Gaza: Humanitarian Aid and Children — [Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 2:21 pm ar 8 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Middle East and North Africa) 2:21, 8 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Vaz. I begin by commending my hon. Friend Apsana Begum for introducing the debate, and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the time for it. I also note the e-petition that was submitted, and the significant time allocated to it. Although the House is about to rise for February recess, I am glad that we are having this debate, and I am very pleased that Members have made the effort to come along to express their views and opinions this afternoon.

I believe it is important that we do not become desensitised to the appalling suffering taking place in Gaza. There can be no doubt at all about the sincerity of Members who have spoken this afternoon. We know that in these terrible circumstances, more than 27,000 Palestinians have lost their lives as a result of the actions of the IDF. As a number of Members have correctly pointed out, women and children have been the primary casualties in this conflict. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned that 11,500 children have lost their lives, and that 24,000 children have lost one or both parents. As we have heard a couple of Members mention, we have the terrible, unbelievable horror of operations, such as the amputation of limbs, being conducted on children without anaesthetic.

It is important to recognise that the people who have been killed and severely injured are primarily not terrorists or their supporters. The people of Gaza, as my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter correctly said, are highly educated, resilient and wish to live in peace. The shadow Minister for International Development, my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy, and other members of the shadow Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office team have met with British Palestinian families very recently. Those families raised a number of important and distressing issues with us, including the need for children with urgent medical needs to be temporarily evacuated from Gaza for surgery. We are pursuing these issues with the Government. If the Minister could give any indication today of what the Government are doing or planning to do on this, it would be welcome.

We are all acutely aware that the only way to resolve this appalling humanitarian crisis is through a sustainable ceasefire. This will allow the return of all hostages and an immediate concerted international effort to take into Gaza the greatest possible amount of humanitarian aid: food, water, fuel and medical supplies. There is a frustratingly limited amount that we, as an Opposition, can do or say to help, but I assure Members that all members of our Front-Bench team are discussing the situation with our counterparts in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Nations and the United States. Only yesterday, I met the Foreign Minister of Qatar in person; I made it clear to him that the Labour party stands firmly behind those who want to see a ceasefire, an immediate end to the suffering and the achievement of a lasting peace.

As we all know, serious allegations have been made against 12 UNRWA employees. The Government must ensure that they have robust processes in place regarding the use of UK aid. However, it would be wrong if anything were to stand in the way of crucial aid reaching Gaza in the midst of this terrible crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, the shadow International Development Minister, has discussed the issue with her counterpart, the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Mr Mitchell, who has confirmed that the next allocation to UNRWA from the United Kingdom is due in the next financial year. There will be a UN review, led by a French former Foreign Minister, and an interim report will be published at the end of March. My hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins alluded to this; like her, I would be appreciative if the Minister could confirm that there will be no interruption to the flow of UK funding to UNRWA in the next financial year.

There are, of course, other aid agencies working in Gaza. I pay tribute to them and in particular to Medical Aid for Palestinians, an organisation with which I have had a fair bit of contact. They are all doing a tremendous job in the most difficult circumstances; indeed, many of the aid workers have lost their lives. However, UNRWA’s role is absolutely central to the humanitarian effort in Gaza and across the entire region. Jeremy Corbyn made the point that there are 13,000 people working for and in Gaza, and a number of those workers have lost their lives too. Their work is essential, especially when we remember the appalling fact that more people are dying from hunger and thirst in Gaza than from bombs and bullets. Let me be clear: if UNRWA’s vital work is disrupted, the consequences for the people of Gaza will be further death and suffering. Again, I ask the Minister to make the Government’s position absolutely clear.

The debate has been important, and we have heard a number of heartfelt and moving contributions from Members. I hope that before too long there will be an enduring ceasefire, agreed by all parties, and that the necessary aid will be brought into Gaza and distributed in safety and without conditions to all parts of Gaza. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.