All 37 Parliamentary debates on 14th Nov 2023

Tue 14th Nov 2023
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Renters (Reform) Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

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Tue 14th Nov 2023
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House of Commons

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 14 November 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I wish to inform the House that I have received a letter from the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), informing me of his resignation as Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I therefore declare the Chair vacant. I will announce the arrangements for the election of a new Chair in due course.

I would also like to draw Members’ attention to the fact that the book for entering the private Members’ Bills ballot is now open. It will be open until the House rises today and while the House is sitting tomorrow. The book will be available for Members to sign in the No Lobby until 6 pm on both days, at which point it will be taken to the Public Bill Office and will remain open for signatures until the rise of the House. The ballot itself will be drawn at 9 am this Thursday, in Committee Room 15.

An announcement setting out these and other arrangements, and the dates when the ten-minute rule motions can be made and presentation Bills introduced, has been published in the Order Paper.

We now come to questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. May I welcome the new ministerial team as a whole, rather than going through each of them individually?

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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1. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of maintaining the pensions triple lock on the economy.

Laura Trott Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Laura Trott)
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As a result of the Government’s triple lock, the basic state pension is now more than 50% higher in cash terms than it was in 2011. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is undertaking his review at the moment, and I cannot pre-empt that.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord
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Now that Lord Cameron has returned to the Cabinet, it is probably a good time for us to remember that the pensions triple lock was a Liberal Democrat initiative. The 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto said:

“We will uprate the state pension annually by whichever is the higher of growth in earnings, growth in prices or 2.5 per cent.”

Given that the triple lock has now been operational for more than a decade, will the Chancellor and his team commit to putting the triple lock in the next manifesto?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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Nice try. The triple lock was a Conservative invention, delivered by the Conservatives, and it is something to which we remain committed.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
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I welcome my hon. Friend to her new role. Given that it is right that we look after our pensioners and ensure that people are well looked after in later life, it is important that we have the right tax base to fund our pensions. Will she meet me to consider ways in which we can make our taxation system more family friendly, to encourage more people to have more children and to ensure that we can pay for our pensions in the years ahead?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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My right hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate on these issues, and of course I would be delighted to meet him.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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3. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the level of food inflation.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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4. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the level of food inflation.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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20. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the level of food inflation.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Jeremy Hunt)
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UK food inflation has been driven largely by global factors and has already fallen from 19.6% to 12.3%, and external forecasts expect it to continue to fall.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Between March 2021 and April 2023, the cost of first infant formula increased by 24%, on average, with the cheapest formula on the market increasing by 45%. That is an absolute catastrophe for families who rely on infant formula, but a bonanza for the formula companies, which are making significant profits out of this. Can the Chancellor tell me why he believes it is right for companies to profit while families struggle to feed their babies?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to the pressures on families caused by very high food inflation in a number of areas, but I can tell her that the Competition and Markets Authority, which undertook a review of the groceries sector earlier this year, has not yet found evidence that high food price inflation is being driven by weak competition. But it is continuing its review and looking at the supply chain, and we will wait to hear what it says.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Recent research showed that the most significant decline in UK children’s height in the global ranking came after the UK coalition Government launched their austerity programme in 2010. An expert in child growth rates at the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health said of that 30-place drop in ranking that austerity

“has clobbered the height of children in the UK.”

What lessons has the Chancellor learned from the UK Government’s previous disastrous errors of judgment in this area, and how will he be supporting vulnerable groups in the future?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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The lesson I have learned is straightforward: if we had not reduced the deficit by 80% between 2010 and the start of the pandemic, we would not have been able to help families across the United Kingdom with payments of more than £3,000, on average, including 700,000 households in Scotland and more than 1 million pensioners.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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Even if the inflation rate is falling, food prices are still going up considerably. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reckons that they have gone up at least twice as fast as the value of benefits since September 2021. At the very least, can the Chancellor commit to ensuring that the Department for Work and Pensions has enough resource to raise benefits at least in line with September’s inflation rate?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is doing his review at the moment to decide the correct amount by which to uprate benefits. If the hon. Gentleman looks at this Government’s record, he will see that we took the decision a year ago to uprate benefits by inflation, and we committed to £94 billion of measures to help families get through the cost of living crisis.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Food inflation will only get worse if our self-sufficiency in food production drops. Will my right hon. Friend consider fiscal measures to discourage the transfer of food-producing land to other uses such as solar industrial installations?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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My hon. Friend is right to say that our food industry is very important to food security. We need to keep the priorities constantly under review. Nature is a very important part of that, but so too is food production.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
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It is good to be addressing an elected Minister this morning. The consumer organisation Which? has described Tesco and Sainsbury’s as committing “dodgy” practices over food prices and loyalty schemes, and Marks & Spencer has just posted record profits on food sales, yet people up and down the nations of the UK are struggling to pay their food bills. Will the Chancellor tell us which supermarkets he has held to account over rising food prices?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we had the supermarkets in over the summer to make sure that they were doing everything they could to bear down on food price inflation. However, the correct way for politicians to look at this is at arm’s length. We have the independent Competition and Markets Authority, which does a rigorous job and often does things that politicians disagree with, and it is looking at the issue right now.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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In Canada, Ministers met the five largest grocery chains to get commitments on stabilising food prices. Other Governments are doing similar things. France’s Finance Minister held extensive talks with the food industry to get it to commit to freezing or cutting prices on 5,000 everyday products. Is it not the case that, for people facing crushing food bills in Scotland and across the nations of the UK, this Westminster Government are doing absolutely nothing?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I think £94 billion of support to help families up and down the country, including with food prices and energy prices, is a rather different answer from saying that we are doing nothing.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
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5. What fiscal steps his Department is taking to support the growth of the energy sector.

Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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Since March 2021, the Government have committed a total of £30 billion in public investment for the green industrial revolution. Since then, the Chancellor has announced £6 billion for clean heat and improving energy efficiency, and £20 billion for carbon capture, usage and storage. Alongside the launch of Great British Nuclear and the small modular reactor competition, the Government have also invested £1 billion in Sizewell C.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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According to a recent survey, 90% of North sea oil and gas operators have reduced spending since the energy profits levy was introduced. I therefore welcome recent announcements on new North sea licences and the announcement before the summer of the energy security investment mechanism, by which the EPL will be removed when appropriate. Can my hon. Friend tell me when we can expect a response to the consultation on the ESIM and what plans this Government have to legislate for the mechanism? Will he meet me to discuss how investor confidence in our home-grown industry can be assured further?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Introducing the price floor for the oil and gas industry comes from the principle that, while it is right that oil and gas companies pay a higher share of tax during exceptional times, it is also right that when prices fall to normal levels, so do their tax rates. That is why we introduced the price floor in June and we have extensively engaged with the industry since then. I know that legislating will provide some certainty; we are looking carefully at that and will respond soon. I will always be happy to meet with my hon. Friend.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Labour party and the Co-operative party have set out a shared ambition for more community-owned energy. That is not new: in Denmark, 52% of wind energy is community owned, and in Germany half of all onshore wind is community owned. Will the Government do far more to join that ambition of community-owned energy here in Britain?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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We have ambitious plans for energy generation and our energy security. We want to bring communities with us, and we look at all options as we do so.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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6. What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of introducing a wealth tax.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston)
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Of course, the UK does not have a single wealth tax, but it does have several taxes on wealth and assets, and those generate substantial revenues. The Government are committed to keeping taxes low so that working people keep more of what they earn. The Government’s approach to delivering fiscal sustainability is underpinned by fairness, with those on the highest incomes paying a larger share.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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But the burden of tax is increasingly falling on working people’s incomes, while the richest 50 families in the UK have alone accumulated a combined wealth equivalent to that of half the population. Research from the University of Greenwich shows that a wealth tax could generate £70 billion for much-needed public services, so will the Government at least put forward a commission to investigate the matter and introduce a fair taxation policy?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is lobbying me or Opposition Front Benchers with her comments, but she will be well aware that we do have a progressive tax system in the UK. It is important to remember that the top 5% of taxpayers are projected to pay nearly half of all income tax in 2023-24; and the top 1% as much as 28%. Compared with what we inherited from Labour in 2010, when the top 1% of income tax payers paid 25% and the top 5% paid 43%, the tax system is fairer and more progressive under the Conservatives.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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Those who live in homes with driveways pay just 5% VAT when they charge their cars from their home electricity, but those who live in terraced houses have to pay 20% VAT to charge commercially. Given that those who live in terraced houses are often less wealthy, will the Minister, whom I congratulate on his new role, meet me and other members of the Conservative Environment Network to look at how we might level out that anomaly?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My right hon. Friend is a great champion of such issues in her constituency and beyond. I am aware that she has already spoken to the Chancellor about this issue, but I would be delighted, as always, to meet her and discuss it further.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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The Government have done a lot to raise personal allowances, for which our party has advocated for many years. However, given that that is an improvement for people at the bottom end of the income scale, will the Treasury now turn its view towards hard-working, middle-income families, who also want a reduction in their tax burden?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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We appreciate the support for taking 3 million of the lowest-paid people out of paying income tax altogether since 2010—an important and significant change. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but I cannot comment further, especially this close to a fiscal event.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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I welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. Does he share with me the humour that Opposition Back Benchers have proposals for new taxation that the Opposition Front Benchers are trying to bat away, while those of us on the Government Back Benches are telling the Government to cut taxes, and our Front Benchers keep batting that away?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am afraid that what we are probably seeing is “same old Labour”—we have heard this all before. What they are proposing did not work in the ’70s and it will not work now. We are very proud of our tax record, particularly taking the lowest paid out of income tax.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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I welcome the Minister to his place. The Government have the opportunity next week to right an historical wrong by abolishing non-dom tax status. The Chancellor could use that money to get our NHS back on its feet and to provide free breakfast clubs for all primary-age children, just as Labour has called for. Is the abolition of non-dom tax status under consideration, or has the Prime Minister ruled it out again, for personal reasons?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman is well aware that there are real dangers that what he is proposing would make the UK a less attractive destination—that is a very important issue. The City pays for a huge amount of our NHS, for example, and non-dom taxpayers were liable to pay £8.5 billion in UK income tax in 2021-22 and invested more than £7 billion in the UK.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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7. If he will have discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the potential merits of uprating benefits in line with inflation.

Laura Trott Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Laura Trott)
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The Government are committed to supporting households with the cost of living, delivering over £94 billion of support, including uprating benefits by 10.1% this year. As I have said, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is undertaking his review, and I cannot pre-empt that.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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Figures from the Trussell Trust show that food bank usage is at its highest ever level, and over the summer months a record 41,878 parcels of food were provided to 21,000 children in Scotland alone. Meanwhile, child poverty costs the Government £39 billion per year in poor health and educational outcomes. In order to tackle child poverty properly, will the Government commit to keeping benefits in line with inflation and lifting the two-child cap?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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We understand that things are really tough at the moment, which is why we have put in place £900 of cost of living support this year, but we also all need to work on bearing down on inflation. We are seeing it start to come down, but we know it is still too high, and we hope we will reach the Prime Minister’s pledge of halving inflation, because that is the biggest help we can give to households this year.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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8. What steps his Department is taking to help mitigate the potential impact of environmental, social and governance practices of financial institutions on levels of investment in the defence sector.

Bim Afolami Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Bim Afolami)
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The Secretary of State for Defence and my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith), recently set out that the values within ESG practices of financial institutions should never undermine capabilities developed to help us preserve peace and security. The Treasury recently consulted on a potential regulatory framework for ESG ratings providers, which aims to improve transparency and promote good conduct. I hope this will address some of the issues that defence companies have raised.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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ESG is so vital when it comes to investing in all our services, including defence. We were promised that the “Greening Finance” road map would come out at the end of 2022. Then we were told that the consultation would come out by autumn this year. It is still just about autumn, and it is yet to come out. Why are the Government kicking ESG down the road? Why have they stopped caring about ESG, and when will we have the consultation to get a UK green taxonomy sorted?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. [Interruption.] I do; I know how much he cares about these issues and campaigns on them frequently in the House, and I commend him for it. The Government are committed to delivering on a UK green taxonomy to provide investors with clarity on which economic activity should be labelled as green. We expect to consult this autumn. The green taxonomy will provide an important tool for enabling the supply of relevant and reliable sustainability information for the market, and information will come in due course.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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One of the things that concern Northern Ireland MPs is the fact that when it comes to defence jobs and getting contracts, Northern Ireland falls behind. The Minister will be aware that Thales, on the border of my constituency, was recently able to secure its workforce. What steps can he take to ensure that each region of the United Kingdom, but especially Northern Ireland, can benefit from defence spending for the workforce? We can do the job the same as everywhere else; we just need the opportunity.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I thank the hon. Member for his question, which is incredibly important. As he knows, this Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that jobs in the defence sector, within an ESG framework, are protected. I am happy to meet him to discuss further the issues relating to his constituency and Northern Ireland.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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9. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of inflation on the ability of graduates to repay student loans.

Laura Trott Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Laura Trott)
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Tuition fees have been frozen for 2023-24 and 2024-25, which will help affordability for future graduates. For new graduates, interest rates will move with the retail prices index but will have nothing added.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Robertson
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I thank the Minister for that response but, of course, interest rates have made matters much more difficult for graduates, who cannot afford to both pay off their student loan and buy their own property. Is there anything further that the Government can do to help graduates, who are struggling to do both? One of the things we could do is raise the threshold at which they start to pay back the loans.

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The most important thing we can do is bear down on inflation, because that will bear down on interest rates, which affect us all. I would also point to the cost of living support that the Department for Education is providing for students. I would be happy to discuss the matter with him further.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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10. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the economic growth rate.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Jeremy Hunt)
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Our policies are increasing economic growth, as the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed following last year’s autumn statement and the spring Budget, but the only way to secure higher, sustainable, long-term growth is to bring down inflation.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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The OBR judged the Chancellor’s last Budget to have no overall long-term impact on the level of potential productivity. Does he expect the OBR to make a similar judgment of his next Budget?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I remind the hon. Gentleman of what the OBR actually said about the spring Budget:

“the overall impact on GDP is around 0.2 per cent in 2027-28. This is the largest upward revision we have made to potential output within our five-year forecast as a result of fiscal policy decisions taken by a Government”.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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Economic growth in northern Lincolnshire will be severely impacted if changes go ahead at British Steel’s Scunthorpe works, which will result in redundancies and a massive impact on the supply chain. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will not proceed with any support for those changes until a full economic assessment of the impact on the local area has been carried out?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I thank my hon. Friend and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) for their extensive lobbying on this very important issue. I have had meetings with him and her, and with many others, to discuss it. I reassure him that we are absolutely committed to steel production in the United Kingdom, and to making sure that any changes that are necessary support the local communities that depend on steel production.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab)
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I welcome the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) to her place. I look forward to holding her to account.

Last month, the Chancellor’s National Infrastructure Commission said that in order to unlock the billions of pounds of private investment that is available to get our economy growing, we need a Government who can “make good decisions, fast.” Why does the Chancellor think his Government have been making bad decisions slowly for quite so long?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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It might help the hon. Gentleman if I tell him some of the facts on infrastructure. Since we made some reforms to the asset pooling framework in 2015, UK and global infrastructure investment by pension funds has grown from £1 billion to around £27 billion, and the Solvency 2 reforms could potentially unlock a further £100 billion-worth of investment.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones
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That, Mr Speaker, was a list of very slow decisions still being badly taken. The Labour party has a raft of plans available to help drive economic growth and investment in every corner of our country, from speeding up the grid to accelerating planning for critically important infrastructure. Today, I am making them available to the Chancellor for free. Would he like them, or would he rather call a general election?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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Unfortunately, nothing is free from the Labour party. Funding plans by increasing borrowing by £28 billion a year leads to higher bills for families, higher energy prices and higher mortgages.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
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11. What steps his Department is taking to encourage pension schemes to invest in the UK.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)
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13. What steps his Department is taking to encourage pension schemes to invest in the UK.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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While we are basking in those questions, would somebody like to answer them?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Jeremy Hunt)
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In my speech at Mansion House in July, I announced reforms to boost pensions, increase investment in UK businesses, and improve UK capital market competitiveness. Those reforms could result in over £1,000 a year of additional retirement income and unlock £75 billion-worth of investment in high-growth businesses.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds
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Many local authorities have given the investment managers for their pension funds a mandate to invest in infrastructure. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to encourage greater infrastructure investment by UK public sector pension funds?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in this issue—of course, he has great experience of local government. Working with the former Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith), who I see is in the Chamber, we announced major reforms in July to help local government pension funds lead the way in the transformation we are looking for, in particular by sending a direction that they should invest in pools worth more than £50 billion. That will make it easier for them to have the expertise necessary to invest in infrastructure.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I welcome the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made in his Mansion House speech, which will increase investment in the United Kingdom. In his upcoming autumn statement, I implore him to build on his Budget announcement with a policy that was originally advocated for in a paper by the Adam Smith Institute, a think-tank I am proud to be patron of, as is set out in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I implore him to make full expensing permanent and to scrap the hated factory tax.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I have a very small bone to pick with my right hon. Friend, because when I became Chancellor I was hoping to say that I was the first Chancellor who was once an entrepreneur, but he pipped me to the post. However, he is absolutely right to say how important it is to have competitive business investment taxes. I was very proud in the spring Budget to introduce full expensing for three years, which gives us some of the most competitive business taxes in the OECD. Only five other countries do that, and I will of course keep under review any possibility to extend that tax break.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (Ind)
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Is investment not needed in the UK given that 13 years of Tory rule have resulted in a £137 billion UK deficit? Meanwhile independent Ireland has a €10 billion surplus from its economic growth and investment. That is an Ireland without the oil or natural resources of Scotland, which is now about to start a sovereign wealth fund. Where did the failing crisis-hit UK go wrong and independent Ireland go right? The clue, by the way, is in the question.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I find that a very curious question. If the hon. Member is proud of Scotland’s natural resources, why does he want to cancel North sea oil and gas exploration, which is the very thing that can give families across the United Kingdom security from the energy shocks we have seen from things such as the invasion of Ukraine?

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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There is encouraging news in that the Pension Insurance Corporation has recently announced that it is going to invest in helping to support the building of 1,200 new affordable homes in this city. Does the Chancellor agree that pension funds could be a very important source of capital for developing social rented housing around the country—Eden Housing Association, South Lakes Housing, and Westmorland and Furness Council, for example? Will he look at the rules and bring in greater incentives for pension investment funds to invest in affordable housing across the country?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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We are already working on proposals in that very area. Broadly speaking, we have one of the most robust and resilient pension fund sectors in the world, but we are doing a lot of work to remove the barriers to investing back into the UK. Things such as affordable housing, infrastructure and our growth businesses are areas of great potential.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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12. What steps his Department is taking to increase public sector productivity.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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15. What steps he is taking to help ensure value for money in public spending.

Laura Trott Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Laura Trott)
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My hon. Friend is rightly very focused on making sure that every single pound of taxpayers’ money is spent wisely, and I can assure him that the Government share that goal. In June, the previous Chief Secretary to the Treasury launched the public sector productivity programme, and we will provide an update at the autumn statement.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi
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Estimates show that the public sector today is 7.5% less productive than in the environment just before covid. Does the Minister agree that this could possibly be down to a continued more liberal working from home ethic? How much is this costing the taxpayer?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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My hon. Friend is right that public sector productivity must be improved. That is exactly what the review is looking at and what we will address. I look forward to talking to him more about it in due course.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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I welcome the fact that the taxpayer has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on remediation work at the Teesworks site in Redcar. I do not welcome the fact that the assets, including 90% of the operating company and tens of millions of pounds of scrap, have been handed over by the Tees Valley Mayor to two private companies, whose owners are laughing all the way to the bank. Is that really good value for taxpayers’ money?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I think these claims have been addressed by the Mayor, and I will not have anything further to say about them.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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14. What fiscal steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support households in fuel poverty.

Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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The Government have taken significant action to help households with rising energy prices and the costs of living by providing one of the largest packages of support in Europe, totalling £94 billion.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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Orkney and Shetland have the worst rates of fuel poverty of anywhere in the country. Provisional figures show that, for last winter, both Orkney and Shetland recorded record levels of winter mortality. In his new office, will the Minister bring his colleagues together from across Government to hear from agencies such as THAW—Tackling Household Affordable Warmth —in Orkney that are working to tackle fuel poverty, because if we can tackle fuel poverty in Orkney and Shetland, we can tackle fuel poverty?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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We are incredibly sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents, who have suffered a very difficult time. That is why we introduced the energy price guarantee, which will remain in place until March 2024 as a safety net. We continue to engage with lots of stakeholders and we are very happy to include the ones he suggests.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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16. What steps his Department is taking to support homeowners with their mortgages.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
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21. What recent assessment he has made of the potential impact of changes in mortgage interest rates over the course of this Parliament on household incomes.

Bim Afolami Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Bim Afolami)
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The path to lower mortgage rates, as everybody in this House knows, is through lower inflation, which is why the Prime Minister and the Chancellor made halving inflation one of our five priorities for this year. The latest Bank of England forecast shows that we are on track for that. In June, lenders representing more than 90% of the mortgage market agreed to our new mortgage charter, which includes new flexibilities to help customers manage their repayments, backed up by UK Finance’s advertising campaign encouraging anyone worried about their repayments to contact their lender.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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Does the Minister agree that the best way we can help the next generation of homeowners is to increase the supply of homes, bring back the help to buy ISA and stop the 35-year mortgage shared-ownership models, which only increase house prices?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. On his first point, we are increasing the number of homes and we are optimistic that we will reach our target of delivering 1 million new homes over this Parliament. Secondly, the help to buy ISA was closed to new accounts in 2019, but existing holders can continue to save into their accounts. On his third point about stopping 35-year mortgages, it is important to have choice in the market and for people to make those choices for themselves. As a Government we are committed to supporting people doing just that.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe
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According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, mortgage increases are expected to cost UK households £9 billion this year and next. How on earth do the Government defend that?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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As the hon. Member knows, the reason why we are in this position is that there is a global phenomenon. We are doing what we can. We are working closely with the Bank of England and, over time, due to the policies of the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and this Government, interest rates will come down.

James Murray Portrait James Murray (Ealing North) (Lab/Co-op)
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I welcome the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) to his post as Financial Secretary.

It has been a year since the Conservatives crashed the economy. In 2023 so far, 1.5 million fixed-term mortgages have expired, leaving working people facing sky-high increases in their mortgage costs. For people living in Wellingborough, for example, this Tory mortgage penalty means that households are paying another £190 a month on top of everything else in a cost of living crisis. The truth is that working people are paying the price for the Conservatives crashing the economy last autumn. Does the Economic Secretary think that is fair?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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I thank the shadow Minister for his kind words, at least in relation to me.

It is important to recognise that in the eurozone, the United States and the UK there have been broadly similar increases in inflation and interest rates. We as a Government are confident that our policies will bring those down in due course.

Michael Shanks Portrait Michael Shanks (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab)
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17. Whether he has had recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the impact of increases in the cost of living on the Scottish economy.

Laura Trott Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Laura Trott)
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We have announced UK-wide support for households, including cost of living payments, the energy price guarantee and the energy bills support scheme. Taken together, support for households is worth £94 billion and is among the largest packages in Europe.

Michael Shanks Portrait Michael Shanks
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The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently reported that wages in Scotland have risen by 1.5% since 2015, compared with 5% in England. In the face of a cost of living crisis brought about by the Conservative party’s disastrous mini-Budget, wages simply are not keeping up with the cost of living. What can the Minister commit the Government to doing next to help make work pay? Will she, for example, support Labour’s new deal for working people?

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I was pleased to see this morning’s figures, which show that wages are going ahead of inflation. This is very good news and I hope it spreads to Scotland.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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18. Whether he plans to change the tax status of non-domiciled residents in the UK.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston)
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The Government want the UK to have a fair and internationally competitive tax system, designed to bring in talented individuals and investment that contributes to the growth of the UK economy. Non-domiciled individuals play an important role in funding our public services through their taxation contributions, and they pay UK tax on their UK source income and gains in the same way as everybody else.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard
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The non-dom tax status allows people to dodge millions in taxes. Germany, France and Canada have closed their non-dom tax loopholes. Can the Minister explain to taxpayers in Plymouth and across the country why he thinks it is fair that people who live here do not pay their taxes here?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As I said in the answer I gave some moments ago, non-dom taxpayers make a significant contribution to UK tax, worth £8.5 billion in 2021-22, with £7 billion more invested. The City, for example, pays half the cost of the NHS.

John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP)
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19. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the level of mortgage interest rates.

Bim Afolami Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Bim Afolami)
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The Government’s mortgage charter is providing support to vulnerable households, and arrears and repossessions remain at historic lows. Government support has helped real household incomes rise by 2.7% year on year in the latest data.

John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally
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With the economy flatlining and interest rates remaining at 5.25% and more than likely to remain above 5% next year, it simply follows that households’ disposable incomes will continue to be squeezed throughout 2024. Surely the Chancellor agrees that mortgage interest tax relief must be reintroduced to support households facing high interest rates alongside inflation.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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As the hon. Member has already heard from the Chancellor, the economy is still growing. The latest labour market data shows that incomes are going up at a higher rate than inflation, so I do not recognise the picture that he paints.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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22. What assessment he has made of the financial position of households during winter 2023-24.

Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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The Government continue to stand by households with one of Europe’s largest support packages, amounting to some £3,300 a household on average across 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake
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The Minister will be aware that a big concern for rural constituencies is the cost of fuel. The RAC has found that the margin enjoyed by the big supermarkets on fuel sales in October was double the figure for the year to date at 14p per litre. That reflects concerns raised by the Competition and Markets Authority that although wholesale fuel prices fell in September and October, retail prices did not. What is the Treasury’s assessment of the impact that these higher margins will have on households in the coming winter?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Fuel duty is a major cost for households and businesses. We recognise that. That is why in the spring Budget 2023, the Chancellor extended the 5p temporary duty cut. That was a £5 billion saving for motorists, worth £100 for the average motorist, but we always keep these things under review.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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23. What steps he is taking to support economic growth in Essex.

Bim Afolami Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Bim Afolami)
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As my right hon. Friend knows, the Government are committed to supporting economic growth all over the country, but particularly in the wonderful county of Essex. The recently announced £1.1 billion long-term plan for towns will, for example, provide £20 million of flexible funding over 10 years to Clacton, and there are many other measures.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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I welcome my hon. Friend to his new role. I hope that he will know not only that the only way is Essex, but that Essex is a net contributor to the Treasury. We want more economic growth in Essex. In a week’s time, we will have the autumn statement, so may I give a message to those on the Treasury Front Bench? May I appeal to the Chancellor in particular to look at lowering the rates of personal and business taxation, particularly the areas of business rates, corporation tax and all aspects to do with enabling people to keep more of the money they earn?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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My right hon. Friend tempts me to make tax policy. What I will say to her is that she will know that the Chancellor always keeps these things under review, as do the Government. Indeed, we have a fiscal event shortly.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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Can I ask the Minister why he said he wants particularly to support investment and growth in Sussex? [Interruption.] Is that the Tories reverting to type in terms of the blue wall?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I think it was Essex, not Sussex.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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They are all the same to me.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Have you got a question? I do not think an answer is needed.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)
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24. What fiscal steps he is taking to support the growth of the life sciences sector.

Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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Life sciences are one of the Chancellor’s key growth priority areas. In May, he announced a significant new policy package, backed by more than £650 million of funding, reaffirming the Government’s commitment to supporting a thriving life sciences industry.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy
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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Life sciences are incredibly important, so will he focus investment on them in projects such as BioYorkshire on the edge of my constituency, which brings together private, public and academic institutions for huge benefits right across the board?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the benefits and importance of life sciences to the country. We are genuinely a world leader: I was out in Boston in the United States seeing the other world-leading area for life sciences, and it is not a patch on ours. That is why, as an example, we are looking to support life sciences through the investment zone programme, but, as I said, they are a key priority for the Chancellor as part of his growth agenda.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Jeremy Hunt)
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As we have a debate this afternoon, I will limit my comments to welcoming my outstanding new colleagues. The new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), will brilliantly solve the problem of how we stop the state expanding, building on the work of her wonderful predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). The new Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), will single-handedly ensure that the City and stock market remain competitive, building on the superb foundations laid by his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith). The job of the new Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), will be to work out how to bring taxes down, following in the footsteps of his excellent predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who as Health Secretary will no doubt be trying to push them up.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi
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There is widespread consensus that growth is essential to the economy. With 800,000 fewer self-employed in the economy post covid and post IR35, does the Chancellor agree that increasing the VAT threshold to £250,000 for new registrations would boost growth and be a net gain in revenue terms in the long run?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising the support we give to small businesses. As he will know, supporting small businesses, particularly by rolling over the retail, hospitality and leisure business rates discount of 75%, was a major feature of the autumn statement. We will continue to keep under review anything that we can do to help our small businesses.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Chancellor.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)
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I welcome all the new Ministers to their roles and wish them well in them. The covid inquiry is uncovering unsavoury examples of Government mismanagement. We already know that Ministers ignored warnings that their business loan schemes were vulnerable to organised crime, yet the Prime Minister left the vaults open to fraudsters. Will the Chancellor update the House on the latest estimates of taxpayers’ money lost to fraud from the covid support schemes?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I am happy to tell the shadow Chancellor that as of September 2023, HMRC’s compliance effort on covid-19 support schemes, which started when the schemes were set up in spring 2020, had prevented the payment of or recovered the overpayment of more than £1.6 billion of grants.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer, but according to the House of Commons Library’s most recent numbers, covid fraud losses total a staggering £7.2 billion—that is bigger than the fiscal headroom that he had in his spring Budget. More stories are coming to light about companies with undeclared interests and personal protective equipment contracts not delivering to the standards required. Ahead of the autumn statement, will he confirm that the Government have also had to write off more than £8.7 billion from pandemic PPE contracts?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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Let me say two things. First, we have no quarter with any incidence of fraud. We have commenced 51 criminal investigations into suspected fraud cases and there have been a total of 80 arrests so far. Let me also say that during the pandemic we introduced £400 billion of support to businesses and families up and down the country and, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the result is that our economy is nearly 2% bigger than pre-pandemic, while Germany’s, for example, is only 0.3% bigger.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
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T3. Primary care capital allocation has pulled the short straw for decades. May I encourage Treasury Ministers to look across Government and with developers —retrospectively if necessary—to ensure that when we build huge new housing estates, the primary care promised in the planning permissions is actually provided?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I will take this question as well because my hon. Friend has lobbied me personally on this issue. Literally no one in this House has worked harder on it than he has. I have an example of the very problem he is talking about in my own constituency. He is right that it takes too long for housing development capital to reach NHS primary care projects. We will look into the issue carefully.

Kim Leadbeater Portrait Kim Leadbeater (Batley and Spen) (Lab)
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T2. In my constituency we are faced with the potential closure of vital public services such as Cleckheaton town hall, Claremont House dementia care home and Batley sports and tennis centre. Ultimately, that comes down to cuts imposed on Kirklees Council of more than £1 billion since 2010. Ahead of next week’s autumn statement, what conversations has the Chancellor had with his colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that our local authorities are properly funded and the future of our vital public services is protected?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I am answering a lot of the topical questions today because I have a new team. I want to reassure the hon. Lady that we are very aware of the financial pressures that local authorities are under. I am having extensive discussions with the Communities Secretary.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Treasury Committee.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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On the Conservative Benches we all agree that the way to sustainable economic growth without inflation is through business investment. It is early days, but I wonder whether we have indications of how well full expensing is working for encouraging business investment in this country. Is the Chancellor considering making that full expensing permanent next week at the autumn statement?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in the topic. One of the reasons why our productivity is 15% lower than Germany’s, for example, is that it invests 2% more as a proportion of its GDP than we do in the UK. Improving the rate of business investment is one of the most effective ways to boost productivity and people’s real disposable income. We are proud of what we introduced in the spring Budget, and we will continue to see whether it is possible to extend it further.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma  (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
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T4. London’s homelessness challenge is at crisis point. More than 1 in 50 Londoners is in temporary accommodation. That equates to one child in every classroom. Given that in some boroughs, only around 2% of properties are affordable for rent on local housing allowance, what assessment has the Chancellor made of the adequacy of local housing allowance rates?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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With the Work and Pensions Secretary I continue to keep under review all the things that have an impact on poverty rates. We are proud to have made progress in reducing the number of people living in absolute poverty after housing costs by 1.7 million since 2010. When it comes to homelessness, we are investing £2 billion over the next three years. Rough sleeping is down 35% since its peak.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Member’s Financial Interests. The Chancellor has acknowledged that investment trusts, which make up one third of all FTSE 250 companies, are being plagued by misguided cost disclosure legislation, which is making them appear unduly expensive. That is restricting investment and does not happen in any other country. In addition to the positive dialogue between us and with the Financial Conduct Authority, will he consider supporting the First Reading of Baroness Altman’s private Member’s Bill in the other place next week, which helps to address this issue? Will he also address it in his autumn statement?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I welcome my hon. Friend’s expertise in this area, which is of great benefit to the House and to me as I consider fiscal measures. As we are so close to the autumn statement, I would say that the way that we treat costs in our investment and pension funds industries is not optimal, and we need to reform it.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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T5. A short time after the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), said he was “alarmed” by the amount of tax people are paying, he was out of a job. Was he sacked for highlighting the Government’s tax burden, the highest for 70 years?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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My right hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) did an excellent job and we all salute his brilliant work. If he were here now, he would remind the hon. Gentleman that we have the lowest tax burden of any European country in the G7.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
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I know that the Chancellor is aware of just how important the whisky industry is to the economy of rural Scotland. It was very disappointing that the policy of a duty freeze was not continued in the Budget. Can he offer any reassurance that we will return to the policy of duty freeze in the autumn statement, and in next year’s Budget?

Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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We are incredibly supportive of the Scotch whisky industry. In fact, the Scotch Whisky Association was my first meeting in post. In nine out of 10 previous fiscal events we either cut or froze duty on whisky, and we have acted to remove punitive tariffs on Scotch whisky in the US market. It will not be a surprise to my right hon. Friend that all taxes remain under review and he will not have long to wait until the next fiscal event.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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T6. Banks are taking advantage of higher interest rates to make bumper profits. A new poll shows that people have had enough, with big support for a one-off windfall tax on bank profits, yet the Government have chosen to slash the surcharge on bank profits. Is it not time for a windfall tax on excess bank profits to help people who are hit hard by this crisis?

Bim Afolami Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Bim Afolami)
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There are two things I would say in response to that. First, it is important, when we talk about banks, that we have a globally broadly competitive tax regime, and we do not apologise for that in the Treasury. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the reduction he talks about in terms of the levy on banks was offset by rising corporation tax.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I thank the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) for his recent visit to Darlington, where he opened a new branch of Darlington Building Society. He will know from that visit the impact that Treasury jobs are having locally, including an additional £80 million of spending in our local economy. Does he agree with me that Darlington Economic Campus is a fantastic levelling-up project, ensuring that people can stay local but go far?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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It was a great pleasure to visit my hon. Friend and open the Darlington Building Society in his town, a very prominent business that is important for in-service banking facilities. The Darlington campus is an important part of our Treasury levelling-up agenda and long may that continue.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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T8. More than 3 million households in the UK owe an estimated £2.7 billion in the unregulated buy now, pay later sector. The Labour party has set out plans for urgent regulation of the sector. Can the Minister confirm when the Government will do the same?

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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This is a complicated area of regulation and we are looking at it very closely. The consultation closed in April and we are working on it because it is very important we get it right, but I hear the hon. Lady’s concerns and will update the House in due course.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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While the shadow Chancellor was busy scrolling through Wikipedia to copy and paste, the actual Chancellor has to look no further than the New Conservatives tax plan, which outlines scrapping the IR35 reforms, increasing the VAT registration threshold to £250,000, and delivering on the Prime Minister’s pledge when he was Chancellor to bring a 1p cut in income tax in 2024.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for adding to the litany of options I have in front of me for the autumn statement. What I can say to him is what I said in my party conference speech: we are committed to lowering the tax burden and will do so as soon as it is responsible to do so.

Samantha Dixon Portrait Samantha Dixon (City of Chester) (Lab)
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T9. Some 28% of people in Chester have a mortgage and they are still bearing the burden of the Government’s disastrous mini-budget. They deserve peace of mind that mortgage rates will come down soon, so what is the Chancellor going to do about it?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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Can I say gently to the hon. Lady that interest rates have gone up by 3% in the UK since then? That is just above the United States and just below the eurozone, so this is a global phenomenon. There is no short cut to bringing down interest rates. We have to support the Bank of England as it bears down on inflation and then we can bring mortgage rates down.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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Will the Chancellor look at the red tape around the apprenticeship levy? Many businesses in my area, such as Asda, Amazon and DPD, all say that they want to take on more apprenticeships but that the red tape around how they spend the money is very difficult. This is something that he could change overnight, and really help to grow and boost our economy.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the apprenticeship levy, which has been a tremendous success in bringing a rigour to technical qualifications that was not there before. We are very open to reforms to the apprenticeship levy, providing they stick to the fundamental principle that any investment is not in in-house training that would otherwise have happened, but in transferrable, passport-able training that someone can take with them if they move to another business.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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T10. The NHS dental plan has been stuck in the Treasury for months, while my constituents are waiting years to see an NHS dentist. When the Chancellor makes his autumn statement, will he also release the dental plan with the funding that is required so that we can get dental treatment back on track for our constituents?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I will not pre-empt what I am going to say next week, but I will say to the hon. Lady that, as a former Health Secretary, I am well aware of the pressures on NHS dentistry and its importance to all our constituents.

Ranil Jayawardena Portrait Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con)
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Given that inheritance tax is the least popular of all taxes at every income decile and that scrapping it would not be inflationary, will my right hon. Friend consider doing so?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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That was a very nice try, but my hon. Friend will have to wait for a week.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Opt-out savings are a little like auto-enrolment in pensions. They help those on lower incomes to save for a crisis—for the proverbial rainy day. Given that more than 9 million people in this country are in work with no savings at all, will the Chancellor note the impressive results of a small trial of the opt-out savings system in Manchester, and encourage its expansion?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I would be happy to do that. The hon. Gentleman is right: if we are to grow faster as an economy, the other side of the coin is we that need to save more, and we should be encouraging everyone in all income groups to do so.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend seek to fix the anomaly that sees man-made fully synthetic fuels taxed at the same rate as their fossil equivalents?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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I shall be happy to look into that issue in detail and get back to my hon. Friend.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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Yesterday in the House, in the context of Labour’s plan for a health service, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions referred to the “poor old non-doms”. Does the Chancellor agree with his colleague that people who live in this country but do not pay their taxes here can be accurately described as poor?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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Because we attract wealth creators from all over the world—and this may be uncomfortable for those on the Opposition Benches—we generate huge amounts of tax revenue. Financial services pay for half the cost of running the NHS. I am in favour of getting everyone to pay their fair share of tax, but I will not make reforms that mean less tax revenue for the NHS.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call David Linden to ask the final question.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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The Westminster-made cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on household incomes, particularly in Broomhouse, where many young homeowners are seeing mortgage prices soaring. Will the Chancellor use the autumn statement to introduce mortgage interest tax relief to help people across Glasgow to deal with the cost of living crisis?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have taken enormous steps over the past year to help families throughout Scotland to deal with cost of living pressures. If he really thinks that people in Scotland believe that this was a “made in Westminster” problem, when we have experienced an invasion of Ukraine and a global pandemic, I simply say to him in return that after 16 years of SNP rule, GDP per head in Scotland is lower, productivity is falling, employment is lower, and inactivity is higher—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Members need to give me a good reason not to bring them in at the end again: be careful! Let us come to the statement—[Interruption.] Angus, you’ll find the door, I think, in a minute.

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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12:33
Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I will begin by responding to your helpful statement yesterday.

The Foreign Secretary, the business managers and I all believe it is essential that this House properly scrutinises the work of the Foreign Office, especially as we face such a daunting set of challenges across the world. As Minister of State, I will follow the precedent set by successive Governments of different parties, from the days of Lord Home and Lord Carrington to more recent times when Lord Mandelson served in the Cabinet from the House of Lords. I will deputise for the Foreign Secretary in this House, making regular statements like today’s and respecting the primacy of this House in the normal way; and, of course, the Foreign Secretary will appear before the House of Lords and relevant Committees regularly.

The terrible events in Israel and Gaza have underlined the critical importance of British diplomacy and development work. As Israel battles to defeat Hamas, the humanitarian situation remains extremely difficult. As the Prime Minister said last night, Israel must respect international humanitarian law.

With services and communication in Gaza under unprecedented strain, it is difficult to be absolutely certain about how events are unfolding, but the reports we have had from partners make clear the appalling loss of life, including among children and aid workers, and the situation in hospitals in Gaza City, notably Al-Shifa, is now acute. Al-Shifa has hundreds of in-patients and was able to offer a set of services unavailable elsewhere in Gaza. Reports indicate that operations have stopped due to the lack of fuel and supplies, and that premature babies have died due to the lack of electricity. Fuel is urgently needed to power hospitals as well as desalinisation plants to ensure access to clean water. Hospitals should be places of safety, able to treat patients with compassion. It is distressing to see them unable to do so. Every civilian death is heartbreaking, and it is impossible to comprehend the pain and loss that innocent Palestinians are enduring.

As the House knows, since 7 October the Government have been engaging intensively with our close allies and partners in the region. Since my last update to the House, I have met—in Birmingham on Sunday—representatives of Islamic Relief, who still have humanitarian supplies in Gaza, to hear clearly from them about the situation on the ground, and this morning I spoke to Martin Griffiths, the head of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. I will travel to the region overnight tonight. The new Foreign Secretary has discussed the situation with US Secretary of State Tony Blinken. The Government will be able to draw on his extensive regional experience in the weeks and months ahead.

Our goals remain unchanged. As I told the House last week, we are focused on getting life-saving aid to those in need in Gaza; supporting the safe return of hostages and British nationals; backing Israel’s right to self-defence; and preventing a dangerous regional escalation. Our efforts have contributed to some delivery of aid via the Rafah crossing and to over 150 British nationals being able to leave Gaza safely. Since I spoke to the House last week, more British nationals and their families have left, and we will continue to offer all the support we can to those British nationals still in Gaza, so that they too can cross into Egypt.

As the House knows, we have more than doubled our aid to civilians in Gaza, committing £30 million, and we stand ready to do more. For over a week, British flights carrying aid have been landing in Egypt, with shipments including life-saving items as well as the vital equipment that the Egyptian Red Crescent needs to be able to manage donations from across the world effectively. We are also urging the Israeli Government to increase humanitarian access, including through Rafah and by opening up the Kerem Shalom crossing. At this point we assess that land presently offers the most viable and safe way to get humanitarian aid into Gaza in the quantities needed, but we are also considering air and maritime options, including through our bases in Cyprus.

The Government have been clear that all parties to a conflict must afford civilians the protection that is their right under international law. That includes respecting the sanctity of hospitals, so that doctors can continue to care for the sick and injured. Events on 7 October and Hamas’s subsequent statements have made it clear that they are a terrorist group who pose an existential threat to the very idea of an Israeli state. Israel has a right to defend itself against this terrorist threat, to restore its security and to bring the hostages home, but there are things that Israel must do as part of its response. We have impressed this on the Israeli Government: they must act within international law; they must take every precaution to minimise civilian casualties, limiting attacks to military targets; and they must stop extremist settler violence in the west bank. At the same time, we should be under no illusions. Hamas have chosen to embed themselves within the civilian population, and their willingness to sacrifice innocent Palestinians in this way only brings home their inhumanity.

Alleviating the suffering is our foremost priority. We welcome any initiatives that would allow more aid to be delivered and hostages to be released. We have therefore consistently called for humanitarian pauses. Four-hour pauses in northern Gaza are an important first step, but longer pauses that cover wider areas will be needed. We are discussing with the UN and other partners how best to achieve this. We must avoid measures that serve only to benefit Hamas and allow them to entrench their position. At the same time, we need all parties to the conflict to abide by any pause, allowing sufficient time and security for civilians to move and for aid to be delivered.

Responding to the immediate crisis is critical, but we also need to do more to create a new political horizon. The whole House knows that only one answer has come close to creating peace in these troubled lands: a two-state solution.

I commend this statement to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

12:40
David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.

I would have liked to have started by welcoming the new Foreign Secretary to his place, but I cannot do so because he is not here. Despite my respect for the Minister, he is not the Foreign Secretary. We do not know when or how this House will hear from the Foreign Secretary because he is not a Member. [Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Mr Seely, are you going to be quiet?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Right—in which case, the shadow Foreign Secretary may continue.

David Lammy Portrait Mr Lammy
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David Cameron is the seventh Foreign Secretary in seven years of Tory chaos. He was forced to resign in failure over a matter of foreign policy. The Prime Minister has looked at each of the 350 Conservative Members and decided that none of them would be better at representing Britain’s interests on the world stage. The Prime Minister claims he is for change, but instead he has resurrected yesterday’s failure with an honour. That decision raises serious questions for this House, but I know you share those concerns, Mr Speaker.

At a time of grave international crisis and at a moment of war in Europe, with a more assertive China, a climate emergency and a horrifying conflict in Gaza, this House needs Government accountability more than ever. Will the Minister commit to working closely with Mr Speaker to ensure that the Opposition and all Members of Parliament can hold the Foreign Secretary to account?

I turn to the horrors of Gaza. More than 11,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed, with two thirds of the dead being women and children. This is shocking and devastating. Every civilian death is an equal tragedy. Does the Minister agree that the number of Palestinian civilians and children who have been killed over the past month is intolerable? And does he agree that Israel must make changes to how it is fighting this war, by taking urgent and concrete steps to protect civilian life?

I am gravely concerned by the desperate reports from hospitals in northern Gaza. These hospitals were already overstretched with the wounded, short of fuel and filled with civilians seeking shelter. Doctors are now forced to make impossible choices as they try to care for the wounded and newborns, without power. Some of those newborns have now lost their lives—unbearable.

Medical establishments have special protection under international law. They should never be targeted or used as shields. All parties must follow international law, acting with necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution. Allegations of breaches should always be treated with the utmost seriousness.

The Minister said last week that the Government support the independence of the International Criminal Court, as does the Labour party, but he failed to answer whether the Government recognise its jurisdiction to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza. As Prime Minister, Boris Johnson rejected that jurisdiction and attacked the court. Labour recognises the ICC’s jurisdiction. Can the Minister clarify his Government’s position today?

Gaza is in a humanitarian catastrophe. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced, and there are desperate shortages of basic essentials. Does the Minister agree that the short pauses in the north are clearly not enough? Gazans need aid now. They need medicine now. They need water now. They need food now. They need fuel now. A full, comprehensive and immediate humanitarian pause in fighting across the whole of Gaza is needed now to alleviate Palestinian suffering and in order for Hamas terrorists to release the hostages.

Hamas’s stated aim is to wipe Israel off the map. They committed the most brutal attack on Jews since the holocaust and now they are using innocent Palestinians as human shields. I would like to register my shock that not every Member of this House can say this truth: Hamas are terrorists.

We must not give up on the narrow openings that keep the prospect of peace alive. That means preventing escalation, condemning violence from settlers in the west bank, condemning rocket attacks on Israel from Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere, and creating a future where Gaza is not subject to occupation. Meanwhile, international diplomacy evolves and the facts on the ground are changing day to day, in relation to both hostages being rescued and Hamas’s capability to carry out attacks such as we saw on 7 October. As the Leader of the Opposition set out to Chatham House, we must move to a full

“cessation of fighting as quickly as possible...the reality is that neither the long-term security of Israel nor long-term justice for Palestine can be delivered by bombs and bullets.”

We must seek a path to a political process that leads to two states, a secure Israel and an independent Palestine.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and perhaps I should start by addressing those about the Foreign Secretary. Having a former Prime Minister and party leader as our Foreign Secretary, wherever one sits in this House, must be a plus. They will be able to exert British influence and policy highly effectively overseas, and I greatly welcome the appointment of Lord Cameron to the position of Foreign Secretary. As the House will know, he is an extremely experienced parliamentarian, and I have no doubt whatsoever that the House, the Foreign Office and the Government will gain enormously from his presence.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I will commit to working closely with you, Mr Speaker, and of course there is only one answer to that question.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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That wasn’t much reassurance, was it? [Laughter.]

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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In addition, I will seek to ensure the fullest possible accountability, as you set it out, Mr Speaker.

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the scale of death and misery. All deaths of civilians are to be profoundly regretted. He talked about the scenes from the Al-Shifa Hospital, which will have shocked every Member of this House. He, like me, will be aware that 102 humanitarian workers, who placed their lives in jeopardy to support their fellow human beings, have lost their lives. He asks me about the ICC. It is not for me to fetter or speak in the place of its chief prosecutor, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that he has spoken and will do so again.

The right hon. Gentleman called for the hostages to be released, and I hope that everyone in this House will echo that. He said that Hamas are terrorists and suggested that some do not recognise that. I agree with him and hope that every Member of the House will make it clear that Hamas are terrorists. A dreadful pogrom took place on 7 October, where more Jewish people lost their lives in a day than at any time since the holocaust, and that piece of information is fundamental to our appreciation of the events to which he referred.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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As of today, I am informed that no more aid will reach Gaza, not because it cannot get to the Rafah crossing or because it is piling up in Egypt, but because the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has no fuel left and so the aid cannot be redistributed. So although I really appreciate the Government looking at maritime and air efforts, and, crucially, at the need to open a second aid crossing to the west bank, there is no point—it is futile—unless we get the fuel to the UN. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me as to what is being done to change that situation? Secondly, has the Foreign Office’s overseas judicial assistance assessment increased since 7 October—yes or no?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend asks me about the position on fuel. Fuel is desperately needed today—it is going to run out. The United Nations has been accessing dirty fuel, but now that is at an end and we are incredibly worried about the situation. We are talking to the key American humanitarian intervenor, Mr Satterfield, about this. We are working diplomatically to do everything we can to make sure that the position on fuel is addressed, as we have been doing since I last updated the House.

I did not catch the first part of my hon. Friend’s final question, so I will write to her on that point.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the spokesperson for the Scottish National party.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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I thank the Minister of State for prior sight of his statement, but here we are on day one of the new FCDO regime and already we see the absurdity of having a Foreign Secretary who is unable to come to speak in this Chamber to elected Members at a time of grave international crisis.

The Minister is right to highlight the appalling loss of life in Gaza, particularly among children and aid workers. Sadly, there is little sign of that ending soon as the bombardment intensifies. He is also right to say that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the previous Secretary of State whether he had been made aware, or had reasonable grounds to believe, that Israel had breached international humanitarian law in its response to the atrocities of 7 October. He steadfastly refused to answer that question, so I ask the Minister the same question. If he has, what representations has he made to the Israeli Government and what response has he had?

There can only be a political solution to this crisis, and one has to be found before the entire region is engulfed. That is why a ceasefire is essential: to end the unprecedented levels of killing and destruction, allow full humanitarian access, secure the release of the hostages and find a political solution that does not include Hamas. Four-hour pauses are not the answer. Can we expect the new Foreign Secretary to change tack and support our calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, so that there is space for that political solution to be found?

Tomorrow, the House should have an opportunity to show its support for a ceasefire. I and every one of my SNP colleagues will be there to support an immediate ceasefire, and I would expect Labour party Members from Scotland to be in the Lobby with us. Without justice, there can be no peace, this horrific cycle of violence will continue and more Israeli and Palestinian lives will be lost.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman underlines the loss of life and the causes of it. He knows our position on a ceasefire—it is a position shared by Members on the Opposition Front Bench—and he also knows the absolute commitment we have to try to drive forward pauses. They must be safe pauses for the delivery of humanitarian relief, but he knows of our commitment on that.

The hon. Gentleman asks me about humanitarian law. Robert Mardini, the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has made clear that Gaza hospitals, treating hundreds of wounded people, cannot be targeted under any circumstances. The hon. Gentleman will know that the ICRC is the guardian of international humanitarian law and the Geneva convention, and Robert Mardini has said:

“Hospitals are to be absolutely protected at all times.”

Finally, the hon. Gentleman makes a point about a political solution. I draw his attention to my final comments in my statement, about how we have to focus on that and on the two-state solution, and about the need for hope and opportunity to drive forward the politics in this dreadful situation.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I expect to allow questions on the statement to run for about an hour, but because there are so many of the same Members wishing to speak in the debate on the King’s Speech, I hope we can have short questions and speedy answers.

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
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As my right hon. Friend has said, following the unprovoked slaughter of its citizens, Israel has a right to pursue and destroy the terrorist forces. It is terrible that the ordinary citizens of Gaza are paying the price for this, as Hamas would have known, but even if Israel is able to degrade and destroy the Hamas forces, the Hamas mindset will remain—a Hamas mindset that is funded and supported by Iran. Iran does not want there to be peace between Arab states and Israel because the Iranian regime does not want Israel to exist. When will the Government take firmer measures? Members from across the House have asked when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for example, will be proscribed and we have never been given a good reason why it is not. What is the answer?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I hear what he says about the IRGC, and I know that he has already been in contact with the Foreign Secretary on exactly that point. I hope he will accept that we do not carry on a running commentary on issues such as proscription, but the House and the Foreign Secretary have heard what he said.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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I am still not clear whether the right hon. Gentleman agrees with Labour that the ICC has jurisdiction over the conduct of all parties in Gaza. If he does, then that is a very welcome change from the position of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Will he clarify that?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I repeat what I said last week. It is not for Ministers to seek to state where the ICC has jurisdiction; that is for the chief prosecutor. The chief prosecutor has not been silent on this matter, and I am sure he will continue to express his views.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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Whether we like it or not, Israel will carry on fighting until it has established control of the area from which it was attacked. The question that then arises is what happens next. If Israel simply withdraws, Hamas will reappear. At least one moderate Arab state believes that a two-state solution will have to be imposed and policed. Are the Government giving thought as to who might carry out that job? Otherwise, the outcome that they want—a two-state solution—is wholly impracticable.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend is entirely right about that, and entirely right that Israel has an absolute right of self-defence in this matter. On the options to which he alludes, I can assure him that a great deal of thought is going on, not only in Britain but across the region and elsewhere.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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A lasting peace and a two-state solution is the only way to guarantee dignity and security for both Palestinians and Israelis. Hamas, a terrorist organisation, cannot be part of that, but a month after their contemptable attack on Israel, it is clear that a military solution is not working. It is not removing Hamas, and instead we have the humanitarian catastrophe to which the Minister referred. Does he agree that the way to achieve that peace and a two-state solution is to back a political solution with an immediate bilateral ceasefire, explicitly contingent on both parties adhering to it, so that if one party breaks the ceasefire, a military operation remains on the table?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady is entirely right about the importance of a political solution. She knows the position of the Government and Members on the Opposition Front Bench on the issue of ceasefires, but I hope she will draw some comfort from the emphasis on extended pauses that we are now seeing. On the politics, I remind her that the great progress that was made at Oslo, which brought things so tantalisingly close, took place on the back of the first intifada.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
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Every right thinking person wants to see an end to fighting and a durable peace for Palestinians and Israelis, but Hamas have made absolutely clear that there will be no such peace so long as the state of Israel continues to exist. Will my right hon. Friend say a bit more about what has been happening at the Al-Shifa Hospital and other hospitals in Gaza? Has he seen the reports and the footage circulating of Hamas fighters using those hospitals as bases for operations, putting civilians’ lives at risk?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about these matters, is correct. Hamas have made clear that they do not seek a ceasefire and indeed seek to repeat the awful events of 7 October. As far as the Al-Shifa Hospital is concerned, he, like me, will have seen the horrific pictures on television last night, and I referred specifically to the awful effects on babies that were displayed.

Tahir Ali Portrait Tahir Ali (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)
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Recently, several United Nations experts gave a dire warning to the world, stating they believed that

“the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide”,

and that the time is now “running out” to prevent such a tragedy. Furthermore, they made it clear that Israel’s allies share the responsibility for that and must act now to prevent a genocide from taking place. Given those warnings, will the Minister finally stand with 76% of the British public and call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We will continue to focus on the importance of humanitarian pauses, but also try to make sure that, when the opportunity of a pause presents itself, we are able to get critical humanitarian supplies to those in desperate need.

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
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Away from the horror of Israel and Gaza, there is an unfolding tragedy on the west bank, with the killing of well over 100, getting on for 200, Palestinians by settlers and the Israel Defence Forces. In his statement, my right hon. Friend rightly urged Israel to provide protection from them. If the state of Israel declines to do so and the killings continue, would he consider the intervention of a UN peacekeeping force to keep the peace in that part of the world?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We have condemned the settler violence without qualification. On the work of the United Nations, there will be many opportunities in the future, I hope, and we will neglect none of them.

Margaret Hodge Portrait Dame Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab)
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I share what the Minister has said about the humanitarian tragedy that we are witnessing all the time on our televisions. We must try to unlock a process towards peace, and the issue of the hostages is key to that. What steps has he taken so far and what further steps will be taken by the new Foreign Secretary to ensure that the hostages are brought home? I really believe that that could unlock the route to peace.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She has spoken movingly and with great expertise and humanity about this situation both on the media and in the House. If she will forgive me, we cannot give a running commentary on what we are doing to try to recover the hostages. I hope that she will accept my word that we are doing everything, across Government and internationally, to try to get them home as soon as we can.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
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The director of the FBI has said that Hamas pose the greatest security risk to the United States and the west since ISIS a decade ago. Does the Minister of State agree with that assessment, and what are the Government doing to work with our international partners to reduce that threat both in the region and here at home?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The threat of Hamas, which my right hon. Friend sets out very clearly, is undoubtedly true. It is part of Israel’s legitimate position that it can exercise its right to self-defence and go after the dreadful terrorists who perpetrated that awful act.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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Thousands of innocent men, women and children have been killed and thousands more wounded in this conflict over the past month. As the ground operation and bombing campaign intensifies, as encircled hospitals run out of power and medicine, as babies are left to die outside their incubators, and as more than 2 million Palestinians remain trapped in a never-ending humanitarian nightmare, does the Minister agree that the international community must protect civilians? If he does, why will the Government not join me in pressing for an immediate ceasefire to end the bloodshed, allow desperately needed aid to reach those most in need, and create space for meaningful negotiations and a peaceful resolution?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman speaks with great passion and eloquence on this matter in the House. I can do no better than repeat what the Prime Minister said last night in his speech at Mansion House. He said that Israel

“must take all possible measures to protect innocent civilians, including at hospitals”.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend and his shadow have spoken of hospitals. I have to tell him that there is now video evidence of suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenades, motorcycles used to kidnap Israelis to Gaza, nappies, and chairs with rope to hold hostages being found in the basement of the Al-Rantisi Hospital in Gaza. The hospital was obviously used by Hamas as a command centre and is believed to have held Israeli hostages. Does my right hon. Friend agree that using hospitals in this way as places to imprison hostages and keep weapons is an outrageous breach of international law?

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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Gaza was facing a humanitarian crisis before 7 October. The Government cut funding to UNRWA from £50 million to £10 million. The clock is ticking. Hospitals are running out of fuel, food and water supplies are almost depleted, and until a large-scale humanitarian operation is in place, many more people will needlessly die. Will the Minister update us on what progress the Government have made to secure a humanitarian resolution through the UN Security Council?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We are working night and day for humanitarian access. On the subject of support for UNRWA, we increased aid very substantially, as the hon. Lady knows, before 7 October. Since then, we have allocated £30 million of humanitarian aid and we will do more if it is required.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Several hundred of my constituents have written to me deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life and wanting the fighting to stop, which we all want. Last week, my right hon. Friend called for Israel to take measures to protect civilians. I said that we needed to see Israel take such measures, but civilians have continued to die, especially in hospitals. Please can he double down on that request to Israel to take measures to protect civilians?

Mr Speaker, if I may, in the meantime in Sudan—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I have asked everybody to be brief so that other people can get in. We should not be driven by self-centred behaviour.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes a most important humanitarian point and she may rest assured that the Government are seized of it.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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France’s President Macron has called for a ceasefire, joining other European nations such as Spain, Norway, Portugal and Ireland, as well as the UN Secretary-General. Securing a negotiated ceasefire—one that is binding on all sides—will require a huge diplomatic effort, so is it not time for our Government to add their weight to the push for a ceasefire, rather than dismissing out of hand a proposal that has growing international support?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Member will know that, in order to have a ceasefire, we need both parties to agree to it. Hamas have made it absolutely clear that they are not interested in a ceasefire. They made it clear that they want to repeat the actions of 7 October. I believe the right position is to press for pauses. That is the position of the Government and of the official Opposition.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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I understand that just four Conservative Members have visited Israel since 7 October: the Prime Minister, the former Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and me. Last week, when I was there, I did see evidence of humanitarian protection by the IDF forces. I also saw videos and photographs of the things that happened in some of the kibbutzim, and they were, quite simply, crimes against humanity. Does the Minister agree that there is no moral equivalence between Hamas and the sovereign independent state of Israel?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Yes, I completely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. He should know that the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have been in continuous contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu, including by holding frequent conversations and discussions. However, I have to say that it would be helpful if all those calling for Israel to protect hospitals would also call on Hamas to vacate the hospitals and stop using civilians as human shields.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Today, Alon-Lee Green, the director of Standing Together, the largest cross-community organisation in Israel, posted a video of a soldier in Gaza saying:

“I’m on the beach in Gaza, in Gush Katif. I’m safe. I’m happy. Me and my friends conquered Beit Lahia, Al Atatra and Sulatin and we’re moving on and we’re gonna conquer the rest of Gaza. I’m safe. I’m happy. I’m enjoying the big opportunity of my lifetime. I love you all and I couldn’t be happier to be where I am—doing God’s work.”

Alon-Lee Green said:

“What’s going on in Gaza does not only go against the Palestinian interest, it goes also against my peoples’ interest, the Jewish Israeli interest.”

Also today, we had Danny Danon, a Likud member and former ambassador, and Ram Ben Barak, a Yesh Atid opposition member, say that Israel should expel all Palestinians from Gaza. What are we doing to restrain the Israeli Government and commentators?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We have always made it clear to Israel that we are its closest possible friend, but friends give candid advice and do not always say what people want to hear. The British Government will continue—with, I believe, the strong support of this House—to make the right points to the Israeli Government, and we are able to do so because of our extremely close alliance and friendship with them.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)
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The human misery and death on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, are the worst I have witnessed since I became a Member of this House, and they will be solved only by a long-term political solution. Will my right hon. Friend, with whom I totally agree, explain what the British Government are doing in strategic planning to bring about a two-state solution?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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There is an immense amount of work going on about how we get to the point where we can achieve that. As I set out in my statement, there is no alternative to the two-state solution, and all interested parties should get behind that.

Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)
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I had a dreadful 40-hour labour when giving birth to my first child, but I still consider myself lucky: I had medicine, water, electricity and a functioning hospital. The 180 women giving birth in Gaza do not have those things. There is a report of a pregnant Palestinian woman who had horrific injuries from shelling and who then had an emergency C-section performed without electricity. I know the Minister will think that that is unacceptable, but what is he actually doing to ensure that hospitals and pregnant women are protected by international law?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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We are speaking out in every way we can to try to protect vulnerable citizens. I quote what President Joe Biden said yesterday in an Oval Office address. He said that Al-Shifa Hospital “must be protected” and that

“it is my…expectation that there will be less intrusive action”.

Israel has made it clear that it has clashed with Hamas nearby, but has not fired on the hospitals themselves.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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First, I thank the FCDO for helping to rescue a group of Isle of Wight pilgrims who were caught in the Holy Land at the beginning of this dreadful conflict. Secondly—it is a genuine question—both sides have talked about the importance of protecting hospitals, but what can Israel do when those hospitals are being used to store ammunition and hold hostages, when there are military HQs and operational Hamas commands underneath those hospitals, and when Hamas are deliberately denying those hospitals fuel, because they would rather broadcast pictures of very tiny babies dying than try to save them?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend speaks with great eloquence and passion on this point. I can do no better than to commend the eloquence of his argument.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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The short pauses on their own are a first step, but they will not address the grave humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. The damage to water pipelines, sewage pipes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure requires urgent rebuilding, and that will require a much longer negotiated ceasefire from both sides and the release of all hostages. Does the Minister agree that the aid getting into Gaza is woefully inadequate and that it is simply unacceptable for Israel not to lift its atrocious blockade and siege of Gaza?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Gentleman is right that getting aid into Gaza is an absolute top priority. That is why we are focusing on opening up not only Rafah, but Kerem Shalom, and trying to make sure that we build up stores so that, when we can get it in, we are able to bring support to desperate people.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
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I very much welcome the statement by the Minister and the fact that the Government are looking at and working with international partners on humanitarian pauses and increasing humanitarian aid.

The Minister has said that the Government welcome any new initiatives for a way forward. May I suggest two? The United Kingdom hosted the Friends of Syria international donors’ conference in London, with international partners. Can the United Kingdom look at doing that for Palestine and Gaza? Linked to that, with regard to what happens in Gaza after Hamas is defeated, we have talked about the Palestinian Authority stepping up, but we have not talked about the other scenario. The United Kingdom chairs the Trusteeship Council at the UN, along with France, which looks at transitional arrangements. Will the Government consider that as a way forward?

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. Colleagues have to understand that Mr Speaker has said very clearly that the statement will end at 2 o’clock. It is up to colleagues whether they choose to allow other colleagues to get in. We must have shorter questions, please.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend has made a further two thoughtful interventions. The Government will consider every possible way ahead as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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There is no point in bragging about awarding £30 million of aid if it cannot get in to help the civilians in Gaza. Since 7 October, only 900 aid trucks have been allowed in. In normal circumstances, the number would be close to 20,000. With fuel running out, is this not now collective punishment? It is clear that, as the Minister says, a four-hour pause is not long enough. If he will not call for an immediate ceasefire, what length of pause in fighting does he think is required to get aid in to Gaza to help civilians?