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Column 654announced a new early service to serve London airports, an hourly service morning and evening and, to meet my needs, a train leaving London at 11 pm.
In a letter carrying yesterday's date, British Rail said that, under the Bill deposited in Parliament in November, a new terminal for international trains is to be built at King's Cross. A low-level station served by international trains will be linked by escalators to St. Pancras, with frequent services to Sheffield. The Doncaster line is soon to be electrified and will become even faster. Sheffield also needs a fast link to the east coast line with better and more reliable rolling stock before the year 2025 as well as a major freight depot.
I realise that some of these matters do not come under the Government's auspices, but the debate gives me the opportunity to ventilate the feeling of those in Sheffield that, with better road, rail and air facilities, the regeneration of the city could continue at a cracking pace.
We expect a major freight depot at Tinsley in Sheffield adjacent to the M1- -to become the focus for direct services to the continent via the Channel tunnel. If the midland main line is not to be electrified--it seems to me that that outcome is on the cards--can we have the south trans-Pennine route to Manchester, plus a link from Sheffield to Doncaster? Trains could be assembled at Tinsley and go to the continent from there. A dream realised would be a new inland clearance depot in Sheffield, which would help the city with its continued regeneration.
I do not propose to discuss supertram today, although it comes under the auspices of the Department of Transport. As I understand it, South Yorkshire passenger transport executive has not yet prepared its bid.
Air links, too, are vital to Sheffield. I do not envisage a municipally run airport but rather an airport set up by private enterprise to enable short take-off and landing aircraft to be used. That would assist in Sheffield's economic regeneration. I have had discussions with the Ministry of Defence as to whether it would be possible to use Finningley airport for three weeks during the world student games. The suggestion was not unfavourably received, but I was told to come back nearer the time.
There is much discussion in Sheffield at the moment because a site has been found for a short take-off and landing airport but the proposal is not attracting public support in the area that has been chosen. There are other sites, however. There is a site near the M1 spur which we know as Catcliffe, which has been mined by the National Coal Board and would be an ideal spot for the airport.
No one person or organisation can claim credit for the Sheffield phoenix phenomenon. The city is rising from its ashes. For many reasons--some obvious, some hidden--the Government, local councils, industry and commerce and the citizens of Sheffield are working as a team to put Sheffield back on its feet. It is the fourth largest city in England. In a survey of Britain's 38 top cities conducted by Glasgow university to find out where the average man in the street would choose to live, Sheffield came 10th-- with Bradford sixth, Hull 17th and Leeds 27th.
I was surprised to discover that the seven major influences on people when they chose where to live and why were isolated. Those influences were : the rate of crime ; health provision ; levels of pollution ; cost of living ; shopping facilities ; race relations ; and factors such as
Column 655education, access to areas of scenic beauty, employment prospects and climate. All those factors were taken into account, before the positions in the table were calculated.
Only yesterday, major EC cash boosts came into Sheffield--£308 million -worth of investment aimed at repairing some of the economic disasters of the past decade. The fact is that, with better road, rail and air facilities, we could reach the top spot. I appreciate that the Minister will tell me--as do all Ministers--that we do not control British Rail. However, he controls the roads. He does not control air traffic, but he can assist in ensuring that some of the available funding is directed towards Sheffield.
We need a little more help from our friends to speed up the economic regeneration of Sheffield. I am grateful to my Sheffield colleagues for attending today in vast numbers. In fact, I must look hard to even imagine the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) sitting in his place. Nevertheless, I have heard him talk about this.
I am aware that there are negotiations and discussions with British Rail, but we need some assistance in explaining to British Rail that Sheffield's economic regeneration--especially the world student games in 1991--can be enhanced with good, reliable rolling stock, Sheffield's regeneration could be helped, too, by the construction of a short take-off and landing airport nearby. We have two major airports nearby ; one is in Manchester, but at times, when there is ice and snow on the road, Sheffield can be cut off. The other is the East Midlands airport, which is about one hour's drive away. When I leave the House today and journey back to Sheffield, I shall travel the same way as most business men--I shall go to Doncaster. I am not proud of that, but the service is reliable and fast, and it is a clean train. I would love to be able to say that I was travelling to Sheffield by the midland main line.
I shall be grateful to hear of anything that the Minister can do to assist the regeneration of Sheffield. I believe that the finest Christmas present anyone could have in this great season of goodwill is to say, "I have heard from British Rail that it is doing X, the Ministry of Defence is doing Y, and, above all, we have agreed with Peak park planning that some improvements can be made to the A57 and Woodhead." Speaking apolitically, many citizens and the Sheffield council would be grateful for assistance to enable them to continue with their plans.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield,Hallam (Mr. Patnick) on initiating this debate. Sadly, he was unfortunate in representing his constituents' views earlier this week when there might have been an opportunity at about 5.30 in the morning, but in the event he would have come on after the House had adjourned--rather early --at about 9 o'clock the next day. He should be congratulated on coming back for the second bite.
As my hon. Friend has said, he is the last Sheffield Member of Parliament in the House this year. He deserves the congratulations of his local people and press. I am
Column 656grateful, too, to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) for attending. It is nice to see that the SDLP is represented in one of the last debates of the year.
I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon). One of his main interests is that of the constitution, which is why he sat in on the previous debate, but, of course, we know that he has a keen interest in railways, because the Stockton to Darlington railway was the first in the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hallam has rightly talked Sheffield up, and he has done so accurately. Those who have known Sheffield over the years--I cannot claim to know it anything like as well as he does, but I have visited it over the years--will recognise its dramatic transformation over the past six years or so.
Sheffield has a great and prosperous future, which it has earned for itself. The restructuring of its basic industries of steel and speciality steel products has been difficult. Competiton from low-cost producers around the world has made life difficult for Sheffield. Some of the subsidies to other manufacturers, whether by exploitative pay levels or some of the old steel subsidies, made it necessary for many of Sheffield's companies and industries to take a cold bath. But Sheffield has done it without complaining. During the years, I have kept in contact with Conservative trade unionists, visiting them not for high publicity but to learn how many of their businesses are developing the joint team effort to which my hon. Friend referred. Clearly, most of the improvement has come about because of efforts within Sheffield. Sheffield is right to have picked my hon. Friend to represent it. One does not have to be a lawyer to represent a great industrial city. Sheffield has grown its own representative.
My hon. Friend referred to the railways. When I read a British Rail press notice a week ago, I thought that it had been written by my hon. Friend. I learned that it is possible to spend an evening in London--for example, in the House of Commons--and catch the 11 pm train home, exchanging the discomfort of living in London for the comfort of Sheffield.
My hon. Friend referred to the contribution made by the fast trains knocking 20 minutes off the journey, despite the fact that the line to Sheffield is not exactly the straightest in Britain. That is an achievement. When people argue that electrification is the only answer, they should ask what return comes from the money. British Rail is aiming for improvements next year in the rescheduling of trains and the year after in some of the new stock, but what the business men really needs is a reliable hourly service. Then Sheffield and the rest of the country will be better served. If it is possible to get from Sheffield to London or Newcastle in two hours, those of us who benefit from Sheffield's business would be able to see its business men, salesmen and technical people more often, and that would be welcome. A regular hourly service is the answer to those who, having just missed one train, ask when the next will be. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. When I was in Japan in the summer looking at motorcycle safety, I had the opportunity to ride in the cab of a Shin-kan-sen. With completely new track and no freight or commuter trains, those bullet trains manage to go only 10 miles an hour faster than British Rail's high-speed trains on track that is 100 years old. Our rail engineers, whether they come from Darlington or Sheffield, have done well.
Column 657My hon. Friend also talked about air transport. It would be pleasant to have an airport on the edge of the city- -so long as one did not live there. We have seen the first new private sector airport--the Stolport--in London docklands. That is the way forward for those who want to provide a similar airport at their own risk. I know that my hon. Friend is not one of those who would say that every city, even the fourth greatest city in Britain, even the 17th or 18th most pleasant city in which to live in Britain, should necessarily have its airport on the rates.
Since the way, there have been too many examples in Britain of municipal enterprise turning an airport into a subsidy sink. I am not saying that we should not subsidise anything, but we should be careful about arguing that ratepayers should pay for airports.
Mr. Bottomley : Bus deregulation outside London has demonstrated the worth of a market approach. Instead of an exponential growth from no subsidy to one of £500 million over 10 years, while the number of bus miles driven per member of staff declined long with the number of passengers, deregulation has made it possible to reduce the subsidy, and increase the number of passengers and for buses to go to estates where they have never been before.
In Sheffield and elsewhere, the new private sector operators are providing minibus services in estates that were inaccessible to double deckers. People may say, "Deregulation has led to buses going into those estates," and go on to say that that is a bad thing. Only the Labour party can find people who will say that. If Labour had thought of ways of getting minibuses into estates that had not previously been served, they would have praised themselves for thinking of it first. Tough luck. We thought of a way of making it possible for local or outside entrepreneurs to provide a service of commercial benefit.
Some aspects of transport must be provided on a group basis, and the building of roads is one. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it plain that he is interested in extending the boundaries of private finance. No one is precisely sure how that will happen, but that it should be considered possible is a move forward. We have seen the involvement of private design, private finance and private operation coming to the Dartford-Thurrock bridge, allowing extra money to be spent on other road projects, be they minor improvements to the A57 or extentions to the major road network outside the national park. All that is of benefit.
We have seen also the 150 schemes where private developers have invested £50 million in better roads or better road access that otherwise would not have been possible. Sometimes, that has been done in agreement with the highways authority or in the developers' self-interest without selfishness. Those who argue that self-interest has no part to play are wrong. Few see the merit of public provision as a substitute for private provision when the result can be the same. In Sheffield, when people were looking for jobs, they could have been provided by the municipal Socialists or by companies, co-partnerships, individual entrepreneurs, joint stock companies, or whatever. It is a matter of finding or creating opportunities and then identifying profitable, creative ways of meeting people's needs.
There is then the issue of conventional public funding of roads. I delight in the announcement that the national
Column 658roads programme will increase by 20 per cent. in the coming year, and that over three years it will increase by 40 per cent. That is not wild profligacy but meeting the country's needs. It will not meet them totally, because there are other areas, whether in Coventry, Sheffield, or elsewhere, where people will go on asking for better roads to be built. Sometimes they will want longer, wider, stronger or deeper roads. Although that may sound trite, there is truth in it. Extensions to the Sheffield road network will allow Sheffield's goods to reach the ports and the Pennines, to travel north or south, and to reach export markets.
My hon. Friend mentioned a number of achievements, some of them accompanied in partnership. He rightly praised the local authority and private sector for working together. None of us should overlook the fact that the roads partnership between local and national Government is one of the best. Occasionally it is controversial, but not normally in respect of projects outside London. The Meadowhall is one development where the Government said that they would help an inner-city project, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend found time to mention it. He spoke also of the canal basin developments, and of the urban development corporation. They have all received attention in the House.
My hon. Friend said he wished to see further improvements, and referred to the delegation that he kindly brought to see me about the A57. I am glad it is generally recognised that it will not be appropriate to find a short cut from Manchester to Sheffield by driving a motorway across the national park. That would be going too far. I make it plain that we take seriously our assurances that we shall not unnecessarily build roads through the national parks. However, I hope that those listening away from Sheffield will have the courage to admit that opposition to the Okehampton bypass was wrong. Anyone who has seen that bypass, where we went into the national park by about 50 yards alongside a railway line, so that the road is hidden both from the park itself and from the town, and that those who just provided their ideas by looking at a map and wanted a 10-foot high viaduct had got it wrong.
We hope to protect the Peak district national park in a similar way. If it is possible for the board, perhaps in collaboration with my hon. Friend and others, to carry out minor improvements, that will make a difference. If most of the traffic is asked to go along the A268 and the A616, I think that we can agree on those minor improvements without making the A57 so attractive that pressures start developing for major improvements.
My hon. Friend has demonstrated that it is possible to come to the House to represent a city. He was of course elected by only part of the city, but seems to be representing all of it, as he is the only Sheffield Member who has taken the time to come here today. He has done so in a positive way, without knocking the city council--although he may, as I do, have his own views about some of its actions. He has recognised that the council is working more with the public sector, and has talked of the need--and the method--to create continuous growth and expansion.
I believe that, as traffic builds up on British Rail services and more people start using the direct service rather than the diversion via Doncaster, British Rail, as a commercial organisation meeting the Secretary of State's objectives and serving the public, will find ways of improving its
Column 659service still further. I can make no predictions about the air services ; that must be left to the commercial judgment of those who will decide whether, in addition to the two airports that people now use, a smaller airport can be built nearer Sheffield.
It is worth emphasising that better roads make economic growth possible and that economic growth generates more traffic. There is a "virtuous circle". When the Channel tunnel is completed, the railways will have a competitive advantage that they do not have now. Nevertheless, even on the most optimistic forecasts of the movement of traffic from roads to railways, economic growth will still mean more freight on the roads. That is why we want to continue to run the economy in a way that will bring about significant and welcome increases in the roads programme. It will then be possible for hon. Members on both sides of the House to come to the Department of Transport and ask for their share of this better infrastructure--what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I call better roads, better bridges and occasionally better tunnels. Every two years we intend to take such action.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced that he wants a review of the motorway and trunk road programme. We look forward to meeting his wishes and putting our conclusions before the House in the spring. I hope not only that we shall see a better, booming Sheffield, but that the other cities below it in the popularity stakes will gain as well ; and that those temporarily above it will realise that they must compete very hard to stay ahead.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South) : It is somewhat appropriate that the last debate of 1988--the last debate before the Christmas holiday-- should be about Israel. It is indeed, almost symbolic. A visitor to Bethlehem in 1988 would not be turned away from the inn to find shelter in a manger, because the inns and hotels, normally fully booked over a year in advance, are 60 per cent. empty this year. That reflects the 15 per cent. drop in tourism in Israel and the occupied territories over the last year.
The Palestinian uprising against 21 years of Israeli rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip has entered its second year. The brutal repression of the intafada is measured not just in economic terms, in the loss of tourism or the Bank of Israel's estimate of $700 million lost in GDP, but in truly horrific statistics of casualties. Estimates compiled up to the anniversary of the uprising two weeks ago for the number of Palestinians killed range from the Defence Ministry's 302 to the 405 assessed by the International Commission of Jurists' local organisation Al-Haq. Eleven Israelis have died.
The number of Palestinians wounded is 3,640 according to the Israeli Government ; over 20,000 according to Al-Haq and the United Nations. The Defence Ministry figures also list 402 Israeli civilians and 730 soldiers as casualties. Converted into a British context, the equivalent figures would be 12,000 to 16,000 killed and over 750,000 wounded. That is a glimpse of the scale of the horror. During the year, 20,000 Palestinians have been arrested, thousands of whom have been detained in notorious camps such as Answa 3. The Defence Ministry confirms that 5,500 Palestinians are now in gaol. Houses have been demolished by bulldozers. People have been expelled from their homeland and semi-permanent curfews and sieges have been imposed. The Jelazoun refugee camp was under non-stop curfew for 42 days.
I visited Israel and the West Bank in October with my comrade the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) and a Danish dock workers' leader, Carsten Andersen. It was my first parliamentary delegation visit in over five years as Member of Parliament, and it lasted six days. A brief debate such as this is too short in which to convey the vivid impressions of that visit, although going from Tel Aviv, a largely modern, western city, to the outskirts of Jericho, or the largest Arab village in Israel, Um el Fahm, was literally like walking back to the biblical age.
We visited Jericho under the auspices of the United Palestinian Medical Relief Committee. Its director, Dr. Jihad Mashal, was our guide. We visited medical centres set up by a group of volunteer doctors and workers. Their aim is to educate the people in basic health care and to provide medical treatment in an expanding programme. We saw slides of the results of brutality against the population by the occupying forces. The condition of some of the victims was horrendous and defies description.
We saw the stark contrast of what exemplifies the differences in society for the Palestinians. Water, flowing from natural springs in the mountains, is enclosed in pipes for consumption by Israelis in the settlements. The Palestinians cannot take water from such piping. Their water supply flows down man-made gulleys--ditches, in fact--that are open to the atmosphere, and it is used for
Column 661washing, cooking and drinking. It is also used by the local clinic. No attempt is made by the authorities to provide sterile, clean water for Palestinian families. Water supplies to homes from these gulleys takes the primitive form of dropping a length of tubing into the trough and letting gravity do the job of relaying it to the houses--or not.
We saw squalor, deprivation and repression on the one side and affluence and privilege on the other. The barren area and conditions in which the refugees in the camps have to live contrast sharply with the well laid out and serviced Israeli settlements and, in addition, the palatial houses owned by rich Palestinians who apparently are dual passport holders.
The contrast in the camps could not be greater. Sewage runs down gulleys in the main thoroughfare--they cannot be called streets--and many homes are built in the traditional way with mud bricks. Youths roam the streets, as there is no formal schooling since the intafada, except that provided by volunteers. Overshadowing the camp were military positions on the high road above.
The camp is continually under surveillance on normal days. On others, the troops enter the camps in large numbers and provoke the people, especially the youth, and make arrests. That is done in an attempt to take out those layers among the youth who may be leaders in the popular committees, which are made up of the ordinary people. The committees enjoy the complete confidence of the people and call the days of action and strikes. They organise the distribution of food and take care of the welfare of families whose homes have been destroyed by the troops--a common occurrence.
The delegation say homes that had been destroyed and spoke with families who had suffered in this way at the hands of the occupying power. Although suffering terrible conditions and hardship, the mood of all sections of the population was one of supreme optimism, from young children to aged grandparents. They expressed the view that they had achieved more in the months of intafada than anything else in 40 years : that it was the people, all the people, who had taken their destinies into their own hands and who were now struggling for independence. Their confident belief was that they would win and that they could not suffer any more. Nothing that the Israeli state could do to them could deflect them from that ultimate goal.
Although the human cost of the intafada, measured in deaths and casualties, is undeniable, it is the political effects which have spread in recent weeks like expanding ripples after a stone has been tossed into water. The growing international support for the Palestinian causes is, in my view, based on the heroism of the workers and the youth in Gaza and on the West Bank.
The Labour Movement internationally has had much sympathy for the state of Israel, whose formation was given impetus by the horrific genocide of the Jewish people in Nazi gas chambers during the second world war. Until recently, abuses by the Israeli authorities of human rights has not attracted the same level of criticism as similar activities in South Africa or Chile. The developing use of Arab workers in Israel and the occupied territory, like the migrant workers from the Bantustans in South Africa, and in particular the gruesome scale of repression of the intafada-- reinforced by infamous television scenes of soldiers beating Palestinians until their bones werebroken--are drastically changing working people's perception of Israel.
Column 662The intafada is the backcloth, in my view the main contributory factor to the declaration by the Palestine National Council at its Algiers summit of an independent Palestinian state--a proclamation that was universally welcomed in the occupied territory--and to the speech by Yasser Arafat at the United Nations meeting in Geneva. Workers internationally have viewed with deep unease the past methods of terror compaigns and hijacking. The recognition by the PLO's leadership that those methods have not, and would not have, forced Israel into submission can only be welcomed. The increasing diplomatic isolation of Israel is evidenced by the United Nations vote of 150 to two--with the United Kingdom disgracefully abstaining--over a visa for Yasser Arafat to address the UN Assembly in New York, by recent developments and contacts initiated by the American Government and by today's declaration of a coalition Government formed in Israel. That isolation could increase significantly if workers' organisations began to discuss sanctions to isolate Israel, as dockers in Denmark--some of the staunchest defenders of Jews during the second world war--have recently done. Israel's boast of being the only democracy in the middle east is coming under closer scrutiny not only on the West Bank but also behind the green line. It is undeniable that there is a measure of democracy in Israel. There is a system of parliamentary democracy which, despite serious flaws, has free elections ; there are diverse political parties and various other features of western democracy. But for Arab workers in Israel and on the West Bank there are no more rights than in surrounding reactionary Arab regimes.
At the beginning of this year, the partial publication of the Landau report caused a wave of controversy in Israel society. It disclosed the routine torture of Palestinian detainees and extracted confessions for more than 17 years. When such cases came to court, Shin Bet agents flatly denied such allegations. The report states : "We do not refer to the means of interrogation used, which in large measure are to be condoned, both on a moral and legal plane but to the system of giving false testimony to the courts which must be fully condemned."
In other words, denying the occurrence of torture was a far greater crime than the torture itself.
I now have personal experience of one such political prisoner. I believe that the evidence that the Israeli authorities claim to have in the case of Mahmoud Masarwa consists mainly of confessions extracted by beatings by the security services at Petach Tikra police station and Ashkelon prison.
Mahmoud was arrested on 18 July, just two days before he was due to arrive here. I was going to bring him to the House to meet other Labour Members. I was keen to meet Mahmoud, an Arab citizen of Israel, born within its pre- 1967 borders. He came to my attention because he advocates unity between Jewish and Arab workers as vital to obtaining a solution that could satisfy all the oppressed people in the region. Far from being a professional terrorist, as the Israeli authorities have tried to imply, Mahmoud was forced to hold down two jobs to support his wife and three children. He was a well-known activist at the Isre Biton cement works near Tel Aviv--his most recent place of employment--where he, an Arab worker, played a predominant role in a strike of mainly Jewish workers for recognition of a factory committee.
Despite repeated attempts, I received no response to my letters and phone calls to the Israeli authorities--that is,
Column 663until after I had returned from Israel three months later. With other concerned hon. Members and trade unionists internationally receiving largely the same blank response, the international campaign which had now been formed to secure his release decided to send a delegation to Israel. Jef Ulburghs, a Belgian Member of the European Parliament played an invaluable role in that campaign, for he moved a resolution of support for Mahmoud in the European Parliament, which was adopted on a 60 per cent. majority vote. One of the results of that resolution was a European Parliament delegation to the occupied territory in the new year.
In addition to parliamentarians and leading trade unionists in Britain, sponsors of the campaign to release Mahmoud include trade unions representing millions of workers in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Spain, Sweden, Pakistan and the United States of America. Prominent individuals who sponsored the campaign and the delegation included the president of the Lawyers Association of Athens, Anker Jorgenssen, who was the Prime Minister of Denmark for seven years, and Oscar Verner, the president of the Danish section of the Association of Former Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Survivors.
Even with such backing, when we arrived in Israel no official of any Ministry would meet us. Nor were we allowed to visit Mahmoud in prison, despite repeated approaches by ourselves and the welcome assistance of locally based British embassy officials.
Since Mahmoud's arrest, any information relating to him has been banned from press publication, although internationally anyone reading the London- based Jewish Chronicle will be aware of the campaign on his behalf. Although no details of his arrest can be published in Israel, a standard letter was set out from Israeli embassies alleging that Mahmoud had been involved in "planning terrorist acts", "arson" and links with the PLO in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The press in Israel were forbidden to print that information.
The plot was assuming the proportions of a Kafka novel, interlaced with pointers from Russia in the 1930s and "Spycatcher" in the 1980s. When the delegation arrived in October, a small article appeared in one newspaper saying that a delegation of Labour Members from Britain had arrived to take up a case on which the newspaper was forbidden to comment. That immediately aroused interest, and with the assistance of helpful Israeli journalists we managed to breach the wall of silence that has surrounded Mahmoud's case.
The papers could refer to the details of the case legally by mentioning the coverage in the Jewish Chronical as an authoritative source, and Mahmoud's case became front-page news, with coverage in the Hadashot and the Maariv, the second and third largest circulation Hebrew newspapers, and in the Arabic newspaper El Fajir. As a result of the widespread publicity that the case received, reporting restrictions were partially lifted by the court, which was hailed as a major victory by Israeli civil rights activists. The other way in which the delegation was able to assist the campaign was by securing legal representation for Mahmoud. Attempts to mount a legal defence were systematically sabotaged by the Israeli authorities. In
Column 664August, a court order prevented his lawyer, Andre Rosenthal, from representing him, on the grounds that he did not have "unquestioned" security clearance. A new lawyer was found--Avrahim Orin.
A few days before Mahmoud was due to appear in court on Tuesday 18 October, his family wer told that Orin, too, would be refused security clearance. We were able to negotiate for the services of Avigdor Feldman, the lawyer who represented Mordecai Vanunu in the recent atom secrets trial. Obviously, the Israeli authorities could not turn him down on the basis of lack of security clearance, and he is now representing Mahmoud.
Thanks to donations received by the campaign before we left Britain, we were able to leave Mrs. Masawra with a sum of money to help to provide for the family. In addition, I was able to bring Mahmoud's family to Tel Aviv for the first stage of the trial on 18 October. During a brief pause in the trial, I arranged for his children to be brought in to the court room, and for the first time in three months Mahmoud was able to hold their seven- month-old baby.
During the break, Mahmoud made this statement to the public gallery :
"I stand for a bi-national state of Jewish and Arab workers. I was arrested because I was going to say these things in England. I don't have confidence in the court because the security service is making the decisions, but I am willing to fight for my innocence and I am sure workers throughout the world will help me."
Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I give that pledge today. I have dealt at some length with the case of Mahmoud Masarwa, who is one of many victims of the Israeli Government's brutality and secrecy. He is a test case for thousands of others--a litmus paper that shows the absence of genuine democracy and freedoms in Israel. On the basis of the worsening position for Arabs inside and outside Israel's 1967 borders, Britain's relations with that country must be re-examined. A condition for continued trade and other relations with Israel should be the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of the Israeli defence forces from the occupied territories. Given Britain's past role in the area--the emergency regulations inherited from the British mandate in 1948 are still renewed annually by the Knesset--Britain's contribution of less than £1 million in humanitarian aid for education, health and other projects on the West Bank and in the Gaza strip is woefully inadequate. I hope to do what I can to encourage British trade unions, especially those connected with the Health Service and education, to twin with organisations such as the United Palestinian Medical Relief Committee.
I end with a message to the heroic Palestinian people, who have endured much over the past few years, not least over the past 12 months. In retrospect, the Intifada, which began on 9 December 1987, will be seen as the breaking point for the national oppression of the Palestinian people. Its success will be achieved in a shorter period if it is linked to a fruitful appeal to Jewish workers in Israel for the unity of Jew and Palestinian in trying to establish a Socialist federation of Israel and Palestine committed to the guarantee of democratic and national minority rights for all. Were that to be established, it would be not only a hope for the future for the workers and people of the area but an echo of hope to the oppressed masses of the surrounding reactionary Arab regimes.
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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. William Waldegrave) : I agree with some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), though I doubt that we share the same political analysis of the position. Appeals for worker solidarity throughout the world as the solution to conflict have been shown in a number of conflicts--one thinks of the first world war--to be not necessarily fruitful. Sadly, nationalism overcomes such appeals.
Some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks struck a chord, and he clearly understood that, for all its faults, Israel still has much to be proud of and to offer. Recent events and the potential loss and damage to some of the values for which Israel has stood make its friends and supporters desperately sad.
When explaining how he fought in court for Mr. Mahmoud's rights, the hon. Gentleman used the phrase "Israeli civil rights activist". It is true that there are such people in Israel fighting hard for such causes. That phrase creates no sense of surprise in the House, but the phrase "Syrian civil rights activist" or "Libyan civil rights activist" does not trip off the tongue quite so easily. We must not forget the difference between the Israeli regime and some of those that surround it.
Israel's liberal values, including the possible election of Socialist Governments and the institutions that guarantee those liberties, seem to be under threat from the policy that it is following, which creates anxiety and genuine sadness among people in this country. We have always valued our friendship and contact with Israel. We value our cultural exchanges, our trade and the immense number of relationships that exist. Our respect for the beliefs of the founding fathers leads us to urge Israel that the course on which it is engaged is profoundly mistaken. I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East about the abuses of civil rights, which sadly have become too common in response to the uprising in the occupied territories.
It is no news to the House that the Government--spectacularly in the shape of my predecessor--have from time to time put on record their profound objection to what has happened. I am irritated by the way in which the Israelis say that punishments such as deportation are based on British law. The mandate territory regulations under which such punishments were carried out were repealed long ago and are not part of British law.
We should concentrate on the next steps. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said --I was much impressed by it--the PNC in Algiers, with further clarification from Mr. Arafat and others, has made it clear that it has shifted its position and tactics. The PNC has shifted its strategy and seen that Israel can withstand to the end of time the terrorist campaigns which have been waged against it. The PNC has seen that, every time a terrorist atrocity is committed, more damage is done to international sympathy and support for the Palestinian cause than is done to Israel. It is not a matter just of public relations, as some have claimed ; the PNC in Algiers and the PLO leadership have signalled a clear shift in approach.
The individual for whom the hon. Gentleman campaigned so that he will achieve his legal rights in Israel was, I gather, a supporter--as he has every right to be in a free country--of the original concept of a single state, with Jew and Palestinian living together. That is a
Column 666marvellous ideal, but in practical terms seems far from ever being possible. The PNC has accepted the outcome of a dual state. It was made clear to me by Mr. Bassam Abu Sharif, whom I met, and in writings by senior Palestinian leaders, that the PNC--the body which drew up the PLO's charter on a single-state solution, which the Israelis find so threatening--has shifted its position and will support a two-stage solution. That is a second, fundamental shift. It explicitly involves the recognition of a state of Israel existing within secure borders. Mr. Arafat made that clear in Geneva. The third point which the PLO leadership has recognised is that the international conference, which the Government and the Opposition believe is the best way of taking the matter forward, should be on the basis of Security Council resolution 242 and others which call for recognition of Israel and the idea of trading land for peace. These shifts are profound. Among all the tragedies of this Christmas, let us not forget that there are signs of hope in the world. These shifts offer an opportunity of making progress at last in dealing with this dire problem. that will happen only if Israel responds. The hon. Gentleman's anger about what he saw is understandable, and I would not argue against it. I take issue with him, however, on whether the international community should isolate and punish Israel or should try to build bridges to Israel. If we talk about imposing trade sanctions and pressure on Israel, a nation of 2,000 years of potential isolation and with a capacity to feel itself alienated from its surroundings, the danger is that it will react as it has always done. That is not the right way to go.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhode James), who is one of those who undertakes these important activities, is present. We should all build bridges to those in Israel who want peace and know that practical steps could be taken towards it.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East spoke of some of those people with whom he had worked.
I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East that the external leadership of the Palestinians decided that it had to take practical steps or it would lose control. It was not the leadership that caused the Intifada but the ordinary people in the occupied territories. With an extraordinary display of solidarity, those people took the matter forward. The external leadership feared that it would be isolated and would lose control. Therefore, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the uprising changed world opinion and the opinion of the Palestinian external leadership.
Mr. Waldegrave : The Government's policy is to advance towards an international conference, under the aegis of which the Israelis and the Palestinians--the Palestinians would have a right to choose their own representatives--should move towards peace. The Israeli Government cannot choose with whom to negotiate. As Abba Eban said on a famous occasion, one does not make peace with one's friends but with one's enemies. Therefore, one has to talk with one's enemies. Bassam Abu Sharif said that the PLO could make peace within a few days if it talked to the "Peace Now" movement in Israel. It is not for the PLO to select with whom to negotiate.
Column 667Now that the PLO has made a fundamental shift in outlook and opened a window of opportunity for progress, it is for Israel to begin to respond. We have to decide whether a real response is likely to come from ganging up on Israel or from trying to work with those in Israel who know the truth. They know that, even with all its military skills and military investment, Israel cannot live safely in world of modern weaponry. There are people in Israel who understand that, and it is to them that we look for a response.
I welcome the letter in The Times today from Lord Rothschild, the distinguished constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge. He said that we should test, in searching and specific negotiations, the declarations that the PLO has made. They cannot be tested unless the framework of a peace conference is established and talks get under way. Surely that is the right response. It is the Government's response, and I believe that it is the response of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East.
In the meantime, the British Government and other European Governments must do all we can to ensure that life in the occupied territories is made more tolerable. As the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East knows, we have been taking steps to ensure access to European
Column 668markets for goods produced in the Palestinian territories. We have been trying to support some of the institutions, such as hospitals. The hon. Gentleman referred to the closure of schools and universities. Those are matters that we should attempt to alleviate. Ultimately, Israel will have to live with the Palestinians. Every day that passes with no Israeli policy except the beating and shooting of people, builds increased bitterness for the future. It is in the interest of Israel to join us in trying to diminish the causes of the continuing conflict.
I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East has given us the opportunity once again to summarise our policy and to put on record what we believe should now be done. I think that that is a suitable ending for our proceedings before the Christmas recess. There is some hope in the present situation, but that hope can be all too easily dissipated if the only response from the Israeli Government and their supporters is to emphasise the difficulties.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Three o'clock till Tuesday 10 January 1989, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 19 December.
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