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Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2023

The Minister of State was asked—

Violence in the West Bank

1. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent increases in violence in the west bank. (900589)

19. Whether officials in his Department have had discussions with their counterparts in Israel on the recent escalation of violence in the West Bank. (900607)

The Government have made it clear that settler violence and the targeting and, on occasions, killing of Palestinian civilians is completely unacceptable.

As calls for an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and an enduring peaceful resolution in the region continue, we must also remain opposed to the violence taking place in the west bank. To that end, does the Minister share my view that settlement building in the west bank and across the Occupied Palestinian Territories is unacceptable and unlawful and must stop immediately?

Yes. The hon. Lady will know that the position of the Government is and has been for many years that those settlements are illegal. I am pleased to be able to confirm that for her.

The same question could be asked again: it is unlawful, but what are the Government going to do about it? Does the Minister think that one day we might actually see some prosecutions in relation to those violations of international law?

On the point about settler violence, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is referring to, we believe that it is not good enough just to arrest those responsible. They need to be both prosecuted and imprisoned.

The problem is that there are key figures in the Israeli Government who are stoking this violence, with the Finance Minister publicly declaring that there are “2 million Nazis” in the west bank. What representation is the Secretary of State making to Israeli counterparts to demand a far more robust response to this violence?

I can tell the hon. Lady that the Prime Minister spoke about this directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu on 5 December and he made clear that we welcome Israel’s recent comments condemning instances of settler violence, but that Israel must take meaningful action to stop it.

Another day when the Foreign Secretary is unaccountable, in the middle of a war that could still get even worse. West bank violence is rising, Hezbollah have attacked Israeli positions and Israeli airstrikes have hit towns in south Lebanon. A widening of this conflict is in no one’s interest, and all parties must show restraint. While he is absent from this place, what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to prepare for further escalation and to deter all parties from full-blown regional war?

First of all, I fully understand that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to have close contact with Lord Cameron as the Foreign Secretary, but he will be aware that he is in almost continuous contact with the Foreign Secretary by text and WhatsApp—indeed, Mr Speaker, if he was in any closer contact it would probably be a civil partnership.

On the substantive point about the widening of the conflict, the right hon. Gentleman will know that, very early after 7 October, the Prime Minister moved a British military asset to the eastern end of the Mediterranean, first to try to ensure that, if there were any arms being moved, we would know about it, and secondly to have eyes on what was happening. British diplomacy, along with that of our like-minded allies and friends, is devoted to ensuring that the conflict does not widen.

The UK is providing logistical and surveillance support to the state of Israel. Has any evidence come to light that gives concern about the commission of war crimes in the west bank or in Gaza?

Britain is providing some overflight of Gaza to help us identify, and move forward the issue of recovering, the hostages. That is exactly the right thing to do.

To repeat the question, has any evidence come to light that gives concern about the commission of war crimes? Can the Minister assure us that any such evidence that comes to light will be sent over to the International Criminal Court in response to its call for evidence under article 86, with which the UK is surely bound to co-operate?

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not just the Government but many different organisations that are seeking to identify what is happening on the ground, and the extent to which international humanitarian law is being abided with. Any such evidence will undoubtedly be put before the relevant authority—the courts that he mentioned, specifically—if such evidence is available.

International Development White Paper

2. What steps his Department is taking to implement the UK’s commitments in the White Paper on international development, published in November 2023. (900590)

The White Paper includes 217 commitments to be delivered through to 2030. I have asked officials in the Foreign Office to work with colleagues across Government to implement the commitments and determine the order of priority.

I thank the Minister for that reply and for his leadership on the excellent White Paper, particularly because, in the run-up to its publication, he clearly listened to calls for more targeted support and humanitarian relief for those who are left behind on account of their religion or belief. The challenge now is to turn those innovative commitments into reality, which will require a revised approach to development programming. Will he meet me and others at a roundtable to discuss that?

It is always a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend, who has an office next to mine in the Foreign Office. May I thank her for her comments about the publication of the White Paper? The way in which it has been received around the world demonstrates renewed energy and vigour. I hope that it shows Britain’s reinvigorated leadership on those important matters, and, of course, value for money for our taxpayers.

The White Paper also talks about development diplomats. How many will be trained and what will be the cost?

Yes, the right hon. Lady is quite right: we are increasing the number of development diplomats—I thought she mentioned something about water, but I may have misheard. The point about the White Paper is that it sets out very clearly the aims and aspiration that Britain has to drive forward the sustainable development goals and ensure that we increase climate finance at this critical time. She will be pleased to have seen that and will note that we are now driving forward that agenda.

British Indian Ocean Territory

3. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Mauritius on the negotiations on the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. (900591)

The Foreign Secretary has not yet had a chance to meet his Mauritian counterpart. However, the Prime Minister met the Mauritian Prime Minister at the G20 in September to assess the state of negotiations. They welcomed the progress made and agreed to meet again soon.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but in my 18 years of loyal service as a Conservative Member of Parliament, I have never been more disappointed, alarmed and angry about the conduct of the Foreign Office. In this matter, it is negotiating in a neocolonialistic way with Mauritius—an entity that is over 2,000 km away from the British Indian Ocean Territory—without consulting the indigenous people, the Chagossians, whom we expelled in 1968 to make way for an American air force base. The time has come for us to respect the right of self-determination and ensure that the Chagossians are allowed to return to the British Indian Ocean Territory, and for them to decide the future of those islands, rather than handing them to the Chinese client and puppet state of Mauritius, which would be highly counterintuitive to our AUKUS commitments.

The UK has been working in close co-operation with the US since negotiations began in November 2022, and it supports our approach. The UK, the US and Mauritius have all made clear that protecting the base on Diego Garcia, including by preventing foreign malign influence, is a top priority. We will ensure that any agreement achieves that. It is in our national interest and that of our partners, and it is vital for regional and global security.

The Government are preparing to disregard international law with their Rwanda Bill today. They seem to continue to want to disregard international law in the case of decisions handed down by the International Court of Justice and other international bodies with regard to the Chagos islands. If the UK Government will not live up to their international obligations and the findings of international bodies, how with any credibility can they ask other countries to do the same?

We are working closely with the relevant Government—with Mauritius, as I have said—to take forward those negotiations. They are being taken forward in good faith, notwithstanding the need to protect our national, regional and global interests at the same time.

Gaza: Civilian Deaths and Humanitarian Situation

4. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on the number of civilian deaths in Gaza. (900592)

5. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on the number of civilian deaths in Gaza. (900593)

10. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on the number of civilian deaths in Gaza. (900598)

15. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on the number of civilian deaths in Gaza. (900603)

23. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. (900611)

Britain has increased planned assistance to Palestinian civilians to £60 million, and has delivered over 74 tonnes of aid. The recent pauses in fighting were a welcome opportunity to get hostages out and aid in. We know that more is needed: more fuel, increased humanitarian access and assistance into Gaza, and compliance with international humanitarian law.

Did the Minister see the analysis recently published in the respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the proportion of civilian deaths in Gaza is significantly higher than the average civilian death toll in all conflicts around the world during the 20th century? Does that not give the lie to any claim that Israel is avoiding civilian deaths, and as the death toll in Gaza approaches 20,000, is it not now time for the whole international community—including the UK—to support a ceasefire that protects civilian lives?

The hon. Gentleman will know the importance that the Government and Opposition Front Benchers attach to saving civilian lives, and will know that Britain has made it absolutely clear to the authorities in Israel that we expect them to abide by international humanitarian law and understand and accept the rules of war. He will equally know that the unprecedented figures he refers to follow on the back of an unprecedented attack by terrorists on 7 October, a pogrom in which more Jewish people were murdered than at any time since 1945 in the holocaust.

I wholeheartedly welcome the fact that the UK has increased its humanitarian aid by £60 million since 7 October. Can my right hon. Friend outline how his Department is working to ensure that that funding is spent as effectively as possible, by which I mean reaching those in the most urgent need? I am sure we have all been greatly distressed by the suffering of the innocent civilians in this conflict.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have 82 tonnes of humanitarian supplies in Cyprus ready to go, and 5 tonnes of medical equipment ready to go. As soon as there is the possibility of getting more aid and support into Gaza, we will be using those supplies to do exactly that.

In the past nine weeks, over 250 Palestinians—including 69 children—have been killed by the Israeli security forces in the west bank, and over the past year we have seen a dangerous rise in the number of attacks by violent, illegal Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property. Even the United States announced that it would impose a travel ban on violent extremist settlers last week, but all the UK Government have been able to announce is that planning is going on. How much more bloodshed do we need to see before the Government stop planning and start acting, and will the Minister take real action today against violent, illegal settlers?

I made clear in my answer to Question 1 that the Government condemn without qualification the illegal attacks by settlers on Palestinians. The hon. Gentleman asks me specifically about visa bans; while I cannot give a commentary in this House, I can tell him that our plans in that respect are moving forward.

A stop-start approach is likely to prolong hostage captivity and increase the risk to hostages’ lives. It also continues the relentless loss of civilians and innocent children. If the UN Security Council resolution returns with a condemnation of Hamas, will the UK do the right thing this time and back an immediate humanitarian ceasefire?

As the hon. Lady will know, not least from the urgent question asked in the House yesterday by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), neither the Government nor the Opposition believe that a ceasefire is the right way to proceed. However, I can tell her that we are very heavily engaged in what is happening in these Security Council resolutions, and the Security Council permanent members were at Rafah yesterday, looking in detail at the situation on the ground.

There has to be a ceasefire to protect civilians in Gaza. Does the Minister agree with the US Secretary for Defence when he said that

“protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative”,

and that

“if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat”?

Are the Government making those representations to the Israeli Government?

Of course, the position of the American Defence Secretary is exactly the position of the British Government, and that is why we say at all points that everyone must adhere international humanitarian law.

The whole House is appalled by the atrocities committed by Hamas, but also by the civilian suffering in Gaza. Will my right hon. Friend set out the steps he is taking to relieve civilian suffering, and also the steps he is taking against illegal settlements and the actions of violent settlers, because they are an obstacle to the two-state solution and to a lasting and just peace?

On the first part of my hon. Friend’s question, I can tell him that we have delivered 74 tonnes of aid to el-Arish, which we are trying to make sure gets in. On specific relief, I can inform the House that 100 trucks and 120,600 litres of fuel did get across the border into Rafah yesterday. It is nothing like enough, but there was some progress yesterday.

Israel has detained huge numbers of Palestinians in Gaza. The International Committee of the Red Cross has received reports of 3,000 missing between 7 October and 29 November, and many also in the west bank. We have seen the images of those men stripped on the beaches, and Haaretz has released an article showing that 10% to 15% of them were connected to Hamas, which means that nearly 90% were not. Are this Government making representations to the Israeli Government about their treatment of Palestinian detainees?

The situation the hon. Member describes is not clear in the fog of war, but I can tell her that we emphasise to everyone the importance of abiding by international humanitarian law and of course the Geneva convention, to which she was referring.

Every life lost, whether Palestinian or Israeli, is a tragedy, and so often in conflict and wars it is the children who suffer the most. What further discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the United States and other partners about having new humanitarian pauses? Finally, I am supportive of the Government, but may I ask him whether he feels that the Israeli response is proportionate?

We are arguing in every way we possibly can that there need to be humanitarian pauses, and that they need to be five days long so that we can get relief and humanitarian supplies into Gaza. On my right hon. Friend’s final point about proportionate force, as I said earlier during these questions, that is why we emphasise continuously the importance of abiding by the rules of war.

In Gaza, almost 80% of the population have been forced from their homes with nowhere safe to go. Sewage is flowing in the streets, with enormous risk to health, while hospitals and ambulances continue to be hit. Half the population are starving. The most recent report is of over 18,000 Palestinians killed, including utterly appalling numbers of children. I recognise the efforts of Ministers, but it is barely even slowing down the tide of death when the humanitarian crisis simply needs to end. What is the Minister’s strategy to do that?

At all points, Britain is trying to use its brilliant international network, working not only with the other United Nations Security Council members, but through our intense diplomatic network around the middle east. On trying to see a political track when it becomes available, Britain, with its allies, is doing everything possible to achieve that. On the suffering that the hon. Lady described—everyone in the House will agree with her analysis of that—the Foreign Secretary recently announced an additional £30 million of support. We are looking at how that can be used specifically to assist with medical issues, particularly for children.

British Overseas Territories: Climate Change Adaptation

6. What steps his Department is taking to support the overseas territories with climate change adaptation. (900594)

The FCDO is working in partnership with the territories to develop climate security assessments through the conflict, stability and security fund. Our blue planet programme has provided over £35 million since 2016 to enhance marine protection and build climate change resilience.

I am reassured that the UK is investing heavily in climate change adaptation. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way of future-proofing that is for the FCDO to appoint a dedicated Minister for all the overseas territories and to ensure that the UK never relinquishes sovereignty for any of them?

I have recently been appointed as the FCDO Minister responsible for the overseas territories. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has made it clear that every Department should have a Minister whose portfolio covers responsibilities to the OTs. The UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the overseas territories. Any decision to end British sovereignty should be on the basis of a clear constitutionally expressed wish of the territory’s people.

As you know, Mr Speaker, our global British family in the UK overseas territories contains 94% of all the unique species that the UK is responsible for. These huge marine areas throughout the world’s oceans are hugely vulnerable to climate change, yet are negligible contributors to it. It has been great to see more OTs sign up to the blue belt initiative, work with groups such as Great British Oceans and attend the recent COP. What is the Minister doing to encourage more overseas territories to join the blue belt and to assist overseas territories to get access to strategic international funding for conservation, adaptation and resilience?

It is an important question. Our need to tackle climate change extends widely to the OTs. We have done significant work on the blue belt programme, and we have engaged a large number of OTs at COP28 this year so that we can help push forward their work and give greater access to this funding. It is vitally important.


We strongly condemn forced marriage and the forced conversion of women and girls, including in Pakistan. We regularly raise our concerns, including individual cases, at a senior level with the Pakistani authorities, and we fund projects in Pakistan to address the underlying causes.

At the age of 14, Maira Shahbaz was abducted, forced into a marriage and raped. She escaped and has been sitting in one room with her entire family, terrified. She is now 18. I have lost track of the number of meetings I have had with successive Home Secretaries and the letters I have written. Nothing has happened to get this girl out, yet at the same time 100,000 fit young men are pouring across the channel in search of a better job. For God’s sake, can we not show some Christian compassion? What more can the Foreign Office do in Pakistan to try to stop these forced conversions and forced marriages?

We continue to press these individual cases with the Pakistani Government. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) raised human rights, including the persecution of minorities, with caretaker Prime Minister Kakar on 25 September. Lord Ahmad raised the need to protect minority communities with caretaker Foreign Minister Jilani on 13 September and again in a letter on 5 October. We continue to raise in Islamabad the issue of forced marriage and conversion with the Pakistani authorities.

This is not only about the case of Maira Shahbaz, but about the cases of many other young Christian girls, young Hindu girls and young Sikh girls in Pakistan being kidnapped from an early age. It is clear that there is an epidemic in Pakistan of the kidnapping and abuse of young girls. What is being done with Pakistan to change the attitude and the law of the land?

As well as making representations at a senior level, we fund programmes in Pakistan working to address child and forced marriage and gender-based violence, discrimination and intolerance, especially against minorities, in an effort to achieve cultural change that will attend to this matter. Of course, that is slow and painful work, but our team in Islamabad is fully focused on it.

Israel and International Law

8. What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on Israel’s obligations under international law. (900596)

Israel has the right to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home, but it must abide by international law and take all possible measures to protect civilians.

I do not disagree with anything that the Minister has just said, but the question is: what does Israel having to abide by international law actually look like? We know that it has acted with impunity in the west bank with illegal settlements, and historically with the building of the wall and so on. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said, the sheer scale of casualties of innocent civilians in Gaza raises serious questions. What does it actually mean when we say that Israel has to abide by international law?

It means precisely what it says. The fact that Israel is a democracy and the fact that all around the world people will be looking carefully at how things are being conducted in the region should give the hon. Lady hope that international humanitarian law counts and will be supported.

Recently the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Karim Khan KC, visited Israel and the west bank. In relation to Gaza, he stated:

“A law is not some cosmetic adornment that can be disregarded. It’s a fundamental requirement that must be complied with.”

I assume the Minister will agree with that. If that is the case, will he ensure that Britain co-operates fully with the prosecutor in his work?

As a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court, Britain will always co-operate. We strongly support the ICC. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as a state party to the Geneva convention, the Israeli Government are obliged to take action against Israeli nationals accused of grave breaches of international humanitarian law, were there to be any, so that would not be a matter for the ICC.


Iran bears responsibility for groups it has long supported. We have stepped up our response to recent attacks. HMS Diamond will bolster our maritime presence in the region and a new Iran sanctions regime will soon be in place, giving us greater powers to designate Iranian activity.

The regime in Tehran has been blatant, public and even unapologetic about its backing, funding and arming of Hamas—terrorists who we now know are not just murders but rapists. In the light of that, is it not time to snap back the full range of sanctions on Iran, to sanction a wider number of officials in Iran and to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?

Our new Iran sanctions regime will be laid imminently, giving us new and enhanced powers to counter Iran’s hostile activities in the UK and around the world, and its oppressive practices at home. We have already sanctioned more than 350 Iranian individuals and entities, including the IRGC in its entirety.

I agree with the comments made by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), but should we not also be wondering about what Iran is doing within its own borders? Four hundred and nineteen people were executed in Iran between January and July, and 127 have been executed since 7 October. Iran has been using what is happening in Israel as a cover for much faster executions, including those of 17-year-old Hamidreza Azari—a child—and Milad Zohrevand, who is the eighth “Woman, Life, Freedom” protester to have been executed by this horrible regime. Is it not time that we really took the case to Iran about its own human rights record?

The hon. Member makes a very important point. We call out the brutal repression of the protests that have taken place, and we continue to hold Iran to account for its human rights record, including the repression of women, girls and children, as he highlights. We will, as I said, bring to bear a new sanctions regime to assist in those efforts.

Sri Lanka

12. Whether his Department is taking diplomatic steps to help ensure that perpetrators of alleged human rights violations against the Tamil community in Sri Lanka are held to account. (900600)

The UK is working closely with international partners on this long-standing priority, including at the UN Human Rights Council, where the UK led resolution 51/1 on Sri Lanka.

Many prominent Sri Lankans were credibly accused of war crimes against the Tamil minority, particularly towards the end of the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka. But all these years on, they are still at large, unlike the nearly 18,000 Tamils who went missing and are still unaccounted for. In response to the SNP spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), we were told earlier that evidence of war crimes would be taken seriously. How can the people of Palestine have any faith in that if the Tamil people of Sri Lanka have had the evidence sitting there for all these years and the Government are doing nothing, other than wringing their hands?

We all take these issues very seriously. I was in Sri Lanka just a few weeks ago, and I was able to raise the need for progress on human rights, on reconciliation and, indeed, on accountability with the President of Sri Lanka during my visit.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tamils, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to assure the House that the FCDO is actively considering the evidence for sanctioning those credibly accused of war crimes who are active participants in Sri Lankan high society, and that she will pass that evidence on to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in line with resolution 30/1?

I commend my hon. Friend for his active and championing work as chair of the APPG. He is right, and we absolutely recognise the concerns of the Sri Lankan public, and indeed victim groups, about the creation of a credible domestic accountability process. We continue to urge the Sri Lankan Government to address those concerns. As I said, I raised them when I was there. I was also able to discuss human rights and justice issues with members of civil society, Tamil representatives and the governor of the Northern Province when I visited Jaffna.

Sri Lanka is a key member of the Commonwealth family and occupies a strategically vital position geographically. Warm relations are vital, but for far too long, those accused of brutal crimes in the past, including against the Tamil minority, have escaped justice. Will the Minister outline what steps she is taking to support the Tamils’ calls for justice, including, if necessary, by taking action against existing and former Sri Lankan Ministers? Will she outline the support for Sri Lankan democracy and human rights?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We welcomed the recent written update on Sri Lanka by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and, in September, the UK Government issued statements that emphasised the importance of inclusive transitional justice and effective governance reforms in order to highlight the arbitrary use of laws to suppress dissent. As I said, we led UNHRC resolution 51/1 on Sri Lanka, providing the mandate for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on Sri Lanka, and we continue to work with it.

Israel and Palestine

17. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of formally recognising the state of Palestine. (900605)

20. What steps his Department is taking with international partners to support a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. (900608)

There must be a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a two-state solution that provides justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The aerial bombardment by Israel of one of the most densely populated regions in the world in Gaza has been devastating. Recent statistics reported in Israel show that 61% of deaths in Gaza have been civilians. When the Prime Minister spoke to the Israeli Prime Minister last week, did he urge him to stop besieging and blockading Gaza, to comply with international law, which must mean being proportionate, and to protect innocent lives?

The hon. Member is right. At the COP, the Prime Minister was able to have meetings with Qatar, Egypt and Jordan, as well as with Israel, and he reiterated the point that he has made publicly before, which is that Israel has the right to self-defence, but it must operate within international humanitarian law.

The Minister talks about the need for a two-state solution, and we will not find much disagreement on that, but how can he advocate a two-state solution when the Government refuse to recognise the state of Palestine? Is he confident that there will be much left of Palestine after Israel’s continued bombardment? That is why we need a ceasefire right now.

The Government strongly support the two-state solution. Of course, before these terrible events on 7 October, there were new partnerships with Israel developing across the middle east: one thinks in particular of the Emirates and Bahrain. When there is a break in the clouds and an opportunity for a political track to get going, we will do everything we can to build on the important point that the hon. Member underlined.

Notwithstanding the attempted genocide of 7 October and the cynical use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, the single best solution for peace in the region is a two-state solution. What steps are the Government taking to facilitate that? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the kidnappers, murderers and rapists of Hamas cannot be involved in those negotiations?

Yes. We certainly agree with the United States that Gaza should be under Palestinian control in due course and that there is no place for Hamas in all of that. In respect of my hon. Friend’s point about how we advance towards a two-state solution, he will know that the Foreign Secretary has been both in Tel Aviv and on the west bank in Ramallah, and we are looking to see what Britain can do to help build the capacity of the Palestinian state in the future, and to bolster it.

The Minister will have access to intelligence—ours and that of our allies—that he may not be in a position to share with the House. Will he therefore share his understanding of the effectiveness of Israel’s campaign to weaken and eliminate Hamas and return the hostages, given the appalling and unacceptable loss of innocent Palestinian life—thousands and thousands of children have been maimed and killed—given the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, given that more than 100 Israeli hostages remain in captivity there, and given that Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel every day?

We are doing everything we can to help the hostages to whom she referred and to ensure that they come home. We do that through negotiations, not least in Qatar, and through the overflights, which I referred to earlier. The hon. Lady may rest assured that the Government take precisely the same view as her on what should be achieved.


14. Whether he has had discussions with his counterpart in the Philippines on the case of Leila De Lima. (900602)

We welcome the release of Leila De Lima on bail, which is a positive step for human rights and the rule of law. The UK’s ambassador has repeatedly raised this case with the Philippines Government, and visited her during her detention.

I agree that it is good news that Senator De Lima has been released on bail after nearly seven years of detention. What representations are the Government making to their counterparts in the Philippines, via the ambassador, about resolving all the other charges against her, which are believed to stem from her vocal opposition to thousands of extrajudicial killings in connection with former President Duterte’s war on drugs, and about a meaningful investigation into those killings?

The UK Government regularly engage with the Government of the Philippines on the full range of our human rights concerns. We welcomed the 2020 UN Human Rights Council resolution, which proposed technical co-operation on human rights between the Government of the Philippines and the United Nations. The resolution resulted in a three-year UN joint programme, which commenced in 2021, to which the UK has contributed £400,000. We will continue to work alongside them.


16. Whether he has had recent discussions with his Commonwealth counterparts on the proposed readmittance of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth. (900604)

I regularly discuss a broad range of issues, including Zimbabwe, with Commonwealth counterparts, most recently on Sunday in Dubai when I met the Commonwealth secretary-general, Baroness Scotland. The decision on re-entry is for all members, based on the membership requirements and the values and principles set out in the Commonwealth charter.

Given the recent enlargement of the Commonwealth, the matters that the Minister referred to are important. More than 100,000 Zimbabweans live in the UK, many in south Wales, and thousands work all year round in our NHS. What engagement has the Minister had with the Zimbabwean diaspora to understand the diversity of perspectives and to support their views about Commonwealth membership and other challenges and issues that they face?

The hon. Lady is right that Zimbabwe has a productive and vibrant diaspora in the United Kingdom, and we hear their views many times. Britain warned that the election needed to be violence-free and fair, and it was certainly violence-free. We are waiting for the full report of the observers before making a judgment on further events.

Release of Hostages

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The hostages who have been released report sexual and physical violence committed against them while in captivity. The Israeli Health Ministry reports that hostages were drugged to make them look happy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Hamas are treating hostages in an inhumane fashion, the international Red Cross should be given the opportunity to visit them all, and we should ensure that they are returned home as soon as possible?

My hon. Friend is quite right about the rights of the international Red Cross. We are involved in intensive diplomatic efforts to secure the release of the hostages. It is continually raised by the Prime Minister, who met families of British people taken hostage by Hamas and of other hostages during his trip to Israel. My hon. Friend may rest assured that while I cannot give a running commentary on these matters, we are doing everything we can to secure their release.

I wholeheartedly support the calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all the remaining hostages held by Hamas and other groups. However, further to the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), I refer him to UN resolution 1860 of 2009, when the UK supported a ceasefire in Gaza and a permanent ceasefire followed a few days later.

The hon. Lady will be well aware of the view of the Government and, indeed, of the Opposition Front Bench, on the possibility of a ceasefire at this time, which we simply do not think exists. On the earlier events that she refers to, the situation then was very different from the one that pertains today.

On the issue of hostage taking, the British-Russian dual national Vladimir Kara-Murza was jailed and poisoned by the Putin regime for criticising the war in Ukraine. He is a de facto hostage of the regime. I have just met his mother, who is in Parliament today. Will the Minister arrange for me to meet the Foreign Secretary with his relatives to hear about the conditions and torture he has been subject to?

I am advised that Ministers have met the family, but I will see what I can do to facilitate a meeting, as my right hon. Friend requests.

Small numbers of hostages have been released in the past as a result of pauses in the response by the Israeli authorities. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that there is wider understanding, both here and internationally, that those pauses are best activated whenever Hamas does not take advantage of them and again embed themselves in hospitals and civilian populations?

The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the importance of humanitarian pauses, and preferably humanitarian pauses that are several days long. We are doing everything we can to try to ensure that the case for humanitarian pauses, and the ability that would result of getting aid, support and supplies into Gaza, is achieved.

NATO Support for Ukraine

25. What discussions his Department has had with NATO allies on support for Ukraine during winter 2023-24 (900613)

The UK regularly discusses support for Ukraine with NATO allies and partners, including at the recent NATO Foreign Ministers meeting and the NATO-Ukraine Council, which the Foreign Secretary attended alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba. Together, we approved an ambitious programme, including on energy security and interoperability. Allies remain steadfast in their commitment to support Ukraine through the winter and for as long as it takes.

As a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I recently visited NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters in Gloucester, so I welcome that yesterday the Defence Secretary announced the UK-led Ukraine maritime capability coalition to give our allies the power to rule the waves. What steps is the UK taking to help Ukraine to rebuild its armed forces and provide humanitarian assistance to its citizens?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The maritime domain is hugely important. We will continue to work with NATO and Ukraine, including through NATO’s €500 million comprehensive assistance package, to which we have contributed £82 million. In November, the Foreign Secretary attended the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council at Foreign Minister level. He emphasised the need to sustain our support to Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Notwithstanding President Zelensky’s meeting in the White House today and the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Capitol Hill in recent days, what are the Government doing to ensure that US support for Ukraine, which is the anchor of all European and broader international support, remains steadfast despite the ongoing political situation in the US?

Topical Questions

The Government are focused on our vital priorities, notably: supporting Ukraine, standing with Israel, and providing aid to Palestinian civilians. The Foreign Secretary and I met global leaders at COP28, who welcomed the UK’s leadership at this critical time. We discussed our newly launched international development White Paper, which seeks to get the sustainable development goals back on track at this halfway stage, when they are so far off. As mentioned before, I will deputise for the Foreign Secretary in this House and make regular statements to keep Members updated.

What steps is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office taking to persuade and encourage our NATO allies to continue and enhance not just their military but civil support for Ukraine in its brave campaign against Putin’s evil invasion?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to put it in those terms. The Foreign Secretary met the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba at the NATO-Ukraine Council. My hon. Friend will know that nearly £10 billion in military, humanitarian and economic support has been provided by Britain since February 2022, and we were the first country to provide lethal aid. We are the biggest contributor to the armed forces in Ukraine of any single nation.

An aggressive threat to a smaller neighbour, an attack on recognised international borders, an illegitimate referendum stoking historical grievances—the Putin playbook is being copied in Caracas by Maduro. We must stand up to bullies and tyrants with imperial ambitions. As we maintain our steadfast commitment to Ukraine, can the Minister reaffirm the UK’s unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty?

Yes, I can. Yesterday I attended a meeting convened by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and it put out a statement last night which I very much hope will reassure the right hon. Gentleman.

T2. What progress has my hon. Friend made on the granting of full environmental protection to the waters around the South Sandwich Islands, as well as additional protections and improved management around South Georgia? (900615)

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands marine protected area provides comprehensive protection against the entire maritime zone. It has been rated one of the most sustainable in the world. The Government are currently undertaking their second five-year review, and a report is expected early next year.

T3. Alexei Navalny has gone missing from his penal colony, and has not been heard of for nearly a week. Will the Minister join international counterparts in making urgent representations to try to find out where he is, and to ensure his personal safety? (900616)

T6. “World malaria report 2023” shows that the number of malaria cases and deaths remain above pre-pandemic levels. What more can the Government do to ensure that we recover lost ground, and also drive towards the total eradication of this awful disease? (900620)

My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. British scientific expertise has delivered two new malaria vaccines, and as a result of our replenishment of the Global Fund we are working to ensure that 86 million mosquito nets are delivered, providing 450,000 seasonal malaria chemoprevention treatments.

T4.   The Minister for Africa has rightly highlighted the involvement of the Rapid Support Forces in atrocities in Darfur, and many Members have flagged the links between external states and the RSF. When the Minister was in Dubai for COP28, did he raise the issue of external support for the RSF with those deemed likely to be responsible? (900617)

I raise these issues not only at the COP but whenever I have the opportunity to do so, not least in discussions with Hamdok, the last Prime Minister of Sudan. While we welcome the call from last Saturday’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development summit for an immediate cessation of hostilities, we remain acutely concerned by the events that are taking place, many of which bear the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.

T7. The threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity has already been highlighted. Can the Minister reassure me that we are taking steps with our allies in the region to deter any use of force by the Maduro dictatorship? (900621)

Venezuela’s actions with regard to Essequibo in Guyana are completely unacceptable. The border was settled in 1899, and we are working with our regional partners, such as Brazil, and with international bodies including the United Nations Security Council, the Commonwealth—as has already been mentioned—and the Organisation of American States to de-escalate tensions.

T5. The horrifying death toll in Gaza includes more than 100 aid workers and some 70 journalists. The vast majority of media casualties have been Palestinian journalists who went on working in the face of airstrikes and the deteriorating humanitarian situation as a result of the lack of information caused by the denial of access to international media. The National Union of Journalists warns of systemic targeting of journalists in Palestine, a further breach of international law. How will the Minister impress on the Israeli Government these specific obligations? (900618)

As I said earlier, we do stress the importance of abiding by the rules of war. I pay tribute to the brave humanitarian workers who put themselves in harm’s way, unarmed, to help their fellow citizens.

What precedent do the current negotiations between London and Port Louis on the future of the British Indian Ocean territory have in relation to the sovereignty of other uninhabited overseas territories, and, indeed the British sovereign base areas in Cyprus?

As raised earlier in substantive questions, we continue to have our negotiations on the British Indian Ocean Territories, which we are taking forward in good faith.

T9. It is not just citizens of the United Kingdom but the Government of Cyprus who are being denied information as to what the US military may be flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to Israel. Is that not something that they should know about, given the risks, and is it not something that we should know about, given the complicity? (900623)

When it comes to Cyprus we have been working closely with our allies attending to the need for security, which may pertain to the release of hostages, so I think this is entirely a good thing.

I am a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Japan, and we have recently hosted more than 60 companies in Parliament, for which we thank the Minister for Investment and Blick Rothenburg. With increasing securitisation in international politics, is it not more important than ever to big up UK-Japan commercial opportunities? As the Japanese say: ganbatte ne!

The UK-Japan bilateral relationship has never been stronger. The Hiroshima accord that the Prime Minister agreed with Prime Minister Kishida on 19 May cements and builds on a period of sustained growth and deepening of our enhanced global strategic partnership.

As many of us go home tonight and kiss our children, parents in Gaza will be searching for body parts to recognise their children and burying them. Families broken; futures stolen. Is the Minister comfortable with over 18,000 innocent Palestinian civilians being killed, many of them children? When will he do the right thing and call for a ceasefire?

The hon. Lady reflects the pain and agony that those parents feel with great eloquence, and it is felt across the House, but the issue is how we address the causes of what happened on 7 October and the fact that a pogrom was imposed by Hamas, killing so very many Jewish people. We have to move towards a moment where the political skies clear and there is an opportunity for a new political initiative.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend recognise the recent joint statement from Armenia and Azerbaijan as a historic milestone towards the normalisation of relations? Can he tell us what this Government are doing towards bringing about a lasting peace treaty?

We are greatly encouraged by the joint statement from Azerbaijan and Armenia confirming their intention to normalise relations. As I made clear to both countries during my recent visit, we fully support their efforts to achieve a historic and lasting peace.

In answer to question 9, the Minister seemed to say that the Government were planning to completely proscribe the IRGC. Could he confirm that? If that were the case, it would be welcomed across the House.

My constituent Amani Ahmed arrived here from Gaza for her PhD just days before the outbreak of the war and is now desperately trying to bring her husband and three children to the UK. UK Visas and Immigration advises travelling to the nearest visa application centre but that is impossible as they are unable to leave Gaza. Can the Minister urgently intervene to ensure that Amani’s family are able to join her safely in the UK?

The hon. Lady will know that there is a specific track to pursue on this, and if she has not already been in touch with the crisis centre at the Foreign Office, that is what she should do immediately.

Last week I was contacted by Kennington Bethlehem Link, a voluntary group dedicated to working with Israelis and Palestinians. It raised the case of Anas Abu Srour, who was arrested by the Israeli army. This week it was announced that he had been detained for six months in administrative detention, and the reason for his arrest is still unclear. A petition of support has been signed by over 6,000 people in nine days, so will the Minister please ask the Foreign Secretary to work urgently with his Israeli counterpart so that we can find out why he was imprisoned?

If the hon. Lady will make available to me the full details of that case—assuming that she has not already told the Foreign Office—I will look into it for her and ensure she gets an answer.

That great world-beating British charity, the HALO Trust, has just announced the destruction of its 2 millionth landmine. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the trust, and also pledge further funding, which will be vital and necessary if it is to be able to deal with the outcome of Ukraine?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the HALO Trust. Before I returned to Government I was an ambassador for the trust, so I speak with some pride in this matter. If he looks carefully at the International Development White Paper, which drew strength from all across the House in its commitments and identifying important aspects, he will see that HALO is mentioned there.

It is good to see you back in your place, Mr Speaker.

Is the Department monitoring the case of Raffaele Mincione, the British citizen who is currently being taken through the Vatican state courts, and is it making any representations to the Vatican courts about his case? Will officials agree to meet me to discuss the case?

I can certainly organise for someone to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that but, as he will know, arrangements with the Vatican were substantially changed in the year 1534, in the reign of King Henry VIII. As far as I know, there has been no change since then to reverse that.

India’s supreme court has upheld the Indian Government’s decision to revoke article 370 of the constitution, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. What assessment has the Minister made of the situation, as many Kashmiri constituents are quite worried?

We took note of the supreme court decision, and we continue to discuss with both parties the need both to resolve the continuing situation and to have constructive dialogue with the Kashmiris involved.