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Commons Chamber

Volume 743: debated on Monday 15 January 2024

House of Commons

Monday 15 January 2024

The House met at-half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Asylum Application Backlog

Last year we cleared the equivalent of 90,000 legacy claims and processed a total of more than 112,000 claims—the largest volume in two decades. The total asylum backlog is now at its lowest point since December 2022. The improvement of processes continues, and we will continue to review and improve them to accelerate the decision making from hereon in.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that update, but there are still four hotels in and around Warrington housing asylum seekers. Will he give us an update on the closing of hotels, and will he also tell us what steps he is taking to speed up the processing of refugees when they are in hotels awaiting the outcome of their claims?

My hon. Friend made an important link between the speed of asylum processing and the need for asylum accommodation in various forms, including hotels. We are moving away from using hotels as that type of accommodation, thus reducing the cost to the public purse, and we will maintain recruitment levels and improve processes so that the speed of processing that we are seeing now can be continued. Although I cannot make commitments about the specific hotels in my hon. Friend’s constituency, he should rest assured that we are seeking to drive down the number of hotels on which we rely.

My constituent arrived in the UK 15 months ago and was interviewed, but has been waiting for more than a year to receive a final response. He is not alone: according to the Refugee Council, 33,085 asylum cases have been lodged in the last six months alone, putting ever more strain on a broken system. The Home Secretary said that the legacy backlog was going down, but what about those more recent cases? What is being done to deal with them?

The improved processes and the increased number of Home Office officials working on this issue mean that not only the legacy cases but the current ones will be dealt with more quickly, which will reduce the need for asylum accommodation of all types. I cannot comment on individual cases because the circumstances are different in each one, but the hon. Lady should rest assured that the lessons we have learned about the increased speed of processing will benefit those who are already in the system. Of course, we are also determined to drive down the number of people who come here in the first place, reducing the pressure on our asylum processing system in doing so.

The shambolic incompetence of this Government across every aspect of its disgraceful mismanagement of our country’s asylum system knows no bounds, but today I will highlight a particularly egregious example. We already knew that the number of removals of asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected had collapsed by 50% since Labour left office in 2010, but over the weekend it emerged that the Home Office had lost contact with an astonishing 85% of the 5,000 people who have been identified for removal to Rwanda. Where on earth are those 4,250 asylum seekers who have gone missing?

Will the Home Secretary drop all the smoke and mirrors and acknowledge that the Rwanda plan is just an extortionately expensive and unworkable distraction? When will he adopt Labour’s plan to recruit 1,000 additional immigration enforcement officers to a new returns unit, so that we can have a system that is based on common sense—

No, it is not “thank you”. I have to get a lot of people in and this is totally unfair. The question was very, very long, and I was coughing to get the hon. Gentleman to stop, not to continue. That is the signal we need to understand. If the hon. Gentleman does not want a particular Back Bencher to get in, I ask him please to point them out, because this is giving me that problem.

The mask has slipped. The Labour party has said that even if the Rwanda scheme were to be successful, it would not keep it. That shows what Labour Members really think about this. They have no plan, they have no commitment, and they have even said that if something was working they would scrap it. [Interruption.]


Apologies for my hesitation, Mr Speaker. I was so busy listening to the heckling opposite that it was difficult to focus on what was going on.

This question is about something of which we should be very proud. The fact is that fraud ruins lives, but this Government have managed to get it down by 13% year on year, online and offline. It is extremely important that we continue with that ambitious agenda and ensure that we continue to cut fraud so that we can bring it down completely by the end of the Parliament.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the key to reducing levels of fraud is to help people to understand what might be a fraud so that they are not taken in by it? Is there more that we can do to help people to spot the signs and not become a victim in the first place?

The question about what is a fraud is becoming all too prevalent. We have heard of many different kinds of fraud coming up in many different areas, which is why in a few weeks’ time we will, I hope, launch a new comms campaign about it. The truth is that fraud affects so many people in so many ways, and we are trying to make sure that people know what is going on so they can claim the help and support that they need, to make sure that we defeat this pernicious evil.

We simply do not have the resources or expertise to tackle fraud. I have a constituent who is still waiting for a charging decision five years after being the victim of fraud. Her retirement has been ruined waiting for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to make the charging decision. Durham constabulary has a single forensic account. Does the Minister believe, as I do, that a lack of specialist resources is leading to unacceptable delays in justice?

I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and that is exactly why this Government have introduced a new national fraud squad—which is now almost fully recruited, at 400—and increased the funding available to forces to fight fraud. Some forces are doing exceptionally well at this already. Avon is doing extremely well and the City of London police is doing exceptionally well in leading on fraud nationally.

Legal Migration Rules

The Home Office engages with the devolved nations through the inter-ministerial group and recognises that each of the nations of the UK has varying immigration needs, reflected in the varied shortage occupation lists for each nation. Immigration will, however, remain reserved. It is not possible to operate distinct systems without effectively creating an internal UK migration border system.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed that the changes to the minimum income threshold for family and skilled workers disproportionately impact Scotland. Median earnings on the west coast of Scotland are £24,700 a year, which is far short even of the climbdown figure of £29,000. Did the Home Secretary even consider that this policy would effectively cut off migration to parts of Scotland that need and would benefit from inward migration?

The Government’s position is clear: the changes that we are introducing are the right thing. The numbers of dependents we are seeing coming is disproportionate. There will be an opportunity, through the review of the composition of the immigration salary list in the second phase, and through the call for evidence, for exactly those debates to be had and for those views to be made known.

The Home Office’s knee-jerk policy to raise the threshold and its sudden partial reverse ferret to bring it slightly back down again caused a huge amount of distress to people up and down these islands who now do not know what the future holds for them and their families. What equality impact assessment has been carried out on the policy which, as well as affecting Scotland, will disproportionately affect women?

When he announced the changes, the Home Secretary made a commitment to lay the information on the projected volumes in the House Library. It seems that the hon. Lady is criticising the Government for not taking the steps that we have taken to say clearly that the changes will not be applied retrospectively. We think that that is the right thing to do and that it has provided reassurance to people. Ultimately, we need to get net migration under control and we think it is a pragmatic and sensible package to take forward.

That does not answer the question that I put to the Minister at all. What equality impact assessment has been carried out on this policy? What recognition of wage levels in Scotland has there been in relation to the policy? He cannot tell me.

One of my constituents tells me that they are worried about their spouse, who works as a legal administrator, coming over from Australia. Also, a man is worried about his nephew and partner who will never be able to return from Canada if they want to come back to live in Scotland, and there are many more who are guilty only of falling in love with somebody of what the Government consider to be the wrong nationality. Will the Minister apologise to them for the chaos that these policies have caused?

The position is as I have set out. We think the number of people coming to the country in this way is not sustainable and that we are taking forward a pragmatic, balanced package. As I have said, the measures will not be applied retrospectively, so they will not affect existing applications that have been lodged.

Reported Thefts

4. What the average length of time was between (a) thefts being reported and (b) first contact with the police in the last 12 months. (900916)

The Government take domestic burglary very seriously, which is why, just over a year ago, we obtained a commitment from the police to attend every residential burglary. That is delivering results and, according to the crime survey, residential burglary has fallen by 8% year on year.

I thank the Minister for his response. In 2022, the cost of rural theft in the south-west rose by 16.6% from the year before. Has the Minister made an assessment of the success of the new national rural crime unit in improving police contacts with victims of rural theft?

I agree that combating rural crime is extremely important, and the national rural crime unit is designed to do exactly that. We have also legislated, of course, and we will implement that legislation to ensure that things like all-terrain vehicles and agricultural equipment have to be marked or fitted with an immobiliser. Overall domestic burglary has fallen by 57% since 2010.

Ten-year Drugs Plan

5. What progress his Department has made on implementing the Government’s 10-year drugs plan “From harm to hope”, published on 6 December 2021. (900917)

The commitments in the drugs strategy are being delivered, including investing more than £300 million in additional treatment capacity to create over 50,000 extra treatment places. We are also enforcing hard, such as by closing down more than 2,000 county lines since 2019.

Local police in and around Weston-super-Mare have had notable successes in disrupting drug dealing and supply, but new dealers quickly take the place of the old ones. The quantity of drugs and the number of addicts are not declining. Does the Minister accept that although enforcement and education are vital, they are not enough to solve this problem on their own, and that the underlying legal frameworks we use to control these dangerous chemicals have to be addressed, too?

Enforcement is important. Besides closing down those 2,000 county lines, Border Force seized about 19 tonnes of cocaine in the year ending March 2022—the largest amount seized in a single year on record. I have already mentioned treatment. The most important thing is to get people out of their addiction entirely, which is why we are investing so much extra money in treatment.

There are no plans to change the legal framework. Drugs are illegal for a reason. They are highly addictive and harmful, and the out-of-control public drug consumption in those jurisdictions that have liberalised significantly, such as California, San Francisco and so on, is not something we want to see in this country.

We are seeing escalating consumption and movement of drugs in Northern Ireland, and the drugs are coming from England and the Republic of Ireland. What discussions will the Minister have with the Republic of Ireland to ensure that we stop drugs crossing the border? We want to stop them coming from England, too.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Of course, one feature of the island of Ireland is that there is essentially no border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and he has alluded to the various challenges that poses. I would be happy to take up that issue and to see what more we can do to disrupt the supply of drugs north-south and east-west. I thank him for raising the issue.

Asylum Seekers: Hotels

We are making significant progress on closing hotels, with 50 due to be closed by the end of January and more in the coming months. We are also working to move asylum seekers into alternative, cheaper accommodation and have successfully cleared the legacy backlog by deciding more than 112,000 cases, while maintaining the integrity of the system.

Last year, after the police, the fire service and I raised concerns, the Home Office closed the OYO hotel in Earl Shilton. However, Leicestershire still has asylum hotels open, including just over the constituency border in Appleby Magna, for example, and my constituents are concerned. Will the Minister set out a timeline for when the hotels may close or, more likely, will he set out how the least suitable hotels will be closed first so that, as the backlog is dealt with, the closing of hotels falls in line, too?

As I set out, we are making good progress. I hear calls from colleagues from throughout the House for closures in their constituencies. We need to stick the course on delivering that, taking into account a number of factors including the ease of exit, the speed of exit, the fact that notice periods come into play and, crucially, value for money, which the taxpayer would rightly expect.

In welcoming my hon. Friend to his new position, may I urge him finally to make good on his predecessor’s promise to close the temporary accommodation centres in my constituency and restore the two hotels back to their intended purpose? Will he also work with his colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that the “local links” rule relating to social housing is amended to prevent Erewash from being disproportionately burdened by new applications once residents are awarded asylum?

I hear my hon. Friend’s calls for the specific hotels in her constituency to be closed. She can be reassured that we will continue to work closely on this issue with colleagues from across Government to get it right and make sure that we can exit hotels as quickly as possible.

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier answers. As he knows, I received official notification today that Newton Park hotel, which was a four-star hotel in my constituency before it was taken over entirely for use by asylum seekers, is to have the contract ended at the end of February. That is an enormous relief to those in those in the small village there and to those in other villages that the important V3 bus route goes through. I thank him for keeping to the word of his predecessor that the hotel use for asylum seekers would end in the second tranche of closures.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the representations she made on this issue. The situation in her constituency demonstrates that the Government’s plan is working and we are seeing hotel exits happen. That is a direct consequence of getting on and making decisions, bringing forward alternative accommodation and also, crucially, reducing in-flow into the system in the first place.

I welcome the progress that has been made on tackling illegal small boat crossings, which has meant it has been possible to end the use of the North Stafford hotel in Stoke-on-Trent. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is only through the most unequivocable legislation on Rwanda that we can deliver proper deterrence that will mean that numbers will come down further?

The point that my hon. Friend makes gets to the nub of the issue. One of the most important factors in sustaining the progress we have made is reducing the number of in-flows into the UK, particularly via small boat crossings of the channel. That is why my message to the House is clear: if Members want to see hotels close and the progress sustained, they need to be in the Lobby to support the Bill this week.

My constituents and I were delighted at the end of last year to see the end of the Ibis hotel in Bramley being used to house illegal immigrants and its return to normal service. Will the Minister reassure me that any forthcoming immigration legislation passed in this House will make sure that this situation will never happen again, by banning the use of hotels outright and making sure that illegal immigrants are sent to Rwanda for processing?

As I have said, the key principle behind the Bill is to help us to bring to an end the egregious crossings of the channel organised by evil criminal gangs. It will help us to ensure that there is greater control of our borders and that there are not these in-flows into the system, which have undoubtedly had the consequence of our needing to respond to that challenge through the opening of hotels. That is precisely what we are trying to put a stop to.

Last week, The Times reported that there are 10,000 hotel beds going unused, at a cost of £1.5 million a day—that is in addition to the 3,500 buffer of empty beds held as a contingency in case of Manston being overwhelmed. Are those figures actually correct?

The right hon. Lady will recognise that it is of course important for there to be a buffer, to make sure that operationally we have the bed spaces required in a contingency situation to be able to respond to any surges and particular challenges. That is a difficult area but one that we are looking at carefully. Within the hotel estate, we are of course maximising the use of bed spaces wherever possible, which again helps us to get on and close the hotels, in a way that I think she would like to see.

The downside of the volume of asylum applications being granted is the pressure that that is putting on the local authority homeless sections. Will the Minister have another look at the time given to asylum seekers from the date on which their application is accepted to the date on which they have to move out of Home Office accommodation? Will he consider the issue of 28 days versus 56 days, which is the recognised limit under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017? Otherwise, all we are going to do is transfer people from Home Office-funded hotels to local authority-funded ones, with all the extra pressure of financial problems that that creates for local authorities.

On the dates, we are working with local authorities to give them as early visibility as possible about the anticipated number of people with decisions that have been granted that they should expect to see. That helps to forward-plan and we are mindful of those points. As things stand, there is no intention to change that 28-day period. Clearly, planning and working with local authorities is critical, but in many cases people have more than 28 days within which to vacate.

Oldham has a proud history of supporting the persecuted. As of March last year, our town is home to 910 asylum seekers, 145 of whom are in hotel accommodation, but there the housing crisis meets the homelessness crisis: 1,000 people in temporary accommodation, including 500 children. Is it not time that the Government reviewed the dispersal policy, to ensure that every part of England plays its fair share? I gently point out that Braintree is home to just two asylum seekers, as opposed to Oldham’s 910.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I and my officials are carefully considering what more can be done to ensure that there is equitability in the approach to dispersal. That is critical, and we need to work carefully through some of the pressures and challenges that these issues present, but I gently say to those on the Opposition Benches that a key part of the response is to get the flows into the system down, and they do not have a credible plan for doing that.

There are currently 56,000 asylum seekers in hotels. The Prime Minister promised to close those hotels some time last year, but since then the figures have gone up by 10,000. Can the Minister confirm that that figure is correct?

I am clear in my mind that the figure that the hon. Gentleman has cited, and that the shadow Home Secretary used last week, does not represent the picture as it stands today. They will recognise that there is periodic reporting on statistical releases, but the figures they cite are not representative of the position on the ground today.

Reducing Migration

On 4 December, I announced a new package of measures to further reduce legal net migration, including limitations on family dependants being brought in by workers and students, creating a salary threshold and raising the minimum income requirement progressively over the next few years.

My right hon. Friend will know that the net migration figure of over 700,000 is completely unsustainable. Were it to continue, that would represent the creation of 10 new parliamentary constituencies each year. What co-operation does his Department have with the public services that have to meet the demands from the newcomers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must be conscious of the impact of the level of net migration on local populations and local authorities. We recognise that the figure is too high and we are taking action to bring it down. We work closely with other Government Departments to deliver on that, but while Opposition Front Benchers criticise the headline figures, they also oppose every single step we take to bring that figure down.

I commend my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border for all their work towards delivering on our manifesto commitment to reduce net migration. My constituents are now looking for the results of all their hard work. Will the Home Secretary outline how his new legal migration package will make the most of our post-Brexit points-based immigration system?

This country has always had a global outlook: the ethnic composition of the Government at the most senior levels is a direct reflection of our global connectivity and those human bridges across the world. We want to ensure this country is able to benefit from the expertise, knowledge and work of the brightest and best from around the whole world in a manner that is controlled, fair, predictable and well enforced.

It is good that the Government want to ensure that the brightest and best can continue to come to the UK to study, but does my right hon. Friend recognise that the changes to the family dependant rules for students risk causing enormous damage to some of our elite business schools, which compete in the global marketplace for experienced, outstanding professionals? What work is he doing with the sector to try to overcome some of those challenges?

My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that we are in a globally competitive environment when it comes to this country’s quality higher education postgraduate offer. I have no doubt that we are still highly competitive. We will continue to work with the university sector on this and ensure that the people we bring to the UK are here to study and add value, and that no institution in our higher education sector mistakes its role—they are educators, not a back-door visa system.

I beg the Home Secretary to spread those more enlightened views to some of his colleagues. Migration should not be a dirty word. I am the son of a migrant. I migrated myself to the United States at one stage. My DNA tells me that I am 34% Irish and 32% Swedish. Can every Member of this Parliament have their DNA published so that we can bring some sense to this discussion about migration?

I am not sure that the Government are able to compel such widespread disclosure—perhaps the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority might have a view on such things. Both sides of my family are of immigrant stock: my mother came to the UK in the 1960s, and my father’s family in 1066. This country has benefited from controlled immigration in a fair system, where people who play by the rules are rewarded and we say no to those who refuse to play by the rules.

I am a legal migrant, too. Bath has a vibrant hospitality industry that caters for local people and tourists from all over the world, but many of our hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs are already struggling to find enough staff or are under threat of reduced working hours and closure. How will the Home Secretary ensure that the proposed new salary thresholds and measures to reduce legal migration do not worsen those staff shortages?

We liaise very closely with other Government Departments to ensure that our system, which is transparent and fair, also supports the British economy. We work particularly closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that those who have talent and ambition but who, for whatever reason, are currently unable to fully engage in the job market are enabled to do so. I myself have a background in the hospitality industry, and we want that industry to continue to thrive. It is not the case that we should automatically rely on overseas labour for that; we can have home-grown talent as well.

The Home Secretary talked about people coming to UK universities to study. Many people also come to our universities to carry out ground-breaking and economically important research, and they are worried about the rise in the minimum income thresholds, because that means they will be unable to bring their families with them. What assessment has he made of the impact of the new changes on our universities’ important research work?

We recognise the contribution of the international pool of talent. Indeed, when I was Foreign Secretary I signed up to a deal with India for talented postgraduates to exchange experience in our respective countries. We will always look to support the genuine draw on talent, but we will also ensure that the higher education system is not used as a back-door means of immigration. The system is about research and education, not a back-door means of getting permanent residence in this country.

Neighbourhood Policing

8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of neighbourhood policing levels. (900920)

Giving the police the resources they need to police local communities and fight crime remains a Government priority. We have delivered on our commitment to recruit 20,000 additional police officers; indeed, we have surpassed that. Decisions about how they are deployed are, of course, a matter for discussion between chief constables, police and crime commissioners, and mayors, who are responsible for their local communities.

The legacy of Government cuts has left police forces across England and Wales with a £3.2 billion cash shortfall, and 6,000 officers have now been taken away from frontline policing duties in order to fill the roles of former police staff. Can the Home Secretary start to acknowledge the effect of Tory cuts? How will he rectify that and get more frontline police back into our neighbourhoods across the United Kingdom?

As I said, decisions on how a police force balances its important back-office roles and frontline policing roles are rightly decisions for the chief constable. We have given additional resource, and we have delivered on our commitment to have more police officers. Of course we are looking at police funding formulas to ensure that they remain well resourced, but there are more than 20,000—in fact, 20,947—additional police officers in England and Wales. That will ensure that there are more police on the frontline.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) said, to this day we are feeling the devastating impact of the Tories’ decision to cut 20,000 police officers. Ministers such as the Home Secretary seem to expect credit for desperately trying to reverse it, but the National Police Chiefs’ Council was right that the efforts at reversal have moored 6,000 warranted officers in roles traditionally filled by civilians. Again, we have heard from the Home Secretary that we have never had it so good, but there are still 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police. Why will the Government not match our commitment to get 13,000 more police officers and police community support officers out on the beat?

Unless Labour has a plan for paying for those figures, it is just empty rhetoric. The simple truth is that there are record numbers of officers in police forces across the country, including Essex Police, which I visited this morning—it has never had more police officers than it has currently. It is right that chief constables decide how to deploy those police officers. Again, unless we hear a plan to pay for those additional officers, I will not trust Labour’s figures.

Visa Income Thresholds: Universities

9. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of proposed changes to visa income thresholds on the university sector. (900921)

We have been mindful of the need to balance the impacts on individual sectors with economic growth, and the needs of the labour market with the need to reduce levels of immigration. As part of our policy development, we undertook analytical work across Government that supports our decisions. A regulatory impact assessment will be developed in due course.

The director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim, has expressed concern that changes to the Government’s visa income threshold could affect universities’ ability to attract global talent. International students and academics make a contribution in excess of £5 billion annually to the Scottish economy. If the Government recognise the contribution of international students and academics, as they say they do, why are they introducing a policy that threatens to prevent future cohorts of them from making a similar contribution?

Individuals will still be able to make a valid contribution in the years ahead, but in a sustainable and managed way. There are no immediate plans to introduce further exemptions to the increased salary threshold, but the salary discounts remain in place. We will continue to engage as the measures are introduced. There are also opportunities domestically for recruitment. At every opportunity, we should be trying to support domestic recruitment wherever we can.

Police Funding Formula

Work to update the funding formula is continuing, and I will update the House as soon as I can. The House should be aware that next year, 2024-25, police and crime commissioners funding frontline police will see their budgets increase by up to £922 million, which is an increase of about 6%.

There is cross-party agreement that the current funding formula is unfair for police in Bedfordshire, with the Conservatives’ own PCC acknowledging that there is simply no meat left on the bone for local police. My constituents are fed up with being told that they have never had it so good, or being fobbed off with one-off grants. Will the Minister commit to a date to finally deliver a fair funding formula for my communities?

What I will commit to, as far as the people of Bedfordshire are concerned, is an increase in funding of £10.2 million for next year, 2024-25. That is an extra 6.5% compared with this year. They will also have 1,455 police officers. That is about 200 more than Bedfordshire’s police force has ever had at any time in its history.

It is not unusual to hear from two Bedfordshire MPs when it comes to the police funding formula, because this goes all the way back to the last Labour Government, but there is a cross-party view in Bedfordshire that our police force is underfunded. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet all Bedfordshire MPs so that we can press the case for increases in funding for Bedfordshire Police?

I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss these issues. As I say, Bedfordshire Police will receive an extra £10.2 million next year—an increase of about 6.5%—which I am sure will be welcome up and down the county, but I am of course happy to meet my hon. Friend whenever he would like.

Police forces are not being listened to when they raise serious concerns about the funding formula and how it limits their ability to tackle town centre crime. The British Retail Consortium reports that more than 850 acts of violence or abuse against shop workers happen every single day. Everyone has a right to feel safe at work, so when will the Home Secretary accept that retail crime is out of control and accept Labour’s plan to introduce a new law to protect retail workers from violence and actually stand up for shop workers?

Theft offences are down by 47% since 2010, of course—those are the crime survey figures—but we have recently launched a retail crime action plan, where police are committing to prioritising attendance at incidents of retail crime and always following reasonable lines of inquiry in relation to shoplifting, assaults against shop workers and other forms of offending. In addition, we legislated in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022—

Neighbourhood Crime

This Government recognise the impact of neighbourhood crime. It is the crime that most affects people’s confidence—the confidence of individuals, businesses and communities. The strategic response to this is evidence-based and targeted, and getting policing right in this area is incredibly important for maintaining community confidence.

I have seen for myself how successful the Government’s safer streets fund was in Barnstaple, and I am delighted that it will be extended into Ilfracombe this year. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that councils have the funding to help support those schemes?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that point. I am proud of the fact that, since 2010, neighbourhood crime is down by 51% because of the kind of interventions that she highlighted. I reassure her that we will continue to look at what works, to fund and support, and to make every effort to drive down neighbourhood crime even further.

Police numbers across Devon and Cornwall are at record levels and deserve our praise. In a recent survey, my constituents in East Devon said that tackling neighbourhood crime is an absolute priority, as ranging from burglaries to thefts from vehicles. Will my right hon. Friend outline what progress this Conservative Government have made on cracking down on neighbourhood crime?

I am very pleased that my hon. Friend’s local community is feeling the positive impact of the decisions we have made. Since coming into Government, we have seen serious violence reduced by 26%, and neighbourhood crime down by 27% since the start of this Parliament. We have seen a 36% reduction in domestic burglary, an 18% reduction in vehicle-related theft and a 61% decrease in robbery. We have reduced homicide by 15%, have taken action on drugs and are committed to—

Order. Secretary of State—I said the same to the Minister—please, you were very slow at the beginning; you will not be slow at the end, I am sure.

On Friday I visited five Co-op stores and every one of them had daily experience of theft, with one losing £35,000-worth of goods over six months and staff experiencing assaults. In light of Labour’s pledge to introduce 13,000 more community police and a law on retail crime, what is the Secretary of State really doing? Clearly his plan is not working.

We have a retail crime action plan. We have ensured that assaults against shop workers is an aggravating factor and we have made it clear to police forces across the country that we expect them to take action on neighbourhood crime like that and to pursue every reasonable line of inquiry. We are determined to drive down retail crime.

Safer Streets Fund

17. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the safer streets fund on the safety of women and girls. (900929)

The objective of the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund is to enhance public safety in a direct and targeted way, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Since 2020 the Government have invested £150 million across the two funds and the evaluation of round 1 of the safer streets fund, published in January last year, showed that the investment was boosting trust in the police and making communities feel safer.

Does the Minister justify the Government cut of 38% of the funding for projects to reduce violence against women and girls in Merseyside? They have cut £400,000, and one project will have to cease.

What I can tell the hon. Lady is that under the safer streets fund, £3.9 million has been allocated to Merseyside, including for a project in St Helens town centre. Let me remind her very gently of what that is funding. It has gone towards lighting, signage and improvement to taxi ranks, and one of the most radical measures of all is that it provides women with a free taxi service home, where the safer streets fund will reimburse the taxi driver the money they would otherwise have received, so that a woman does not have to find herself standing at a windy bus stop or walking home.

We welcome the safer streets fund, which will go some way to supporting the night-time economy that has been badly hit over 14 years. The Government’s efforts to tackle spiking have been completely undermined by the Home Secretary. Spiking is a serious and devastating offence. Why did the Home Secretary think it was appropriate to joke about spiking his own wife, and can he confirm exactly how many drops of Rohypnol he considers to be illegal?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I think it has been widely reported that the Home Secretary was making a joke about not being good enough for his wife. The point is that we are the first Government who have done something about spiking—it is not a new offence, and the measures to change the statutory provisions in the Offences against the Person Act 1861 could have been taken by the last Labour Government. The reason we have sought to clarify the matter in law is that we do not think that enough victims are coming forward, and the reason there are not enough prosecutions is the time lag in getting effective toxicology reports. That is why we are investing so much money in rapid drinks testing kits, so that hopefully we will be able to get the test done on site on the night, and get more of those offenders behind bars.

Topical Questions

This year, the Home Office will continue to build on our progress on the public priorities: a 36% fall in small boat crossings last year, 86 arrests of small boat pilots, 246 arrests of people smugglers, the biggest-ever international operation resulting in 136 boat seizures and 45 outboard motors being seized, the illegal migration package announced, more than 2,000 county lines drugs lines smashed and the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill to give police leaders more powers. We are relentlessly focused on delivering community safety on behalf of the British people.

Now that we have the Home Secretary here to answer for himself, can he tell us whether he is aware that the police are receiving more than 560 reports of spiking every month, and in December the Home Office said that the reason the crime is so prevalent is that it is seen as funny and a joke? How can we have any confidence in the Home Secretary to deliver action on spiking when he thinks it is a joke?

I am the Home Secretary who has actually introduced action on this. In my first week in the job, I visited Holborn police station to see the work of the Metropolitan police in tackling violence against women and girls. I made it clear to the Home Office that my priority was the protection of women and girls. I am taking action on this issue, and I am absolutely determined to continue doing so.

T3. I am sure the Home Secretary would agree that anti-extremism training in Departments is extremely important. What more can the Government do to ensure that it is training to tackle extremism, rather than anti-Government and party bias training? (900941)

My hon. Friend will have seen recently a pretty extraordinary report on allegations about extremism and the failure to train properly, and what is going on in universities around the United Kingdom. In one recent problematic case, it was said that it is very hard to define what a terrorist is. We know what a terrorist is, the law knows what a terrorist is and this Government know what a terrorist is, and that is exactly why we have just proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir.

We welcome the proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Five more lives were tragically lost in the channel this weekend. As criminal gangs profit from those dangerous boat crossings, it shows how vital it is to stop them, but we need the Home Office to have a grip. The Home Secretary gave no answer earlier on the 4,000 people he has lost from the Rwanda list. Can he tell us if he has also lost the 35,000 people he has removed from the asylum backlog? How many of them are still in the country?

I join the right hon. Lady in expressing sadness and condolences for those who lost their lives in the channel. That reinforces the importance of breaking the people-smuggling gangs. The fact is that we are driving down the numbers of people in the backlog: we are processing applications more quickly and ensuring that decisions are made so that those who should not be in this country can be removed either to their own country or a safe third country. That is why the Rwanda Bill is so important, and why we will continue working on these issues.

Returns have dropped 50% since the last Labour Government. The Home Secretary is still not telling us where those missing people are. He appears to have lost thousands of people who may have no right to be in the country, and lost any grip at all. In the ongoing Tory asylum chaos, we have Cabinet Ministers, countless ex-Ministers and the deputy Tory chair all saying that they will oppose the Home Secretary’s policy this week—a policy that we know he and the Prime Minister do not even believe in. If the deputy Tory chair this week votes against the Home Secretary’s policy, will he be sacked, or is the Prime Minister so weak that he has lost control of asylum, lost control of our borders, and lost control of his own party, too?

Conservative Members of Parliament are absolutely united in our desire to get a grip of this issue. I am not the person who has held up a sign saying, “Refugees welcome”; I am not the person whose colleagues oppose each and every rhetorical flourish. Until the Labour party comes up with a credible plan, I will not take its criticism any more seriously than it deserves.

T4. The British people welcome people who come to this country to work and contribute to our economy. But those who abuse our hospitality, commit violent offences and are then sent to prison need to be deported at the end of their sentences. Will my right hon. and learned Friend update the House on how many were deported last year, and what action he will take to ensure that foreign nationals who are violent offenders are automatically deported when they leave prison? (900942)

We are clear that foreign criminals should be deported wherever possible, and we will continue to do so, in stark contrast to the calls to stop the deportation of foreign national criminals from the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour party. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that foreign national offender returns have increased by 19% in the last 12 months.

T2. My constituents often have to wait months to elicit a response for their asylum or Home Office queries. Given the Conservative Government’s persistent failure to effectively manage the asylum system, resulting in a backlog of almost 100,000 cases and the excessive use of expensive hotels, does the Home Secretary not feel that now is the time to adopt Labour’s comprehensive plan, which would end the use of expensive hotels within 12 months and significantly reduce the backlog? (900940)

I think the hon. Gentleman means Labour’s non-existent plan. The fact is that last year, we made 112,000 initial decisions; if the hon. Gentleman has specific cases that he wishes to raise with me as the Minister, I am very happy to have a look at those, but the productivity improvements that we saw last year carry through a lot of learning as we now get on and deal with the backlog. A lot of positive work has gone on, and he should recognise that point.

T7. Humber-side police now has over 800 more officers than in 2010, which obviously enables it to provide a better service to my constituents. Crucially, it also has top-class leadership, currently provided by Jonathan Evison, the police commissioner, and until recently by Lee Freeman, the former chief constable—I am sure his successor will also provide that leadership. Does the Minister agree that top-class leadership is important, and what is he doing to ensure improvements are made to the present leadership training scheme? (900945)

I join my hon. Friend in commending Humberside police force on the progress it has made, particularly under recent chief constable Lee Freeman. In terms of improving leadership, of course, Lee Freeman is now one of His Majesty’s inspectors, and he can apply what he learned and put into practice in Humberside across the whole country.

T5. On 17 October, the Government pledged in the House to make changes to the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme pathways 1 and 3. When can the House expect an update and a plan? (900943)

Of course, we are continuing to work very collaboratively across Government on the response to the situation in Afghanistan, fulfilling the commitments we made to provide that sanctuary in the way that we all want to see. We will say more about those efforts as soon as we are able.

T8. We heard earlier about the effectiveness of the safer streets fund. Falmouth in my constituency, where most of the students live, recently received £67,000; in addition, our brilliant police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez has been working with Dawn Dines, who helped to successfully change the law on spiking. Can my hon. Friend demonstrate to my Truro and Falmouth constituents how those positive changes will improve conviction rates in the Devon and Cornwall area? (900947)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and congratulate her police and crime commissioner on the excellent work she is doing. My hon. Friend will be aware that we have amended the Offences against the Person Act 1861 so that the offence of spiking is captured specifically and comprehensively in law, in part because we want more victims to come forward, but we are told time and again by the police that the most significant barrier to conviction is the length of time between the offence taking place and a toxicology report being received. We are therefore investing in rapid drink testing research, and we hope to bring testing capacity on site.

UKHospitality estimates that 95% of skilled worker visas that were gained last year would be lost under the new regulations. That is a vital sector for my local economy in Edinburgh and for Scotland, so when will the Government recognise that the revision to the salary level was not sufficient and bring it down to a reasonable level?

I disagree with the hon. Lady’s interpretation of the situation. We should be working in a collaborative cross-Government way, particularly to support domestic employment wherever possible. Comprehensive steps are being taken through the back to work plan to help deliver on that, and there are many people here on other routes who are perfectly able to work and, with the right support, would be doing so. That is precisely where we are going to focus our efforts.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to provide advice to police forces across the country to help them support communities during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas?

My hon. Friend is right to ask that question, because sadly, we have seen an absolutely vile upsurge in antisemitism on our streets. We have seen people who claim to be speaking out for equality and justice actually defending people who take slaves, who violate women’s and girls’ rights, and who here in our own country make the Jewish community feel uncomfortable. That is exactly why this Government have committed £18 million to the Community Security Trust. Very sadly, we have also had to commit £7 million to academic security, because there has also been a massive increase in antisemitism in universities. We are combating all of that.

How many times must a demonstration in the same cause be repeated, week in and week out, before the well-funded organisers become liable to pay for at least part of the policing costs?

Of course, we recognise that there is legitimacy to public protests. We also recognise that the unprecedented and unwarranted pressure that this is putting on policing around the country is having an impact on communities. My view is that the organisers have made their point, and repeating it does not strengthen their argument. Unfortunately, we are also seeing some deeply distasteful people weaving themselves in among those protesters, who are protesting on issues that they feel passionately about, but whose good will is being abused by others.

Will the Home Secretary urgently meet his hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) and me to speak about why it is that, although the whole House passed the Public Order Act 2023 with an amendment to ensure safe access zones for women using abortion clinics, this is now subject to a consultation that would gut the legislation? Can he meet us urgently? The consultation is due to end on 22 January, and it would not actually do what all MPs in this House voted for.

If the hon. Lady writes to me on this issue, I will endeavour to find out the details of the point she has made.

Last week, the Home Secretary produced a report on safe and legal routes to comply with section 61 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the amendment I tabled last year. It is very long and generous on the existing legal routes, but can he tell me how my 16-year-old orphan from an east African country with links to the UK, who is a genuine asylum seeker, will be helped to come legally and safely to the UK by what the Government have published so far?

My hon. Friend is a very passionate advocate on this issue, and we had a conversation last week about this very point. The fact is that, since 2015, we have welcomed over half a million people through our safe and legal routes. We are introducing the cap precisely because we want to see that generosity extended in the years ahead, but the pressures of illegal migration in particular make that very challenging and difficult. This is precisely the sort of issue I want to study with him as we move forward with the cap, to make sure that we continue to help the most vulnerable people from around the world, working particularly with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others.

Defending the UK and Allies

I would like to update the House on the action that we took on Thursday night against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

Since 19 November, Iran-backed Houthis have launched over 25 illegal and unacceptable attacks on commercial shipping in the Red sea, and on 9 January they mounted a direct attack against British and American warships. They fired on our ships and our sailors—it was the biggest attack on the Royal Navy for decades—and so we acted. We did so in self-defence, consistent with the UN charter, and to uphold freedom of navigation, as Britain has always done.

Alongside the United States, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, we ordered the RAF to strike two Houthi military facilities in Yemen. I want to be clear that these were limited strikes. They were carefully targeted at launch sites for drones and ballistic missiles to degrade the Houthis’ capacity to make further attacks on international shipping. I can tell the House today that our initial assessment is that all 13 planned targets were destroyed. At the drone and cruise missile base in Bani, nine buildings were successfully hit. A further three buildings were hit at Abbs airfield, along with a cruise missile launcher caught in the open. We have seen no evidence thus far of civilian casualties, which we took great care to avoid. I know the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the incredible bravery and professionalism of all our servicemen and women.

The need to maximise the security and effectiveness of the operation meant that it was not possible to bring this matter to the House in advance, but we took care to brief Members—including of course you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the Opposition—before the strikes took place, and I have come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity. I do not take decisions on the use of force lightly. That is why I stress that this action was taken in self-defence. It was limited, not escalatory. It was a necessary and proportionate response to a direct threat to UK vessels, and therefore to the UK itself.

Let me be absolutely clear why the Royal Navy is in the Red sea. It is there as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, protecting freedom of navigation as a fundamental tenet of international law. The Houthis’ attacks on international shipping have put innocent lives at risk. They have held one crew hostage for almost two months, and they are causing growing economic disruption. Global commerce cannot operate under such conditions. Containers and tankers are having to take a 5,000-mile detour around the Cape of Good Hope. That pushes up prices and imperils the passage of goods, foods and medicines that the British people and others rely on.

We have attempted to resolve this through diplomacy. After numerous international calls for the attacks to stop, a coalition of countries gave the Houthis a clear and unambiguous warning two weeks ago. Last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the attacks and highlighting the right of nations to defend their vessels and preserve freedom of navigation, yet the Houthis continued on their reckless path.

We should not fall for the Houthis’ malign narrative that this is about Israel and Gaza—they target ships from around the world. We continue to work towards a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza and to get more aid to civilians. We also continue to support a negotiated settlement in Yemen’s civil war, but I want to be very clear that this action is completely unrelated to those issues. It is a direct response to the Houthis’ attacks on international shipping. We should also recognise the risks of inaction. It would weaken international security and the rule of law, further damage freedom of navigation and the global economy, and send a dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game.

There is another point here, which is often overlooked. The Houthis’ attacks risk worsening the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen itself. The UK helps to feed around 100,000 Yemenis every month, with aid arriving via the very sea routes that the Houthis have in their sights. The threats to shipping must cease. Illegally detained vessels and crews must be released, and we remain prepared to back our words with actions.

But dealing with that threat does not detract from our other international commitments; rather, it strengthens our determination to uphold fundamental UN principles. If our adversaries think they can distract us from helping Ukraine by threatening international security elsewhere, they could not be more wrong. On Friday, I travelled to Kyiv to meet President Zelensky and address the Ukrainian Parliament. I took a message from this House to the Rada that we will stand with Ukraine today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes. If Putin wins in Ukraine, he will not stop there, and other malign actors will be emboldened. That is why Ukraine’s security is our security. That is why the UK will stay the course, and it is why I am confident that our partners share our resolve.

Far from our resolve faltering, our military support to Ukraine will increase this year. We will provide the biggest single package of defence aid to Ukraine since the war began, worth £2.5 billion. That will include more air defence equipment, more anti-tank weapons, more long-range missiles, thousands more rounds of ammunition and artillery shells, training for thousands more Ukrainian servicemen and women, and the single largest package of advanced drones given to Ukraine by any nation. All of that is on top of what we have already provided to support Ukraine.

In total, since the war began, the United Kingdom will have provided almost £12 billion of aid to Ukraine. We were the first to train Ukrainian troops, the first in Europe to provide lethal weapons, the first to commit main battle tanks, the first to provide long-range missiles, and now we are the first to keep the promise made at last year’s NATO summit, alongside 30 other countries, to provide new bilateral security commitments. Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO, and NATO will be stronger with Ukraine in it, but these commitments will help bridge the gap until that day comes.

Under the new agreement that we signed with President Zelensky, we are building Ukraine’s military capabilities; and if Russia ever invades Ukraine again, we will provide swift and sustained assistance, including modern equipment across land, air and sea. Together with our allies, the UK will be there from the first moment until the last. For all of this, I bring a message of thanks from President Zelensky to the British people. Today, I hope that the House will join me in sending a message back to the Ukrainian people: that we stand together as one in support of these firm commitments. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

We are building a new partnership with Ukraine, designed to last 100 years or more. Yes, it is about defence and security, but it is also about trade, investment, culture and more. There could be no more powerful sign of our unique bond than Ukraine’s decision to adopt English as the language of business and diplomacy. So, through the British Council, we are going to fund English language training for the Ukrainian people.

In dangerous times, we are investing in defence, hardening our critical infrastructure and building our alliances. We are resolute in our principles: international security; the rule of law; and freedom to determine your own future. An attack on those principles is an attack on everything that we believe in and on which our lives and livelihoods depend. As the home of parliamentary democracy and a leader in collective security, it is our responsibility to defend those principles and to defend our people. That is who we are. That is what Britain does and will always do. I commend this statement to the House.

May I thank the Prime Minister for the secure briefing last week and for an advance copy of his statement? Let me reiterate that Labour backs this targeted action to reinforce maritime security in the Red sea. We strongly condemn the Houthi attacks, which are targeting commercial ships of all nationalities, putting civilians and military personnel—including British forces—in serious danger. The Houthi attacks are unacceptable and illegal and, if left unaddressed, could lead to a devastating rise in the cost of essential food in some of the poorest countries.

The international community clearly stands against the Houthi attacks. Alongside the UK and the US, four other countries were involved in non-operational support, over a dozen nations are part of the maritime protection force in the Red sea, and many others support the recent UN Security Council resolution, which condemns the Houthi attacks in the strongest possible terms. The UK strikes were limited and targeted, and did everything possible to protect civilian lives. That is a proportionate response.

Military action must of course always be underpinned by a clear strategy, and it is the role of this House to ask the right questions. So I ask the Prime Minister: what confidence does he have that his stated objectives have been met? What process will he follow in the face of continued Houthi attacks? What efforts are under way to maintain the support of the international community? Will he confirm that he stands by the parliamentary convention that, where possible, military interventions by the UK Government—particularly if they are part of a sustained campaign—should be brought before the House? Scrutiny is not the enemy of strategy.

While we back the action taken last week, these strikes still do bring risk, and we must avoid escalation across the middle east. Will the Prime Minister tell us how the UK will work with international partners so that our rightful actions are not used as an excuse by those who seek to expand violence throughout the wider region, or indeed reanimate the conflict in Yemen?

None the less, our armed forces across the region are showing the highest professionalism and bravery, both in defending commercial shipping and in this targeted action. We thank them. We are proud of them. They continue to show that Britain is a force for good, as does the UK’s unwavering unity in support of Ukraine and against Russian aggression.

On the Labour Benches, we have backed all military support for Ukraine, so again we back the Prime Minister’s announcement of £2.5 billion for Ukraine next year, and we strongly support the agreement on security co-operation, which will give Ukraine vital confidence to plan for the year ahead. I hope that it becomes a template for other allies to follow and that, in time, Ukraine will become a full member of NATO. To those listening in Kyiv, Moscow or elsewhere in the world, let me be clear: whoever is in government in Britain, the UK will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Returning to the middle east, it is now over 100 days since the brutal events of 7 October. Israel’s right to self-defence is fundamental, as is its duty to comply with international law. The longer the conflict in Gaza rages, the greater the risk of escalation throughout the entire region. On the Israel-Lebanon border, we must urge constraint. We must make it crystal clear to all parties that the UK does not support this conflict extending further in Lebanon.

Within Israel and Palestine, in the west bank, settler violence must stop immediately, and in Gaza we need a humanitarian truce now—not as a short pause, but as the first step on a road away from violence. The need for a sustainable ceasefire is clear to stop the killing of innocent civilians, to create the space for the return of all the hostages, and to provide urgent humanitarian relief to protect against disease and ward off a devastating famine. From that first step, we can begin a bigger push towards peace, a permanent end to the fighting and a lasting political solution. The hope of a two-state solution is fragile, but it is still there and we must fight for it, just as we must remain resolute in the face of aggression that threatens global security, whether in Europe or in the Red sea.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support for the action that we have taken. He is absolutely right to highlight the international coalition that, over recent weeks, has called out the Houthis’ behaviour, culminating in the UN Security Council resolution strongly condemning the attacks, which he rightly referenced. Our stated aim was to degrade and disrupt the Houthis’ capability to launch attacks on civilian shipping. As I indicated, our initial assessment is that our strikes have been successful in the specific targets that were selected. Obviously, that is an initial assessment, but that remains our case at the moment.

More generally, we want a reduction of tensions in the region and a restoration of stability. That is our stated aim. It is incumbent on the Houthis not to escalate and not to continue what are illegal and unprovoked attacks on civilian shipping that put innocent lives at risk and damage the global economy and the prices that British citizens and others pay for their everyday goods, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly pointed out.

I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it was necessary to strike at speed, as he acknowledged, to protect the security of the operations. That is in accordance with the convention. I remain committed to that convention, and would always look to follow appropriate processes and procedures, and act in line with precedent—he will know that there were strikes in 2015 and 2018, when a similar process was followed.

I also provide the right hon. and learned Gentleman with the assurance that he rightly asked for about our international engagement, because there will be malign forces out there that seek to distort our action and to turn it into something that it is not. It is important that we engage with our allies and others in the region, so that they understand what we did and why. I provide him with the assurance that we have done that and will continue to do that, because it is important that there is no linkage between these actions and anything else that is happening. This is purely and simply to respond in self-defence to illegal attacks by the Houthis on commercial shipping.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s support for the announcements we made with regard to Ukraine. He is right to point out the importance of the security commitments we signed. Thirty countries at the Vilnius summit promised to do so. This House should be proud that the United Kingdom is again leading by being the first country to sign such a commitment, which I believe will serve as a template for others to follow. I can tell him of the enormous appreciation in Ukraine for the UK doing that, so that there is long-term certainty for the Ukrainian people of our support, as well as further deterrence to Russia and others against future aggression.

In conclusion, the confluence of these two events over the same 24 hours serves to highlight the increasing threats we face as a country. The global environment is becoming more challenging and more unstable. It is incumbent on us to respond to those challenges with increased investment in defence, as we are doing, and by strengthening our alliances, because ultimately we must defend the principles of international law, freedom and democracy, and freedom of navigation that we all hold dear. This Government will always stand ready to do that and to protect the British people.

The Prime Minister was clearly absolutely justified to respond as he did, particularly after the direct attack against HMS Diamond, but given that at the time of the Falklands campaign we had 35 frigates and destroyers and were spending 4.5% of GDP on defence, whereas both those figures can be cut in half to describe our situation today, does he agree that we certainly should not be reducing the numbers of frigates or destroyers, and that we certainly should not be mothballing, or otherwise decommissioning, our amphibious assault ships?

I am happy to reassure my right hon. Friend that our intention is to increase defence spending from where it currently is up to 2.5% when circumstances allow. It is worth reminding the House that we have consistently over the past decade been the second largest spender on defence in NATO—larger than 20 other countries combined. Our plans will continue to provide that leadership.

Within that, there is a very strong equipment plan, underpinned by the £24 billion extra that the Ministry of Defence received in its most recent settlement, which for the Royal Navy includes Type 26, Type 31 and Type 32 frigates. With regard to the specific vessels my right hon. Friend talks about, the Defence Secretary has asked the First Sea Lord to plan how the Royal Marines’ excellent work can be taken forward, so that they have the capabilities they need to continue their work and the ability to be deployed globally. When that process concludes, the Defence Secretary will of course update the House.

I would like to begin by echoing the Prime Minister’s sentiments in relation to Ukraine. All of us on the SNP Benches remain firmly united behind its struggle against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

When Sir Walter Scott wrote that in war both sides lose, I am not quite sure he had factored into the equation the likes of the Houthis, because they are, of course, the fundamentalist’s fundamentalists. Unperturbed by being on the receiving end of Saudi Arabia’s bombing for many years, they are, the perceived wisdom would suggest, not just content but perhaps even quite happy to be on the receiving end of American bombs.

That context poses an enormous question for all of us in this House as to what comes next. If, as has been suggested by the Houthis’ actions over the course of the last 12 hours or so, the message that we sought to send has not been received, what do we intend to do? What is the plan? What is the Prime Minister’s strategy? Will he come to the Dispatch Box and, unlike his predecessors in relation to middle east conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, lay out when and how far he is willing to go in relation to military action? Clearly we need to understand his Government’s strategy in this conflict, because we cannot have an escalation that leads to further regional instability. While we would all agree, quite rightly, that we should not fall for the Houthis’ narrative that this is directly related to the conflict in Israel and Gaza, we cannot escape the fact that a ceasefire in Gaza is essential for that wider regional stability.

Let me finally say that, although the Prime Minister has sought to defend his decision not to come to the House last week, it is clear that the House should have been recalled. It is what the public would have expected, and I urge him to do better in future.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about Ukraine and his support for our approach.

Obviously I will not speculate on future action. What we conducted was intended as a single, limited action, and of course we hope that the Houthis will step back and end their reckless and destabilising attacks, but we will not hesitate to protect our security and our interests where required. We would, of course, follow the correct procedures, as I believe we did in this case.

Although the hon. Gentleman is right to ask questions, we should also recognise the risks of inaction, because doing nothing would absolutely weaken international security and the rule of law, would further damage the freedom of navigation and the global economy, and—perhaps most important—would send the very dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game, and that is simply unacceptable.

Of course I am happy to answer questions about the situation in Israel and Gaza, but the House should make it very clear to the outside world that there is no link between what we have done last week and the situation there. This was a specific action in self-defence against the Houthis, who are conducting illegal strikes against innocent civilian shipping. That has nothing to do with what is going on in Israel and Gaza, and we must never let anyone think that this House believes that there is a link.

I commend my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary for his excellent and wide-ranging speech this morning, in which he rightly pointed out that we face dangerous times. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that, while how we spend defence money is important, it is vital and without doubt that defence needs a great deal more money—more than 2.5% and these arbitrary targets—if our brave men and women are to fight a sustained conflict in the years ahead?

I agree that the Defence Secretary made an excellent speech earlier. He highlighted, as I did, the fact that defence spending has consistently met our NATO obligation. We have been the second largest defence spender in NATO, and in the last settlement defence received the largest increase—£24 billion—since the end of the cold war. My hon. Friend is right that the threats we face are increasing. It is right that we invest to protect the British people against those threats, and that is exactly what the Government are doing and will continue to do.

While not having a vote in this House is regrettable, Liberal Democrats support limited strikes against the Houthis to open international shipping lanes, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that this region is a tinderbox. We have seen attacks on US soldiers in Syria and Iraq, the terrorism of Islamic State in Iran, the rockets of Hezbollah, and the Israeli strikes in Beirut—all stemming from the horrifying conflict in Israel and Gaza. Can the Prime Minister tell us what conversations he has had with our NATO and European allies, but also with leaders of Gulf countries, to ensure that these limited strikes remain limited?

As I have said, we are engaging extensively with our international partners, including our Gulf allies. I spoke to the President of Egypt just last week, and will continue to do so. Let me say again, however, that it is important that no one takes away the idea that this House believes, on any side, that there is a link between direct action in self-defence against the Houthis and the situation in Israel and Gaza. They are entirely distinct. We will do everything we can to bring more aid into Gaza, and to make sure that we work hard for a sustainable ceasefire. That is separate from our ability and necessary duty to defend our interests and our people.

I commend the Prime Minister for his firm and principled response to events in the Red sea, but is it not clear from Iran’s support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis that it will do anything to stop a lasting peace between the Arab states and Israel because the Iranian regime believes that Israel should not exist at all? Would it not be a real defeat for Iran to see it isolated by a meaningful resolution of the Palestinian issue and the supercharging of the Abraham accords in a process to bring peace and stability to the region, all underpinned by an international resolve to confront Iran’s proxies wherever they threaten our interests and values?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent remarks and for his work on the Abraham accords, which have done much to bring more peace and stability to the region. He is right to say that the behaviour of the Iranian regime poses a significant threat to the safety and security of the UK and our allies and ensures regional instability where we want to see more peace and stability. I can assure him that we are keeping abreast of all the risks in the area. That is why, for example, the Royal Navy last year and the year before continued to interdict illegal arms smuggling by the Iranians to the Houthis. We will continue to keep in close contact with our allies to take all the measures we can to protect our people and ensure that the Iranians’ destabilising influence in the region is reduced to the best extent possible.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. He has been crystal clear on the need to degrade the capabilities of this terrorist organisation, the Houthis, that are causing havoc in the Red sea. He will also know that Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world and is suffering a mass humanitarian crisis with over 21 million people in need of humanitarian aid and support. What will he do to ensure that the civilians of Yemen are not again engulfed in a mass humanitarian catastrophe?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising an incredibly important point. I reassure her and the House—she will know this from her own experience—that we are steadfast in our support to the Yemeni people as one of the largest donors of lifesaving aid to the UN appeal. We are also committing, I believe, £88 million in this forthcoming year—over the last several years we have committed £1 billion—and that will help to provide food for at least 100,000 people every month and deliver lifesaving healthcare through 400 facilities. The Yemeni people are suffering and we are doing everything we can to alleviate that suffering.

Earlier this century, following threats of access to the Suez canal from Somali piracy, the international community united with a widely based taskforce to successfully suppress it. Now that the Houthis are threatening seafarers’ lives and international navigation—along with the trade and jobs that depend on it—will the Prime Minister seek the widest possible international taskforce to deal with that? Will he also support the people of south Yemen, who want nothing to do with these terrorists?

The right hon. Gentleman is right about the necessity of building international coalitions, and I am pleased to say that that is happening. Operation Prosperity Guardian, which we are proud to be a partner of, is upholding freedom of navigation in the region. As has been mentioned, the UN Security Council resolution that was passed on 10 January is instructive in this sense. It condemns in the strongest terms the Houthi attacks, demands that they immediately cease all attacks and notes the right of member states to act in accordance with international law to defend their vessels. The right hon. Gentleman will also have seen the statement published by around a dozen of our allies before and after the strikes, which I hope will reassure him that there is broad international support for what we are doing and for the calls on the Houthis to desist.

I represent a constituency with a proud maritime tradition. Families are anxious about commercial shipping staff whose jobs take them through the Red sea, and a scramble towards military action is endangering those UK seafarers. Maritime unions are calling not just for more protection but for co-ordinated diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. After today’s attack on a ship, can the Prime Minister explain to seafarers how dropping bombs will lead to a de-escalation of a situation that is already endangering their safety?

That question is quite extraordinary. It is Houthi rockets that are endangering the lives of seafarers in the region. We have seen shipping companies welcome the action we are taking, because they are keen to see security and stability restored to the region. That is what we are aiming to do: to disrupt, destabilise and degrade the Houthis’ ability to carry out these attacks and to restore stability to region. That is very much the focus of our attention. We are acting in self-defence to protect the lives of seafarers, not endanger them. The right hon. Lady would do well to call out the Houthis to stop what they are doing.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the international law case for his Government’s action in the Red sea is, unusually in my experience, relatively straightforward? Does he also agree that the next significant challenge is to maintain and enhance a multinational consensus on deterring and combating more of these attacks, if they occur, and that acting in compliance with and respect for international law assists us in that task?

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. I hope he will have seen the published legal summary of our advice on this issue. This proportionate and necessary action was taken lawfully to respond to attacks by the Houthis, and it was the only feasible means to do so. The UK is, as he knows, permitted under international law to use force in such circumstances. It is right that we have due regard for the legal advice in such situations, and I reassure him that we will continue always to have regard to it. While we fight to protect international law, it is important that we also follow it ourselves.

According to the YouGov poll taken last month, 71% of the British public want a ceasefire in Israel-Gaza, yet last week the Government launched airstrikes in the Red sea in escalation of the situation in the middle east. Although the Government were not under any constitutional obligation to have a parliamentary vote on that military action, or to abide by the result of any such vote, does the Prime Minister believe that the Government have a duty to the British public and the parliamentary community, which represents the British people, in building political support for such military action?

The Leader of the Opposition rightly said we need to ensure that malign actors do not try to distort what we have done for their own purposes. I gently say to the hon. Lady that to conflate and link our action against the Houthis with the situation in Israel-Gaza just gives ammunition to our enemies who seek to make things worse in the region.

We acted in self-defence, and I have explained the reasons, the processes that we followed and the accountability that I have to Parliament, which I am now discharging. Separately, we will, of course, work very hard to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza and to try to bring about the sustainable ceasefire that we all want to see.

I commend my right hon. Friend for prosecuting this military action. As a matter of law it was highly necessary and clearly proportionate, and his legal position is watertight. Countries around the world depend on that route but, as usual, it is the British and the Americans who do something about protecting it. However, there are reports that more Houthi attacks are taking place this afternoon. Will he take more military action, if necessary?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his support. Of course, he will understand that I will not speculate on future action. This was intended as a limited single action, and we hope the Houthis will now step back and end their destabilising attacks. As I said earlier, we will not hesitate to protect our security, our people and our interests, where required. If we do so, we will, of course, follow the correct procedures and precedent, as we did in this case.

The Prime Minister is right that Ukraine needs military support, but it also needs to be rebuilt. Last year, the British Government opposed proposals that we should seize $300 billion-worth of Russian state assets sitting in banks around the world, including in the UK, and use them to rebuild Ukraine. However, I note that the Foreign Secretary said in the United States of America in December that he is now arguing that we should be able to seize those assets. Should we not legislate to ensure Putin pays for the reconstruction of Ukraine?

I am not entirely sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the situation. I agree that Russia must pay for the long-term reconstruction of Ukraine and I have been clear about that. On the G7 leaders call at the end of last year, I was the one who raised this issue and, as a result, the G7 have collectively tasked Finance Ministers with exploring all lawful routes to ensure that Russian assets are made available for that purpose. We are working at pace to identify all options for seizing those assets, and I reassure him that we are ensuring, in conjunction with our international allies, that the measures will be safe, robust and compliant with the international rule of law. Again, it is the UK, together with the US, that has been leading that conversation in the G7.

Houthi attacks on shipping are a global problem, and it is right that we acted, alongside our partners. Where close allies did not participate in those airstrikes, we still need them to act and act alongside us. Will we encourage them to redouble their efforts to interdict arms smuggling from Iran into Yemen and therefore help to degrade further the military capacity of the Houthis?

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and we will continue to work with our allies. I hope he will have seen the statement put out by about a dozen of our allies after the strikes reiterating their support for what we have done. He will know that there was non-operational support from a handful of other countries, together with the much larger coalition of nations that are involved, in different ways, in Operation Prosperity Guardian. Where other countries can play a part in interdicting Iranian shipments, bringing stability to the region and protecting international shipping, we of course want to work with them. The Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary are having those conversations as we speak.

We live in most challenging times, with instability in the middle east, Europe and Africa. It is important that we have the right kind of leadership and response. We must make sure that our international shipping routes remain open. What is the Prime Minister’s assessment of the degradation of the Houthis’ capabilities after the action last week? On Ukraine, we must stand united in this House in saying that the Russians must be defeated for the aggression they have shown. We should remain together, united, in saying once again, “Slava Ukraini”. Lastly, the Prime Minister talks about a sustainable settlement in Gaza. It is important that we recognise the scale of the humanitarian suffering, so may I ask him for an update on what we are doing to ensure that in Gaza we deliver peace and security, with the hope of a better world as we come through 2024?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the action in Ukraine. Let me touch on his last point, because I agree with him; we are, of course, concerned about the devastating impact of the conflict in Gaza on the civilian population—too many people have lost their lives already—and there is a desperate need for increased humanitarian support into Gaza. I am pleased that the UK is playing a leading role: we have tripled our aid. Recently, the Foreign Secretary appointed a humanitarian envoy to the region to address some of the blockages, and we delivered our first maritime shipment of aid into Egypt—more than 80 tonnes of new aid. When I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I impressed upon him the importance of not only increasing the flow of trucks, but, crucially, if we can, opening up extra crossings into Gaza, so that we can increase the flow of aid. We will continue to press on Israel to do that, so that we can bring more relief to people who are suffering a great deal.

I thank the Prime Minister for a clear statement. It is reported that the drones being used by the Houthis are being helped by Iran. The American Enterprise Institute has reported that Russia has given $900 million to Iran for drones. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that we are doing everything we can in this country to make sure that none of that money is going through the UK financial system?

Let me tell my hon. Friend that she is right and we agree with the US assessment that Iran has directly supplied and directly supported Houthi attacks in the Red sea, providing intelligence, especially to enable their targeting of vessels, and providing them with missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. She is right to say that we should do everything we can to prevent that, and I reassure her on that. She will know about the measures we have taken over the past two years on financial transparency and beneficial ownership registers, which allow us to crack down on economic crime and money laundering. Physically, the Royal Navy is involved in interdicting shipments, as it has done successfully last year and the year before. It will continue to have a presence in the region so that we can disrupt those illegal arms flows.

It is a critical time internationally, but we have a staffing crisis in our Navy, so can we do more to boost the recruitment of sailors by offering science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications? When will we see our Navy back up to full strength?

Our Royal Navy is one of the top five in the world. It is capable of operating in all the world’s oceans simultaneously and we are one of only two countries to operate fifth-generation jets from the sea, so we should be confident and proud of our Royal Navy. As I have said, we are investing in more equipment and capability going into the future. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight some of the recruitment challenges—the Defence Secretary highlighted some of them the other week—but we are doubling down on all our initiatives to ensure that our armed forces have the staff they need for the future, and that those personnel have the equipment and supplies they need to do their jobs effectively.

I fully support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I welcome both his statement about the action he took on the Houthi and the other part of the statement about Ukraine, because we must support Ukraine and its future.

On the reality of the Houthi, we know that Iran has supported, has supplied and continues to direct the Houthi in their attacks; it supported and directed Hamas in their brutal attacks in October; and it has armed and directs Hezbollah on a regular basis and tells them what to do, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. We understand all that, so why are we still reluctant to proscribe the IRGC, which is responsible for so much of the co-ordination of that work? There are still two Iranian banks in the City of London feeding money to those terrible organisations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the work he personally does in supporting Ukraine. I agree with him about the risks that Iran poses to the UK and to regional stability. We have sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals and entities, including the IRGC in its entirety. The National Security Act 2023 implements new measures to protect the British public—it has been described by intelligence chiefs as “game changing”—particularly in tackling espionage and foreign interference, with tougher powers to arrest and detain people suspected of involvement in state threats.

As my right hon. Friend will know, we do not routinely comment on proscription, but I hope he will have seen the statement today about our proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir, on which I know he and colleagues have rightly been focused in previous years.

Some 17 million people in the region are living in hunger and food shortage, the people of Yemen have been bombarded by weapons supplied by Britain from Saudi Arabia for years, and we have a dreadful conflict going on in Gaza, where there are 30,000 people dead or missing. Where is the comprehensive plan by the western nations to try to bring about a comprehensive peace across the whole region, rather than pumping more and more weapons and money into more and more conflicts that will get worse? Does the Prime Minister have any hope for the future that there will be a lessening of conflict, rather than the present, very rapid increase in it?

I do have hope. As we and others take action to degrade and disrupt the capability of those who are malign actors in the region, that will give the space for positive voices to build the peace that we all want to see and to allow everyone to live side by side with dignity, security and opportunity.

The right hon. Gentleman pointed out some of the humanitarian strife that people are suffering. We should be proud of our record in this House. We have committed over £1 billion of aid to Yemen since the conflict began in 2014. We are currently providing food to at least 100,000 people every month, as well as life-saving healthcare to 400 facilities. Yemen is entirely reliant for food on imports, largely by sea. The Houthi attacks serve to prolong the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people and disrupt the very supply of the food that the right hon. Gentleman, I and everyone in the House wants to see delivered to those people.

Yemen has been close to my heart, as it has been for the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), because we were both born there. I thank the Prime Minister for all the humanitarian aid that is going there. What discussions has he had with the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council? What impact does he think the strikes will have on the fragile peace process?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work in the region. As a UN Security Council penholder on Yemen, the UK is continuing to use our diplomatic and political influence to support UN efforts to bring lasting peace to Yemen through an inclusive political settlement. We support the Saudi-Houthi negotiations and, indeed, the deal that was announced in December last year by the UN special envoy for Yemen, whom my hon. Friend will know. Ministers continue to be in dialogue, particularly with our Saudi partners, so that we can try to bring to the Yemeni people the peace and stability that they deserve.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for stating today that, with the recent strikes, the UK sought to uphold international law and seeks to protect civilians. May I ask what the Government’s strategy is to prevent escalation? Also, last week the Government confirmed that there are currently no RAF aid flights or Royal Navy deliveries planned to take essential aid into Egypt and onwards to Gaza—why?

I am not entirely sure that the hon. Lady is right on that. We remain committed to increasing the amount of aid that we get into Gaza. We have tripled the financial amount and, as I have said, we recently saw our first maritime shipment of aid into Egypt by the UK military ship RFA Lyme Bay. The hon. Lady will be aware that there are considerable blockages and logistical challenges on the ground, which we are working to help to resolve. That is also why we are putting pressure on the Israelis—I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu about this—to open up additional crossings such as Kerem Shalom. That will help us to increase the flow of aid into the region, and we absolutely want to see that happen.

Britain has a proud tradition of defending waterways, which is vital for all of us who care about humanitarian crises and the delivery of aid. At the moment, we are seeing Russia trying to stop the movement of grain through Turkey, and the potential of the Houthis to shut off access to the Red sea. It is vital that we keep those international waterways open, because otherwise we will face a catastrophic situation and starvation across many African countries.

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, particularly about the Black sea. He will recall that Ukraine’s grain exports disproportionally go to some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Russia started a campaign of targeting that civilian infrastructure last year. With our support, Ukraine has been able to push back the Black sea fleet and degrade Russia’s major combatant vessels. With the support of the City of London in improving the insurance for ships, we have now seen 300 ships export 10 million tonnes of cargo through the new Ukraine corridor. That highlights the importance of what my right hon. Friend said. Again, in this House, we should be proud of the leading role that the UK has had in making that possible.

The Houthis are an antisemitic terrorist group that have caused havoc in Yemen over the past decade, starting a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people. Their slogan includes the lines, “Death to America, death to Israel, a curse upon the Jews”. Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning the shameful pro-Houthi chanting that we saw at many protests in the UK over the weekend?

I commend the hon. Lady for her remarks and I wholeheartedly agree with her. We will absolutely not tolerate that kind of language on our streets. We have been crystal clear about that. We have said to the police that they should take all decisive action against those who promote and encourage terrorism and, indeed, those who incite hatred and division on our streets. I hope the hon. Lady will have seen today’s proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is another organisation that uses language similar to that she describes. Its promotion of terrorism is rooted in antisemitic ideology. I hope that gives her reassurance that we will confront this and stamp it out wherever we see it, because it is not in accordance with British values. Jewish people in this country deserve to be able to walk our streets in freedom and security.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision last week to take military action in the Red sea, and the substantial increase in aid for Ukraine. Will he take this opportunity to reiterate and make it absolutely clear that it would be utterly against the national interest, and indeed the security interests of the world, for the British Prime Minister to be hobbled in the decisions that he makes about taking military action by the need to consult in advance? Does he not agree that the responsibility that he bears is intrinsic to his seals of office and should not be given up?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. In this case, it was necessary to strike with speed and protect the security of the operations. I believe that that is in accordance with the convention and, indeed, precedent on these matters. My hon. Friend is right: the Government need to protect the security interests of the United Kingdom. That means that sometimes we have to act decisively, quickly and securely. Fundamentally, we need to maintain the prerogative powers that allow the Executive to act in such emergencies, but of course I am responsible for those decisions, I do not take them lightly, and Parliament is responsible for holding me to account for them.

Past mistakes in the middle east should have taught this House that military intervention that starts out as limited can quickly escalate, risking a sequence of events far larger and more terrible, and even risk dragging us into war. It is for that reason that, according to reports in The Times, Foreign Office officials were “incredibly nervous” about last week’s military assault in Yemen. Driving the region’s instability is Israel’s horrifying assault on Gaza, which has now lasted more than 100 days. Rather than giving Israel the green light to continue its brutal bombardment of Gaza, and risking a wider conflict, will the Prime Minister seek to de-escalate the situation and call for an immediate ceasefire?

Too many people give a free pass to the terrorists who perpetrated the worst murder of Jews. We have just seen an example of that, just as we saw examples of it on our streets this weekend, where people screamed, “Yemen, Yemen, turn another ship around”—completely unacceptable. One thing that links the Houthis, Hezbollah and Hamas is their genocidal intent towards Jews and their hatred of everything that we stand for in the western democracies, which is why it is incumbent on us to defend those values. I agree with everything that the Prime Minister has said, and urge him once more to ensure that our police take action against those on our streets who openly support terrorism.

I reassure my hon. Friend that the police have extensive powers to arrest those who incite violence or racial hatred. Of course, we keep all laws under review. We are working with the police on whether we need to strengthen those powers, but I have been absolutely clear that there must be zero tolerance for antisemitism and any forms of racism. We will not stand by when we see it happen, and the police should ensure that those who do that face the full force of the law.

The Foreign Secretary said yesterday that the purpose of the air strikes in Yemen was to send a message, but the message that we intend to send is not necessarily the message that gets received. The message seems to have been sent to many in the region that the UK is intervening in the war very clearly on the side of Israel. What plans do the Government have to manage and contain the escalation that is likely to ensue? Simply proclaiming that the activity was intended to be limited, not escalatory, does not make it so.

That is why we took this action as a last resort, after extensive attempts at diplomacy, including a UN Security Council resolution. The hon. Lady could help, because this Parliament could speak with one voice so that the outside world and our allies in the region know that this has nothing to do with Israel and Gaza, and everything to do with our self-defence.

Diverting shipping via the cape puts a financial burden on us all, none more so than the Egyptians, due to reduced traffic through the Suez canal. Will my right hon. Friend explain what discussions he has had with his Egyptian counterparts on their involvement in the multinational response?

I spoke to President Sisi just last week. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the economic impact on people around the world: 15% of global trade passes through this corridor, and we are already starting to see the impact of rerouting on the prices of shipping, and ultimately on the prices that British people will pay for their goods. My primary conversation with the President at the moment, though, is about increasing the flow of aid into Gaza, where Egypt is doing an extraordinary amount. We will continue to give it all the support that it needs.

The Prime Minister said that the stated aims of this action were to degrade the capacity to strike. We have had confirmation that today another cargo ship—a US cargo ship—has been struck by a ballistic missile. There have been explosions at the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. The Defence Secretary told the media this morning that this Government were prepared to

“take the decisions that need to be taken”

if the attacks continue. Given the news that the attacks have continued, will the Prime Minister set out what those decisions are and how he intends to involve Parliament in that process?

It would not be right to speculate on future action, but what I can say is that our strikes were intended to degrade the Houthi capability and, as I said, they did—initial assessments show that they effectively destroyed 13 targets at two sites, including drones, an airfield and a cruise missile launcher.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Yemen with my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond), we have seen at first hand how this brutal, misogynistic, homophobic and antisemitic terrorist regime, backed by Iran, presiding over the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis and responsible for throwing tens of thousands of young men to their deaths on the frontline, have acted. Since 2022, they have benefited from a tentative ceasefire. Is this not a lesson in how sustainable ceasefires cannot be achieved with terrorist organisations unless and until they have been deprived of their arms and have succumbed to democratic legitimacy?