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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2024

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The Minister of State was asked—

Humanitarian Situation in Gaza

15. If he will resume funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. (901947)

We are doing all we can to increase aid into Gaza. With our allies, we will take decisions on the future of UNRWA funding after scrutinising Catherine Colonna’s interim report on UNRWA neutrality.

We have heard this morning some shocking reports about Palestinian medical staff in Gaza being blindfolded, detained, forced to strip and repeatedly beaten by Israeli troops, after a raid on Nasser Hospital last month. There is footage from Khan Yunis showing men stripped and kneeling, and patients with their hands bound being wheeled in beds. Do the UK Government believe that the Israeli Government are responsible for the conduct of their forces, and that this clearly appears to be torture and is in breach of international law, including the universal declaration of human rights and article 18 of the Geneva convention? What are the UK Government going to do about this?

The hon. Lady is right to say that Israel must comply with the Geneva convention. We have seen these reports. A full explanation and investigation is required, and that is what the British Government are pressing for. I point out to her that, when it comes to targeting operations, lawyers are embedded in the Israeli and Israel Defence Forces command, just as happens in Britain, which should ensure the acceptance and honouring of international humanitarian law. But I agree that a full explanation is required.

For months we have seen the horrifying images of children in Gaza mutilated or killed by bombing, and now we see them starving. Aid by air and sea is welcome, but it is insufficient and it is a diversion from Israel’s responsibility. Yesterday, 12 Israeli human rights organisations called out their own Government for failing to comply with the International Court of Justice ruling to facilitate access for humanitarian aid. Does the Minister agree that the Israeli Government should be told by the UK and our allies to unlock aid and end the killing, or face real consequences?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both pressed Prime Minister Netanyahu, and indeed President Herzog, to ensure that more aid can get into Gaza. As the hon. Gentleman will also know, it is the policy of the British Government to do everything we can to achieve a pause so that we can get the hostages out and get more aid in, and move towards a sustainable ceasefire. We are doing everything we can to try to achieve that.

What we are seeing in Gaza is a starvation-level event. The United States has taken the desperate measure of air drops and flotillas, which do not direct aid like land-based aid. The only organisation big enough to fully distribute aid in order to avoid starvation is UNRWA. Canada reviewed the interim report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and has resumed funding. Sweden has received bilateral assurances on the same actions that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is supposedly looking for from UNRWA and has resumed funding. It is scandalous that the UK Government’s position is still for a suspension of funds, despite the interim report and without evidence of wrongdoing being provided by Israeli in the first place. The British public do not want to be responsible for starvation in Gaza. When will the Minister resume the funding?

As I have told the House before, no British funding is due until April and enough funds have now come forward to ensure that adequate supplies are available. We are awaiting the report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and the interim report from Catherine Colonna, the former French Foreign Minister. The view we take is that when we have seen those, we very much hope we will have the reassurance to recommence funding. That is also the position of the US, Germany, Australia, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be comforted by the fact that we are very much trying to resolve this matter as speedily as we can.

The Foreign Affairs Committee recently returned from al-Arish, which is the staging point for aid into Gaza. It was very difficult to see thousands of trucks on that border. The Government have been clear that Israel has a legal obligation to ensure that aid reaches civilians. The last legal assessment took place at the end of last year. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House, in legal terms, whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law? If he will not tell us in the House, will he please write to me?

I thank my hon. Friend for her visit with the Select Committee and for her comments. We are quite clear that Israel has the capacity and ability to abide by international humanitarian law. We review it on a regular basis, but as of today that remains the position.

The UN mission team that recently visited Israel concluded that

“there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred in multiple locations during the 7 October attacks”.

In the light of that appalling and shocking conclusion, will the Government redouble their efforts to get the hostages home, because they might be suffering a similar fate to those victims on 7 October?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. She will know that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Lord Ahmad have all met the families of the hostages. I had the privilege of meeting some of the families last week, the second occasion I have done so within the precincts of this House. She is right. We are doing everything we can to increase the flow of aid and get the hostages home. We will continue to do so.

One of the most troubling aspects of the 7 October massacre was the fact that many ordinary Gazans—reports indicate hundreds, or even thousands—followed the Hamas terrorists into Israel and participated in the atrocities. Reports suggest that civilians kidnapped Israelis and sold them to Gaza-based terrorist groups, and committed further unspeakable acts of violence, including sexual violence. Is my right hon. Friend aware of those reports, and does he share my concerns about Hamas’s ongoing indoctrination of ordinary Gazan citizens?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am aware of those reports. The fact remains that the appalling events of 7 October were, as I have said in the House before, the worst atrocity and the worst killing of Jewish people since the holocaust and the second world war. We continue to want total accountability for the terrible events that took place on that day.

Accepting what the Minister says about there being no money due to go to UNRWA until April, can I say to him, however, that for us to continue not to fund UNRWA sends a truly dreadful signal to other countries on the world stage? Canada and Sweden have resumed their funding. Surely we should be attending to this now as a matter of some urgency?

I listed the countries that take the same view as us. The right hon. Gentleman is right that there is a division, but Britain is not due to provide any funding until we reach the next financial year in April. We will, of course, seek to do everything we can to resolve the matter by the time that funding is due.

Can the deputy Foreign Secretary confirm that Israel is co-operating with an increasing number of lorries entering Gaza carrying essential humanitarian aid? I have been looking up the figures: 16,405 aid lorries, 203,300 tonnes of food and 26,160 tonnes of water. Is it not correct that the Israelis have said there is no limit on the amount of aid that can come in, but that there is a delay once it has passed Israeli checks and before it gets into Gaza proper?

My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that there has been an increase in the number of trucks getting in. In February there were, on average, only 97. In March that figure is 162. So there has been an improvement, but the House will recognise that there is nothing like enough getting through. The easiest way to do so is by truck and road. It is because that is so difficult that we have had to find other mechanisms, such as the maritime and air routes.

May I return the Minister to the serious allegations made today, following a BBC investigation, that medics in Gaza were detained, stripped and beaten while trying to perform their life-saving humanitarian duties? All of us in the House have repeatedly called on all parties to abide by international law, but the Government have so far declined to say that the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice should be implemented in full. Will he now tell us that they should be, and that the UK will support the International Criminal Court investigation, led by Andrew Cayley, to ensure not only that all allegations against all parties are investigated, but that there is accountability for those who break the law?

The hon. Lady is quite right: there needs to be a full and thorough investigation and accountability in respect of what was reported today by the BBC, and I can assure her that the Foreign Office is pressing for full transparency and accountability on that matter.

But surely the Minister can see the problem. Unless the ICJ’s provisional ruling is implemented and the ICC is allowed to go about its work, those words are simply meaningless; and unless the international community makes it crystal clear that rules will be upheld by all parties and those who do not uphold them will be held accountable, more people will die. Peace is built on the bedrock of international law. May I ask the Minister again to make it clear to the House that the Government will support the ICC’s investigation of Hamas as well as its investigation of Israel and will press for the full implementation of the ICJ’s provisional ruling, and that international law will be upheld not when it is convenient but always, as the precondition for peace?

Let me be very clear about this: we did not believe, and do not believe, that the ICJ referral is helpful to attempts to secure dialogue. We respect the role and independence of the ICJ and will consider any advisory opinion, but we did not think it helpful, without the consent of both parties, for the Court to deliver an advisory opinion on what is essentially a bilateral dispute. However, we keep all these matters under review and, as I have said, our current position is that we believe Israel has both the capacity and the intent to abide by international humanitarian law.

The Minister will have seen the shocking images of parachutes dropping aid into Gaza at the same moment as a barrage of Israeli missiles struck. There is, of course, every chance that the aid and the missiles originated from the same source, and I wonder at the level of cognitive dissonance required to supply aid to innocent civilians while at the same time providing the means by which Israel can continue to kill them indiscriminately. When will this Government recognise the moral absurdity of selling weapons to Israel while attempting to salve their conscience by airdropping aid to those civilians who are fortunate enough to have survived the bombardment?

As I think I have mentioned to the hon. Gentleman before, in this country we have the toughest arms control mechanisms anywhere, but we accept that Israel has a right of self-defence, and this has to be seen through that prism as well as the prism through which he sees it. But I can tell him that we continually keep these matters under review—that is not only international humanitarian law, but the arms export regime—and we will continue to do so.

Israel and Palestine: Two-state Solution

2. What steps his Department is taking to support a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. (901932)

I thank the Minister for his comments. Everyone in the House wants to see a negotiated diplomatic agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on two states, but does he agree that the first step towards achieving that is an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages?

The problem with calling for an immediate ceasefire is that neither side wants to have one, and therefore, in my view, it would be an unhelpful intervention. That is why the British Government, and other Governments too, have called for a pause to get the hostages out and get aid in, which can then be built on and lead to a sustainable ceasefire, and that is what we are seeking to do.

The ideal of a two-state solution is one that unites this House. However, there are practical barriers, not least the fact that Hamas are surging in the polls—what polls there are—across the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Authority continue to have hateful preaching in the school curriculum that is breeding the sort of hate that leads to evil organisations such as Hamas having a grip on Gaza, and it continues to pay salaries to convicted terrorists’ families. If we are to get a two-state solution, that needs to stop, does it not?

In respect of the textbook allegations that my hon. Friend made, I have received those allegations. Last week I had a meeting with the head of UNRWA, Mr Lazzarini, in which I presented him with the evidence and asked for a full account. In respect of the two-state solution, let me be clear that within both the Israeli Government and civil society throughout Israel, there are pragmatic voices that believe in self-determination for Palestine as the only way forward. It is very important that we try to build on that vision, which is why the Foreign Secretary is so committed to trying to bring people together so that when the political track can open, it has real substance to it.

Does the Minister agree that a two-state solution has become more difficult because of the construction of over 700,000 illegal homes in the west bank, which continues with the backing of the IDF and the Israeli Government? Even now, we see images of people being turfed out of their homes and others taking over, and illegal settlement homes are being sold to people in the USA.

There are things that we want the Israeli Government to do in that respect. We want them to release frozen funds, halt settlement expansion and hold to account those responsible for settler violence, which is why Britain has sanctioned four extremist Israeli settlers. Let me be clear: as I understand it, the Israeli Government are not against Palestinian statehood but are against unilateral recognition without bilateral negotiations. That was the burden of a vote in the Knesset on 18 February this year.

The wider discussion of a two-state solution outside this place is being misrepresented. Restaurants are being boycotted for selling Coca-Cola, because people think the company supports Israel. The Coca-Cola factory in the west bank is actually owned by a Palestinian franchisee, so we need to educate people. To get back to the discussion of a two-state solution, we clearly need a ceasefire and the hostages to be released by Hamas. Will my right hon. Friend detail what discussions he is having in that regard?

Those discussions are going on all the time with our friends and allies, with the regional powers, at the United Nations and, indeed, directly with Israel. As I said, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary talk regularly to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we will continue to do so. My hon. Friend eloquently set out the reason for the Government’s policy of trying to create a pause to get the hostages out and aid in, and we will continue to pursue that objective.

The situation in Gaza is truly appalling, but the situation in the west bank is also a cause for huge concern. Since the horrific 7 October attacks, over 400 Palestinians have been killed and thousands have been detained. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), last week Israel advanced plans for 3,400 new homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a two-state solution is the only path to a lasting peace, does the Minister agree that a firm position on these issues must be taken now by the United Kingdom and the international community?

I hope that I have set out my broad agreement with what the hon. Gentleman says. Britain wants to see steps taken against illegal settlements and settlers who have committed crimes—we want to see them arrested, tried and punished for those crimes. We want to see the Palestinian Authority reinvigorated, with new leadership and a strong approach to taking up the roles that it will need to fulfil when the sky clears and there is a moment for the political track to begin.

Gaza: Sustainable Ceasefire

18. What discussions he has had with his US counterpart on a potential UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire in Gaza. (901951)

We need a humanitarian pause to get aid in and hostages out, leading to a sustainable, permanent ceasefire. We are pressing for this with Israel, regional leaders and our wider international partners, including the United States.

Given the importance of their role, the Palestinian Authority will require thoroughgoing reform, won’t they?

My right hon. Friend is right, and that is why both the Foreign Secretary and the noble Lord Ahmad have been in discussions with the Palestinian Authority and the wider regional community—to try to ensure that when the moment comes, as I set out in my response to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), the Palestinian Authority are able to seize it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an unsustainable ceasefire that rapidly collapses would only make it more difficult to build the confidence required for peace, and that if there was a humanitarian pause now, we could get more aid in and hostages out, and it could help to bring about the conditions required for a sustainable ceasefire?

My hon. Friend has put his finger on a critical point. We do not believe that calling for a general and immediate ceasefire and hoping that it would somehow become permanent will work. A ceasefire will not last if the hostages are still being held. We cannot just will it if neither side wants it, and the conditions need to be in place for it not to collapse within days.

Some of these answers—“We have the toughest arms licence regime”, “We have urged Israel to follow international law”—are the same meaningless, supine nonsense week after week, month after month from this Government. I have said many times that it sickens me that although this Government—and indeed the Labour Front Benchers—called out Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine at light speed, they prevaricate on doing the same when it comes to the Israeli bombardment and siege of Gaza. It sickens me that this Government have abstained on UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions. Will the Minister guarantee that the UK will work with partners to draft a resolution that reflects the will of this House, and finally vote for a ceasefire to end the suffering of so many in Gaza?

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, which I think was the question, the answer is yes, but in respect of everything else he said, the answer is no.

Women in Gaza are giving birth without even having a chair to sit down on. They are having caesareans without medication. The Minister will know that many aid agencies have repeatedly called out the horrific suffering of the Palestinian people and Israel’s unacceptable restriction on aid flows. We have been talking about the urgency of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire; how urgently are the Government actually pushing for this with both sides and with partners in the middle east—not just for the urgency of the ceasefire, but for a plan for what comes next?

I can reassure the hon. Lady that on both of those two points—pressing for a pause and pressing all the regional powers on what comes next—the Government are actively and continually engaged. On her first point about the terrible plight of women in Gaza, that is why the British Government gave nearly £5 million just a week or so ago specifically to try to alleviate the desperate circumstances in Gaza that so many women find themselves in.

The best way to deal with a sustainable ceasefire is obviously to deal with the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and that is best done by UNRWA, not through individual bilateral actions. The Minister mentions states that have suspended their funding, and the situation is evolving really fast. The EU has just announced €50 million for UNRWA, and two further tranches of €16 million, subject to the satisfactory completion of an audit. I take the point that no funding is due from the UK to UNRWA until April, but what further reassurance does the UK need to ensure the funding will be in place, because UNRWA is the best organisation to disburse it and the UK risks being very much on the wrong side of these developments?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s last point. It is true that Canada, Sweden, Spain and the EU, with conditions, expect to be able to resume funding, but as I mentioned earlier, America, Germany, Australia, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland take the same view as us. To the substantive points he makes, we are in discussions with the leader of UNRWA, Mr Lazzarini, and we are awaiting the report from the former French Foreign Minister and the report from the UN. We hope that as a result of those reports, sufficient change will be secured, so that we can continue to fund UNRWA, but the hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that we have fully funded UNRWA into the next financial year.

Illegal Migration

We are engaging with international partners on a “whole of route” approach to addressing irregular migration. This includes: a multi-year operational plan with France to stop small boats; developing partnerships to tackle organised immigration crime; improving returns processes; and working with partner countries through a number of international fora to address the root causes.

Small boat crossings continue to be a massive concern for my constituents, many of whom point out to me that there is some logic to the argument that if those who illegally enter our country from France, a safe European country, were returned on the same day, the problem would probably be dealt with overnight. Has my right hon. Friend discussed this with her French counterpart, and is her counterpart open to this undeniable logic? If so, why does France not accept them back on the same day?

My hon. Friend raises a point that is raised in many of our postbags. The reality is that individuals in need of international protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach; that will always be the fastest route to safety. We, of course, continue to work collaboratively with our European partners, including France, to address our shared migration challenges. I can update the House that our partnership with France has helped to bring down small boat arrivals, and together we stopped more than 26,000 crossings last years.

I thank the Minister for her response. We in Northern Ireland have a border with the Republic of Ireland. What discussions has she had with her counterparts in the devolved nations, and particularly in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, about tackling illegal migration? I am ever mindful that we have a land border that needs to be patrolled and policed.

As I said, we continue to engage across a number of international fora to strengthen our collaboration, and to make sure that we have secure and ambitious partnerships to tackle irregular migration. I will ensure that my colleague updates the hon. Gentleman on the meetings they have been having with the PSNI.


My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I regularly speak to our ministerial counterparts on a range of issues, including the war in Ukraine. He met Foreign Minister Baerbock at the UK-German strategic dialogue on 7 March in Berlin to reaffirm our commitment to supporting Ukraine.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He will be aware that the head of the luftwaffe, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, made an appalling lapse of security. The former director general of German intelligence, August Hanning, said on the subject that NATO security and British troops had had their existence in Ukraine “compromised.” Does the Minister agree?

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s motivation in asking that question. We should keep in mind that our relationship with Germany on supporting Ukraine is strong, united and deeply co-operative. Together we are delivering the fighting edge that our friends in Ukraine need.

One of the things that rang in my ears after my recent visit to Ukraine was the frustration with what is happening not just in the US, but even in those European countries—Germany, the UK, France and others—that are a “yes” on weapons support. It is the slow yes that is frustrating people. What is the Minister doing to turn that slow yes to Taurus into a quick yes? More broadly, does that not make the case for a comprehensive defence agreement between Britain and the EU?

No, it does not, but we continue to work very energetically and closely with our friends across Europe, including at the recently convened French summit, to ensure that the heft and military capability of all Ukraine’s allies are brought to bear in increasing Ukraine’s fighting edge.

Our defence, security and foreign policy relationship with Germany is critical, not least in relation to our united and mutual support for Ukraine. I will meet German counterparts about those issues in Berlin this week. Will the Minister give us more detail on the discussions he and the Foreign Secretary have had with German counterparts on three issues: urgently speeding up and expanding the delivery of weaponry, bolstering our diplomatic coalition and, crucially, using frozen Russian state assets across Europe to pay for urgent needs to support Ukraine?

The hon. Gentleman asks a characteristically intelligent and pertinent question. We are working together to increase defence industrial capability. Some new ideas have come out of the French summit about increasing domestic capability for our Ukrainian friends. A lot of diplomatic support goes into that. On frozen assets, he will have seen recent thinking from the European side about using the interest payments from those funds, which we will consider. We need to find a reliable legal route, if that is to be sustainable.

Vladimir Kara-Murza

6. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help secure the safety and release of Vladimir Kara-Murza. (901936)

The UK has consistently condemned Vladimir Kara-Murza’s politically motivated conviction and called for his release. We sanctioned 11 individuals in response to his sentencing, as well as two individuals involved in his earlier poisoning. We regularly raise his case both with the Russian authorities and at multilateral fora.

Since the death of Alexei Navalny, do the Government recognise the increased urgency of Vladimir Kara-Murza’s case? He is now the most high-profile living political prisoner in Russia. What more are the Government considering doing? Are the Government working with our allies, such as the United States, on a number of issues in this field?

Our ambassador raised Mr Kara-Murza’s case in person with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister on 19 January, repeating our request for consular access. The Foreign Secretary met Mrs Kara-Murza, and Mr Kara-Murza’s mother, Elena Gordon, on 1 March. We remain in close and regular contact with his family and legal representatives, and we will continue to keep his case at the top of our agenda.

My constituent, Evan Gershkovich, was detained by the FSB—the Federal Security Service—almost exactly a year ago, on 29 March 2023. He is an American citizen who lives in the UK and works for The Wall Street Journal. His continued detention is another stain on Russia. Although Mr Gershkovich is not a British citizen, is the Minister conferring with his American colleagues to ensure that Mr Gershkovich is released?

Yes, I am happy to confirm that. I will seek an update from our head of mission in Moscow for the hon. Lady’s increased awareness.

Israeli Occupation of the West Bank

7. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Israeli occupation of the west bank. (901937)

20. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Israeli occupation of the west bank. (901954)

Israel must not undermine prospects for peace and security in the west bank. As the occupying power, Israel must protect the civilian population.

The Minister forgot to mention that this is one of the rare occasions on which the United Kingdom Government have a long-standing position that Israel is acting unlawfully in the west bank. Some 700,000 separate criminal acts of unlawful occupation have been endorsed and instructed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Because that illegal occupation has gone unpunished, we now see extremists, with the tacit acquiescence and sometimes direct support of the Israeli Defence Force, committing acts of cold-blooded murder against innocent civilians. If they do not stand up to criminals, those crimes will get worse. The Minister mentioned that two individuals have been sanctioned for their crimes in the west bank. Why have the President or the Prime Minister of Israel, who ordered that unlawful occupation, not also been sanctioned?

The Government pursue the objectives I have set out clearly to the House in a way most likely to bring success. The five core asks that are so relevant to many of these questions are: the release of all hostages; formation of a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza; removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel; Hamas no longer being in charge of Gaza; and, with our allies, the provision of serious practical and technical support for the Palestinian Authority. That is the approach that is most likely to command support and not, I fear, the line that the hon. Gentleman took.

The Minister said that Israel has a duty to protect civilians, but in the west bank there have been 400 deaths. There are now testimonies from Palestinian civilians, including women and children, who have been subject to kidnap, torture and abuse at the hands of Israeli settlers, yet the UK Government have sanctioned only four illegal settlers. What further action are the UK Government going to take against settlers? Surely it is time to ban the trade of goods from those illegal settlements once and for all.

I really do not think that that would be a very sensible thing to do. We do not comment across the Floor of the House on who is about to be sanctioned or where the sanctions regime is going, but the hon. Member may rest assured that we keep these matters under very careful review.

As Ramadan begins and Passover and Easter approach, it is vital that all places of worship in Jerusalem be respected. I was extremely concerned by suggestions from Israeli Minister Ben-Gvir that restrictions could be imposed on worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque. I welcome subsequent statements by Israeli authorities that the sanctity of the holiday will be preserved. Authorities must show respect and restraint at this crucial moment. Have the Government made it clear to Israeli counterparts that Minister Ben-Gvir’s comments were unacceptable and inflamed tensions, and that the status quo arrangements must be maintained?

The hon. Member is entirely right about the importance of religious freedom, particularly in the circumstances that she so clearly set out. She may rest assured that those are points that the British Government make very strongly to Israel. It is helpful that the Opposition and the Government speak with one voice on that very important matter.

Falkland Islands

The UK Government will always protect and promote the Falkland Islanders’ right of self-determination. Only they can decide their future. We want a good relationship with Argentina, but have been very clear that we will never negotiate away the islanders’ democratic rights. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reassured the islanders about our enduring commitment during his welcome visit to the Falkland Islands last month.

I am the chair of the British overseas territories all-party parliamentary group. I remember watching the ships leave the Tamar in my constituency and head to the Falklands more than 40 years ago. In 1982, our Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher, said:

“Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word.”

Do the Government retain that steely resolve?

I am young enough to remember those days as well, and yes, the UK Government remain steadfast in their resolve to ensure that the Falkland Islanders’ right of self-determination is upheld, and we will continue to use all diplomatic means to that end.

Will my hon. Friend join me in recognising the efforts of the Falkland Islanders to build a modern, thriving community and economy, and does he agree that as long as they wish to remain part of the British family, the sovereignty of the Falklands Islands will not be up for discussion?

Well said. The modern, diverse, economically prosperous Falkland Islands of today is testimony to the islanders’ achievements since the 1982 conflict. The islanders are a valued part of the British family, and as long as they want to remain part of the family, sovereignty will not be up for discussion.

Have the very commendable words that the Minister has said at the Dispatch Box today been relayed to the Argentinian authorities?

As I have said, we are working on our good relations with Argentina, but the country is very clear about our position on the Falkland Islands.

British Overseas Territories

It is good to see my hon. Friend in his place, and continuing with his strong interest in our overseas territories. The UK is committed to ensuring the security and good governance of the overseas territories and their peoples. We support improvements in institutions to ensure greater accountability and transparency, and fairer societies.

The Minister will know that the 16 British overseas territories are cherished parts of the British family, and we rightly expect good governance from them in return for their being part of our British family. However, is it not time that they were given some form of representation—not necessarily here in the British Parliament, but in institutions such as a Committee of the House, where they could actually have a voice? At the moment, they have no representation in any sense; they are not even allowed to be members of the Commonwealth—not even associate members. Will he look at that, and see whether the Government can come up with a new approach to ensure that our British overseas territories are fully represented?

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, which he makes with characteristic conviction. The Foreign Affairs Committee is setting up a Sub-Committee that will engage the overseas territories more. Of course, I am a strong voice, along with many other people here, for the overseas territories and will continue to be so.

Turkey: Surgical Procedures

11. What information his Department holds on the number of UK nationals who have died following surgical procedures in Turkey in the last 10 years. (901942)

We are aware of 28 British nationals who have died in Turkey following elective medical procedures since 2019. The UK Government continue to engage actively with the Turkish Government on how to support the safety of patients who travel to Turkey for medical treatment.

I thank the Minister for that answer; that is far too many people who have died. Many gruesome deaths have occurred following cosmetic surgery in Turkey. The family of my constituent, 28-year-old Shannon, witnessed the most agonising, horrific death as she lay on a table convulsing for some nine hours.

As far as I am aware, not once have Foreign Office Ministers raised those needless deaths with Turkish Government officials. Furthermore, a pitiful byline of travel advice on the website is simply not good enough. Will the Minister investigate an advertising suspension, in collaboration with Cabinet colleagues and regulators, for countries known for dangerous health tourism as a possible way to avoid further deaths like Shannon’s?

We raise that issue with our Turkish counterparts at many levels. We will always look at what more we can do, but the head of mission in Ankara is seized of the urgency and importance of the issue and is working in close collaboration with the Turkish authorities.

Israeli Hostages in Gaza

17. What steps he is taking to support efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. (901950)

Last week, the UN published its first report into the violence against women in Israel on 7 October and against hostages. It concluded that rape, gang rape and genital mutilation were systematically used against Israeli women and girls. The fact that the victims who survived do not trust the UN enough to speak to it about their experience adds another layer of heartbreak to the situation. What will my right hon. Friend the Minister do to urge the UN to make it a priority to rebuild trust and tell the world that #MeToo counts for Jews too?

The world very much needs the United Nations, and I completely recognise the position that my hon. Friend so eloquently describes. We will do everything we can as a leading member of the United Nations—one of the P5—to try to improve that relationship. On the appalling events of October 7, which she described, we are doing everything we can to try to help, as I set out earlier.

The hostages have been in captivity for more than 100 days. The New York Times has reported that of the 134 hostages still in captivity, 50 may have been killed. Given that 10 Israeli citizens have been in captivity in Gaza for more than 10 years, does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that there must absolutely be a commitment to return the hostages before we can move to a humanitarian ceasefire?

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. He sets out the position extremely well. It is a top focus of all parts of the British Government to try to get the hostages back, as I set out earlier. The Prime Minister and the International Court of Justice have called for their immediate release. Although I cannot give a running commentary, we are working closely with the US, Qatar and Egypt to secure their release.

In the past five months, Israeli and Palestinian civilians have borne the brunt of this conflict. We are getting only the slightest glimpse of the rape, torture, hostage taking and murder that is going on. Will the Minister tell us what our atrocity prevention team and preventing sexual violence team are doing on the ground to document and stop that?

We are very clear that we seek to document atrocities so that people can be held to account, no matter how long it takes. I set out earlier the additional funding specifically to help women who have been the subject of appalling sexual violence. I am grateful to the hon. Lady and the International Development Committee for their visit to the region. On the issue that she raises, the British Government’s position is that there can be no impunity.

The utter tragedy in the middle east is that innocent civilians on both sides are paying the price for failed politics and extremism. To take the Minister back to his answer to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, if he accepts that Israel has the capacity to meet international law, he is saying, is he not, that Israel is in breach of it?

No, I am not saying that. I am saying that the current judgment of the British Government is that Israel has both the capacity and the intent to abide within international humanitarian law. It is an issue that we keep under review, as the hon. Gentleman will understand.

Topical Questions

On the question of Britain’s priorities in Ukraine, Gaza and across the world, the Government are delivering. At the Munich security conference, the G20 in Brazil and the United Nations, the Foreign Secretary has argued for standing by Ukraine as the invasion enters its third year. On Gaza, we are pressing with partners for a humanitarian pause and increased aid flows to Palestinian civilians. We have expanded the blue belt, defended shipping in the Red sea and launched an innovative development partnership with Qatar. The international development White Paper is being implemented across Government and has been widely welcomed around the world.

Following recent events in Ukraine, what steps have been taken to speed up the process of releasing funds from the sale of Chelsea football club to support all victims of the war in Ukraine, wherever they are in the world?

The hon. Lady is quite right that releasing those funds is taking far too long. There are significant complications addressing the release, which involve the European Union and Portugal, as well as Britian. I can tell her, however, that there is renewed energy in the Foreign Office to try to bring this matter to a head as swiftly as possible.

T2. The International Atomic Energy Agency has recently made an assessment that enough uranium has been enriched in Iran to produce three atomic warheads. If that is true, what is the Government’s consideration regarding snapping back sanctions on Iran? (901956)

These enrichment levels have no credible civilian justification. We are working with partners to ensure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon, are prepared to use all diplomatic options, including triggering UN snapback if necessary, and will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

Next month is the anniversary of a full year of unmitigated horror in Sudan. On Friday, the Security Council called for an immediate Ramadan ceasefire, and I know that our excellent diplomats and the Minister were pivotal in that resolution. The African Union, the Arab League and Members across this House echo that call, but the violence has not stopped. If the warring parties continue to refuse to listen, how can the Government work with partners to step up the pressure?

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise the appalling position in Sudan, which to some extent has been masked by other terrible events in the world. She will be pleased to hear that, thanks to British leadership at the United Nations, a new Security Council resolution was passed, I believe, last Friday. We are seeking to bring together all the different parties to try to make progress, so that the next round of talks, possibly in Jeddah, will be more successful than the last. Britain condemns any arming of either party inside Sudan. We are seeking also, through the work of our diplomatic mission in Khartoum, currently based in Addis, to help build civil society so that a political track can emerge.

T3. As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to four key Latin American markets, I have seen at first hand the work that His Majesty’s Government and the UK private sector are doing to help with the responsible extraction of key minerals such as lithium. With the drive to net zero accelerating, those minerals will only become more important, and competition is increasing. What diplomatic steps is the Department taking to strengthen the UK’s security and its economic relations with countries in Latin America? (901957)

We are grateful for the outstanding work of our well-respected trade envoy—my hon. Friend does amazing work. Trade and security are two central tenets of the UK’s relationship with Latin America. Joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership creates huge opportunities for businesses in Latin America and in the UK, and as my hon. Friend is aware, sustainable and reliable supply chains for critical minerals—including lithium—are key. I look forward to meeting the Bolivian vice-president this afternoon.

T4. State-hood is the inalienable right of Palestinian people and not in the gift of any neighbour, so does the Minister agree that no country has the right to veto the UK’s recognition of a Palestinian state? (901958)

The British Government have always made it clear that they will recognise the Palestinian state when they think the time is right and such recognition would be helpful.

T5. The Belarusian company Alutech has somehow managed to circumvent sanctions and set up in the UK, in direct competition with its business partner, Dewsbury-based Alunet, whose turnover has been halved from £30 million to £15 million and has shed jobs as a result of that unfair competition. Will the Minister agree to meet with me and directors of Alunet to discuss how we can resolve this terrible situation? (901959)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. As he knows, some of our officials have met representatives of the company concerned, and we are continuing to take action to close gaps between our Russian and Belarusian sanctions—we keep them under constant review. I would be very happy to meet with my hon. Friend to discuss the Belarusian sanctions further.

T8. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have been clear that we must be bolder, seizing hundreds of billions of pounds of frozen Russian assets to support the Ukraine war effort, and that we must get hold of the interest on those assets. In February, the Prime Minister said,“And then, with the G7, we must find lawful ways to seize the assets themselves and get those funds to Ukraine too.”Can the Minister update the House on progress within the G7? (901964)

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. We are making progress, but he is also right to point out that what we do needs to be lawful. That is the key thing, and that is what we are working on.

T6. Would the Minister for development and Africa please update the House on his recent visit to Ethiopia? (901961)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I was recently in Ethiopia, and was able to visit Tigray and the edge of the most food-insecure area, where—as the House will know—starvation and food shortage is rising alarmingly. The situation is as if a football was being kicked at a plate glass window; we have the power to alter its trajectory, but if we do not, it will smash that window. That is why Britain is setting up a pledging conference—working closely with the United Nations—and a contact group on Ethiopia. In the next financial year, we are increasing our bilateral funding very significantly.

While the world looks the other way, Sudan is suffering from a catastrophe, with 8 million people displaced, 15 million with no healthcare whatsoever, and 24 million going hungry. What little aid there is is not getting in, and all aid across the conflict lines has been suspended since last December. What efforts is the Minister making to advocate for additional crossing points for aid to get in to Chad and South Sudan and across the conflict line, and will he attend the aid conference in Paris next month?

Yes, I do expect to attend that conference. I speak regularly to counterparts in the African Union, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and spoke last night to Tom Perriello, the new US special envoy for Sudan. We work very closely with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Troika. We understand that the violence in Darfur bears all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing and are funding an open-source organisation, the Centre for Information Resilience, to keep account of those events, so that there can be no impunity in that respect either.

T7. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in order to see Palestinian self-determination, we need an end to human rights abuses, antisemitism and the glorification of violence, and we need Palestinians free from Hamas? (901963)

We certainly agree with my hon. Friend’s last point about a Palestine free from Hamas. There is no place for Hamas in the future Government of Palestine. On the point he makes about how we proceed further, the Government are absolutely clear that there is no place in our society, or anywhere else for that matter, for Islamophobia or antisemitism.

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz is the only person to have been granted a special mission status certificate by the Foreign Office since the beginning of last year, in effect protecting him from arrest for his part in suspected breaches of international law. According to reports, Israel did not grant Gantz’s delegation official status, so can the Minister explain why the UK Government still chose to provide diplomatic cover for this individual?

Whatever the position of the Israeli Government, let me assure the hon. Member that Benny Gantz was received in this country. He was seen by the Foreign Secretary, and his visit was most welcome.

The Minister will know that European security continues to be underpinned by the USA, which funds the vast majority of the NATO budget. Could I please ask him what is being done to coerce more of our NATO allies to meet their 2% commitment, and does he agree that European nations must shoulder more of the burden for our own security, for good strategic reasons?

I do agree that we must put our money where our mouth is, but as we survey the landscape of European and Atlantic security on the 75th anniversary of NATO, we see—with the accession of Finland and Sweden—that NATO is in very good order indeed.

I acknowledge what the Minister of State said about sanctioning certain west bank settlers, although four seems a very low number to me. Has he raised the activities of those settlers with his opposite number in the Israeli Government?

The British Government have certainly raised those activities with the Israeli Government. That is why we have asked that they should be arrested, prosecuted and punished for those activities. On those who may or may not be subject to a sanctions regime, we keep that fully under review, but the hon. Member will understand why I think it is best not to discuss that across the Floor of the House.

Has any Foreign Office Minister, official or embassy member had any discussions with our American allies over the dysfunctional extradition treaty since the disgraceful end of the Sacoolas case?

My right hon. Friend asks an extremely good question. He and I have co-operated on this matter many times in the past. If he would be so good as to table a question on this matter, I will make sure that he immediately gets a full answer to that question.

When Jeffrey Sachs, a UN adviser—from a Jewish American family, incidentally—says on camera:

“Israel has deliberately starved the people of Gaza… I am not using an exaggeration. I’m talking literally starving a population. Israel is a criminal, is in non stop war crime status, now I believe in genocidal status, and it is without shame, without remorse, without truth, without insight into what it’s doing”,

and adds:

“This is a murderous gang in government right now. These are zealots”,

does that not give the UK Government pause to reflect on the funding of UNRWA, and to call for a ceasefire and the recognition of Palestine, which 138 of 193 UN member states have done, rather than see it wiped off the map?

I think almost nothing that the hon. Gentleman has just said could possibly be deemed helpful in trying to bring the two sides together, achieve a pause, get the hostages out, get aid in and achieve a sustainable ceasefire. Therefore, I am afraid I am unable to offer any reassurance on any of the points he made.

Last week, 287 children aged between five and 12 were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria. That comes on top of 8,000 Christians who were killed for their faith last year. What are we doing about it?

My right hon. Friend is right about these appalling events, and the high commission in Abuja has raised these matters. Our hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is responsible for freedom of religion or belief, regularly focuses on what is happening in Nigeria and makes representations, which also ensures that the Foreign Office is kept up to the mark in pursuing it.

Canada is to resume funding for UNRWA having received UN reports. Has the UK Government received such reports, are they being reviewed, and when will that review be concluded and decisions be made?

We are asking that we have an interim report on both the key reports as soon as possible, and we will look at those reports as soon as they arrive and make our decisions accordingly. During the course of these questions I have adumbrated both those who are supporting the same position as the UK and those who are restoring funding immediately. The hon. Gentleman will want to bear in mind that Britain has fully funded UNRWA for its share up until the next financial year.

Haiti is on the edge of collapse, and only 100 nautical miles away are the Turks and Caicos islands, for whose national security the UK has responsibility. Will the Foreign Office fulfil its role by requesting of the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office that we deploy HMS Trent with its defensive capabilities, deploy Royal Marine fast boats, provide assets monitoring in the sea lane, and increase the policing footprint in TCI? Too often we have acted too slowly, which in the past that has resulted in threats to remove TCI from our overseas family. Please can we act now?

I assure my hon. Friend that I was recently in TCI and I understand the situation there. We have seen a rise in the number of people making the dangerous journey by sea from Haiti to TCI. We have put in place 13 serious crime investigators and seven firearms, officers, and we are working with the Home Office and the MOD in building capability and capacity in this important situation.

I listened carefully, as I always do, to what the Minister said regarding calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but it is now time to step up. It requires all warring parties to stop the rockets, the bombs and the bullets—exactly right—and for the hostages to be released. Surely it would send a very strong signal if the UK Government now called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. He will have heard the five key priorities that the British Government have put on the table, and I am grateful to him for his agreement. Cross-party support is extremely helpful in driving forward an imperative about which Britain feels very strongly.

Will His Majesty’s Government make the strongest possible diplomatic protest against the draconian new national security laws being imposed on the good people of Hong Kong, and does the Minister accept that Britain still has a moral responsibility to the people of Hong Kong, who have been loyal to this country for so many years?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and we continue to raise our concerns about breaches of the Sino-British joint declaration that we see, and about this new layer of legislation coming through. We consider that that continues to be in breach, and we continue to ask for those laws to be removed.

Does the Minister agree that the alleged detention, beating and humiliation of 49 Palestinian medics at the Nasser Hospital last month needs to be investigated by the International Criminal Court—yes or no?

This session ends with the same question with which it started, and as I set out, we believe there must be accountability and we have made that clear to the Israeli authorities.