Column 1357January. Since then, the political situation in Lebanon has remained stable. The enormous progress made should have a beneficial effect on the lives of everyone there.
There is a widespread perception--one to which the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South referred--that the 1948 refugees are the forgotten victims of the breakthroughs in the middle east peace process that have taken place in the past year. They have not been forgotten by either the negotiators or the aid agencies.
The 1993 declaration of principles signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel provided for discussion of the 1948 refugees as a permanent status issue. Permanent status talks are to begin on or before 4 May 1996. Other permanent status issues include settlements and Jerusalem. While those are some of the most difficult issues, they are also some of the most important to an overall settlement and there is no danger of their being overlooked. The declaration of principles stated explicitly for the first time that the peace process and the negotiations of permanent status would lead to the implementation of resolutions 242 and 338. Resolution 242 affirms the necessity of achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem. We will do all we can to ensure that the peace talks address that issue.
We continue to stress to all our interlocutors the importance that we attach to a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement. That is not to say that a solution to the problem will be easy or quickly found, but we are urging all parties to proceed with all speed to reach solutions to the refugee question on both the Palestinian and the Lebanese track. In that context, we welcome the recent progress on the Jordanian track, and greatly welcome the speech made by His Majesty the King of Jordan.
We will continue to urge progress on all aspects of the peace process, including the multilateral tracks. We participate in all the working groups of the multilateral talks, not least the refugee working group. In April, a mission went to the refugee camps in Lebanon. UNICEF is also involved in projects for the Lebanese through the working group.
The European Community is holding its second inter-sessional activity of this working group in Bristol next week. It will work on an inventory and assessment of the assistance available to all refugees. We very much hope that progress in the peace talks will enable Lebanon to join in the multilateral talks, and particularly the refugee working group.
Our assistance to UNRWA is mostly in the form of a contribution to the regular budget. At present, we contribute £6 million annually, which makes us the fifth largest donor. Our contribution is used by the Commissioner-General to meet his general priorities, rather than being earmarked for specific needs.
To take up a point made by the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South, our contribution is more useful if it is
Column 1358available for general needs. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is sometimes easy to find money for specific projects. Schools and housing were the two examples that he gave. By making it available for general needs, we make money available for what might otherwise be seen as somewhat less glamorous causes.
Mr. Gunnell : I accept what the Minister says. I accept that we put in a considerable amount of money. I wondered whether perhaps some additional specific aid might be given. I agree that public support is more easily gained for specific aid, but I do not suggest that we should reduce the amount that we give to the general UNRWA budget.
Mr. Hogg : I understand that. The impression I gained from the hon. Gentleman--I am not being critical about this--was that he suggested that we should focus more than we do on special projects. I make the point that there are advantages in putting the money into the general spending policy because that requirement is less glamorous. The Commissioner-General finds it more difficult to find support for general outgoings than for specific projects, which attract general support.
We also contribute to UNRWA through the EC. The EC contributes at present about 30 million ecu a year, of which the UK's share is around one sixth, or about £6 million a year.
UNRWA's peace implementation programme, which was drawn up in response to the declaration of principles, deliberately included provision for refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In Lebanon, there is a health programme, an education programme and a relief and social services programme.
Our own bilateral programme also addresses the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon. Recently, the Overseas Development Administration agreed to spend nearly £200,000 in support of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.
The largest part of that funding is going through the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians--MAP--which works closely with the refugees and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the area of health. They are working on projects to restructure health services and develop primary health care and medical training in south Lebanon.
We also provided £10,000 in emergency aid through MAP to the Palestinians in Lebanon after the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon last July. That is another example of a situation where we cannot solve the root cause of the trouble, but we can, and do, play our part in easing the symptoms. This is always in parallel with the political pressure on the parties to reach agreement between themselves to solve the underlying dispute.
That is the approach which we will continue to adopt. Our support for all tracks of the peace process will continue unabated, both politically and economically. Only the success of that peace process will be able to find a permanent solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. We hope that that settlement is not long in coming.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.
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