Previous SectionIndexHome Page

7.45 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): First, I welcome the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). He is indeed a worthy successor to Audrey Wise. He speaks with much experience as a former, or perhaps current, Member of the European Parliament.

Mr. Hendrick: Former.

Mr. Winnick: My hon. Friend is a former Member of the European Parliament.

Audrey Wise always spoke her mind. She was independent and she held her views passionately. We miss her, but I take great pleasure in welcoming my hon. Friend. I am sure that his stay here will be very long.

I want to discuss the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continuing tragic loss of life. It might be appropriate to preface my remarks with one or two brief observations. I support an Israeli state--but without, of course, the occupied territories of 1967 onwards. I have supported the existence of Israel since it came into being in 1948.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 419

In speaking against what I consider to be the excessive response of the Israeli armed forces and many of the injustices that many Palestinians face, I distance myself, as much as possible, from the anti-Jewish hate merchants and preachers, a few of whom, unfortunately, can even be found in this country. Such poison as they preach is no different from that preached by the fascist and Nazi thugs whose anti-semitism led to the holocaust.

The events of the past few months--certainly the past 10 weeks--in the conflict have caused much loss of life and intense suffering on both sides, especially among the Palestinians. It should go without saying that the mob barbaric lynching of the two Israeli soldiers was a horrifying act. It does not take a great deal of imagination to appreciate how the scene that we all saw on television--the mutilation of the bodies after the horrifying murder--went down in Israel. It created a feeling of insecurity and a sense that perhaps, in the end, the only aim was to drive the Israelis into the sea.

The response of the Israeli armed forces, including that against minors involved in stone throwing and other actions, led to many deaths among Palestinians. We saw on numerous occasions on television the terrible, tragic death of a boy. He desperately clung to his father, but to no avail--he was killed.

There must be few hon. Members who do not believe that excessive force has been used by the Israelis, and that there has been too much indifference to loss of life. Nor should there be any doubt about the fact that what occurred during that period has increased the deepest resentment and anger that Palestinians on the west bank feel towards Israel. I shall discuss that feeling in more detail in a moment, but the terror and rejectionist groups--the very people who are opposed to any settlement with Israel whatever, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad--must feel pleased about what has happened. They must feel that they have fertile groups to recruit. If there is an analogy, it must be with the IRA after Bloody Sunday. What has happened has played into the hands of the terrorist groups, who do not want any Israeli state.

Apart from the daily violence, the Israeli authorities should be concerned about the feelings of almost all Palestinians on the west bank, in east Jerusalem and in Gaza. They look on themselves as an oppressed, occupied people. They feel humiliated by the manner in which they are treated by the Israelis; they think that they are seen as inferior. On top of all those feelings of injustice, they have to put up with mass unemployment and a lack of essential basic needs, including an inadequate water supply. The number of job losses has been tremendous since the Oslo accord in 1993.

Much of the unemployment on the west bank has been due to the closure policies adopted by Israel. It has been extremely difficult for Palestinians to cross back and forth into Israel for work. We know that Israel is concerned about its security--about the suicide bombers. Any country, including Israel, has a right to use whatever means it can to defend itself. I do not deny the Israelis that right, because I believe that Israel has a legitimate right to exist, which is accepted by virtually all countries, including quite a number in the middle east. The

11 Dec 2000 : Column 420

collective punishment of Palestinians and their denial of work, however, is not only wrong in itself but plays into the hands of the terror groups.

Israeli settlements have continued to be built in the occupied territories. That has been encouraged. There should be a willingness to find ways of withdrawing completely from the territories won in 1967, but since the Oslo accord settlements have continued to be built, encouraged by the Israeli Government through tax refunds and reductions in the price of water and electricity. The settlements are in defiance of international condemnation, of which Israelis take no notice. Who settles in these places? Are they people fleeing from persecution or who face repression, as in the Soviet Union until the end of that state in 1991? Not at all. They tend to be Americans. That is fair enough, but I am not aware that there is acute anti-semitism in the United States. Moreover, having gone to live in the occupied territories and built the settlements, they deny that the Palestinians have any right to their land. They find it difficult to use the word Palestinian, and use "Arab" instead. They refer to that territory as Judaea and Samaria. They say that it has been given to them by God: it is in the Bible. Palestinians experience understandable feelings of injustice when they see the settlements going up.

I have always acknowledged that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. It is easy for those who see the problem in a simple light and advocate a simple solution, be it a denial of the Palestinian right to statehood or a belief that there should be no state of Israel. A possible solution, of course, is to have two states, which I think the international community recognises: Israel without the occupied territories and a Palestinian state. Such a Palestinian state must be truly independent: it cannot be a statelet or a place where the Israelis can decide at any given time whether to grant favours or not.

Israel has genuine security needs, especially if we bear in mind what happened in 1967 and 1973. If there is to be a Palestinian state, it must be a genuine state with genuine independence. What the Palestinians make of that state--whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship--depends on them. I obviously hope that it will be a democracy, much like the one that exists in Israel, but it must be a viable state.

I have already said that Israel has as much right to exist as any other state. It has a right to defend itself, but it must recognise the injustice that the Palestinians have suffered. An important consideration for Israeli security is the need to find a political solution for the Palestinians. They should be able to live in an independent, viable state, including the west bank and the Gaza strip. As for Jerusalem, there must be a solution that recognises the three important religions, not just one.

That burning feeling of injustice and the deep-seated political and economic grievances of the Palestinians need to be addressed first and foremost by Israel, but they need to be addressed by the international community as well. We all have an obligation to try to find a just solution in the middle east between Israel and the Palestinians. I have made this contribution because, as someone who has always supported the Israeli state, I feel that I must make clear my concern and dismay at what has been happening not just in the past 10 weeks but since the occupied territories were taken by Israel.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 421

7.56 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I welcome the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) and congratulate him on his contribution. I am sure that he will prove to be a worthy successor to the late, much missed Audrey Wise.

I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said. It is unusual for me to do so, but I fully endorse what he so eloquently said about the plight of the Palestinians.

I should like to speak about the so-called Europe of the regions--the new regionalism in Europe. Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, strongly believes that the European Union should properly reflect all the various regions and smaller countries of Europe if it is to succeed. There was no real Welsh representation in the recent Nice conference. In line with the principle of devolution, we believe that it is necessary to have that stronger regional representation.

Plaid Cymru MEPs recently signed the declaration of Brussels, which recognises the historic nations within Europe that do not have representation. The declaration states that the amendments made to the treaties should specifically include recognition of, and respect for, the political and legislative powers of member states' internal political units in their relations with EU institutions.

On 13 April this year, the European Parliament voted on the report of the constitutional committee on proposals for the intergovernmental conference. It voted against the report because its aim was to strengthen further the position of the biggest and most powerful member states, seemingly at the expense of the smaller countries. The only reference to an increased role for the political and legislative powers of the member states' internal political units was in the amendments of the European Parliament, which, sadly, were not adopted.

Even those of us who believe in the EU project must admit that there is a serious democratic deficit in Europe. If we fail to respond to that, the charges of rule by distant Brussels bureaucrats will continue to increase in resonance, and perhaps even threaten the future of European integration.

In response, I want to stress the importance of involving the regional level of government so as to close the gap between the EU and the citizens of Europe. That is one way of creating a European Union that is democratic and effective and has credibility among the people of Europe.

As the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, the Prime Minister, in a recent speech in Warsaw, expressed his support for a second chamber. Although my party agrees with the principle, I am a bit worried about the shape that the Prime Minister envisages. I fear that it will provide another opportunity for the larger member states to dominate decision making in Europe. We want a democratised European Union with a two-chamber Parliament; we would like one chamber to be directly elected, as happens at present, and a second chamber to be composed, possibly, of delegates from the nations and historic regions. The existing Committee of the Regions could form, as it were, an embryo.

A way must be found of ensuring that the voice of Wales, and that of Scotland, are consulted and heard before the United Kingdom finally decides its negotiating

11 Dec 2000 : Column 422

line in advance of major EU summits. There is concern in Wales about the lack of input on offer to the Assembly--the failure to invite it to become engaged in the process. The Assembly's views should have been sought before important meetings such as the one in Nice, because important issues of direct relevance to Wales were discussed.

We need to enhance the Assembly's powers to scrutinise European legislation--as part of the reform of its procedures--in order to monitor legislation and policy developments that are likely to affect Wales. It is essential for the Assembly to be aware of the latest developments, and to have an opportunity to engage with the UK Government when they prepare their negotiation line. Regional authorities as a whole have an insufficient input in decision making.

The declaration of Brussels, which I mentioned earlier, says:

The Minister may laugh, but those are not my words; they are the words of the declaration.

On Wednesday, in the Queen's Speech, the Government stated their commitment to making devolution work, and continuing the process of decentralising government. There was, however, no sign of that in the speech--apart from an interesting phrase demonstrating that, apparently, the Queen sees devolution as a process, not a one-off event. At this point, let me say that the Queen's Speech was lacking in provisions for Wales--although I unreservedly welcome the appointment of a children's commissioner, which I suggested as long ago as 1993.

That legislation is important, because it shows what the Assembly can do in presenting innovative solutions to Welsh problems. We asked the Government to continue the process of devolution, in order to create a true Europe of the regions in which Wales, along with other countries and regions of the United Kingdom, will be able to have her say. We make the obvious point that, if that is to be achieved, more powers should be devolved to the Assembly: we are thinking of, for instance, responsibility for the railways and the creation of a public transport authority for Wales. Responsibility for policing and fire services have already been devolved in Scotland, as have primary-legislation and tax-varying powers. I do not know why Wales is not yet on a par with Scotland; perhaps we shall find out one day.

This week's IGC was about preparation for EU enlargement, which is a very important topic in Wales. We have recently been granted objective 1 funding, which I hope will bring us much-needed aid, but the entry of a number of poorer countries--which I welcome, of course--raises questions about the future structure of regional aid in the EU. The current tranche of European grants might be the last available for the regeneration of the Welsh economy. It is therefore a disgrace that Wales has still not received her due from European structural funds. According to the Government's own figures, the estimated shortfall in relation to the money that Wales was entitled to receive in full from European structural funds during the three-year period of the comprehensive spending review and the funds allocated in the settlement is £628 million. It is possible to arrive at that figure by stripping out the European funds allocation of

11 Dec 2000 : Column 423

£421 million, and the match funding total of £207 million that must come out of the Barnett block. Following the deduction of those amounts, it is clear that the normal block grant for Wales will increase by 7.3 per cent., compared with an increase of 8 per cent. for the United Kingdom as a whole. For Wales to enjoy the same percentage increase in public spending as the UK as a whole and to take full advantage of objective 1 and other EU funds, the CSR allocation to Wales would have had to be £628 million higher over the next three years.

Nevertheless, the Gracious Speech showed that good progress was being made in international matters. My party unreservedly welcomes the ratification of the International Criminal Court treaty, for instance, although I want to know whether it will apply to visiting heads of state. I also welcome the intention of regulating arms exports, although it is a little overdue. As was said earlier, some four years have elapsed since Sir Richard Scott's report on arms to Iraq. The Bill is still in draft form, but I hope that it will be published soon so that we can make strides.

Mention has been made of a White Paper showing the forces of globalisation at work, and their impact on poorer peoples. I hope it will include consideration of the Tobin tax. We need a consistent method of transferring technology and funding to poor countries. Over the past decade, the environment, debt, financial instability and the growing gap between rich and poor have become global problems requiring global solutions. In Okinawa, the G8 could have decided to back the proposals outlined by Nobel prize-winning economist James Tobin for a small international tax on financial speculation, and the use of the money to fund debt relief. The amount would be huge: international currency speculation currently amounts to about $1.5 trillion a day, and a small tax of, say, 0.25 per cent. could raise as much as $250 billion per annum. I hope that we shall adopt the Tobin tax in the not too distant future. Some Governments say that it would not be practical, but others disagree. As I have said, Tobin is a Nobel prize winner who is highly regarded, and other advisers to many Governments favour the tax, considering it to be a steady, consistent way of dealing with the ever-present problems of world poverty.

The Foreign Secretary said that Government had an interest in human rights and humanitarian law. In the light of their ethical foreign policy, I must ask why the Government are so supportive of Turkey, given its disgraceful human rights record in relation to the Kurdish people. The Kurds have recently received some attention from the international community, and there is now a big push for Turkey to join the European Union. It has already joined NATO, and it is supposed to be an important border country for Europe, but why is it thought ethical and proper for the British taxpayer to stump up £220 million to sponsor the Ilisu dam project? Is that really ethical and proper, given that 20,000 or even 60,000 Kurds will be displaced? In my respectful submission, there will be no room for Turkey in the European Union until it treats the Kurds properly.

In the same vein, let me refer briefly to the problems of Sri Lanka. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath

11 Dec 2000 : Column 424

(Mr. Hain), recently returned from Sri Lanka, and I hope he has been able to make further representations on behalf of the Tamil people.

At the end of the day, if an ethical policy really is an ethical policy, it should be applied to protect vulnerable minorities, and when its application is not necessarily politically expedient.

Next Section

IndexHome Page