Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

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.