he was going to achieve? At the moment, he sounds like an arsonist who has burned our house down and is expecting us to thank him for throwing a bucket of water on it.

Better still, why will this Government not get out of the way so that we on these Benches can show the leadership shown by our leader and our shadow Home Secretary on their trip to Europol recently, where they set out Labour’s plans to stop the Tory boats chaos by smashing the gangs, clearing the asylum backlog by surging the number of caseworkers, ending hotel use and fixing the asylum system, which successive Conservative Prime Ministers have utterly broken after 13 years of neglect and incompetence?