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Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

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.