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Commons Chamber

Volume 740: debated on Wednesday 8 November 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 8 November 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

On Monday, I officially opened the Constituency Garden of Remembrance in New Palace Yard. I thank those of you who have already planted Remembrance tributes. For those who have not yet done so, you, or a member of your team, are welcome to plant a Remembrance tribute before 4 pm on Thursday. At 1 pm today there will be a wreath-laying service at the Recording Angel Memorial under the stained-glass window at the St Stephen’s Entrance end of Westminster Hall. This is the main memorial to Members and staff of both Houses, including police officers, who died in both world wars. All are welcome to attend.

I also draw to the House’s attention the retirement of Peter Barratt, who served the House of Commons for more than 32 years, including 10 years as the Speaker’s Assistant Secretary and eight years as the Speaker’s Secretary. His commitment, loyalty and professionalism will be missed, and I would like to thank him personally for everything he did during his time here. I am sure that the whole House will agree with me when I say that we wish him all the very best for the future. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Pakistan: Evacuation of Afghans

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the evacuation of Afghans from Pakistan.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question.

The Government have reacted decisively and swiftly to relocate people to safety in the United Kingdom following the collapse of Afghanistan the year before last. The UK Government remain committed to relocating eligible Afghans and their families under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, and we will continue to honour that promise. The Government’s policy, rightly, was to ensure that eligible Afghan families had secured accommodation in the UK before travel was facilitated for their relocation. We wanted to give them the best possible start to their new lives, to provide the best value for money for the taxpayer, and to ensure Afghans were integrated into UK society in the best manner available.

However, developments in the region have impacted our security assessments and previous assumptions. That has led to the Government’s removing the need for settled accommodation for individuals eligible under ARAP prior to relocation to the United Kingdom. The safety and security of ARAP-eligible Afghans has always been of paramount importance and we make no apology at all for changing the policy to react to the changing context.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence continue to work to ensure that eligible individuals under the ARAP and the ACR scheme are supported in Pakistan. The safety and security of ARAP and ACRS-eligible Afghans is paramount in our minds. The MOD continues to monitor the security assessments in that country, but following this cross-Government decision the Prime Minister has asked me to co-ordinate across Government to support the MOD in developing a new relocations plan for ARAP-eligible persons. As Members know, previously the policy was that only those who had secured accommodation in the United Kingdom would travel to the United Kingdom. We are changing that policy as a result of changing conditions on the ground.

The MOD has worked hard to stand up a total of more than 700 service family accommodations for mixed purposes, or transitory and settled accommodation. I pay tribute to the Minister for Armed Forces, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), for his work on that. Our new plans will see approximately 2,800 ARAP-entitled personnel moved from Pakistan to the United Kingdom by the end of December 2023. Entitled personnel may move straight into settled accommodation on the MOD. Where service family accommodation is unavailable, families will move into transitional accommodation as a first step. Where SFA is not suited to the needs of ARAP-entitled personnel, alternative accommodation will be procured.

This Prime Minister and this Government are determined to see through our commitments to those who served with the UK forces in Afghanistan. I commend this statement to the House.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

I am afraid that the Minister’s answer gives no reassurance whatsoever to constituents who have contacted me in a state of extreme panic over the last few weeks. Members have had no information on what is currently happening. It has been clear for some time that Pakistan aims to expel Afghans, who went there for safety, back to Afghanistan. I have been trying to get clarity on how many people there are in Pakistan to whom we have a duty and an obligation, and who are waiting for the UK Government simply to process their paperwork so that they can leave and come to their families here in the UK. I have not had those answers from the Minister.

One constituent contacted me whose sister and her five children have been threatened with imprisonment in Pakistan if they do not leave. Her other family members—her parents, her brother and her cousin—have been returned to Afghanistan, and she cannot contact them. She does not know where they are or what has happened to them. Given that they fled from the Taliban in the first place, she is terrified for them. She has been given very unclear advice by UK officials in Pakistan on what exactly they are entitled to and whether they will be able to get on a flight at all.

Another constituent, a gentleman, contacted me on 25 October after seeing the news that there will be charter flights from Pakistan carrying Afghans who have been processed. He has been trying to get answers on the status of his family, including whether they have a valid application, whether they can get on a plane and whether they can come to safety with him. He was stuck there with his family at the fall of Afghanistan, and he is extremely distressed about the situation. Again, I have been asking questions of various Departments and have had no answers whatsoever. What advice should I give to my constituent?

There have been no updates to MPs, despite there being reports in the news of charter flights and of people coming. We have also heard on the news that people in Islamabad—people who are entitled—have been warned by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to hide indoors. The British high commission has apparently warned people in hotels in Islamabad not to go outside due to the risk of arrest and deportation, so who is eligible for these charter flight? Is it people on the ARAP and ACRS schemes, people with valid family reunion paperwork or people who are still waiting for their paperwork to be done? We do not know, and I have families in my constituency with four of five members who have been processed and one who has been left behind. Can the Minister tell us exactly how many people in Pakistan are waiting for the UK Government to process their paperwork so that they can finally come to safety? We have a duty to these Afghans, and we are failing them yet again.

I must be completely clear to the House that this is not an issue of delayed paperwork. Afghanistan collapsed, and the UK conducted Operation Pitting to retrieve Afghans from Kabul and bring them to the UK. They went into hotel accommodation because we did not have enough housing. That was the right thing to do at the time.

Since then, it has become clear that it is entirely unsuitable for these families to be in hotel accommodation for long periods of time. They were therefore held in Pakistan, and rightly so. The situation in Pakistan has now changed, and we will now accelerate the process and get them into SFA accommodation in the UK so that we meet our duties.

I do not want to see anybody detained or deported from Pakistan if they are entitled to be in the United Kingdom, and I will work to achieve that outcome. I caution against spreading rumours of things that I am not seeing on the ground. It is an extremely challenging environment but, ultimately, we have a commitment to these people and I am determined to see it through.

On the Afghan population in hotels, I have heard the same questions, demands and allegations that we would not be successful before, but we were. I hear the hon. Lady’s questions, but the situation has changed. We have now changed our response, and we will relocate these people back to the United Kingdom.

It is reassuring to hear that this is not a paperwork issue, because it has now been more than two years since the fateful airlift. It was also particularly problematic to find accommodation for Afghan families because they tended to be large families and the accommodation was not available.

I am more worried about the change of policy in Pakistan and the influences on and within the Pakistani Government. What conversations are Ministers having with the Pakistani Government about the aid we pay to Pakistan, some of which is to cover the many Afghan refugees who fled into Pakistan, to keep them safe and out of danger until we can take those to whom we have a duty? Surely that should be a subject of conversations with the Pakistani Government.

My hon. Friend is right that those conversations are paramount in our mind, given the shift in policy from the Pakistani Government towards Afghans. We are driving through protection for those to whom we have a duty, where they have been approved to come to the UK. We must ensure that we continue our existing agreements with Pakistan, and the Foreign Office is working hard to do that. Now that we have an accelerated plan, I hope that those in Pakistan who are eligible to be in the UK are protected from any of those policies, that we look after them and that we bring them back to the UK, as has been our promise from the start.

We owe many Afghans a debt of gratitude for supporting British aims in Afghanistan. In the summer and autumn of 2021, the UK Government rightly promised to honour that debt by offering those Afghans resettlement in the UK. However, the Government’s Operation Warm Welcome fast became “Operation Cold Shoulder”. Of those Afghans who made it to Britain, 8,000 were crammed into hotels over a two-year period. They were then evicted, without consultation with local authorities, leaving many Afghan families facing homelessness this winter.

Worse, the Prime Minister last November personally gave instructions to Ministers that no more flights should be chartered from Pakistan to bring Afghans who have a right to resettlement here to the UK, despite more than 3,000 Afghan refugees being stuck in hotels in Pakistan, when the British Government had promised those very individuals refuge in the UK through the ARAP and ACRS.

Keeping those loyal-to-Britain Afghans in limbo was shameful enough, but even more disgracefully the Prime Minister changed tack only when the Pakistani Government started threatening to send those loyal-to-Britain Afghans back to Afghanistan to meet their fate at the hands of the Taliban. In short, the Government of Pakistan have strong-armed our weak Prime Minister into delivering something that it was our duty as a country to deliver in the first place. That is a truly shameful and humiliating state of affairs.

What we now need to know from the Minister is: how many flights has he chartered? When will they be running from and until? What assurance has he received from the Pakistani Government that they will extend the deadline for Afghans who are to be expelled back into Afghanistan until after all the UK flights have been completed? Are the Government aware of any cases of Afghans eligible under ARAP or ACRS who have been forcibly returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan? If so, what steps are the Government taking to bring those people to safety as a matter of urgency? Finally, what progress has he made on clearing the record high asylum backlog and securing accommodation for these Afghans, whom we desperately need to get out of Pakistan as rapidly and urgently as possible?

It is hard to take the hon. Gentleman seriously when he comes out with statements that are demonstrably untrue; I know that he would not want to mislead the House, but he mentions engaging local authorities and I literally drove round engaging them. As he well knows, this stuff is not correct. Having served in Afghanistan and, during the summer, having driven round every hotel to visit Afghans personally to ensure that none of them slept homeless and that we saw through our duty, I will take no lessons from anybody about how we feel towards this Afghan cohort. Clearly, I will not go into the details of which flights are taking off when.

This Prime Minister and this Government are clear that as the situation has changed we are seeking to get guarantees from the Pakistan Government that those entitled to be here will not be deported from that country. If that does happen, the hon. Gentleman will be able to recall me to this House and I will have failed, but that is not going to happen. This is much like my promise on homelessness; he spent the entire summer saying that something would come to fruition but, again, it never did. On this side of the House we have to govern in the real space, where we deal with operational decisions on a daily basis; we cannot whip ourselves into a lather to try to score points off some of the poorest people in the world. We are determined to see through our commitments to the people of Afghanistan and I look forward to his working with me in that pursuit.

The situation with Pakistan expelling more than 1.5 million Afghan people from its borders is deeply worrying. I am glad that the Veterans Minister is here today and is going to focus on the very small number of people who may be entitled to come to the UK—it will be just a few thousand. Many hundreds of thousands face the threat of needing to go back into Afghanistan, into the hands of the Taliban, where the economy is in a dreadful position and the country is reeling from the earthquake. These people fear for their lives. What representations are the Foreign Office and our allies making to the Pakistan Government to ask them to think again? What support are we giving to those stuck in a humanitarian crisis on the border?

I will be honest with my hon. right hon. Friend that there are clear distinctions in my role to deal with those who were in Pakistan who are entitled to be in the United Kingdom. Wider Pakistan engagement is a job for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which is busily engaged in that. My priority is to ensure that those who are entitled to be in the UK—those who have been approved to come to the United Kingdom—are not subject to wider Pakistan policy in Afghanistan, but that wider policy is being influenced by the Foreign Office, which is working on that every day. The situation has changed and we are reconfiguring ourselves to deal with that, to ensure that we honour our promises to people.

Although I welcome the decision, may I say to the Minister that it would have been much better to tell the House about it in a statement rather than an urgent question? We all know the huge pressures on accommodation in the United Kingdom and on local councils, so can the Minister say what engagement has taken place with local councils? What does “transitional accommodation” mean and how does it fit with the Home Office policy of not using hotels?

The policy of not using hotels is absolutely right and remains. In the summer, there was a huge effort to try to remove that barrier to settling into the United Kingdom and the policy remains. However, in extremis, that will not be a barrier to people coming to the UK where they are at risk of deportation. We are going to keep those people safe. As we speak, we are working up our policy on how to ensure that we integrate this cohort, much as we did in the summer. Discussions with different Departments are ongoing. When we have agreed the policy, I will come to the House to share it with everybody. I hope it will be along similar lines to previous policy, but it requires collective agreement. We will work hard and go around the houses to ensure that the Afghan families who are in Pakistan but entitled to be here are given every opportunity to settle in the UK. We have a good record on this and I am determined to keep that going.

As the Minister will know, it was my pleasure to work on the removals around Operation Pitting with colleagues from the Ministry of Defence and the FCDO. I welcome the steps that the Minister has taken to finally move many of those people out of hotels. It is no secret that, back in late 2021, I expressed concerns about just putting people into hotels and hoping offers of accommodation would come forward. Anyone with any knowledge of housing supply knew that the size of the families involved meant that would take some time, so I congratulate him on what he did this summer. Will he reassure me that we are thinking through what would be suitable family accommodation for the people we are bringing into this country, and that we will not just be sticking people in hotels intended for businessmen to stay in for a couple of nights rather than for families to live in for months? What type of accommodation does he have in mind for this cohort?

We will divide up the cohort. Some of the families are exceptionally large and not what we are used to in this country. To deal with that, the funding was designed specifically so that we could do really pioneering work, such as knocking through adjoining properties to create properties big enough for Afghan families. There is a challenge with large Afghan families, but they are not the majority of the cohort. We can accommodate the majority of the cohort in service family accommodation, but where we cannot do that I am hoping to design schemes that will allow us to use funding in a flexible manner, to ensure that these people are accommodated correctly, in line with the promises we have made to the people of Afghanistan.

There are still outstanding issues with regard to the processing of Afghan cases here and I want to use this occasion to make a special plea to the Minister. I have a constituent who is a former senator in Afghanistan. The processing of his case is still being delayed, partly because of some problems about location that we have tried to deal with. I met him this week and I think he now has serious mental health problems as a result of the stress he is under. I will write again to the Minister and I would welcome his personal attention on this case.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to all hon. Members who have personal cases to email me as I am happy to take them over. I have been brought in very recently and I will do what I can to get answers in those cases. A lot of cases are not simple—they are not black and white. As everybody across the House knows, I will always be honest about the challenges and we will do everything that we can to look after these people.

In the interests of impartiality, I will quote from The Guardian, which puts the figure of Afghans currently stranded in UK-funded hotels in Islamabad at 3,000. Indeed, according to reports, those hotels have been raided by Pakistani authorities. What assessment does the Minister make of that figure and of what has been happening? Furthermore, what discussions has he been having with our high commissioner in Pakistan and his opposite number in the Pakistani Government?

This is a cross-Government effort, so people from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are in contact with the high commissioner in Pakistan every day. We are well aware of this challenge. There are two separate issues here: one is the wider Pakistani policy towards Afghans, which is not part of my work in this space; and the other is that being applied to those who are entitled to be in the UK and have been pre-approved to be in the UK. It is the latter that I am concerned about. We are determined to get assurances on them and we will keep working until we do. I have already made a commitment that if a single one of them is deported back whence they came, I will have failed, but we will make sure that does not happen.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) on securing this urgent question, particularly as it has given us some clarity today. The Minister has talked about accommodation. What I am hearing from my country contacts through the all-party parliamentary group on Afghan women and girls is that the focus seems to be on families, and that only families are being evacuated. That means that single women, many of whom have worked in politics and teaching, and those from the LGBT+ community are feeling particularly vulnerable, and they are most at risk of reprisals if they are deported back to Afghanistan. Can the Minister clarify what is happening for those single applicants?

There is no de-prioritising of single applicants. Often they are easier to reintegrate and to accommodate in the United Kingdom because they are not a wider family. There are lots of stories going around the people in this cohort because they are very scared and vulnerable. Obviously, the hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this with me, but that is not something that I have seen. None the less, I will go back and look for it.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group for Hazaras and, since the Taliban took over, Hazaras in particular face increasing risk of targeted killings, discrimination and persecution. What specifically are the UK Government doing to help the Hazaras stranded in Afghanistan so that they can resettle in a third country, or indeed in the UK, and start a better life?

I completely recognise my hon. Friend’s passion in this space, but I have to be disciplined about what is in my remit and what is not. That is a question for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and I know that it is engaged on that issue. The Foreign Secretary will have heard his question today. If not, I will make sure that he has seen those remarks and that my hon. Friend gets an answer.

I am assuming from what the Minister is saying that, since this egregious change in policy, he and his colleagues in Government are having regular discussions with the Government in Pakistan. During those discussions, have he and others sought any assurances that people in Pakistan who have live applications to come to Britain will not be deported back to Afghanistan?

The entire strategic objective that we are trying to achieve is to make sure that those who are entitled to be in the UK, who have served with UK forces, who are part of the ACRS pathway and who are part of the cohort that we are talking about are not deported back to Afghanistan. We are working night and day to get those assurances. I am determined that we will get them and that we will look after those people properly.

I welcome the Minister’s comments and the work that he has done on this topic over the past few years, but I am trying to understand the resources that he has available to him. It would be helpful if he could update the House on that point. May I also ask whether any proportion of the aid budget is likely to be allocated to him for this specific issue?

At this moment, funding on this issue has not been agreed. Certainly, when I was doing this programme in the summer and clearing the hotels, the budget and resources were not a constraint. We had a bumpy start and the task was challenging, but we got there in the end: all those hotels were cleared and people were put into accommodation. The Prime Minister is committed to that, and I know that we will do the same over the next few months.

I have raised before in this Chamber the case of a very talented Afghan man who worked for the British Geological Survey, which has a base in my constituency. He fled to Pakistan with his daughters, fearing for their lives, but now he has lost all hope. He was accepted for Pitting but did not make it to the airport, yet he has been cruelly rejected for ARAP, despite having worked for a Department for International Development project. He kept the British team safe in Afghanistan, and I want to know why we cannot include him and his daughters in the evacuation, before he is handed over to the Taliban.

To be candid with the hon. and learned Member, I am happy for her to write to me about this case, but staff and civil servants are dealing every day with heartbreaking cases of people who fall either side of the line, and there is no deliberate decision to exclude anybody. We are trying as best we can in an incredibly difficult environment to respond to the applications and ensure that those who are eligible to be in the United Kingdom are here. If that individual is eligible for the ARAP scheme, that scheme is still open and he must apply to it. I am aware that some in the 333 and 444 communities in Afghanistan have been rejected and they are not entirely sure why. We are re-engaging in that process to ensure that it has integrity, and I am happy to look at the hon. and learned Member’s case again.

Just 66 people have been resettled in the UK under ACRS pathway 2, and eligible applicants who have the support of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan are still waiting for their paperwork to be processed, including the mother and brothers of a constituent of mine, a courageous female journalist who has been granted asylum. Their lives are at demonstrable risk from the Taliban and they now face the horror of deportation. I have written to the Home Office repeatedly about this case. They meet all the criteria. They would have a place to live if they were able to reach here. Will the Minister meet me about this case to see what can be done?

Sure. There are three different pathways to ACRS, and clearly some of them are larger than others. The latest immigration statistics show that by the end of June, 9,800 people had been granted settled status under ACRS. I accept that there are pathways where we could do more in this space, but the idea that we have only relocated about 60 people is not chiming with the data that I see every day. I want to ensure that everyone who is entitled to be here is here. I will go out and make the case for who is entitled and who is not, and we will do everything we can to ensure that those who are eligible are here. I am happy for the hon. Member to write to me about that case, and I will look at it personally.

Let me try the Minister with this one, because he says that he wants to ensure that no one who is entitled to be in the UK is deported. My constituent is a British citizen whose children and wife are currently in Pakistan, threatened with deportation to Afghanistan. They were invited to the Baron Hotel. An explosion meant that they were unable to get there. Mr Ullah is terrified because he worked with the allied forces, but because he is a UK citizen his family are not eligible under either ARAP or ACRS. Family reunion visas would cost more than £20,000. Return to Afghanistan means certain danger. He is penalised by his status as one of our citizens. In the light of his bravery and service to our armed forces, will the Minister use the budget that he says is not a problem to waive those fees and bring Mr Ullah’s family here to safety?

Immigration policy in this country is very clear, and the immigration policy outside ACRS and ARAP, which are what I have been asked specifically to deal with, is a matter for the Home Office, as the hon. Member knows. I recognise her question—I genuinely do—but it is a question on immigration policy for the Home Office. I will work night and day to ensure that everyone who is eligible under ARAP and ACRS is returned to the United Kingdom, in line with our promises.

The Minister has said a number of times that the Government have sought assurances from the Pakistani authorities that they will not target those Afghans who are eligible to come here. Has he received such assurances? If not, and if he does not, what is he going to do about it?

I can confirm that I have received verbal assurances from the Pakistani authorities that those individuals are not going to be deported. I have to work night and day to ensure that that line is held, and I have made it clear to this House and to the country that we do not want to see any one of them deported. As I have said to the right hon. Member, and to others, I do not want to see that line crossed. If it is, I will return to the House and make a statement on it.

The Hazari family of my constituent, a minor brought here under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees scheme, have had to flee Afghanistan and they have been waiting and waiting for their ACRS application to be processed. When can they expect that to happen, and when can they expect to be brought safely to the UK?

I obviously cannot comment on an individual case, but if the hon. Lady writes to me today, I will personally look at her case and write back to her.

I am glad that the Government are now acting on Afghans who have been in limbo for a number of years in Pakistan—an issue I raised with the Minister on 19 September. May I ask about the service family accommodation that he is intending to use for those Afghans? We know that there is a real crisis in the quality of service family accommodation, so can he guarantee that none of the service family accommodation that the Ministry of Defence is providing will have broken boilers, leaky roofs or black mould, which plague so much SFA that we have put our troops and their families in?

This Government have put £400 million of extra spending into SFA; I recognise the problems with the quality of that SFA, which have been a challenge over many years. I do not want anybody coming back into the UK and living in service family accommodation that is not suitable for them. The Ministry of Defence is bending over backwards, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister for Armed Forces, to ensure that this stuff is online and suitable. Investment is going in, but I am determined that individuals will live in housing that is suitable for them, and I will personally be visiting them to make sure that they are.

I have been trying to get a group of interpreters trained by the University of Leeds from Pakistan to here for the last two years. It would be useful if the Minister could let me know who is eligible for the flights and how they will be contacted. The Minister also said that he had visited every hotel in the country. I have a hotel in my constituency and I do not remember him informing me that he was coming, but I would welcome him coming to that hotel, because everybody now has to be in a shared room and the facilities are not good.

I would be interested to learn which hotel that is, because I do not want to see people in shared rooms, so I will speak to the hon. Gentleman after this urgent question. If he writes to me with the specific details of those interpreters, I will assess his case and determine which pathway is best to apply for and their certain eligibility to do so. However, I am particularly interested in the hotel and, if that situation is ongoing today, I will sort it out.

I have been contacted by multiple constituents who arrived in the UK via the ARAP scheme. They are extremely worried about their relatives, the hardship they have experienced and the threat of danger with the recent events in Pakistan. These cases range from somebody who worked for the British armed forces for eight years, a family member who is pregnant and has two children, and a judge who has previously imprisoned members of the Taliban. Will the Minister agree to look at those cases, and will he also say whether he has the resources to resolve these matters urgently?

I will look at every case. There is no policy decision to block those who are entitled to be in the UK from being in the UK. Many of us take this personally, and we will see this duty through. Of course I will look at every case and ensure that a decision is made fairly. There are individuals in the Ministry of Defence who are under extreme pressure and working incredibly hard to try to meet this challenge. It is very difficult. I am more than happy to look at cases again, but I do not want people to go away thinking that there is some blanket decision to reject these applicants and not to allow them the protections we promised then. That is categorically not the case and I am more than happy to look at individual situations.

My constituent’s parents fled Afghanistan for Pakistan. On appeal, they were granted adult dependent relative visas to join their family here, but before that decision was made, their Pakistan visa expired and they were forced to return to Afghanistan. Due to their being Hazaras, the fear of travel, their disabilities and medical needs, and the policy of the Pakistan Government, they cannot return to Pakistan to collect their paperwork to travel to the UK. Will the Government consider issuing some form of digital visa or travel document, so that they can fly to the UK and join their family here?

I am more than happy, as I have said, to look at individual cases. We are dealing with competing pressures here of UK visas and Pakistan visas running out, but I can only reiterate what I have said: where there is a duty to these people, we will see it through, and I will work night and day to achieve that endeavour.

I thank the Minister for his answers to our questions. Last time, I asked him about a specific family, and we sent the information through. I want to reinforce the point about the forced deportation of that gentleman and his family, who are also Hazaras. In his job, he assisted the British Army for seven to eight years. For 18 months, I have been endeavouring to get them into the United Kingdom because of the risk of harm to them as targeted attacks continue. Just this morning, it has been reported that there was an attack on a bus taking people from Pakistan back into Afghanistan—it was blown up. The danger is clear—for me, anyway; I see it very simply. This cannot continue for that gentleman, his wife and their four children. We have a job for them, a house for them and a future for them. We just need the Minister’s help. Will he help me?

The hon. Gentleman has already written to me about a case, which I think we have resolved. As I said, I am more than happy to look at individual cases. The eligibility criteria in these pathways are clear, and officials are working hard to ensure that they are as inclusive as they can be, but I will always look at personal cases and I look forward to receiving an email from the hon. Gentleman.

British Steel

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business and Trade if she will make a statement on the announcement made by British Steel on 6 November, and provide an update on the negotiations between British Steel and the Government, and on the Government’s position on virgin steelmaking in the UK.

Steel is vital to the UK economy. I fully recognise the importance of British Steel to local communities, particularly in my hon. Friend’s Scunthorpe constituency, where the company is a major contributor to local economic growth, and where she campaigns incredibly hard for steelworkers.

Global conditions have been tough for steel companies around the world. That is why we have changed the competitive landscape for British Steel and other energy-intensive industries by announcing the British industry supercharger—a decisive package of measures to reduce the long-term electricity price gap that exists between UK energy-intensive industries and competitor countries. That support will mean that strategically significant UK industries, such as steel, are safeguarded against the high industrial electricity prices that they have faced in too many recent years. We have also provided over £730 million in energy costs relief to the steel sector since 2013, in addition to the energy bill relief scheme. Steel producers will continue to receive support until 31 March 2024 through the energy bills discount scheme.

As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government made an extremely generous offer of support to British Steel earlier this year to help it to invest in a decarbonised and sustainable future. We have continued to work intensively with British Steel since then and will continue to do so. However, she will also understand that the detail of those conversations remains highly commercially confidential and that any public discussion risks undermining talks.

I know that this must be a deeply concerning time for British Steel employees and others in Scunthorpe following the company’s announcement on Monday of its plans for future operations. I can very much assure my hon. Friend that we will help affected workers and their families, and that we are committed to finding solutions to enable the ongoing sustainable and decarbonised production of steel. Just last month, for example, we announced a £1.25 billion joint-investment package with Tata Steel to secure a decarbonised future for steelmaking in Wales. That has the potential to safeguard several thousand jobs across the UK. In 2020, the Government provided an emergency loan to Celsa Steel to help it continue trading during the covid pandemic, saving over 1,500 jobs, with a further 300 jobs created since the loan was made.

I stand absolutely unapologetically with steelmakers and my community today, and I do not support these moves. In this Chamber on 18 September, I asked the Minister for Industry whether she agreed that we need to retain a virgin steelmaking capability in the UK for strategic reasons alone. She said

“obviously, we need a place for virgin steel”—[Official Report, 18 September 2023; Vol. 737, c. 1125.]

and that that place was Scunthorpe. That was reiterated the very same day by the Secretary of State, and so pleased was I with the comments that she made that I took contemporaneous notes of that conversation.

British Steel is a private company and can make business decisions as it sees fit, but I am clear that if it is seeking hundreds of millions of pounds of public money, the Government must leverage that money to protect steelworkers’ jobs and maintain our sovereign capability to make steel in the UK. Electric arc furnaces melt scrap; to make virgin steel from scratch, we need blast furnaces. Can the Minister tell the House how the UK will make virgin steel if all our blast furnaces are decommissioned? Can she tell us how many countries in the G20 are unable to make their own virgin steel? Would the Government be comfortable with us being entirely dependent on foreign imports for the virgin steel we will continue to need in this country?

Will any financial support offered to British Steel seek guarantees on steel jobs and lock in, as a minimum, an interim period of blast furnace production to allow us to explore green options to run them? Did the Government know that this announcement from British Steel was imminent? When will I get a response to my letter of 29 September to the Secretary of State? Why did the Department not contact me until 5 pm on Monday, when I was sent simply a short text message? What support is the Minister offering our excellent North Lincolnshire Council, which is proactively working with British Steel to bring additional green jobs on to the site? This Government have a good record on steel—they have paid workers’ wages. Can the Minister confirm that steel remains high on the Government’s agenda?

I have 3,500 of the world’s finest steelmakers in my constituency. It is my privilege to come out and bat for them today. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question.

My hon. Friend makes lots of very credible points—there is very little for me to disagree with. She does indeed make representations at the highest levels of Government, and her priority has always been steelworkers; she has never played politics with that role. I put on record my apologies if I have not done due diligence and provided the public service that she should have received by being contacted much sooner on that particular day. There is nothing she could say that I would not be telling myself off for even more, and I hope I will not fall short in communications going forward.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: I did indeed say at the Dispatch Box that my personal opinion is that there is a strong place for virgin steel production in this country, and that, of course, is in her constituency. We are in the middle of live negotiations, and any decision taken by British Steel is a commercial decision. My hon. Friend is also right that we are able to carry out due diligence on any support we provide; it is taxpayers’ money, and our primary focus is to safeguard the sector and jobs, including in her constituency.

My hon. Friend is right to note that we have prioritised the UK steel sector, and we will continue to do so. We need to provide it with support as it transitions, because that is also a choice being made by manufacturers, customers and consumers who are looking for greener steel going forward. Any decision we take and any support we provide will be to ensure that the sector is sustainable and competitive. We want the sector not just to survive, but to thrive.

My hon. Friend spoke about the support we have provided to the sector to date. We have provided hundreds of millions of pounds of support to British Steel to deal with its emissions, and over £730 million in energy cost relief to the steel sector since 2013. We have put the supercharger in place, as well as the steel procurement policy note, which does its very best to ensure that we procure more steel here in the UK. We have provided support to Tata to ensure that that part of the country can continue to make steel and to protect those jobs, and we have provided support to Celsa. My hon. Friend talked about the support we are providing to North Lincolnshire generally—there is a huge amount of support there. Since 2018, the Government have committed over £200 million in investment in the north and north-east Lincolnshire area.

I cannot say much more at this time because we are in the middle of live negotiations that are commercially sensitive. When British Steel put out its press release, that was the first time I saw it, but we must recognise that it was a proposal; many things have to fall into place for such proposals to become accurate plans—not only will there be issues around planning, but our negotiations have to conclude as well. I do not doubt that I will continue to lean on my hon. Friend, and that she will continue to champion steelworkers in her constituency and across the country.

I thank the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) for securing this urgent question, at what will be a very difficult time for her constituents.

The Labour party supports the transition to green steel. We recognise, as the Government have now conceded, that a blend of public and private funding is necessary to do that. We believe electric arc furnaces are part of the solution, but we do not believe they can be the only solution. Specifically, we believe that the retention of primary or virgin steelmaking in the United Kingdom is a matter of economic necessity and of national security. While we all welcome the return of steelmaking to Redcar, which should never have been taken away to begin with, this will clearly mean very significant job losses at Scunthorpe. I therefore have major concerns about this announcement, coming, as it does, just after the Government have confirmed a deal to also close the blast furnaces at Port Talbot.

First, the Minister said in her answer to her hon. Friend that talks are ongoing. I have to say that that is not my understanding of the current status of this deal. Could she confirm that, please? Secondly, is it true that carbon capture technology could not be pursued at Scunthorpe because of delays from the Government to the necessary infrastructure over the last 13 years and uncertainty about a future business model? In addition, is it correct to say that a DRI—direct reduced iron—solution could not go forward because of uncertainty over the Government plans for green hydrogen, which would obviously be essential for a DRI business model? Thirdly, do the Government recognise the figure of 2,000 job losses, and will the Minister confirm that this is the net figure covering Scunthorpe and Redcar—in other words, that once recruitment at Redcar is taken into account, job losses in Scunthorpe will likely be in excess of 2,000? Finally, will she confirm how much public money this announcement involves?

Most of all, I reiterate to the Minister that decarbonisation cannot mean deindustrialisation; we cannot simply outsource our emissions to other countries, call that progress and expect public support for the transition. A real plan for green steel must be open to all technologies, it must be industry-wide, and it should be a story of new jobs, new opportunities and British economic strength. Sadly, this announcement seems very far from that.

Negotiations are indeed ongoing, which is why I am limited in what information I can put out in the public domain; information is of course incredibly sensitive. British Steel will make commercial decisions, but if it is hoping to secure Government support, we need to make sure that we are getting value for money for taxpayers.

The hon. Member asked why decisions have been taken on the electric arc furnace compared with other technologies. It is because the other technologies just cannot come up to speed fast enough. In particular, the hydrogen-based direct reduced iron equipment just cannot enable furnaces to transition at the speed at which they need to. He is very much aware of that, and this is also a challenge in Europe, not just in the UK.

Fundamentally, there are a number of challenges for the global steel sector. First, there are energy costs, which we have done everything we can to provide support for, with the hundreds of millions of pounds to cover energy costs and now the supercharger. Secondly, we have to ensure that we get more UK steel into the UK economy. That is why the public procurement note was incredibly important for us to do, and we will be able to secure millions of pounds for more UK steel projects. Thirdly, there is a major challenge in that advanced manufacturers, customers and consumers are looking for greener steel, and a lot of companies are trying to reflect on how they can provide a green steel option. Having said that, it is a particular kind of steel; as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), for me that means a mix of virgin steel in the market as well. Of course, these are commercial decisions, but we need to make sure there is a mix to deliver for the UK market in particular.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) talked about the environmental issues and about hydrogen. We export a lot of scrap steel, and that also has a carbon footprint, so for us to have the capacity to turn that steel into products we can use will be incredibly useful. The positive news is that we are the eighth largest manufacturing country in the world. We are going to need more steel, not less, but there will also be demand for more green steel, not less, and we are trying to ensure that we provide support to the steel sector so that it can meet those market needs.

Many of my constituents work at Scunthorpe, and we are all obviously deeply concerned about them, but the whole House must be concerned about the Minister’s statements in terms of our national security. There is no other major developed country in the world that is giving up its traditional blast furnaces—the only way we can make virgin steel. Frankly, the Minister did not bother to answer a single one of the brilliant questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft). Will she now make it clear to the House that this Government are committed, as a major economy, to go on making virgin steel? Do it now.

As I have said repeatedly at the Dispatch Box, I fundamentally believe we need to have virgin steel capacity in the UK, but these are commercial decisions, and negotiations are continuing. These are incredibly commercial decisions, and we are doing our very best to support electric and virgin steel capacity in the UK. We are very much aware of the challenges we have in importing steel and with the global markets when it comes to the price of steel, and that is why we need to make sure we have a mix. These are commercial decisions, which is why negotiations are ongoing. Fundamentally, the announcement by British Steel was a proposal—nothing is done yet. We are still in the middle of negotiations.

May I begin by expressing my concerns on behalf of the 2,000 workers who are likely to be affected by this announcement? Also, I re-emphasise, as other contributors have, the importance of virgin steelmaking, not just in terms of security, but in meeting demand in the construction industry, where inflation is already racing ahead and our ability to build things will not be helped by being further away from the supply chain and reducing domestic capacity in steelmaking.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think-tank has said:

“Ageing blast furnaces need to be replaced and upgraded to produce greener steel…electric arc furnaces have a role in recycling steel”,

but

“failing to invest in modern hydrogen furnaces belies the government’s promises to invest for the longer term.”

Just as in the oil and gas sector, what plans do the UK Government have for a just transition for the steelmaking workforce? What support will the UK Government be giving to the development of hydrogen furnaces in the UK? What challenges will they put constructively to British Steel over these plans? Given the Government’s high-profile retreats on other climate measures, such as the date for banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars, how much faith can the industry have in any guarantees that the Government do make?

Negotiations are ongoing and nothing is concluded. The statement made by British Steel was a proposal, not a conclusion. The steel that comes out of electric arc furnaces can be used for a variety of things, including construction and military-grade steel—it is incredibly nimble—but I fully appreciate that different types of steel are produced out of different furnaces. The hon. Gentleman spoke about hydrogen, and the Government have a substantial hydrogen strategy that we launched in May 2022. The net zero hydrogen fund is worth up to £240 million of capital co-investment out to 2024-25. That will support upscaled hydrogen production projects, allowing companies, including steel producers, the potential to secure supplies of lower-cost hydrogen. Ultimately, decarbonisation pathways for specific sites are commercial decisions for individual companies based on their own operational circumstances. In the case of Port Talbot, it was about timing for using a technology that can be commercialised at scale. At the moment, for that part of the country, it is electric. Hydrogen may no doubt be the next stage of technology that is used.

May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) for her passionate support for steelmaking in her constituency? Just yesterday at the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister said that even when we get to net zero, we will still need to have oil and gas supplies. Does the same logic not apply to primary steel? We will still need that at net zero. Does that logic not extend to making sure we have the capability to make primary steel in this country to supply our needs in the future?

I agree on both points: first, on the incredible work that my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe does for steelworkers in her constituency; and secondly, that we cannot achieve net zero without a mix of steel being manufactured in the UK. We have a booming renewables sector, whether that is solar panels, blades for offshore wind farms, or electric vehicles. Much of that steel can be produced by electric arc furnaces, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) is absolutely right that there is a space for virgin steel, too.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) for securing this urgent question. The Minister is in peril of presiding over the end of primary steelmaking in this country and the curtain falling on 300 years of Britain’s industrial history. The announcement comes at a time when an analysis shows that the Department’s budget is set for a 16% real-terms cut in the years ahead. Is it the policy of His Majesty’s Government that blast furnaces will stay in operation in our country and that we will not be dependent on imports of primary steel? When can we expect a conclusion to the negotiations and some safeguarding of the vital industry either at Tata or at British Steel?

I congratulate the new Chair of the Business and Trade Committee, of which I was previously a member. As I have made clear, these are commercial negotiations and they are ongoing. When the decision was taken on Port Talbot, discussions had taken place for several years—even decades. This will not take that long, but my point is that many Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box talking about steel and doing what can be done to protect and promote the steel sector in the UK. The negotiations are ongoing.

British Steel’s statement on Monday contained proposals and a plan—nothing is concluded yet. My focus, as our focus has always been, is on protecting the steel sector in the UK, protecting steel jobs in the UK and doing everything we can to procure more British steel in UK manufacturing. Of course, that continues. These are commercial decisions about how companies wish to continue their business going forward. I have made it clear that fundamentally there needs to be a mix of steel produced in the UK in the steel market, but the reality is this. First, steel produced in electric arc furnaces is far more nimble because of the technology, and it can be used for many more materials in advanced manufacturing than previously—that is a fact. Secondly, manufacturers, customers and consumers fundamentally want a cleaner, greener steel package. It is not just me saying that at the Dispatch Box; it is also the UK steel industry representatives who have put together a net zero strategy and are talking about having cleaner, greener steel going forward. We have a lot of scrap steel in the UK that can be recycled, and we have far more capacity to recycle that than we have for that steel to be used in UK manufacturing, but, fundamentally, we need to have a mix. I believe that that mix will continue as long as it can and should, but these are commercial decisions. We continue to negotiate with British Steel.

I have a simple question to put to the Minister; I hope that I will get a yes or no answer. Much of the arc furnace capacity is being moved away from Scunthorpe or not put in Scunthorpe because of a lack of grid capacity. That electrical grid capacity is due to be increased. If she were to accelerate the increase to 2025, we may save many more jobs in Scunthorpe. Will she seek to do that?

Unfortunately, there is never a simple answer to these questions. Access to the grid is a challenge for many industries, let alone for the steel sector. We have been doing everything we can to increase access to the grid. British Steel’s proposal—negotiations will continue—says that it has chosen two sites over one, with its key site at Scunthorpe and a second site at Teesside to be closer to its manufacturing work. That decision has been made for many other commercial reasons beyond access to the grid.

Yorkshire and the Humber is one of the great centres of steelmaking—in our area, there were more than 8,000 jobs in steelmaking, the last time that was counted—but how many jobs will be left when the Minister has finished with her cuts? Has she noticed that whenever the Conservative party is in government, it deindustrialises further? Unite the union—I declare an interest as a member—is saying that if the Government would commit to procurement of steel for all our relevant contracts, 8,000 further jobs could be created. What exactly does she make of that? Has she met representatives of the union to discuss that matter?

I meet representatives of the unions regularly, and I co-chair a steel council. The steel procurement policy note on increasing procurement in the UK was a personal ambition of mine. Previously, we did not calculate enough of the data on what was being procured and how we could continue to secure more contracts. Procurement has increased, with the value of contracts up by £97 million on the previous year. I want to go further; that is only the starting point. Earlier today, I was with the Minister for Defence Procurement, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), and I will continue to work to ensure that there is more UK steel in all our construction, whether rail, road, automotive, aviation or anything else. The reality is that last year it increased by £97 million-worth of work.

I fully endorse all the comments of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft). Many hundreds of my constituents work at British Steel, and I have a British Streel terminal on Immingham docks in my constituency. What assessment have the Department and the Treasury made of the impact on the local economy if the changes go ahead? The Minister talked about support for workers who may be made redundant. I have witnessed the decline of the fishing industry in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area, which has ripped the core out of the community, who need generations of support. What plans will the Government put in place to ensure that that happens?

First of all, negotiations are ongoing, but I fully appreciate that the statements from British Steel will be incredibly unsettling for my hon. Friend’s constituents. Let me explain the way that we worked on Port Talbot. We were keen to ensure that any support we provided continued to guarantee jobs, in consultation with local stakeholders and the unions. We set aside a fund of around £100 million to ensure that people were reskilled and redeployed. That work will continue if circumstances require it. We are anxious about jobs. These are highly skilled workers, recognised internationally, and these are well-paid jobs. That is why negotiations are sensitive and continue at pace. If we provide support, we want to get the best deal for UK steelworkers.

The Minister will know that Shotton steelworks rely on steel from Port Talbot. What assurances can she give on the supply of steel between the closure of the blast furnaces and the installation of new electric arc furnaces?

While negotiations were ongoing and support was being provided, we had a conversation to ensure that the supply chain continues to be resilient. A taskforce has been set up to ensure that supply chains continue to get support, working with the unions, Tata and the local community. We have been assured that supply chains will continue to secure the contracts that have been in place.

Supporting British Steel need not be just about money; it can be about ensuring that the Government are joining the dots for industry and explaining the pipeline of work available to it. With the Dreadnought and SSN-AUKUS programmes, we have generations of need for virgin steel. The same goes for the new nuclear programme. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are doing that work and signalling to British Steel that the demand is there? Also, where we have control over procurement, are we ensuring that we lean towards the British market?

Absolutely. That is why procurement went up by £97 million recently. I was looking at what the industry group UK Steel reflected on when it came to steel produced by electric arc furnaces—the reality is that a substantial amount of speciality military-grade steel can be manufactured using electric arc furnaces. We are working very closely with the steel sector to do everything we can to ensure that it secures UK contracts.

The Minister seems to be ignoring events in south Wales last week. I met steelworkers from Llanwern last week, who understandably are deeply worried following speculation about the closure of the blast furnaces at Port Talbot. What conditions were attached to the £500 million grant agreed with Tata? Was this the agreed plan? What are the Government actually doing to safeguard jobs?

We put in place a programme of work and a substantial sum of money—around £100 million—to ensure that the transition took place in a just fashion. Decisions will be taken by the transition board—as has been mentioned—about providing upskilling and reskilling and ensuring that there are assurances in the supply chain. The board is made up of the Secretary of State for Wales, the Minister for the Economy of Wales, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for steel and metal related industries. Those decisions will be taken locally and in consultation.

The Government have supported a coalmine in west Cumbria that will produce coking coal, which is used in steel production. Does the Minister agree that it would be sensible for strategic reasons—which should override commercial reasons—to retain virgin steel production capacity in this country, and that from a practical perspective the coal mined in Cumbria could be used in the production of steel in Scunthorpe? Will she take into consideration the wider issues in the policy decisions that she may make?

Absolutely. I think all of this has made it clear to British Steel that there is a supply chain here in the UK, not only in the ability to make virgin steel but in the market afterwards, but even with electric arc furnaces we still need some ability to access coal. These are decisions taken across many Whitehall Departments. My job, fundamentally, is to ensure that steelmaking in the UK continues at the pace that it has done and grows even further, and that we support the manufacturing sector, which requires British steel.

The official march of the Royal Navy includes the words,

“Heart of oak are our ships”.

In the 21st century, virgin steel is the critical industry for the Royal Navy, in the way that timber was in the 18th century. I am the first to want reduced carbon emissions, but this move sounds more like offshoring than about reducing carbon emissions. What consideration have the Government given to the supply of steel to the defence industry?

First of all, negotiations continue; no decision has been taken. Having said that, the UK steel industry group, which oversees the steel sector in the UK, has made it very clear that military-grade speciality steel can be made in electric arc furnaces. I have been working incredibly hard to make sure that more UK steel is procured in more UK contracts, including defence contracts.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) for her dogged campaign in respect of steel; she is a real champion for her constituents. This week’s news is bittersweet, as Teesside welcomes the return of steelmaking. Will the Minister outline what the whole Government are doing to support my hon. Friend’s constituents at this time, and what use of carbon capture and storage is being explored to ensure that we continue to produce our own virgin steel?

I of course agree with my hon. Friend’s first point: there is nobody more vocal about steel than my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft). We have had a number of programmes in place to support the steel sector, because it has a number of challenges, as it has in many continental European countries. Fundamentally, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine caused energy costs to skyrocket, and we had in place an energy costs relief scheme for the steel sector, which has been worth up to £730 million since 2013. We now have the supercharger in place; I have spoken about the steel procurement policy note to ensure that there is more UK steel procured in UK markets; and, obviously, we provided support for Tata recently and Celsa previously. We are doing everything that we can—with my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe, of course—to get the best deal possible for Scunthorpe, but these are commercial decisions and they are ongoing.

It is clear from today’s comments that the Government are set to abandon more than 2,000 steelworkers in Scunthorpe, just as they abandoned over 3,000 on Teesside eight years ago. That said, I too welcome the news of a new arc furnace for Redcar, but let me give the Minister yet another chance to answer the question from the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) and others: are the Government really going to settle for recycled steel and foreign imports, and consign virgin steelmaking in the UK to history?

Recycled steel can be recycled infinite times, so it does a huge amount for the circular economy. Because of the way technology has moved on, steel can now be used in many more sectors. We have a huge surplus of scrap steel, which we end up exporting to countries such as Turkey, Bangladesh and Pakistan. We could be reusing that in the UK economy. But as I said, these are commercial decisions and nothing has been concluded. The statement put out by British Steel was a plan or a proposal.

Does the Minister not accept that it is a matter of national security that we should retain the ability to create primary steel in this country?

I have put it on record previously that we need to ensure that we have blast furnace capacity in the UK, and that, fundamentally, should be at the Scunthorpe site. There are matters involving national security—for instance, the anxieties about steel dumping from China and the issues emanating from Russia—and as we continue to manufacture at pace, we need to be able to ensure that we have access to steel manufactured here in the UK.

Some of the mightiest structures made of steel were built in my constituency, in the Nigg yard—I worked there myself once upon a time. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) talked about the strategic importance of the industry. May I point out to the Government that it is as important to my constituency in the far north of Scotland as it is to any other parts of our great United Kingdom?

I cannot disagree with that. I have been reading up on Scunthorpe steel: it has been used to create structures ranging from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the London Eye, which demonstrates the breadth and the depth of its history.

The feedstock for the Trostre tinplate works in Llanelli is steel of a quality that can currently only be produced in the blast furnace process. Following the devastating news that Port Talbot blast furnaces will be closed by the end of March, leaving Trostre dependent on imported steel—quite possibly produced to lower environmental standards abroad, and certainly not saving on emissions—may I ask the Minister to stop just quoting commercial decisions, and tell us what strategy the Government have to develop the green technologies of the future here in the UK and to keep virgin steel production here as well?

I had a feeling that I had mentioned that a few times. We have a fund of about £1.5 million, partly aimed to ensure that we are adopting, testing and commercialising new technologies to enable the steel sector to decarbonise. We have done a huge amount of work on electricity and we are also considering the possibilities of hydrogen, so we are looking into alternative sources of energy to help the sector in the UK. I know there are challenges for places such as the hon. Lady’s constituency because of the sort of steel that they need, but the fact remains that more and more different types of steel can be made to a high standard and a high grade in electric arc furnaces.

The move to net zero should deliver tens of thousands of long-term, well-paid, green industrial jobs, but with her Government’s sticking-plaster policies the Minister is destroying both jobs and sovereign national capability. Is it really her intention to leave behind her a British steel sector that cannot make British virgin steel, and if not, what is her plan? Labour has an industrial strategy for green steel; why does she not have one as well?

I simply do not recognise the picture that the hon. Lady paints. Our recent decision on Tata Steel was welcomed by UK Steel, the organisation representing the UK sector, which said that it was the way forward. UK Steel itself has a net zero strategy, and wants to see the transition proceed apace.

Decisions have been just left to sit there, but now we are able to provide the support that is needed. What we did in Port Talbot has saved thousands of jobs and allowed the adoption of new technology which will, indeed, create thousands of jobs as well.

Last Wednesday morning, Tata Steel executives in Port Talbot summoned the workforce to tell them of the plan to shut down our entire virgin steel making capability by March 2024. This was utterly shocking, because the understanding had always been that some of the heavy end would continue to function while the electric arc furnace was being constructed, but it takes years to construct an electric arc furnace. The plan is utter madness: it involves importing millions of tonnes of steel from the other side of the world. Electric arc furnaces need the products of virgin steel making, such as iron and iron ore—that is why we need direct reduced iron capability—and the loss of 3,000 jobs over a period like that is completely unacceptable and unnecessary.

When the Government did the deal with Tata Steel about Port Talbot, did they know that Tata was actually proposing not a transition at all, but a potentially lethal cliff edge for our steel industry? Did they know that Tata would be doing that? Does the Minister not agree that the idea of this process is that it should be a transition? It needs to be a bridge, not a potentially lethal cliff edge.

Tata Steel employs more than 8,000 people and 12,500 further in the supply chain. All of that would have been at risk if we had not been able to provide the certainty it needed to increase its investment to over £1 billion to allow it to transition. These are commercial decisions relating to the pace of transition. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a transition board in place because he is a member. If there has been a failure in consultation at the level and depth of time required, there is no doubt that he and I will take that up as we will both be at the next transition board meeting. The reality is that to ensure the long-term viability of steel in the UK, some tricky decisions have to be made, but the company was provided with support to make sure that it transitioned in a way that supported local jobs, knowing that it had to transition and support the supply chain.

I thank the Minister for her responses. We have committed to a net zero target, but consideration must be given to the potential loss of 1,500 to 2,000 jobs, which could be gone from the industry. We have been told that the two furnace closures could put further employment at risk for many. What steps will be taken to ensure that the steel sector and industry jobs throughout the whole of the United Kingdom will be protected? I had a meeting this morning where it was confirmed to me that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is No. 7 in the world for manufacturing. If that is the case, steel is a key part of that. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) is to be congratulated on bringing forward this urgent question. Really, Minister, we need to make sure that the industry can be retained and not reduced at all.

That is why the support was so substantial to Port Talbot, to ensure that the steel sector could continue to thrive here in the UK. Manufacturing in the UK is booming. We are the eighth largest manufacturer in the world and we need to get our goods fundamentally from the UK, including steel. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we cannot achieve net zero without steel, but we can help steelmaking to become even more green and clean than it is at the moment.

I do not, because it was a plan or proposal put out by British Steel. We have not concluded negotiations.

This is a question of national security. It is not just a commercial decision. A specific question was asked of the Minister by the shadow Secretary of State on job losses specifically in Scunthorpe. Is that figure of 2,000 correct?

Negotiations have not concluded. We are continuing to be in intensive talks with British Steel. We wish to provide the support that is needed to support the steel sector and steel jobs but negotiations will continue. We need to make sure that due diligence is done and that we get value for money for taxpayers, whose money we are going to put on the table. But look at what we achieved at Port Talbot—a sector that was unable to confirm its future until we provided it with the financial support that it needed.

Occupied Palestinian Territories: Humanitarian Situation

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to update the House on the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A tragedy is unfolding. Israel has suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. Palestinian civilians in Gaza are experiencing a devastating humanitarian crisis and violence is rising in the west bank. The best estimates emerging from a confused situation are that 2.3 million people need access to safe drinking water, food supplies are running out, one third of hospitals have been forced to shut down and 1.5 million people are displaced. I know that the whole House shares my pain at seeing so many innocent lives destroyed on and since 7 October.

Britain is working intensively to get more aid into Gaza, to support the safe return of hostages and British nationals, to back Israel’s right to self-defence and to prevent a dangerous regional escalation. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been engaging extensively and Lord Ahmad has been constantly in the region. This morning I met a group of charities and non-governmental organisations involved in getting life-saving support into Gaza. I spoke yesterday to the Jordanian, Lebanese and Egyptian ambassadors and early this morning once again to Martin Griffiths. I wish also to pay tribute to our diplomats and development experts who are striving to make a difference in the most difficult of circumstances.

Despite the many challenges, the whole Government are determined to do all that we can to continue to stand up for what is right and do the right thing. Immediately after Hamas’s brutal assault, the Government brought home almost 1,000 British nationals safely on charter and military flights, but the safety of all British nationals is our utmost priority, so we are in regular contact with those in Gaza registered with us since the conflict began. Working with partners, we have been engaging intensively with Israel and Egypt to allow foreign nationals to leave Gaza via the Rafah border crossing. This has proved possible on five of the last seven days, and I can confirm to the House that, as of late last night, more than 150 British nationals had made it through to Egypt. A forward-deployed team of consular officials is in el-Arish, close to Rafah, to meet them and provide the medical, consular and administrative support they need. We have also set up a reception centre for British nationals in Cairo and have arranged accommodation. We will do everything we can to ensure that all remaining British nationals in Gaza can leave safely.

Sadly, among the British nationals in Gaza some are held hostage by Hamas, among the more than 200 innocents cruelly kidnapped on 7 October. Their plight is a stark reminder of what Hamas represent. The terrorists continue to launch rockets relentlessly at Israeli homes and families. Their stated aim, repeated publicly in recent weeks, is the destruction of the Israeli state and the eradication of its people. That is why the Government unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself. However, we have also repeatedly stressed that Israel must take every precaution to minimise civilian casualties in line with international humanitarian law. We continue to press Israel to ensure that its campaign is targeted against Hamas leaders, militants and military infrastructure. We also condemn settler violence. Israel needs to take concrete measures to address it and hold the perpetrators to account.

All parties to a conflict must ensure that their actions are proportionate and necessary, affording innocent civilians the protection that is their right under international law. Who can doubt that this is true, because the Palestinian people are also victims of Hamas. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has expressed his condolences to the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, for the deaths of Palestinian civilians caught in the aftermath of Hamas’s attack.

Since 7 October, the UK has made available £30 million of additional aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, more than doubling our existing aid commitment for this year. So far, three UK flights carrying a total of 51 tonnes of aid have landed in Egypt. The shipments included life-saving items such as wound care packs, water filters and solar powered lights. We have also sent humanitarian advisers and vital equipment including the forklift trucks, belt conveyors and lighting towers specifically requested by the Egyptian Red Crescent Society to help it to manage and deliver all the international aid received in Egypt more effectively. For this aid to meet escalating needs, however, it must enter Gaza and do so in much greater quantity. The Government have been working closely with partners including the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Egyptian and Israeli Governments to achieve this.

Since 21 October, a limited number of trucks of aid have crossed into the strip, but the volume going through the Rafah checkpoint is nowhere near enough to meet civilian needs and it cannot be, even were it operating at full capacity. We are therefore urgently exploring with partners measures that can help to increase the flow of humanitarian support. These measures must include effective humanitarian pauses, as agreed by all the G7 countries in Tokyo this morning, and we are urging Israel to consider utilising the facilities at other land border crossings into Gaza, such as Kerem Shalom. This reflects our current assessment that delivery by land remains the only safe option to deliver aid in the quantity needed in Gaza while ensuring the necessary control and oversight. Control and oversight matters, given the absolute imperative of ensuring that aid reaches those in need and is not diverted or misused. Aid diversion is a real risk—more so during conflicts—and I will set out to the House how we are managing those risks.

All UK aid undergoes rigorous oversight. No funding goes to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Our humanitarian programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories already operates with enhanced sensitivity, with the Government having introduced additional safeguards in 2017. They include measures to verify and map downstream partners, non-payment of local taxes, and enhanced due-diligence processes. We constantly review the due-diligence assessments in place with all partners involved in delivering aid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The whole House recognises, however, that to prevent further conflict and terrorism and truly alleviate civilian suffering, there must be a political solution to the conflict. This issue is uniquely polarising. We have seen across the world and in our own communities its potential to radicalise. The long-standing British position on the middle east process is unchanged: we want to see a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. The urgency of a political track—extraordinarily difficult today—has never been more clear. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in peace and security.

We have moral clarity over Israel’s right to self-defence and we reject all forms of antisemitism, but we are also committed to discharging our moral duty to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Palestinians and we reject all forms of Islamophobia. The current turmoil must act as a further impulse towards realising a peaceful future for the region, and the UK will be doing all it can to achieve that. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for the copy of his statement and for his call last night.

Four weeks on from the horror of 7 October, it is hard to comprehend the scale of the devastation in Gaza: almost 1.5 million people displaced and more than 10,000 people killed, with more trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings. Every single one of those lives matters. Every single death is a devastating tragedy. With two thirds of the dead being women and children, these civilian deaths are not just shocking—they cannot be ignored. Hundreds of thousands of people are crowded into shelters in desperate need of food, water, medicine and fuel. And while we welcome the 93 trucks that entered through Rafah on 6 November, that is completely insufficient to meet the scale of humanitarian need.

I was surprised the Minister did not make more mention of fuel, because this is the urgent priority. Without it the water cannot flow, the hospitals cannot power their incubators and the food cannot be cooked. The sewage system breakdown is now threatening a major public health crisis. For weeks, the international community has demanded that the siege conditions on Gaza be lifted, but that has still not happened. That is totally unacceptable and it cannot continue.

Both the UN humanitarian co-ordinator Martin Griffiths and the United States have made serious efforts to break the deadlock, and to provide the assurances that Israel needs about fuel diversion. Can the Minister tell the House what efforts the Government are making to insist that fuel for humanitarian purposes can get into Gaza? I welcome his update on discussions about Kerem Shalom, but what is his assessment on the speed at which that could be achieved? May I urge him again to follow the US example and appoint a humanitarian co-ordinator to scale up the passage of aid?

We all recognise that while rockets and bombs continue to fall, it is impossible to deliver the scale of aid needed across the whole of Gaza and to repair the damage, extensive as it is, to water and electricity systems. We all want an end to the violence and the urgent release of hostages, but with Hamas leaders doubling down on their determination to attack Israel, and with Israel ruling out a ceasefire until hostages are released, the reality is that humanitarian pauses are, as Martin Griffiths wrote movingly last week, “the only viable prospect”. In Cairo last week, Ministers and aid agencies impressed on me the urgency of that. Pauses provide not only much needed aid, but space: space for the basic humanity to bury the dead; space to look past the pain; and space for dialogue to make progress towards peace more likely. This is needed now. No more delay.

We are devastated by the deaths of so many aid workers and United Nations Relief and Works Agency staff—the highest number killed in any conflict in the UN’s history. I hope I join the whole House in mourning their loss and paying tribute to their bravery and their humanity. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Safe shelters, safe distribution centres, and safe medical facilities, hospitals and emergency service convoys are essential.

I echo the Minister’s words about the unacceptable nature of settler violence in the west bank, but will he join me in reiterating our calls that Israel’s clear right to self-defence is not a blank cheque? He acknowledged the importance of international law. Has he raised the protection of hospitals, schools and refugee camps with his Israeli counterparts, and the need for action to be in accordance with international law in order to protect civilians and ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid?

The average age in Gaza is just 18. Make no mistake: this is a children’s war. More children have died in Gaza in four weeks than in all the world’s conflicts in each of the last three years. There are 1 million children caught up in the devastation who are orphaned and displaced, sleeping outside as the weather grows colder, short of food and forced to drink dirty water. In most conflicts we would expect children to be evacuated to a safer place to receive care and shelter. What makes this so devastating is that, almost uniquely, in this conflict that is not going to happen.

In the face of such an extraordinary threat to children, the international community is obligated to do more. With the Foreign Secretary at the G7 this week, will the Government join us in calling for an emergency plan to support the children of Gaza, to prioritise aid to children, safe and protected shelters for food, clean water and medical care as winter sets in? The crisis did not start in Gaza on 7 October. Even before then, two thirds of children were suffering from trauma. One aid agency that operates in North Sinai and Gaza told me last week that this now stands at 100%. Without a long-term co-ordinated plan for the children of Gaza, the political solution we need will not be realised and the cycle of violence will not be broken. We can and must do more.

I thank the hon. Lady very much for her comments and for the priorities she set out in her response. I echo her comment about the brave humanitarian workers who lost their lives. She will remember that we consistently condemned that in the case of Sudan, where approximately 20 lost their lives. As she has, we honour, across the House, the more than 100 humanitarian workers—unarmed people putting themselves in harm’s way deliberately to help their fellow citizens—who have lost their lives.

I also pay tribute to those working in the crisis centre in Whitehall. One hundred or so officials, nearly all volunteers and very young, were working triple shifts the night that Rafah opened, working through the night to help British citizens. I pay tribute to them, their spirit and their hard work.

The hon. Lady made a particular point about the importance of fuel and, of course, she is absolutely right. We are negotiating for it. She will know that Hamas have a lot of fuel in their tunnels—we recognise entirely what that fuel is being used for—so fuel could be made available to help in humanitarian purposes. We are doing our best to negotiate for it. She will also have seen today’s G7 statement, which is very clear on these points.

The hon. Lady asks about routes for access, and the American envoy, Mr Satterfield, has been working non-stop to try to work out whether we can speed up other routes, using Kerem Shalom and Rafah, and we will continue to do all that.

The hon. Lady prioritises the importance of pauses, and we completely agree. We are arguing for humanitarian pauses, but she will also accept that, in the method within the pause by which humanitarian support is distributed, it is extremely important that we do not repeat the mistakes we made in Srebrenica, Rwanda and northern Iraq, when vulnerable people were brought together whom we were unable to protect. There are very clear guidelines on any pauses and safe spaces, and there must be absolute protection for those who go to them.

The hon. Lady mentioned that support for Israel is not a blank cheque. Of course, she is right. Good friends deliver hard messages, and they are able to do so precisely because they are good friends. She talks of children, and I saw UNICEF this morning. I entirely recognise the passion with which she raised that point. We will do everything we can to ensure that the priority of children is recognised in all the humanitarian work we do.

Finally, I remind the House of the wise words of our former colleague, and former Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord Hague. At the end of his brilliant article in The Times on 9 October, he said:

“It is no consolation to those caught up in it but…this is no strategic masterstroke by Hamas, more a desperate move to fend off a future that is rapidly leaving them behind.”

We should not forget that, the day after this, there will be an urgent need for a political context.

Order. I and, I suspect, my successor in the Chair will do our utmost to accommodate all Members, because we recognise the importance of this subject. I would be grateful if hon. Members would keep their remarks as brief as possible under the circumstances, in order that we can accommodate everybody.

I also gently remind the House of the admonition offered by Mr Speaker yesterday. We are dealing with very sensitive and very emotive issues. Words matter and the tone of those words matter. I know the House is capable of rising to an occasion, and I trust that this will be one of them.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope that the Government’s calls for humanitarian pauses will continue and be insistent. The Minister talked about a viable Palestinian state, which requires land. The reality is that so much of that land has been lost to illegal settlements. Will he continue to make that point, because a brighter future will require land to guarantee the peace we all yearn for.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Of course we will continue, as he suggests, to prioritise the issue of pauses. He will know that, in my statement, I condemned settler violence, as did the Prime Minister in yesterday’s response to the Gracious Speech. What he says is right, and we will not forget that.

I associate myself with the shadow Minister’s comments paying tribute to all the UN and aid workers who have been killed. The Minister is correct to remind the House that UK nationals are being held hostage by Hamas.

That said, the Israeli military must follow the laws of war in this situation. Have the Government made an assessment of Israel’s compliance with international human rights law since 14 October? As he mentioned in his statement, hospitals in Gaza are running out of fuel and UNRWA is warning that its aid operation will shortly “come to a stop” if fuel supplies do not get into Gaza, with blood and life-saving equipment also running out. Have the Government considered sending a military hospital ship to Egypt to help injured men, women and children who have been able to leave Gaza?

Finally, the Minister rightly said that there must be a political solution. The Red Cross has said that it is

“not an exaggeration to say it’s catastrophic in Gaza.”

In Gaza, 4,100 Palestinian children have died—a rate of 180 children a day. At what point will the UK Government join the many of us who are asking them to use their leverage to reach that political solution and call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says and the tone in which he says it. I also thank him for what he says about the brave humanitarian workers who have lost their lives. He asks whether we are aware of the full impact of supplies running out in Gaza, and I can assure him that we absolutely are. He speaks about the importance of following the rules of war and international humanitarian law, and both Front Benches are urging the Israeli Government to do that. We note the commitment of the President of Israel in that respect, but everyone will be watching to ensure that the rules of war are obeyed.

I have not spoken to a single constituent who has not felt the pain and tragedy of the 1,400 people murdered on 7 October, or of the tragedy unfolding in Gaza. I commend the Minister for all the work he is doing, and I know he works incredibly hard to make sure no stone is left unturned. Can he confirm that aid will increase, if necessary, in future? Does he share my concern about the risk of the conflict expanding because of the presence of Hezbollah? Its 100,000 soldiers and 150,000 rockets pose a risk to the region.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. We have doubled the amount of aid going into the region, but we will increase it further if necessary. We are currently doing a lot of work to try to work out how to quantify what is in el-Arish and how to make sure it can be moved. Physically moving the aid is also a factor, which is why Britain has sent five forklift trucks and a conveyor belt.

Of course, regional expansion is an enormous worry for us all, and it is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister decided to send both air and naval assets to RAF Akrotiri in the eastern Mediterranean, to see what is being moved, to interdict any arms that are coming in, and to make sure we do everything we can to ensure that this conflict is contained and does not expand further.

Ten thousand people have been killed in a month, with UN staff, buildings, hospitals, journalists and the third oldest church in Christendom unspared, since Hamas’s deadly atrocities. There are 230-plus hostages still in captivity. The Minister talks about being a critical friend, so will he urge the Netanyahu Administration to recognise that statements such as the one about a “permanent” Gazan takeover, with some Israeli Ministers not even ruling out nukes, are only losing them support? Does he have any advice for my constituent, whose sister is a survivor of a family mostly wiped out when they moved south, as instructed? He says, “We don’t just want to manage to eat before dying under rubble.”

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. As far as the hostages are concerned, she will appreciate that we do not give a running commentary on those negotiations. She may rest assured that we are working very closely, including with Qatar, to secure their release. She will have seen the condemnation of the nuclear comment made by a senior Israeli.

On the subject of what happens when the conflict is over, she will have seen the very constructive comments made not only by some of the surrounding Arab leaders but by Secretary Blinken when he addressed that point.

I appreciate that the Minister is limited in what he can share on sensitive diplomatic matters, but will he assure the House that the UK Government are doing everything possible to work with allies to negotiate the return of the hostages?

As we see the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza, with the terrible images of the dying, displaced and maimed, our focus must be on getting humanitarian aid to them and a humanitarian pause for them. As we look forward to a time when the bombing stops, does the Minister agree that the lack of focus on progressing a two-state solution over the past decade and more was a failure on the part of the international community? Will he set out something of what he will be doing to bring renewed focus on a just political settlement to the conflict in the region?

The Foreign Office and British Government are very focused on how to re-energise the peace process when the opportunity presents itself. The hon. Lady will have seen the comments that have been made about both a civil Administration in Gaza and what is necessary to secure peace when that point arrives. It is important to note that the huge progress—ultimately unsuccessful—that was made at Oslo took place on the back of the first intifada. It may therefore be that there will be an opportunity, given the disaster that has taken place, to re-energise that political track. We must make sure that if that opportunity presents itself, we grasp it with both hands.

This is something that unites the House more than divides it, certainly on the issue of the horrors going on in Palestine right now and what caused them. We all recognise the personal commitment of the Minister to humanitarian aims and, in particular, to humanitarian pauses. Does he agree that those who call for a ceasefire must recognise that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and, as was said by the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) yesterday, that terrorist organisations go for ceasefires only when they suit their own regrouping, not to end violence?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and, of course, he is absolutely right. We all recognise the motivation of those who call for a ceasefire and why they are doing it, but at this time, in this situation, it is perfectly clear that Hamas have no intention of engaging in a ceasefire. Indeed, they have repeatedly made it clear that their intention is to repeat the awful events of 7 October. So I agree entirely with both his understanding and prediction of the situation.

I and many of my constituents continue to be upset beyond words by the human suffering we have seen on television screens since 7 October. So often, I am being asked to take sides, but, in the words of Jonathan Freedland:

“This is not a football match… Two peoples with deep wounds, howling with grief, fated to share the same small piece of land.”

Does the Minister agree that the side we need to be on is the side of all those who are working towards a lasting peace?

The hon. Lady is entirely correct in her last point, and indeed in all that she said. She says that her constituents are upset beyond measure. One thing we can all agree, wherever we stand on this issue, is that everyone is upset beyond measure. Therefore, she is right to say that we must focus, whenever the opportunity presents itself, on the political track and all the opportunities that could then open up.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his long-standing work in this area. The shadow Minister spoke of fuel and water. On 7 October, amid Hamas’s atrocities in Israel, the terrorist group made a concerted effort to destroy water and electricity lines from Israel into Gaza. Apparently, Israel has reopened two of the three water lines into Gaza, but the third remains heavily damaged, as do the power lines. Does he share my concern that Hamas deliberately seek to worsen the humanitarian conditions inside Gaza?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments, and of course he is right. Once again, I draw his attention to the words of the former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague, who so accurately, so soon after these awful events took place, predicted the reasons why Hamas were doing this and why, ultimately, they must fail.

I welcome the Minister’s statement and the response from my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). Will the Minister distance himself from the description of the Palestine marchers as “hate-filled”? The constituents I have been talking to are decent, law-abiding families who have no truck at all with Hamas but who are horrified by the scenes they are seeing, of children killed and maimed, day after day on their screens and are wanting this to stop, as we all must. Will he distance himself from that description?

The rights of protest are much cherished in this country, and, of course, they are enshrined in law and we respect that. As for what the Home Secretary said, we are all responsible for what we say and she said it in the way that she did.

First, let me thank the Minister, all his team and the United Nations agencies that are involved—Martin Griffiths and the people from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees who are on the ground, who obviously are in mourning for their colleagues—for all their incredible work to help with humanitarian aid. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is, in a sense, an intractable problem, because the nature of Hamas and how they are based in Gaza makes it impossible for Israel to defend itself effectively without, surely, breaking the rules of engagement and causing casualties, which everyone here finds very hard to accept? Does he therefore accept that the smidgeon of hope in all of this is that this disaster, which could repeat itself time and again, must be the catalyst for those in the region, above all, to lead on finding a proper political solution?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. I hope that he will agree with my Oslo analogy and think that should give us all some hope at a very dark time. He is entirely right in what I take him to have meant, which is that Hamas can play no part in the future of Gaza after what has happened. I thank him very much for his comments about UN agencies and officials. There is no doubt that the UN, particularly UNRWA and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is working incredibly hard. I last spoke to Martin Griffiths just after 2 o’clock this morning, and I can tell the House that every sinew is being bent within the UN in trying to end an horrific state of affairs, which has been so accurately set out across the House.

Heartbreakingly, the number of children killed in Gaza in just four weeks of Israeli bombardment has surpassed the number killed in global conflict zones for every year since 2019, so we must urgently work for peace and a two-state solution, however difficult that may seem, and urgently deal with the humanitarian crisis engulfing Gaza. It pains me to see that the death toll in the occupied west bank, which I recently visited, is rapidly rising, including as a result of an Israeli airstrike on a mosque and more deadly settler violence. Those victims are certainly not Hamas. So will the Minister join me in condemning settler violence and the extremist rhetoric, and will he ensure that those perpetrators are held to account?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to ask us to condemn settler violence. The Prime Minister did that yesterday when he addressed the House, I did it in my statement, and it has been done from the Opposition Front Bench as well. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that violence in the west bank has reached unprecedented levels. We are doing everything we can to urge restraint and ensure that it stops. In what he said about children, he speaks for the whole House. The analysis of the problem is the easy part, but we are all working for the resolution.

On children, I welcome both statements made from the Front Benches: my right hon. Friend the Minister is right to focus on every civilian life that has been lost in this conflict, and the hon. Member for Wigan was right to highlight the importance of children in this. I remind the House that the full wording of the Balfour declaration included:

“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Children’s rights should be at the heart of that, so may I urge my right hon. Friend to double down on the push for humanitarian pauses and for humanitarian access, to make sure that we can protect children’s rights to life and to education?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, with which I agree entirely, and for his recollection of the Balfour declaration.

I am told by the Muslim Council of Wales that seven families in Wales have lost immediate family members in Palestine, with some having lost children and grandchildren. We fear for the Israeli hostages in Gaza, among them British citizens. More will lose their lives, which is why Plaid Cymru has tabled a motion in the Senedd calling on the international community to seek an immediate ceasefire. In advocating for humanitarian pauses, does the Minister recognise that innocent non-combatants in Gaza will again be killed when pauses cease and that the only way to achieve lasting peace is a ceasefire?

The right hon. Lady will have heard what I and the Opposition Front Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), have said about ceasefires, but the hearts of the whole House will go out to the seven families—and maybe others too, in Wales—who have lost family members.

The atrocities on 7 October were well planned and well resourced. Indeed, Hamas, the terrorist group, stockpiled in advance, knowing what the response would be from Israel. Equally, Hamas have been caught out putting injured terrorists through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of what Hamas should do now to release the resources they have stockpiled, so that there can be a wider humanitarian effort than there is currently?

My hon. Friend is right and knows a great deal about these issues. He is right about the atrocities committed on 7 October by Hamas. This was a pogrom. It was the worst loss of Jewish life at any time in one day since the Holocaust and since 1945. One reason why the Rafah crossing is so difficult is precisely because of the circumstances that he described, with the misuse of the rules by injured Hamas terrorists.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, more than 10,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces in the past month—that is one of every 200 residents of Gaza. That does not include everyone who may have died due to lack of clean water or the collapse of the healthcare system after fuel was cut off. How many more people must die before the Government join the UN Secretary-General, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, Oxfam and the UN General Assembly in calling for an immediate ceasefire?

Once again, the hon. Lady will have heard the views of spokespeople on both Front Benches on the issue of a ceasefire, but her comments underline the importance now of trying to achieve these humanitarian pauses, so that help and succour can be brought to those who are suffering.

The loss of life in Israel and Palestine is beyond horror and everybody wants it to stop, but the statement from Hamas that they will not stop until the people of Israel are annihilated is deeply chilling. In his statement, the Minister mentioned radicalisation and the concern that the greater the loss of civilian life, the greater the risk of radicalisation, so I thank him for saying clearly that Israel must take precautions to minimise civilian casualties. I would add that Israel needs to be seen to be taking such precautions. We continue to call for pauses in fighting to let aid in and people out. What assessment has he made of the likelihood of such pauses happening?

I do not think I can give a running commentary on that, except to say that the sinews of everybody are bent towards achieving it. My right hon. Friend makes a good point that, from all this death, destruction and killing, we must guard against the radicalisation of an entire new generation of young people. As President Biden said, it is very important that the lessons of 9/11 are properly learned.

Those of us who support a ceasefire are getting the overwhelming message from both the Government and the Labour Front Bench spokespeople that somehow calling for a ceasefire is naive. Does the Minister think that the Pope is naive in calling for a ceasefire?

I have set out very clearly our understanding, our logic and the reasons why we and Opposition Front Benchers have reached the conclusions we have on a ceasefire. I hope, at the very least, the hon. Gentleman will reflect on those.

Getting aid into Gaza is vital and I welcome the Minister’s statement about looking for additional border crossings. What is more important is making sure that once aid is in Gaza, it gets to the people who need it most. Reports suggest that Hamas are holding more than 200,000 gallons of fuel that could be used for generators, to power hospitals or for ambulances. What is the Government’s assessment of Hamas holding fuel? What steps are being taken to ensure that once aid gets into Gaza, it does not end up in the hands of Hamas?

My hon. Friend is right that we know Hamas have hoarded fuel in Gaza, although I cannot give him a statistic on that. The statistic he gave to the House may or may not be right, but we know that they do have a stockpiling of fuel. In terms of the way in which support will be used once we get the pauses and are able to get help and humanitarian supplies into Gaza, I can tell my hon. Friend that we are very careful indeed. We never work through the Palestinian Authority or Hamas in terms of direct support; we only go through trusted organisations. As I set out in my statement, we are very careful indeed to ensure that the aid gets to those who need it and gets there directly.

The United Nations Secretary-General has said:

“Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children.”

More than 4,000 children have been killed since the start of the conflict. Every day we see footage of heartbreaking stories; I watched a small girl being pulled out of the rubble, asking her uncle if she was dead and whether he was taking her to a graveyard. Another video showed a girl of barely five stuck under a collapsed building, praying her final prayers in preparation for her death. At their age, children should be asking whether they are going to a playground, to buy an ice cream or any of those usual things, not whether they are going to a graveyard or preparing for their death. Children outside Al-Shifa Hospital yesterday felt they needed to do a press conference to call on the world to let them live. Minister, when will the UK ramp up its effort to end the bloodshed and ensure that Palestinian children just have the right to live?

The hon. Lady speaks with the greatest possible eloquence. She speaks for the whole House in saying that what is happening to children in Gaza appals us all. I just ask her to consider the wider context, accept that the Government understand and agree with her analysis of the plight of children in Gaza, and will do everything within the wider context to try to bring that to an end.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests concerning my visit to Israel and Palestine in May this year.

I received a report from a surgeon at a hospital in Gaza today. He says the situation is beyond catastrophic and that he is seeing “horrific” injuries, the majority of which are to children. He says:

“The type of injuries we are seeing is not something a human mind can accept or tolerate.”

He goes on to say that people who are being pulled alive from the rubble

“are scratched and bleeding and full of flies.”

A lot of his report is very graphic, including the fact that many children have lost limbs and no one knows who many of them are. The UK is the penholder for the protection of civilians in conflict at the UN Security Council. Can we ensure that all health facilities, including the Indonesia Hospital in Gaza, which was at threat of being bombed, be protected from attack?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to refer to the UK’s role at the United Nations. We take those responsibilities extremely seriously and our brilliant team who work at the UN are doing everything to justify the fact that we hold that particular pen, among any others. My hon. Friend will have heard what the Prime Minister said about the treatment of hospitals, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect them.

May I welcome the balance and tone of the Minister’s statement? When the Government make representations to the Israeli Government about the increase in settler violence in the west bank, what do the Israeli Government say in return?

These are ongoing discussions and they are made at many levels. The Prime Minister has spoken repeatedly to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and my colleague Lord Ahmad has been consistently in the region, as has the Foreign Secretary, so we are having those discussions at every level. The right hon. Gentleman may rest assured that what the Prime Minister has said, and what I have said from the Dispatch Box, is the thrust of those discussions, and we are doing everything we possibly can to drive forward what both he and I believe is the right answer to this.

It is incredibly difficult to hear the testimonies of the survivors of the 7 October Hamas atrocities. It is equally difficult to see the media reports of what is happening in Gaza, particularly in relation to the children who are being affected. It is so important that we do all we can to bring this conflict to an end for the security and the futures of children in both Israel and Gaza. I welcome the extra humanitarian aid that is going into Gaza from the UK Government. Can the Minister please assure us that, once this conflict is over and even bigger humanitarian aid is required, the Government will do all they can to help rebuild Gaza?

On my hon. Friend’s final point, there is no doubt that when peace comes and the international community is able to engage in a political process, the rebuilding of Gaza will certainly be a part of that. To her point about the awful testimonies of survivors from the 7 October attacks and the dreadful scenes that we see on our television thanks to the brave reportage of many journalists, there is no doubt that it is extremely difficult to watch, which is why the Government, along with our allies and others who are deeply concerned about this, are doing all we can to ensure that we bring this to a close as soon as we can.

There are 1,400 dead in Israel and 10,000 dead in Gaza; there is increased military activity on the west bank, increased settler violence, and now more and more children dying as this conflict goes on in Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu is now promising that Israel will control the Gaza strip into the indefinite future. Is it not time that the British Government joined all those other sensible and reasonable voices around the world that are doing everything they can to demand and get a ceasefire to prevent any further loss of life and to begin to work out a peaceful future for all the people in the region?

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what his successor, the leader of the Labour party, has said on the subject of a ceasefire, and we agree with him. None the less, the right hon. Gentleman describes an extraordinarily difficult situation. He also talks about security on the west bank, the key purpose of which for Israel is to ensure that the rockets cannot come over the border again. I think we need to see security in that context, rather than in the ebb and flow of the debate that is going on at the moment.

We know that escalation is a real risk. With reports that Israeli forces have started raiding refugee camps on the west bank, we know that there is real risk to innocent Palestinians. There are also reports of Israeli settlers on the west bank becoming increasingly hostile in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Will the Minister please explain what specific steps he is taking to de-escalate the situation?

My hon. Friend makes the point that escalation is not just about the region, but about the west bank as well. That is why the Prime Minister has condemned settler violence and why we continue to make representations to the Israeli Government in that respect.

On the question of humanitarian pauses, can the Minister tell us his assessment of how long they will last, how people will be protected, and how those pauses will be managed? He referred briefly to those points in his statement.

The aim of humanitarian pauses is not only to get humanitarian relief and supplies into Gaza, but to ensure that there is a safe structure, as I said earlier in my statement, to deliver humanitarian supplies, and one that does not put people in jeopardy. Therefore, a humanitarian pause should not be seen as one on its own; we are looking at negotiating a series of humanitarian pauses, so that there can be a proper supply basis for the people we are trying to help.

Many constituents have raised concerns with me about the humanitarian crisis faced by Palestinians in Gaza. Indeed, a march was held in Aylesbury on Saturday, which, I am pleased to say, passed off peacefully. We know that Hamas hide behind human shields—including, shockingly, even in hospitals. How is my right hon. Friend’s Department working with partners on the ground in Gaza to ensure that aid gets to those who need it, including in hospitals, despite the barbarity and the barriers put in their way by Hamas?

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the importance of ensuring that Hamas brutality does not fetter our ability to get aid through to those who really need it. I can give him the undertaking that that is precisely what we are trying to do.

Against the backdrop of a child dying every 10 minutes in Gaza and evidence that water entering as aid through the Rafah crossing is not being allowed into northern Gaza, will the Minister confirm that the Government support the independence of the International Criminal Court and recognise its jurisdiction to address the conduct of all parties in the conflict in Gaza?

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about the importance of prioritising children. In respect of the International Criminal Court, she will know that the Government are a very strong supporter of it and the role that it plays in international affairs.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement; I agreed with every single word of it. In my 13 years as an MP I have never received such detailed and harrowing letters from my Jewish and Muslim communities in South Derbyshire. Whatever else happens, please can we make sure that, looking to the future, we work on the two-state solution and put in place a safe place for all Gazans and Jewish families going forward?

My hon. Friend accurately summarises the role and the importance that the Government attach to progressing the political process, and I thank her for her comments in that respect.

Will the Minister tell us whether his discussions with charities and non-governmental organisations this morning included aid agencies such as Oxfam, Christian Aid or Save the Children? They say that only a full ceasefire can deliver the conditions to get lifesaving food, fuel, water and medicine into Gaza, not least because critical infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals, needs to be mended first and that cannot happen if there are only humanitarian pauses. I know that he has said a lot this afternoon about the difference between pauses and a ceasefire, but he has not addressed explicitly the advice that we are hearing from humanitarian experts on the ground who say that only a full ceasefire will allow them to get that kind of aid fast enough to the people who need it.

The hon. Lady is correct about the importance of tackling the deficiencies of infrastructure, both in the area around Rafah and more extensively than that. She asks about my contact with NGOs and charities. As she said, I had a meeting this morning that was chaired by the British Overseas NGOs for Development—BOND— which is the collective of charities. We operate through trusted partners, such as UNICEF, UNRWA and UNHCHR, and we are in continual contact with them. The point she makes about infrastructure is one that we are very much aware of and will do everything we can to assist with.

The Minister is absolutely right to say that Hamas made a massive strategic error when they attacked innocent Israeli people on 7 October, and they are paying a heavy price with the destruction of their terror network in the Gaza strip. However, does he agree that the bigger price that they should pay is the moderate voices on both sides coming together to re-establish the framework, as he has referred to, that was in place under Oslo, going towards a two-state solution between a viable Israeli state and a viable Palestinian state, and getting the terror network out of the way?

Not just in Britain but all around the Arab world and the United Nations, people are very much focused on how to get a political track going again when these dreadful events draw to a close. As I said earlier, I think the one opportunity that may arise from these dreadful events is an effort to rebuild the political process to deliver an answer on the way we go forward politically—my hon. Friend mentioned the two-state solution, which is the bedrock of British Government policy.

I spoke to a constituent last night who is studying in York. He has lost 42 members of his wider family, and his immediate family remain in the line of rockets in Gaza. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that there can be family reunions, and that refugees can come from the Gaza strip to the UK?

We are working very hard to ensure that families are not broken up through the Rafah crossing. We have been moderately successful at that so far. I am sure that everything that can be done will be done. If any of the hon. Lady’s constituents are caught up in that way, I hope that she will let us know in the crisis centre through the MP hotline.

I put on record my thanks to the Bolton Council of Mosques, which covers 34 mosques in my constituency and has 60,000 members across the town. My constituents have felt very aggrieved over the last month. We have seen statements coming out of Israel about having “security responsibility” for Gaza for an “indefinite period”. The Minister mentioned that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that there shall be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza after the war. What is our Government’s position on that in the long term? My constituents through the Bolton Council of Mosques have called repeatedly for a ceasefire. I will meet them again tomorrow night. From our Government’s perspective, what criteria would have to be met in order for us to call for a ceasefire?

I know that my hon. Friend has been deeply engaged in representing his constituents, and I am aware of the representations that he has made. I hope that he will explain to his constituents tomorrow night the reasons why a ceasefire is not something that either the Government or the Opposition are calling for. I hope that he will be able to explain that we are doing everything that we can both to construct a scenario where there can be a number of pauses and to ensure that humanitarian support can be safely delivered within Gaza.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has reported that as Gaza loses power, hospitals lose power, putting newborns in incubators and elderly patients who are on oxygen at risk. Without electricity, hospitals turn into morgues. Does the Minister not think that at this point bringing an immediate stop to the violence is the only way to stop hospitals turning into morgues and the whole of Gaza turning into a graveyard?

We are extremely concerned about the position in hospitals and the effects that the hon. Gentleman has described, but I can only repeat what I have already said to the House about how we are doing everything that we can to try to bring these circumstances to a close.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and for his, the Prime Minister’s and the Foreign Secretary’s ongoing diplomatic efforts. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the brave humanitarian workers who are doing so much in Gaza, and can he reassure the House again that the UK Government are straining every sinew to get as much humanitarian aid into Gaza as quickly as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for once again reiterating the strong support across the House for the brave humanitarian workers and what they are doing in this terrible conflict, and for expressing his abhorrence that unarmed people who are trying only to benefit their fellow humans should be murdered in this way. He can rest assured that we will do everything that we can to ensure that they are protected.

Hounslow’s Muslim leaders told me and my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) yesterday evening of the horror felt in their communities at the atrocities taking place in Gaza, the need to get aid and support in, and their wish for long-term peace. Now that Israel is threatening to occupy Gaza permanently, will the UK Government support the US Secretary of State Blinken’s insistence that there should be no Israeli occupation of Gaza after this war?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for telling the House about her meetings with the Muslim leaders in her constituency. I hope that she will tell them about the position of the House, the aid and support that we are trying to get in through the pauses, and the support for the political process that she mentioned. The British Government agree with what Secretary Blinken said, but are absolutely clear that the perpetrators of the dreadful events on 7 October—Hamas—must never be allowed to do it again.

My constituent Momon Zomlot is from Gaza. I met him when he was working as a chef at a local pizza restaurant. He is an incredibly nice and genuine guy, but this morning he sent me a text informing me that his family home was destroyed three days ago and he has heard nothing from his family since. How much longer do we have to wait until this suffering ends and humanitarian aid can reach people such as my constituent’s family?

I cannot tell my hon. Friend the answer to that, but I can tell him that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that the period is as short as possible.

Order. I indicated that I would endeavour to accommodate everybody. That remains the case. The Minister has indicated to me that he has effectively cleared his diary to accommodate this statement, because he realises how important it is. But there is a time when everything has to come to an end, because a large number of Members, particularly on the Opposition Benches, wish to speak in the King’s Speech debate and we want to get those people in as well. I will try to terminate this statement by 2.30 pm, bearing in mind that some 38 Members still wish to ask a question.

We are grateful to the Minister for his tireless work, but by his own analysis the aid is not getting through. I commend to him the motion passed by Birmingham City Council last night that calls for an immediate ceasefire binding on all sides, because it is the best way to save the hostages, get aid through, and let the war crimes inspectors do their work. I support that position. I do not think that he does, but could he tell us under what conditions the British Government would shift from a policy of supporting humanitarian pauses to a strategy of supporting an immediate ceasefire?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will explain to our friends on Birmingham City Council the reason the Government and indeed his own Front Bench take the view that they do about a ceasefire, but he is right that the critical thing at the moment is to focus on the humanitarian pauses, which are designed to get food to those who need it. Nothing is more important in this context than that.

The Minister said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) that he wants the Government of Israel to comply with international human rights law and that he encourages them to do so, but he did not answer my hon. Friend’s question: have the Government made an assessment of whether or not the Government of Israel are complying with international human rights law?

It is not for the Government to make such an assessment; it is for lawyers and a court to do so. The critical thing is that Britain makes it clear that all countries must abide by international humanitarian law and the rules of war.

Over 10,000 people have already been killed in Gaza in the past month—more than were killed in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. There are grave concerns that starvation is being used as a weapon of war against 400,000 civilians in the north of Gaza. That is illegal under international law. The UN Secretary-General and a number of others have talked about the need for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and a halt to the spiral of escalation already taking place, from the west bank to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. I recognise the position across the two main parties on a ceasefire, but 120 countries in the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce. That has not been achieved either. The Government talk about humanitarian pauses, yet our Government have abstained on UN resolutions. What are the Government doing to use their influence at the international level to stop the bombardment, so that at the very least aid can get in?

As I set out in my statement, we are engaged on all those matters and doing everything we can, through Britain’s very strong diplomatic network, which means that we are engaged and connected to almost all the relevant parties in this matter, and that will continue.

Order. I do have to call upon hon. Members to try to keep their questions brief. I want to accommodate everybody, but at the present rate of lengthy questions it is simply not going to be possible.

I thank the Minister for his thoughtful answers. In 1919, seeing children from the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire starving, Eglantyne Jebb established Save the Children. Many people said to her, “How can you help enemy children?” and one of her supporters, the great Irish humanitarian George Bernard Shaw, said:

“I have no enemies under the age of seven.”

Almost half of Palestinians are children, many thousands of whom have been killed, maimed and orphaned. So have many Israeli children, including one dual Irish citizen who is believed to be among the hostages in Gaza. Does the Minister agree with UNICEF’s regional director, Adele Khodr, who says that the situation in Gaza is

“a growing stain on our collective conscience”?

The head of UNICEF, who made those comments, is right to focus on what is happening in Gaza and to express her abhorrence of what is taking place. On the hon. Lady’s citation of the brilliant work that Save the Children does, I have been intimately connected with Save the Children for the last 20 years and we honour both its work and the success it so often achieves.

Everybody wants the bloodshed to stop; the question is how to secure that ambition in a lasting way, not whether we should seek it. For my constituents, that matters not just as a policy for the UK Government, but for the people on the ground, who are our neighbours and directly affected. May I have a few precious moments of the Minister’s time to help to offer them just a crumb of comfort? For 30 days they have not heard anything. Both Oded and Ibrahim are at direct risk of harm due to Hamas and the Israeli missiles. Oded, the father of one of my constituents, was kidnapped by Hamas, and the Prime Minister made a personal pledge to assist him. Ibrahim is at risk because we do not yet know why he and his family have not been able to cross the border at Rafah. May I seek an urgent meeting with the Minister to look specifically at those two cases and to find those rays of light we all desperately want for my constituents?

In response to the hon. Lady’s request for a meeting, she will know that the crisis centre in the Foreign Office, which is full of both willing volunteers and experts in these consular matters, will be the right place to take this issue. However, I will certainly meet her immediately after this statement.

A doctor sent a message last night from Gaza saying, “We have worms coming out of wounds even after we do surgeries. Nothing is clean. Nothing is sterile.” It is clear that we need an urgent cessation of hostilities on all sides on humanitarian grounds, because the situation in Gaza is now unspeakable. At the same time, as well as condemning settler violence in the west bank, we need more action to bring an end to it. May I bring the Minister back to a question of accountability under international law, following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott)? Will the Minister confirm that the Government support the independence of the International Criminal Court and recognise its jurisdiction to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza and the west bank?

We are very strong supporters of the International Criminal Court, and that has been true under Governments from both the main parties. On the hon. Lady’s important point that we need to see an end to settler violence, the Government entirely agree.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) set out in the most powerful way why the deaths and trauma experienced by innocent children in Gaza are utterly intolerable. The supply of basic utilities such as water, medicine, electricity and fuel needed to operate the hospitals in Gaza should not be blocked. It is unacceptable that siege conditions are still being imposed on Gaza by Israel. Can the Minister confirm that he agrees, and what has he done to communicate that to Israel as a matter of urgency?

The Government at every level are engaged in those discussions with the state of Israel. The hon. Lady lists a number of humanitarian supplies that need to get through, and Britain is at the forefront of the international community in doing everything we can to ensure both that they do get through, and that there are sufficient supplies in the region.

I will not take up time now, but we will forward the report from Doctor Hassan at the Indonesian hospital in Gaza regarding the treatment of children with no hands and stage 4 burns. However, we must remember that 30 of the hostages are children too. I believe in an immediate ceasefire, but I am willing to clutch at straws as well. Have the Government verified in any form with Qatar the reports that Hamas might be willing to agree a release of civilian hostages for a five-day ceasefire, and have the Government engaged at all with the proposal by the families of hostages for an “all for all” release of hostages for prisoners of Israel?

The right hon. Gentleman is a very senior member of this House and he knows that I cannot give him a running commentary on hostage negotiations. However, I can confirm to him that Qatar has been exceedingly helpful and that releasing the hostages remains at the very top of our list of priorities in this dreadful situation.

I hate to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but I am not sure we can exactly trade hostages in these conditions. However, does Minister agree that the immediate release of the hostages would go a long way towards enabling the conditions for the kind of humanitarian pause or pauses that we need if we are to deliver aid in the manner and on the scale that we all think is necessary?

As a person of Jewish heritage, I was mortified and horrified by what happened on 7 October, but I did not for one second believe that any Palestinian child anywhere was responsible. Yet the Secretary-General of the United Nations has said that Gaza is “a graveyard for children” and that the Israelis are committing war crimes, and has called for humanitarian peace. We helped to create the United Nations. We are permanent members. Is it not time we got behind the Secretary-General, who speaks with great moral authority on these matters, and ourselves called for a ceasefire?

The British role at the United Nations is second to none in trying to stop what is happening in Israel and in Palestine. The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that Hamas knew exactly what they were unleashing on that dreadful day of 7 October, and the blame for what has happened should be allocated precisely where it rests.

Gaza used to be described as a “prison camp”—that is what Prime Minister David Cameron called it in 2010. This week the United Nations Secretary-General called it “a graveyard for children”. More than 10,000 Palestinians have been slaughtered in Israel’s assault, nearly half of them children. It would take nearly six hours to read the names and ages of every child killed so far. Yet that horror has been given the green light by this Government. Today I tabled an amendme