Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa, answers MPs’ questions to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Sudan: Peace and Democracy
1. What steps he is taking to support peace and democracy in Sudan. (906656)
Britain continues to advocate a return to a civilian-led Government in Sudan and improved humanitarian access. We have vigorously condemned the atrocities taking place in Darfur, as well as the other regions of Sudan.
Labour stands in solidarity with the people of Sudan, who want only peace, justice and democracy, and who reject the generals’ war. What are the Government doing to support civilian organisations, including the Sudanese community here in the UK, to build unity in opposition to the conflict and military rule?
It is not just Labour that stands in solidarity, but the whole House and the whole country. In respect of the civilian leadership, I spoke last Friday to Abdalla Hamdok, the civilian political leader. He and many of his colleagues will meet in Addis Ababa this week. We very much hope that those meetings will yield some progress.
The all-party parliamentary group on Sudan and South Sudan has heard how people in Darfur still face daily bombings, killing, rape, pillage and torture. Members of the Darfur community here are deeply worried about the ethnic cleansing. What is happening to try to reduce the flow of weapons and to get urgent humanitarian aid to the 24 million people who desperately need it?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. We have recently contributed £600,000 to open-source investigative reporting to verify and preserve information on attacks on civilians and breaches of international humanitarian law. As she will know, we are providing £22 million of support for Sudan—£5 million was announced recently to help people who have gone across the border into Chad and South Sudan. She will also know that something like 19 humanitarian workers have been murdered, but we are doing everything we can to try to get aid and help in.
Israel, Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Humanitarian Access and Human Rights
5. What steps his Department is taking to support the monitoring of potential human rights abuses in (a) Israel and (b) the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (906661)
6. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure access to Gaza by humanitarian organisations. (906662)
9. What diplomatic steps he is taking with his international counterparts to help open humanitarian corridors in Gaza. (906665)
18. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the safety of (a) Palestinian and (b) Israeli civilians in the Gaza-Israel conflict. (906674)
19. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure access to Gaza by humanitarian organisations. (906676)
21. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help ensure access to Gaza by humanitarian organisations. (906678)
I talk to Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost every day, and on Friday I attended a meeting with development Ministers convened by Samantha Power, the head of the United States Agency for International Development.
How are the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers working with international counterparts to prevent any deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Israel and Palestine?
By drawing all parties’ attention to the international rules of war.
At a vigil outside Parliament this morning, the names of some of the more than 2,000 children killed so far in Gaza were read out. Children in Gaza have begun writing their names on their hands so that they can be identified and buried with their families when they are killed. What action are the Government taking to prevent more children being harmed in Israel’s military action and to ensure a rapid end to this conflict?
The Prime Minister set out yesterday very clearly what our policy is. We are doing everything we can to protect children. British aid is already making a difference by supporting the international relief effort, which is going in through Rafah.
I completely endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) just said about the impact on children. Trucks at the Rafah crossing are welcome, but the aid getting through is nowhere near enough to avert humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Fuel is urgently needed for the desalination plants that would ensure drinking water and for the energy generators that would power hospitals, which would prevent huge loss of life. Why is that fuel not being allowed through?
The hon. Lady is entirely right that the Rafah crossing is currently the only way we can get food and relief supplies in. Supplies are coming to El Arish, but the number of trucks going through every day is far too small. We will continue to press all the relevant authorities to allow humanitarian support and aid of the type she describes through the Rafah crossing to help those whose circumstances are precisely as she describes.
With thousands of innocent civilians dead, tens of thousands injured, hundreds of thousands displaced and a denial of humanitarian need, what level of civilian suffering will it take before this Government back calls for a ceasefire?
The hon. Gentleman sets out the tremendous suffering that is happening, but he, like me, will agree with the Prime Minister that the source of this was the appalling terrorist, murderous action by Hamas, which, as the Foreign Secretary said a few minutes ago, killed more Jewish people than on any day since the second world war and the holocaust.
As the fighting continues, the UN estimates that about 160 women will give birth every day in Gaza; meanwhile the lives of at least 120 newborns in incubators are at risk due to lack of power, fuel, medicine and water. These women and children are not terrorists. Will the Secretary of State listen to the increasing calls for a ceasefire, which would be the best way to ensure the release of hostages, who are in a terrible situation, and the delivery of aid for Palestinian citizens?
On delivering aid and support, I had the opportunity to meet a very large number of the British charities and non-governmental organisations that are trying to help in Gaza, and I keep in very close touch with them. On the issue of access and support through these trusted agencies, we will do everything that we can to help.
Thousands of innocent people have been killed, and aid workers are included in that devastating loss. UN experts on the ground have given repeated warnings that the current Israeli military strategy could lead to the permanent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box that there were mechanisms to deal with breaches of international law. Can the Minister tell us more on what the Government are doing to support independent investigations and the International Criminal Court?
The answer to the hon. Lady’s perfectly proper question is that international and legal organisations all around the world will be looking at this and giving their opinions.
People in Cheadle are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and welcome the doubling of aid that was announced by the Prime Minister. However, we know that Hamas have a history of diverting and misusing aid that is given to them for their own terrorist purposes. What steps can we take to ensure that this much-needed aid gets to the people in need?
My hon. Friend is quite right to warn about the proper use of aid. I can tell her that this is probably the most scrutinised programme of humanitarian relief and support that Britain has. If ever we see anything that we think is untoward, we immediately stop using that group. None the less, we operate through trusted partners, and the proof is that they are trusted and are partners.
Last week, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency stated that Hamas had stolen fuel, medical supplies and food intended for Palestinians. It then subsequently deleted that statement, but the way that Hamas have repeatedly compromised UNRWA operations in Gaza has been well-documented in recent years. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give that that aid will be targeted correctly and will reach the people who so desperately need it?
My right hon. Friend is right that UNRWA operates in difficult circumstances, but I can tell him that we talk to it all the time about the proper use of these resources and we will do everything we can always to make sure that they go to the intended place.
My constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden and I thank the Foreign Secretary for all the work that he is doing to ensure that aid is getting to Gaza, but we know that the UN has stated that it needs at least 100 trucks a day to take the aid to those who desperately need it. Can my right hon. Friend set out what conversations he is having with his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts to make sure that that aid is getting to where it needs to be?
Foreign Office officials, the Foreign Secretary and others are talking to all the relevant authorities in Egypt and Israel. My hon. Friend will understand that the key thing is to increase the number of lorries that are getting through Rafah. The current number is wholly inadequate. I talk to Martin Griffiths virtually every day about the operations that the UN is conducting to try to beef up that number.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that we would finally challenge actions that undercut legitimate aspirations for Palestinian statehood, and there are none more fundamental than 57 years of breaches of the fourth Geneva convention by the illegal occupation of the territories, and then with 750,000 Jewish settlers being placed in those territories making a two-state solution very, very difficult. Are we actually now going to do something about that, or does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the meaningful resolution to which the Foreign Secretary referred may include the transfer of the people of Gaza and Gaza itself out of the state of Israel into the hands of another state or state system, and, more concerningly, that that would be followed by the expulsion of the Palestinians from the west bank?
My hon. Friend has a long-standing and principled view on these matters. I do not share his view and nor do the Government. Nor do I think that the latter part of his question and the specific points that he made are likely to come about.
I call the shadow Minister.
May I take this opportunity to thank the Minister of State for Development and Africa for the constructive cross-party way that we have been able to work together since I was appointed to this post in such grim times? He will know that every minute counts right now in Gaza. Incubators have been switched off and children are drinking dirty water. Fresh water and power are the most pressing issues, but despite our shared hopes of progress this week, fuel was not permitted in the convoys that entered Gaza, while several hospitals have been hit and many given multiple warnings to evacuate. Can he share with the House what the Government are doing to help broker an agreement that will protect hospitals and get fuel into Gaza so that international law is upheld, hospitals can power up and water and power can flow?
First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. It is one that I held for five years from 2005 and I very much hope that she will hold it for five years—[Laughter.] It is one of the best jobs in opposition and in government. She will know that we are having humanitarian discussions with everyone, intent as we are on getting humanitarian supplies to those who need them. She asked specifically about attacking a hospital. Attacking a hospital is a war crime. We should be in no doubt about that.
T2. Does the Minister agree that the delivery of fuel supplies into Gaza is essential to prevent further humanitarian catastrophe and to ensure that the delivery of aid achieves its full impact? (906682)
We are doing everything we can. The hon. Gentleman will understand that these are complex negotiations, both to get the food and other humanitarian supplies into the region and to deliver them to those who need them. All I can assure him of is that all those negotiations are taking place with vigour and speed.
T4. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said yesterday that an immediate and“broad humanitarian ceasefire is essential for both Gaza and Israel”and that“if more aid for Gazans, including fuel, medicine, food and water, does not arrive in days…many more people in Gaza will die.”He added:“The violence will never end unless leaders stand up and take the brave and humane choices that are required by fundamental humanity.”Will the Secretary of State heed those calls from the international community and support an immediate humanitarian ceasefire? (906684)
In order to have a ceasefire, all parties have to agree to it. I refer the hon. Gentleman to other answers that have been given during this session of questions. We are doing everything we can to address the humanitarian problem that he sets out, and we will continue to do so.
Building on the legacy of successive Governments on the threat of antimicrobial resistance, will my right hon. Friend commit to building a coalition of higher-income countries pledging to improve access to antibiotics, diagnostics, education and prevention, which we all know are vital to stopping AMR?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: AMR is the third biggest killer now. Meetings took place at the UN General Assembly, and I was there in April attending an AMR meeting. We will do everything we can, and we are greatly enhanced in our abilities by the presence of Sally Davies, who is an envoy on AMR. I can tell my hon. Friend that this has the absolute attention of the Government.
T5. Fifty thousand women in Gaza are pregnant, with 5,000 due to give birth now in truly hellish circumstances. If bombing a hospital is, as the Minister just said, a war crime, how would he describe the deliberate withholding of fuel to power those hospitals and keep them working? (906685)
The hon. Lady is ingeniously asking the same question that she asked earlier. I can tell her that we are doing everything we can to address the issue she has raised. It is as much a concern to us as it is to her, and we will continue to do that.
T6. If Government will not back an actual ceasefire, will they at least consider supporting a humanitarian pause, to allow essential supplies to reach the 2 million civilians trapped in Gaza? (906686)
The Government, along with their partners, are doing everything to try to progress humanitarian support and supplies into Gaza.
Strong parliamentary democracy is crucial to the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has a central role as one of the oldest Commonwealth institutions, with you as one of our co-presidents, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend’s Department acknowledges that new legislation is needed to recognise the CPA as an international interparliamentary organisation, to keep it headquartered here in the UK. When does he plan to have that new legislation in place?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the extraordinary contribution that the CPA makes around the world. We are very anxious to address the issue she has raised and to find a mutually acceptable solution. I hope that this can be done by legislation once parliamentary time allows, but if it is not possible to place it in the King’s Speech, she will know that there are other ways of pursuing the matter.
Let us have another try: has the international development Minister had direct discussions with his Israeli counterpart about getting fuel into Gaza? Once the fuel runs out, hospitals stop and people die.
I have not had those discussions with my Israeli opposite number, but the hon. Gentleman may rest absolutely assured that the contact with the Israeli Government—not least during the visit of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary over the past few days—focuses on every aspect of this issue.
Is it not simply impossible to get aid in on the scale that is needed if we are to end the humanitarian nightmare under way in Gaza without a ceasefire?
The hon. Member has heard the detailed responses from the Dispatch Box today on the difficulties entailed, and I reiterate what I said earlier: we are doing everything we can to try to make sure that we help those who are suffering in Gaza today.