Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and International Committee of the Red Cross (Status) Bill (Money)

– in the House of Commons am 4:48 pm ar 28 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

King’s recommendation signified.

Motion made and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and International Committee of the Red Cross (Status) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any amount refunded in respect of any tax or duty in accordance with arrangements made under the Act.—(Nigel Huddleston.)

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 4:54, 28 Chwefror 2024

I rise to make a few brief comments about this money resolution. Let me begin by thanking all those who work with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I know that I am not the only Member who has benefited from its expertise, experience, networks, contacts and global stature, which are recognised and valued both here in the UK and across the Commonwealth. I have relied on its support on many occasions. I have recently visited Ghana and Canada with the CPA, and I have worked closely with our overseas territories, Crown dependencies and other members of the Commonwealth family. It is crucial that we build those links and strengthen them. At a time of deep global uncertainty, our relation- ships through the Commonwealth, and indeed inter-parliamentary relationships, are crucial.

When it comes to both CPA UK and, as this money resolution applies to, the CPA as a whole, the secretariat, which is hosted here, plays a critical role; and I pay tribute to the former Member of this House, our friend Stephen Twigg, who is the Secretary-General. I also commend the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which obviously plays a critical role globally, working tirelessly and meticulously to support civilians working in conflict and war zones around the world, and to uphold key responsibilities in relation to the laws of war and humanitarian law. As we know, the ICRC has played a critical role for many decades.

On the substance of today’s money resolution, the Opposition fully support these moves. As I understand it—perhaps the Minister will correct me—the money resolution does not lead to any substantial expenditure. On the privileges and immunities that will be granted by the Bill, any expenditure will be covered in relation to the work that already goes on around similar international organisations. It is worth referencing that the CPA has experienced significant issues, with concerns being raised about whether it will receive these important privileges and immunities. Questions have been raised, including at recent meetings of the CPA, so it is important that we get on with this as soon as possible, and give it the support it needs in terms of a change of status. Otherwise, there could be a risk, for example, of the CPA secretariat being moved outside the UK, which would be a huge retrograde step.

It is critical that we give the ICRC the specific privileges and immunities that other states grant, so that its confidential and neutral, important work can be carried out. I have heard from both the CPA and the ICRC about these matters, and how important this small but significant change in legislation is to them. Indeed, I have visited the ICRC headquarters in Geneva and listened to important developments about its work in critical zones around the world. As I said, the Opposition fully support these moves. The money resolution is an important next step. We need these changes to the status and operations of these organisations, bringing us in line with other countries and allowing the organisations to do their work. Time is of the essence, so I hope that the Government can move swiftly.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Ceidwadwyr, Northampton North 4:57, 28 Chwefror 2024

The motion is about sending taxpayers’ money to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which I fully endorse, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. I will spend a minute or two talking about the ICRC, because all British taxpayers are contributing. The ICRC plays a noble and important role in conflicts around the world. That is indisputable. It would, however, be remiss of me not to reflect on the strong criticism that it has faced in recent months for its abject failure to access the hostages—then, more than 200—who have been cruelly held by Hamas in unimaginable conditions. We should not forget that in 1939 the president of the ICRC approached the German Red Cross to arrange for visitation with Jews deported to Poland, and he was met with a refusal by the Nazi German authorities. From then on in world war two, the ICRC opted for a strategy of no longer addressing the question of Jews directly.

We all know the tragic consequences of that decision, for which the ICRC has—or had—retrospectively apologised, and rightly so. Following that apology, His Majesty’s Government, and other Governments around the world, have supported the International Committee of the Red Cross with British taxpayers’ money, and have done so for years, but today families in the United Kingdom—and there are families in the United Kingdom whose relatives are being held hostage—as well as families from Israel and around the world whose loved ones have been missing now for almost five months, understand the history of the Red Cross as it relates to the Nazis in world war two, for obvious reasons, and it is painful. As a consequence, this most recent failure by the ICRC will never be understood and is likely, I am sorry to say, never to be forgiven.

When questioned about that by the Prime Minister of Israel, the ICRC president, Spoljaric Egger, said that applying pressure to Hamas

“is not going to work”.

As can be imagined, that is inconceivably frustrating for Israel’s leadership and for Jewish people around the world, particularly in this country. Israel’s Foreign Minister at the time, Eli Cohen, said that the Red Cross had no right to exist if it could not reach the hostages, determine their condition and provide them with medical treatment and medications. He added:

“Every day that passes is another failure for the Red Cross.”

Even more shocking was a meeting with hostage families. Someone from the ICRC went to meet hostage families, and the Red Cross responded to pleas to deliver medication to the hostages with reprimands of the hostage families, telling them to think about the Palestinians. Imagine saying to a recent rape victim, “Can you think about others?”

In the circumstances, perhaps it is not surprising that a reported mathematical breakdown of the ICRC’s statements on social media showed that 77% of them solely condemn Israel, while only 7% solely condemn Hamas—an 11 times difference, which surely points to a worrying trend towards political bias in the ICRC. Bearing in mind its second world war history, that is deeply shaming. Criticism of the organisation is mounting across the world, as well as in Israel. Near-weekly rallies have taken place outside the ICRC offices in the United States since 7 October to demand that the Red Cross meets individuals in the Gaza strip.

We are asking His Majesty’s Government for taxpayers’ money to go to the ICRC. We should take the demands about the hostages held by Hamas seriously and urgently, because it is the ICRC’s distinguished reputation that I am talking about now. I applaud its good work in so many regions around the world; I just want it to do good work for Jewish people as well as for people around the world. There are too many examples of international organisations and institutions, and national ones, that do excellent work everywhere else except where Jews are concerned. It is for the ICRC’s reputation that I speak now. Where it does such excellent work internationally in other cases, I want it to do excellent work for Jewish people, who are being tortured, with children being kept hostage.

This issue has led to deep-seated feelings of frustration and disappointment. I will conclude by saying that I am sure that His Majesty’s Treasury and His Majesty’s Ministers in the Treasury will think carefully, as they always do—I know that they will—about spending taxpayers’ money.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 5:03, 28 Chwefror 2024

I thank Stephen Doughty and my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis for their contributions. I have heard my right hon. and learned Friend, as I am sure has the ICRC.

The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Government to treat the CPA and the ICRC in a manner comparable to that of an international organisation. My right hon. and learned Friend made some broader comments and, as I say, the Government have heard them and I am sure that the ICRC has heard them.

I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth for his comments, particularly the way in which he, too, recognised and applauded the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Its purpose and role are recognised across the House and around the world. There will be further debate on the Bill in Committee, so I will end my comments there.

Question put and agreed to.