30 January 2024
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Questions

Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa, answers MPs’ questions to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.


Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)

1. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help secure a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza. (901233)

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

14. What diplomatic steps he is taking to help end the conflict in Israel and Gaza. (901246)

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)

21. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on the number of civilian deaths in Gaza. (901254)

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

24. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help secure a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza. (901257)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause, in order to get aid in and hostages out as a vital step towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.

Mr Betts 

That is all very well, but the problem is that Netanyahu and the Israeli Government are simply ignoring all the pleas for restraint—those pleas have become empty words. What will the Government do to put real pressure on the Israelis to stop the unacceptable killings, enter into negotiations for a permanent ceasefire and stop the threats to permanently annex and occupy Gaza? Has the time come to stop selling to Israel arms that are being used to raze Gaza to the ground?

Mr Mitchell 

As I told the House yesterday, the Foreign Secretary is in the region today and will pursue the vital policies that the hon. Gentleman has set out. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is an absolute priority for Britain to ensure that more aid gets in, but the Israeli Government have the right of self-defence and, as the UK Government continually make clear, they must exercise that right within international humanitarian law.

Jamie Stone 

Like many other Members, I am sure, I have received an extraordinary number of emails from constituents who are deeply concerned about what is going on—these are people who would never normally get in touch with their MP. We must stop the killing. My party and I believe that an immediate bilateral ceasefire is the way forward. What steps are the Government taking with partners in the region and around the world to achieve that end?

Mr Mitchell 

All of us want a ceasefire, but it must be sustainable. That is why the British Government are bent on ensuring that we get a humanitarian pause so that we can get far more supplies into Gaza, and, on the back of that, a sustainable ceasefire. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), we need a pause in order to get aid and support in and the hostages out.

Yasmin Qureshi 

According to the UN World Food Programme, over half a million Palestinians in Gaza are starving. A famine is imminent. Allegations against 12 United Nations Relief and Works Agency staff are rightly being investigated, but cutting aid to UNRWA entirely is disproportionate and punitive. Has the Minister even considered the consequences of those cuts on women, babies and the seriously injured, and does he understand that they would breach the measures issued by the International Court of Justice to ensure that aid flows into Gaza?

Mr Mitchell 

As I have set out to the House repeatedly, we are doing everything we can, along with others, to ensure that vital supplies get into Gaza, for the very reasons that the hon. Lady sets out. On UNRWA, it would be impossible for any of us to continue business as usual, given the appalling events outlined over the weekend. That is why we have made it clear that we will not produce further finance until we are satisfied that those matters have been addressed. With regard to what we are seeking to do through UNRWA now, we have provided additional funding in the past, and that will ensure that aid and vital supplies get into Gaza.

Paul Blomfield 

The Government have consistently repeated their commitment to a two-state solution, and that is right, but for 30 years Israel has deliberately undermined that through the settlement of the west bank, in contravention of international law. Now Netanyahu has come clean and ruled out a two-state solution, so does the Minister agree that, if the UK’s policy is to be seen as anything more than empty words, we need to demonstrate our commitment to a viable Palestinian state by recognising it and by upgrading current Government advice against trade with the illegal settlements to a full embargo?

Mr Mitchell 

The Government’s position on the issue of illegal settlements is absolutely clear. In respect of the two-state solution, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that progress has been made previously, in particular after grievous acts of terrible conflict and terrorism; that is when the big leaps forward towards a resolution of this desperate problem have been made. We hope that on the back of the horrendous events that have taken place on 7 October and since, additional progress can be made as soon as the political track can be restarted.

Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)

The Palestinian Authority’s grip on security control across the west bank has been pushed out by the malevolent forces of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and local terror groups funded by Iran. Is it not the case that unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state now would risk equipping those dangerous actors with the trimmings and capabilities of a state?

Mr Mitchell 

The British Government have always been clear that we intend to recognise a Palestinian state when the timing is right. My right hon. and learned Friend will have heard the comments that the Foreign Secretary made last night, which in no way deviate from that policy; the Foreign Secretary is pointing out how important it is to ensure that people can see that when a political track gets going, real progress can be made.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)

If we cannot have a ceasefire, a humanitarian pause would of course be very welcome, but it will only be of any use if we can get the aid that is so urgently required into Gaza. What are the Government doing to overcome what the Foreign Secretary has described as the “ludicrous” checking regime put in place by the Israelis, and what more can we do to stop or avoid crowds of Israelis from gathering at crossings into Gaza, aiming to prevent aid from entering, and so obviate a famine?

Mr Mitchell 

On my right hon. Friend’s second point, I can assure him that we are in regular touch with all the relevant authorities to try to ensure that does not hinder the entry of aid. On his first point, we should all be aware that the issue is not that there is not enough aid in the region, but that it is not getting in. That is why the Government, under the Prime Minister’s specific instruction, have been investigating how to get aid in through all means, including from the sea and from a naval corridor.

Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

It is really disturbing that BBC Online is reporting that the Foreign Secretary has changed the UK Government’s approach on recognition of a Palestinian state. Does the Minister agree that bringing forward and accelerating unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state would be to reward Hamas’s atrocity?

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is no question of rewarding Hamas for the appalling acts they perpetrated in a pogrom on 7 October. The point that the Foreign Secretary has been making is that we must give the people of the west bank and Gaza a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future, but we must do so when the time is right.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Minister.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)

The Minister will know that there is rising anger in the region about the desperate situation in Gaza, which makes a ceasefire much harder to achieve. More people are now dying of hunger and thirst than from bombs and bullets. He said yesterday that the UK is pausing funding to UNRWA, not cutting it, but given its critical role, will he reassure us that nothing will disrupt the supply of aid—not just into Gaza, but through Gaza—now and in the months ahead? He is right that these are serious allegations and we should be robust about how UK aid money is spent, but it would be unconscionable if we allowed anything to stand in the way of UK aid reaching those children right now. Will he promise that the UK will move heaven and earth to get that aid to them?

Mr Mitchell 

The shadow Minister for development is absolutely right about the balance that has to be struck. Of course, we need to investigate rapidly the very serious allegations that have been made against UNRWA, but the assets we use for getting aid and support into Gaza depend on the assets that UNRWA owns—warehouses, vehicles and the other distribution mechanisms. As such, we need that inquiry to be completed as rapidly as possible. In the meanwhile, Britain was not intending to give any further support to UNRWA in this financial year; in the next financial year we will consider the position in precisely the way the shadow Minister sets out.




Palestinian State: Recognition

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)

3. What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on Israel’s political objectives in Gaza. (901235)

Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)

6. What plans the Government have to recognise a Palestinian state. (901238)

David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)

11. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of the recognition of a Palestinian state. (901243)

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)

13. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of the recognition of a Palestinian state. (901245)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

We are clear that for a peaceful solution to this conflict there must be a political horizon towards a two-state solution. Britain will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace. Bilateral recognition alone cannot end the occupation.

Hannah Bardell 

Given the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel, and now recognition by the International Court of Justice of the risk of genocide being committed by Israel, have the UK Government sought to ascertain what the Israeli military objective is in Gaza, and does the Minister agree with the motion tabled by the Scottish National party at the Council of Europe last week, supported by nine nations and 20 members, that an immediate ceasefire and a resettlement scheme for those bombed out of Gaza by Israel are absolutely essential?

Mr Mitchell 

I have not seen the motion tabled by the SNP—and I probably would not agree with it if I had. We are always focused on addressing the points that the hon. Lady has made. When it comes to the International Court of Justice, and indeed international humanitarian law, the Government’s view is not the same as hers, but she may rest assured that we keep these things under very close review.

David Linden 

There is now a live ongoing investigation by the ICJ into genocide in Gaza. Given the British Government’s reluctance thus far to recognise the state of Palestine, does the Minister not understand that failure to do so will soon result in the UK Government just recognising a cemetery?

Mr Mitchell 

The Government’s position—and indeed, I believe, the position of those on the Opposition Front Bench—has always been clear: we should recognise the state of Palestine when the time is right. The Foreign Secretary last night added some further words to that commitment, but that is the commitment of the British Government.

Chris Law 

Last night the Foreign Secretary indicated that the UK Government will consider recognising the Palestinian state in order

“to give the Palestinian people a political horizon so that they can see that there is going to be irreversible progress to a two-state solution”.

Can the Minister explain how that is possible when both the Israeli National Security Minister and the Finance Minister have advocated using the ongoing war as an opportunity to permanently resettle Palestinians from Gaza and establish Israeli settlements there, and the Israeli Prime Minister has openly said he is proud to have prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state?

Mr Mitchell 

The Foreign Secretary was making it clear that we need a credible route to a Palestinian state and the offer of a new future. It is very important to lift people’s eyes to the possibilities once a political track is established. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that progress has been made. Progress that was made at Oslo took place on the back of appalling events when people reached for a political solution. The same is true of what followed the second intifada. The aim of the British Government is to get a sustainable ceasefire and move to that political track.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

My right hon. Friend’s comments about a big leap forward are noble—I recognise that—but as long as Hamas, who believe not in a two-state solution but in killing and raping Jews, cling on in Gaza; as Fatah is barely able to control the west bank; and as Israel is still in trauma, still trying to get 130 hostages, including babies, back from Gaza, what does he think that talk about early recognition of Palestinian statehood can achieve?

Mr Mitchell 

I recognise the voracity of what my right hon. Friend says, but there is no change in the policy. He is right that Hamas must agree to the release of all hostages, that Hamas can no longer be in charge of Gaza, and that we need an agreement to provide governance, service and security there, which will involve the Palestinian Authority. The Foreign Secretary, in his meetings with President Abbas last week, sought to advance that agenda.

Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)

On Sunday, a third of Knesset Members attended a conference calling for the return of settlements to Gaza and to the north of the occupied west bank. Some of those Members have also asked for a voluntary migration of Palestinians from Gaza, with Israel taking over control. Does the Minister agree that that is not in the best interests of Israel and that there should be a return to the pre-1967 borders, with both countries working together to maintain peace in the interests of their citizens?

Mr Mitchell 

Yes, I do. The only viable long-term pathway is a two-state solution based on 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, that guarantees security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)

Surely the only political objective in Gaza is inextricably linked to the security objectives, because the grim reality is that Hamas do not seek a ceasefire, and Israel cannot be reasonably expected to pursue one with a group who actively seek its destruction, not least the commitment made by a senior Hamas official, Ghazi Hamad, who recently said:

“We must teach Israel a lesson, and we will do this again and again”,

and that the 7 October massacre was

“just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

The only political solution must be the elimination of Hamas and the release of the hostages.

Mr Mitchell 

That is why the Government have made it clear that calls for a ceasefire on its own will simply not work. First, Israel absolutely has the right of self-defence, to address and deal with the cause of the terrible events of 7 October. Secondly, Hamas have made it absolutely clear that they do not want a ceasefire; they want to replicate the events that took place on 7 October.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

For a decade now, the Labour party has supported Palestinian recognition. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has said,

“statehood is not in the gift of a neighbour. It is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people.”

I welcome the Foreign Secretary adopting that position and rejecting the notion that recognition can only follow the conclusion of negotiations. After the unacceptable comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu, does the Prime Minister agree that no country has a veto over the UK’s decision to recognise Palestine?

Mr Mitchell 

I can tell the shadow Foreign Secretary that we will pursue the policy that we think is right. The Foreign Secretary set out clearly in his remarks last night the importance of a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future. In respect of the conversations that the Foreign Secretary will have had last week with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I cannot trade the details across the House, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Secretary will have represented the British position with Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he knows very well, with great accuracy.

Mr Speaker 

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

Palestinian recognition is an inalienable right, not a privilege to be conferred by others. Although I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary say last night that the UK,

“with allies, will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state”,

I feel we have been here before, most notably in 2014. Given Netanyahu’s categorical rejection of a Palestinian state, what are the next steps? When will we hear about them, and how confident can we be that we will not be sitting here in another 10 years, wishing we had acted to prevent a genocide?

Mr Mitchell 

It is not easy to sustain the view that we have been here before—at least not to this extent. The British Government’s policy has been clear on the recognition of the state of Palestine. We are working extremely hard in the region and more widely internationally to secure a political track. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that will be in the mix once that political track is able to start.

Climate Change Adaptation

Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)

4. What steps his Department is taking to support developing countries with climate change adaptation. (901236)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

We are committed to spending £1.5 billion on climate adaptation by 2025.

Wera Hobhouse 

Extreme weather is already causing huge devastation, especially in the poorest communities across the world, who are also the least likely to find investors or to borrow from global financial institutions. At COP28 there was a breakthrough, and a loss and damage fund has finally been established. However, the money for the UK’s contribution will come from pre-existing climate finance commitments and the development budget. Should the Government, in the spirit of what the loss and damage fund represents, not establish a new, ringfenced loss and damage budget that is not taken from other budgets?

Mr Mitchell 

We did support setting up the loss and damage fund at COP28 and we contributed specifically towards it. However, it is important that loss and damage does not draw from the same donors and the same official development assistance budgets as other development. It has to be different. It was because the UAE, as a non-traditional donor, put in $100 million to that fund that Britain was willing to support it, but we need new and different donors and new and different sources of funds.

James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)

I welcome the extremely important work the Government are doing in protecting vulnerable communities around the world. Will the Minister confirm to me that the £3 billion that the Government have committed for saving nature will be used on some of the very vulnerable habitat sites and animals around the world, such as those Environmental Audit Committee saw on a recent visit to Antarctica? Will he particularly think about whales, fur seals and of course the emperor penguin?

Mr Mitchell 

I will think about all the mammals my hon. Friend has mentioned. I can assure him that our commitment is to biodiversity and to nature. We recognise the great importance of the work being done in the Antarctic, and indeed the contribution that he makes to that.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

From the floods to the fires, from melting ice sheets to ocean heat, the climate crisis is reaching a tipping point. Labour has a plan at home: doubling onshore wind, trebling solar and ending new oil and gas licences in the North sea. Labour has a plan internationally: a clean power alliance of developed and developing countries to drive forward the transition. Is it not the truth that the Government have no plan and have squandered Britain’s climate reputation to wage culture wars at home?

Mr Mitchell 

The reason the Government were able to reduce the size of electricity bills for hard-working families was precisely because we are meeting our targets and will meet our international commitments. Britain’s international targets and commitments are enshrined in law as a result of the activities of this House. Internationally we are committed, as the right hon. Gentleman knows and as was set out to the House towards the end of last year, to spending £11.6 billion on ensuring that we meet our climate targets and produce climate finance. I would argue that that figure will be nearer £16 billion by 2026.

Debt Reduction in the Developing World

Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)

5. Whether he has had recent discussions with his international counterparts on a strategy to reduce debt in the developing world. (901237)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

The Government recently set out our commitments on developing country debt in our international development White Paper.

Preet Kaur Gill 

The main mechanism to tackle the debt crisis, the common framework for debt treatment, is failing due to the low level of participation by private creditors who own around 40% of low-income country debt. Does the Minister agree that there is strategic need for the United Kingdom to take debt reduction seriously and change its approach, given the crisis in Africa and the growing role of China and Russia in the developing world?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady is right to point to the considerable difficulties that countries are finding. Some 15% of low-income countries are in debt distress, and 45% are at higher risk of that. The African Development Bank says that debt repayments in 2024 are likely to be six times the level of 2021. That is why Britain is working with other creditors to secure debt restructurings, most often through the G20 common framework, but also through the Paris Club.

Middle East: Conflict Prevention

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

7. What recent steps he has taken to help prevent an escalation of conflict in the middle east. (901239)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

The Government are engaging extensively to prevent an escalation of conflict in the middle east. The Prime Minister spoke to President Biden last week about that specific issue.

Alex Cunningham 

I think we can all understand the anger towards Israel for the way it is systematically demolishing Gaza and needlessly killing so many of the people, as well as the need for it to be properly held to account. Does the Minister recognise that we must do everything to protect against others joining the conflict, and that activities such as those against the Houthis must also be proportionate and accompanied by more diplomatic work across the region to stop wholesale killing?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Gentleman is right to make clear that all of us seek that there should not be an escalation of this conflict in the middle east. That is why right at the start Britain moved military assets to the eastern end of the Mediterranean. More recently, as he alluded to, we are expressing strong support for freedom of navigation on the high seas, stopping attacks by the Houthis. We are degrading their capacity to carry out their attacks, and have made clear that we will not accept that challenge to international freedom of the sea.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

One problem with the middle east is the sense of hopelessness among the Palestinian people, which is fuelling terrorist outrages. What steps can the Government take with our American friends to try to put pressure on the Israeli state to stop the imposition of new settlements in the west bank, so that we can gradually reduce tensions in the whole region? Is that not the way forward?

Mr Mitchell 

We have made it clear that the settlements are illegal and should not have gone ahead and should not go ahead. On the wider point, we are working closely with our American friends and others through the superb diplomatic network that Britain possesses, to try to lift people’s eyes and move to the day after, when a political track can start. That is the answer to my right hon. Friend’s question—the political track, which can then start to offer hope in resolving this dreadful and long-standing problem.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Minister.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)

Today the middle east is in danger of seeing a major escalation of conflict, and whether it is in Gaza, the Red sea, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria or Jordan, we are seeing aggression. If there is a common denominator in those conflicts, it is the malign influence of Iran, usually through its proxies. What are the Government doing to disrupt and stop the disruptive activities of Iran?

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a meeting recently with the Iranian Foreign Minister to set out Britain’s view of and requirements from the relationship with Iran, and I think that was a most useful contact to have. The Foreign Secretary is in the region today, trying to ensure that the very points behind this question are accepted and honoured. We are working extensively with Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, Saudi Arabia and America. Those discussions are ongoing, and will address the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Eritrea: Human Rights

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

10. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the human rights situation in Eritrea. (901242)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

We continue to press Eritrea bilaterally and at the UN Human Rights Council to end human rights violations. It may come as a surprise to the House to hear that Eritrea is an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council.

Patrick Grady 

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Eritrea, I often hear the country described as the North Korea of Africa. Young people are conscripted indefinitely, and critics of the regime are arbitrarily detained and disappeared. Does the Minister agree that that perhaps explains why over 90% of asylum claims from Eritreans in the UK are granted by the Home Office? What more can the Government do to take steps to ensure an end to human rights abuses in Eritrea and elsewhere in the horn of Africa, which are push factors behind irregular arrivals in the UK?

Mr Mitchell 

I think the hon. Gentleman pulls his punches; it is worse than he said. Eritrea ranks towards the bottom of the world press freedom index. We urge Eritrea to allow the UN special rapporteur for human rights access to the country, and we also seek the full withdrawal of Eritrean troops from northern Ethiopia, in accordance with the Pretoria peace agreement.

Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)

We must not forget the abuses that are happening in neighbouring Sudan. Over 7 million people have been internally displaced, with 20 million in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Last night, the International Criminal Court prosecutor told the UN Security Council that there are reasonable grounds to believe that both the Sudan armed forces and the rapid support forces are committing atrocious crimes in Darfur. What hope does the Minister have that we can end the impunity, stop the rapes, murder and pillage, and bring peace to the people of Sudan?

Mr Mitchell 

We are calling for an immediate ceasefire. There were talks in Addis before Christmas. We seek progress through the United Nations, where we hold the pen on Sudan, and also through the Troika, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union. We are doing everything we can to end the appalling situation in Sudan, which my right hon. Friend has just described with great eloquence.

Topical Questions

Ian Byrne (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (901258)

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

The Government are pursuing vital British national interest priorities. We are supporting Ukraine, and the Prime Minster has announced a further package of military support. We support Israel’s right to self-defence and are working towards a sustainable ceasefire and tackling the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We continue strongly to support freedom of navigation on the high seas and to seek to make progress on Sudan. We are implementing the international development White Paper, which has been well received around the world. I continue to deputise for the Foreign Secretary in this House and regularly seek to keep the House updated.

Ian Byrne 

The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, said at the weekend that more than 2 million people in Gaza were facing “inevitable famine”. Now that the Government have opted to halt funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, how do they intend to ensure that the urgently needed humanitarian aid—as called for in the International Court of Justice ruling last week and which was central to the ruling—will continue to be delivered to the innocent men, women and children in Gaza, who must have a right to food?

Mr Mitchell 

As I set out, the Government’s highest immediate priority is to ensure that aid and humanitarian support get into Gaza. We are relentlessly pursuing that objective. I have set out where we are on UNRWA, but there is no immediate effect on the food that it seeks to deliver in Gaza today.


Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)

T6.   By any measure our world is becoming more dangerous, not less. I very much welcome Britain’s leadership and rekindled engagement on the international stage, not least in Ukraine and the middle east. Does the Minister agree that our foreign policy, our economy and, indeed, our security are interdependently related? Given the deteriorating threat picture, would he like to see an increase in our defence posture? (901264)

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend, the former Chairman of the Defence Committee, is absolutely right to focus on these threats. The Foreign Secretary recently said that all the lights on the global dashboard are flashing red. The Government know that the first duty of the state is to defend and protect its citizens from external aggression, and my right hon. Friend may rest assured that that will continue to be our highest priority.

Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)

T3. Tensions are soaring across the middle east after Washington vowed to respond to the drone attack by Iran-backed militants that killed three American soldiers. Does the Minister share my concern that we may be dragged into another regional war at the Americans’ demand? (901261)

Mr Mitchell 

The American Government and the British Government have made it absolutely clear that they do not wish to see this conflict escalate more widely. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will accept that no country can accept with equanimity the appalling deaths of those American soldiers.


Sarah Green (Chesham and Amersham) (LD)

T4.   Yesterday, as the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) alluded to, an ICC prosecutor said that there are “grounds to believe” that both the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces are committing war crimes in Darfur. Will the Minister outline what diplomatic steps the Department is taking to help to stop the violence? (901262)

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady is absolutely right in her analysis of what is happening in Sudan—throughout Sudan, and in particular in Darfur—where there is clear evidence of crimes against humanity being committed. Britain holds the pen at the United Nations, as I said earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). We work through regional and international alliances. We are clear that Sudan needs a comprehensive ceasefire and then movement back on to a political track, where former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok will play an increasingly important role.

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

Today is World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day and as I am sure the Minister is well aware, malaria affects more than 250 million people every year and causes the death of a child every minute. Given the news that the British-backed R21 vaccination has gained pre-qualification at the World Health Organisation, what commitment will my right hon. Friend give towards further support, including through the next replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance?

Mr Mitchell 

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Jenner Institute at Oxford to see the remarkable people who made that progress. Every day, malaria kills entirely unnecessarily more than 1,000 children under five and pregnant women. Thanks to that brilliant British invention and technology, I hope very much that we will be able to make malaria history within the foreseeable future.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

T5.   The decision to pull funding from UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the day after the International Court of Justice called for increased aid to get into Gaza has been branded reckless by 21 aid agencies, including Oxfam. What assessment have the Government made of the number of additional Palestinians now at risk of death from disease or starvation as a result of pulling that funding? (901263)

Mr Mitchell 

The Government have been very clear about the position with UNRWA. We cannot overlook the appalling events that have been reported, but we are seeking to ensure that they are properly investigated. Britain has no additional funding plans for this financial year. We have already funded UNRWA, as have others, so I have no doubt that UNRWA’s support, getting food to those who desperately need it, will continue, but we cannot ignore the information that was brought to our attention.


Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

T7. The Minister has been clear about the extremely dangerous situation in Sudan. I have a number of constituents still waiting for the UK Government to process their applications for their family members to come to safety here, and hampered by the inability to travel over international borders. What conversations has he had with his counterparts in neighbouring countries such as Egypt to allow facilitation of the movement of people through there out of the dangers in Sudan to safety in the UK? (901265)

Mr Mitchell 

We talk continually to the surrounding countries and have given specific support to Chad in dealing with people coming over the border. The situation in Sudan that the hon. Lady describes is absolutely appalling, with nearly 18 million people urgently needing food. If she wishes to discuss her specific cases with me and the Foreign Office, we should do so straight after Question Time.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

This year marks the 120th anniversary of the signing of the entente cordiale with France, 80 years since D-day and 30 years since the opening of the Channel tunnel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an incredibly important moment to reinvigorate that important bilateral relationship?

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend will have seen the stratospheric improvement in relations with France and its President that have taken place under our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He and I were celebrating 120 years of the entente cordiale at the French residence last week. I have no doubt that that relationship, especially now, is in excellent condition.

Sarah Dyke (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

T8. Women are unequally affected in conflict. We have heard accounts of horrific rapes perpetrated by Hamas, of women assuming heavy care responsibilities due to failing medical infrastructure in Gaza, and of women being trafficked out of Nigeria, to name three recent examples. Will the Minister comment on the Department’s work to provide a better future for women in conflict zones? (901266)

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady has raised a most important matter. Women bear the brunt of poverty, conflict and starvation. That is why the British Government have made it clear, particularly in the White Paper, that this matter remains a top priority. The White Paper announced £38 million of additional spending to support women’s rights organisations. As we know, women’s rights are under threat all around the world, and we are doing everything we can to support girls and women.

Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)

As new heartbreaking testimonies of Hamas’s use of sexual violence and rape come to light from survivors of the 7 October attack, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the silence of many international organisations, such as the International Red Cross, on that appalling issue?

Mr Mitchell 

I hope that my hon. Friend will draw strength and satisfaction from the fact that the British Government are not silent on that very important matter.


Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)

As the death toll rises in Gaza, so does the misery of women and girls in the occupied territories. I am increasingly concerned that aid is not getting to them. The United Nations says that there is a chronic aid access problem, and that women are having caesarean sections without anaesthetic. What is going on? Is the aid not getting to them? What steps is the Department taking to ensure that it does?

Mr Mitchell 

Tackling this is Britain’s central aim; the aim is to get humanitarian aid into Gaza, but also to ensure that there is a plan on the west bank to take forward a political initiative. Everything that we are doing is bent on trying to get the aid that is in the region through the narrow entrances into Gaza. We will continue to do that.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)

The Minister has said several times in the last few days that the Government’s decision to suspend funding for UNRWA should not affect that agency’s ability to deliver immediate aid in the region. If it transpires in the days and weeks ahead that the opposite is the case and the agency is being compromised, will the Government immediately review their decision?

Mr Mitchell 

Yesterday, I spoke to the head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini. I made the point that it is essential that his review—which of course he is not conducting; the UN is conducting it—is completed as fast as possible for the reasons the hon. Gentleman set out. I am reasonably confident that it can be conducted within the next two months, and the British Government are watching this carefully.

Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)

Will the Minister confirm whether the Government have undertaken any further military action in Yemen since 11 January? If so, will he clarify whether the Government’s long-term plan includes committing to sustained military action in one of the poorest countries of the world?

Mr Mitchell 

We are careful to ensure that our response to the Houthis in Yemen is proportionate and right. We are conscious of the importance of getting food into Yemen to feed people who are starving. That process is hindered by the grossly irresponsible acts of the Houthi terrorists.


Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)

I have 10 and 11-year-old constituents—British citizens—who are stuck in the Israeli fire zone in southern Lebanon. The Foreign Office is urging them to return to the UK, but as their mother is not a British citizen, the Home Office is preventing that. Will the Minister help me to persuade the Home Office to relent on this issue?

Mr Mitchell 

I am happy to look at the case that the hon. Gentleman raises immediately after Question Time, if that is convenient to him. The Foreign Secretary is in the region today, not far away from the country that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I am sure that we will be able to advance the talks that are going on.