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Mr. Corbyn: What resources is the Department prepared to put into co-ordinating the excellent work done locally by Agenda 21 all over the country? The danger is that energies will be devoted to the local programmes, without co-ordinating them at a wider level.

Mr. Clappison: We have certainly given a lead; we have also given satisfactory support to local government finance in this respect. The very success of Agenda 21 locally shows that our approach to it has been successful.

In the United Kingdom, we have made great progress in bringing sustainable development principles into our national governing structures. Our annual reports on progress set out clear targets for action and explain the progress made against them. We have pioneered new ways of drawing together advice on sustainable development. Hon. Members will know of the work of the Round Table on Sustainable Development, and of the many other groups to which we have listened.

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It is important to look ahead to necessary future priorities for UNGASS. Hon. Members mentioned the significant threats to a number of areas--for instance, the threat to fresh water, a most important subject. Deforestation is another problem that must be dealt with by UNGASS.

The Government certainly agree that action on forests is a priority. The UK has participated fully in the intergovernmental panel on forests, and welcomes its achievement in reaching consensus on a wide range of forest issues. Our task now is to ensure that agreed actions are implemented, and that international dialogue on sustainable forest management continues. At the special session, we will press for negotiations to begin on a forests convention, because we believe that a legal instrument is the best way to ensure comprehensive implementation of the panel's recommendations.

Hon. Members also mentioned poverty in the context of economic relations between north and south. We believe that the roots of poverty have still to be tackled in many developing countries. The world is still a long way from reaching sustainable production and consumption levels. Inevitably, methods of finance and technology transfer will be key issues for discussion at the special session.

The Government believe that, in general, financing for the implementation of Agenda 21 should come from a country's own public and private sectors. In this decade, external private sector investment in developing countries has tripled; it is now more than twice as great as development assistance. Aid naturally continues to be important, but it should be concentrated on the poorest countries. Our aid programme is targeted on the poorest countries in Asia and Africa, and is widely recognised to be of high quality.

We also think that private sector funding has an important role to play in technology transfer. Foreign direct investment offers the best opportunity for transfer of environmentally sound technology, provided that national environmental standards are in place. At UNGASS, we must move the debate forward to ensuring that new financial mechanisms and new opportunities for technology transfer are fully explored. We should not get stuck in debates on aid and technology transfer that bear no relation to changes in the real world.

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In this respect, the development of new markets for trade and investment will be crucial. We regret that the WTO meeting in Singapore last December made such little progress on integrating environmental concerns into trade policy. We will continue to promote greater integration of environmental considerations in developing trade policies.

Another emerging issue which UNGASS must address is fresh water. In many parts of the world, the decline in the quantity and quality of fresh water is becoming critical. We support the development of a global framework convention on the uses of shared river basins to agree principles of application. Lack of clean water leads to disease and poverty; it also inhibits economic development. Unless we solve fresh water problems, we cannot expect sustainable development to become a reality. We need to take the same approach to ocean management, which we regard as equally important.

I have had time to mention only some of the subjects to be covered at UNGASS. We hope that world leaders will also deal with energy consumption, urbanisation and tourism--three problems that will have a large impact on development over the next five years.

I emphasise that we shall go to the Earth Summit later this year from a background of having fulfilled the obligations that we entered into at Rio. We have taken a lead in establishing those obligations and in following them through. The UK has a good record on meeting its obligations with regard to the important conventions on biodiversity and climate change, and on giving a lead to other countries. We have tried to take the approach of putting sustainable development at the centre of Government policy, where we believe it belongs and will continue to belong in the future.

We also believe in having an open debate on those important subjects, and listening to the views of, for example, the Round Table on Sustainable Development and other important pressure groups. I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Oldham, West when he said that he wanted to listen to NGOs' views, because there have been some interesting developments in that area. I hope that, in future, his policies in opposition will offer an open door to important pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth.

We believe that this is an important subject, in which Governments should give a lead. We shall continue to give such a lead.

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Middle East Security

11 am

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport): It is an enormous pleasure and privilege to initiate this important debate. It is the third debate that I have initiated on this subject in this Parliament and it is gratifying to see that there is interest across the Floor of the House. I hope that I shall be able to make the remarks that I want to make in a fashion that allows all those right hon. and hon. Members who wish to contribute to do so.

On my way to the House this morning, I was reminded of some advice given to me by my distinguished right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) some years ago, when he said that, if and when I came to the House, I should think about specialising. I had heard that from other people and, as a result of my membership, with my right hon. Friend, of the Transport Select Committee, people probably thought in my first two or three years that that was my main interest. However, as many people know, I have always had an interest in the middle east. Unlike my distinguished predecessor in Southport of 100 years ago, the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, who, after he was elected to Parliament, went off for two years under his own steam around the world to fact find, I spent my first two years nursing my constituency. I am pleased that I did so, because an election is coming up in a few weeks' time.

It is a great pleasure, towards the latter part of this Parliament, to raise these important matters, because we cannot have prosperity throughout the world unless we have peace and there is no doubt that a vital piece of the jigsaw in that respect is the middle east region. One immediately thinks of the problems between Israel and Palestine, which have existed for a long time. I have drawn attention to the progress towards peace between Israel and Palestine, but there is still an enormous amount to do. I pay tribute to the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the unique role that it and Britain as a whole have played in trying to bring about peace. Britain gives the largest share of aid to the Palestinians--some 16 per cent. of the European Union contribution. This country has a unique role to play in furthering the cause of peace in the middle east. I do not seek in this debate to oppose a European Union involvement, but I am at least a little suspicious of a Community-wide foreign policy.

In the first 100 days of the Netanyahu Government, I expressed concern that, all too often, Mr. Netanyahu was reacting to events rather than trying to set the tone for his period in office. All too often, we heard suggestions that he might have delegated the task of deciding what to do in the first 100 days to other members of his Cabinet. When one journalist tackled a leading Likud moderate on the issue, he said, "I know nothing about being tasked with the first 100 days' planning." In the last Israeli election campaign, we heard too much from senior Israeli politicians who said that they were against the Oslo accord, denounced Mr. Arafat and opposed the Hebron redeployment.

In office, Mr. Netanyahu in particular has realised that there is no alternative to the Oslo accord, meeting Mr. Arafat or the Hebron redeployment. However, I pay tribute to the Israelis for the 80 per cent. withdrawal and hope that those in the Arab world will give credit to Israel and its Government for that courageous move. I hope that we shall see further progress shortly.

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I referred to the problems of the first 100 days of the Israeli Government, which is often a matter of public perception. The perception--it is my perception, too--is that Mr. Netanyahu may have met Mr. Arafat when he did only because of pressure from President Weizman, which is not necessarily a good thing. During the elections, Mr. Netanyahu took the view that the Oslo accord should be renegotiated but, now that he is Prime Minister of Israel, it is not tenable that Israel should be able to renegotiate while Mr. Arafat should stick to written agreements.

There must be give and take on both sides, and I have never doubted that land for peace was the way forward. Mr. Netanyahu must hold out further real hope towards the Palestinian people. He must make it clear that, if there is no terrorism, there can be no reason why more and more Palestinian workers should not come to work in Israel. They do not stay there; they often return home overnight, unlike many other migrant workers who stay on a permanent basis and cause difficulties in Tel Aviv.

Because of the impasse that we have reached, there has been an enormous cooling of relations, particularly with Egypt. I note, too, that Qatar, Tunisia and Oman have, to some extent, gone back on previous pledges on improving diplomatic relations between their countries and Israel. It is incumbent on those of us who are friends of Israel to make it clear that we want the existence of an Israeli state within secure boundaries, defending itself where necessary, internally and externally, from terrorism. However, we are not prepared to turn a blind eye to some sort of neo-imperialism or colonialism that shows contempt for the legal process and a refusal to accept that a Palestinian identity exists and must be recognised.

I underline the fact that I pay credit to Mr. Netanyahu for the 80 per cent. withdrawal.

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