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We are always in danger of reliving Major-General J. F. C. Fuller’s constant tactical factor. I apologise for bringing in a bit of an anorak element here. Dear old Major-General J. F. C. Fuller believed that any advances that are made in strategy, operational planning, organisation or technology that aid the offensive or the defensive will always be countered. What happened with Israel’s defensible borders was that a Palestinian group decided to dig a tunnel; they decided to operate Major-General J. F. C. Fuller’s constant tactical factor. In the war against terror, whether in Israel or in the wider war against terror facing us today, there is no complete military-intelligence solution. There will always have to be a political one.

In the context of this debate, the bottom line for my party is that we stand by Israel’s right to exist. We are absolutely firm on that, but we also recognise, as do most Israelis, that peace will come about in that part of the middle east only when there is recognition of an independent Palestinian state that is not a security threat to Israel and that provides a decent standard of living and security for its people. If we do not have that, there will be endless terror and counter-terror operations of one kind or another.

I recognise that it is incredibly difficult to imagine negotiating directly with Hezbollah, Hamas or any other such organisations, although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) that invariably negotiations do take place, often at third hand. However, the objective, at least in the long term—for many Israelis the long-term objective is actually the very short-term objective of securing the release of this particular Israeli soldier and preventing the attacks that are taking place—must be to bolster the activities of those living in the Arab world, to make certain that they are not prepared to support such terrorism, as it is not in their interest to do so. It may well be that taking purely military action against them is not the most subtle way to do that.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Abba Eban, the former Israeli Foreign Minister with whom I worked closely on trying to resolve this issue, and who was wiser than the entire present Israeli Government put together, once said to me, “If you’re going to make peace, who else do you talk to but your enemy?”?

Mr. Simpson: Yes, I understand that, and it is true unless one is ultimately faced with a war of annihilation and extermination. I understand, from an Israeli point of view, having been in that position once before, that they are sceptical to say the least. It is up to us collectively to make certain that that does not happen, through robust support of Israel while recognising that we want to work for a political solution.

12.17 pm

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): Good afternoon, Mr. Chope. The last time we were here together was six years ago, when you initiated a debate on Government drugs policy. I do not know if you remember that, but I do.

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I thank the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for initiating this important debate, which is part of the framework of discussion and debate on this and related issues taking place in this House. It marks this place out as a democratic institution. What we say here is listened to not just within the confines of this place but outside it. Today’s debate may give some people hope that there will be co-operation across the piece regarding the strategic importance of the region and the need to resolve the problems there through dialogue rather than conflict in all circumstances.

I thank the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) and for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) for their timely contributions, and my colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon).

I thank also my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) who has shown his knowledge and skill on this issue, as he has on many issues in the Labour movement, and who gives wise counsel on occasions. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington, I, too, am a fan of my right hon. Friend, who has a quiet courage. More than 15 years ago, when it was not the thing to do, he was one of the first people to speak out on this issue about the need to bring together enemies to discuss, debate and ultimately reach a decision about recognising Israel and its secure borders and recognising the right of the Palestinian people within their secure borders. Part of the development of this policy has been due to my right hon. Friend. On almost all occasions, he has taken the first step in the development of such policies, and I thank him for that.

In the time that I have left, I will try to deal as best I can with all the issues raised by hon. Members. However, at least 12 issues have been raised, so if I cannot deal with them all, I will write to hon. Members and place the letters in the Library, so that all those who took part in the debate will get responses, if that is helpful.

The current situation in Gaza is deeply worrying. It is a serious concern for all of us and for our international partners. I would like to reiterate the deep concern that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs expressed on behalf of the Government on 25 June, after the attack near the Sufa crossing, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was taken captive.

The UK continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Corporal Shalit. We, and our European Union and G8 partners, are also urging Israel to show the utmost restraint at this time of crisis. We have made clear our concerns about the destruction of essential infrastructure affecting power and water supplies. We will continue to urge Israel to protect civilians, and to call on the Palestinians to put an end to all acts of violence and help to seek the safe return of Corporal Shalit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raised a particular point about the wall—the barrier. I confirm to him that although Israel has the right to
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self-defence, the building of the barrier in occupied land is contrary to international law. There is no doubt about that. On 15 September 2005, the Israeli court ordered the rerouting of the barrier because of its damaging impact on some Palestinian villages in the west bank area. The Government continue to be concerned about the route of the barrier in the occupied territories, because it is illegal.

Richard Burden: I know that the Minister has to get through his 12 points, so I shall be as brief as possible. On his last point, perhaps he, in consultation with his ministerial team, could make the strongest possible representations to the Government of Israel about the latest construction of the barrier. It is already uprooting olive trees in the Cremisan area of Bethlehem, which is home to a monastery where some fairly fine wines are made. It is one of the world’s greatest heritage sites and the routing of the wall means that it is being cut off as we speak.

Mr. McCartney: I fully take on board what my hon. Friend says, and I shall take the matter up as he requested.

Today, all democracies around the world face a common threat: international terrorism. Terrorist networks do not recognise borders, and their deadly attacks have been perpetrated in different nations across the globe, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or culture. The threat is of a new order because of the willingness of small groups to inflict mass casualties in pursuit of radical objectives.

The international response over the past few years has made significant ground, and for the first time many nations and cultures are working together to combat this menace. The concept of an international community, based on core, shared values, recognising the need to uphold civil rights, and prepared actively to intervene and resolve problems, is an essential precondition of a nation’s future prosperity and stability.

In bilateral and multilateral forums, the UK is working to weaken the capabilities of terrorist groups by promoting international co-operation and building political will and government capacity in key countries. We are promoting reform abroad to address the structural problems that can push people towards extremism with violent consequences. We are also learning from other countries, such as Malaysia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where there is good engagement in programmes of de-radicalisation.

State sponsorship of terrorism is totally unacceptable; it is beyond tolerance, in fact. It is an instrument that Governments should and must abandon. Where Governments continue to believe that agreement with terrorists’ objectives justifies their methods, the British Government’s view is simple: such state promotion of terrorism is unjustifiable and must cease. There is no moral distinction between an attacker who deliberately targets civilians or a state that wittingly provides the resources that facilitate such a terrorist attack in the first place.

We are actively examining the problem of states that offer refuge or support to terrorists, and are tackling other areas where they may enjoy a safe haven. We
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continue to encourage international action to curb those who advocate or champion terrorism. I shall say a little about that later.

I also want to make it clear that our relationship with Israel is vital. There are cultural, trade, investment, education, defence and political links, and a regular exchange between our two countries. We also have a vibrant Jewish community here, and that is so important. The contribution made by that community, and other former immigrant communities, makes this country what it is: a proud, diverse, multicultural and tolerant society. The contribution is not only welcome, but recognised. It brings about a flourishing bilateral relationship. I shall be visiting the region in the months ahead.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton and the hon. Member for Lichfield raised the issue of the middle east peace process. The Government remain absolutely committed to the process that will lead to a negotiated two-state solution. Our immediate priority is to create the conditions to allow negotiations to get under way. Only through a negotiated settlement can we achieve a lasting peace; there can be no violent solution to this conflict. We remain firmly committed to reviving the final status negotiations as soon as possible on the basis of the Quartet road map, and we continue to give every impetus we can to moving the process in that direction. We reiterate our call to Hamas to adhere to the three Quartet principles: renounce violence; recognise Israel; and accept previous agreements, including the road map.

We are clear that we need to see a change in Syrian policy in a number of key areas before Syria’s standing in the international community can be fully rehabilitated and before our bilateral relationships can improve. It needs to fulfil its obligation under Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for an end to all foreign interference in Lebanon, and to co-operate fully and unconditionally with the United Nations commission investigating the terrorist attack in February 2005 which resulted in the death of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, and 22 other innocent people.

Syria also needs to do more to improve co-operation in Iraq, and must think carefully about its relationship with Iran. We must also seek progress towards internal reform in Syria and greater respect for human rights. It is absolutely clear to the Syrians that we expect them to use their undoubted influence to secure de-escalation and restraint in the region. They must dissociate themselves from the terrorists responsible for the tragic, untimely and futile violence in the region.

The hon. Member for Lichfield also raised the issue of Iran and set out widely held concerns about its
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approach to terrorism. Progress in our relationships with Iran will depend on its acting in this and other areas, including the proliferation of weapons, and human rights. We have repeatedly pressed Iran to renounce all links to groups using violence and to support a solution to the Palestinian issue based on the principle of the two states living side by side in peace and security. Iran funds and has strong connections to Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and provides financial support to Hamas. We are continuing to investigate the improvised explosive device attacks in Iraq, where the nature of some of the explosive devices used against our troops continues to lead us to Iranian elements or to Lebanese Hezbollah.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the middle east would severely threaten peace and stability in the region. We, together with France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China, have been at the forefront of international efforts to encourage Iran to address serious international concerns about its nuclear activities. We have proposed a way forward to give Iran everything it needs to develop modern, civil nuclear power programmes, while meeting international concerns. To create the conditions for talks to resume, Iran should reinstate its suspension of enrichment-related reprocessing activities, as required by the International Atomic Energy Agency board and the Security Council. We would then suspend action in the Security Council. We hope that Iran will take the positive path that is being offered. Should it not do so, there should be no doubt that the matter will return to the Security Council for further responses.

On Iraq, our complete commitment is to a democratic and stable Iraq, to bring about peace and prosperity not only to the people of Iraq but to the region as a whole.

Hon. Members have spoken about intelligence co-operation. It is not normal practice to discuss intelligence matters, and they will understand why, but I give an absolute assurance that there is close co-operation between the UK organisations, including the police, security and intelligence agencies and Departments, and many other countries, not just Israel.

Finally, I again thank the hon. Member for Lichfield for initiating this in-depth debate. I shall return with a more detailed reply on some of the issues that he and other hon. Members raised.

Counter-terrorism measures exist to help us preserve democratic and free societies. At the most basic level, measures that protect innocent civilians of whatever religion, ethnicity or culture from an attack are supporting one of the most basic human rights—the right to be alive—and they protect people’s ability to enjoy fully their other rights. We respect and promote human rights not only because it is the correct thing to do, but because it is one of the most effective ways to undermine the terrorists. I again thank the hon. Gentleman for this debate.

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Engineering Training

12.30 pm

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I thank Mr. Speaker for granting me this debate.

Engineering is a subject that is close to my heart for one simple reason. Before I came to the House I was a practising engineer, and since then I have worked closely with the professional engineering bodies, as well as my own professional body, the Institution of Chemical Engineers. As Member of Parliament for a constituency in the north-east I represent a large chemical and process engineering sector, which is important for our country as well as Europe.

Today, I want to highlight the most important aspect of engineering, which will affect our future, and some of the causes for concern in the training of engineers, which pose a real threat to Britain’s excellent reputation for engineering. I also want to suggest one or two ideas for the Minister to take away if he cannot respond to them today.

Many of the national and global challenges facing us in the 21st century can be addressed only by the scientific and engineering community. Finding sustainable energy sources and reducing their impact on the environment, addressing climate change and fighting global poverty are all areas in which engineers have a huge role to play. That is why we must ensure that national and international Governments play their part in training and preparing the future work force that will build our nuclear power stations and research the new technologies that could save lives in Africa.

Engineering is crucial to our country’s economy. The strength and growth of our economy depend on new technologies. We need a work force of expert engineers to build, research and maintain those technologies. Britain and my region in the north-east have a huge role to play. Our goal should be to elevate Britain to the level of our international competitors and ensure that Britain is not merely a consumer of the new technologies but also an agenda setter.

I come to the debate as someone who strongly supports my Government. I am proud of their record in promoting science and engineering. I pay tribute to our Prime Minister and the Chancellor for setting the pace and for their support for science and engineering. The figures for financial support show that in 1998 there was a 15 per cent. increase in the budget for science, which was the largest increase in any area of Government expenditure. I am proud to say that during my lifetime I have never known a Government of any political complexion to show its commitment and to increase the budget as much as the present Government. I speak as a strong friend of the Government and champion them, but I want to raise one or two issues.

I know that the Government have set up a science and innovation framework target to increase the UK’s spending on research and development from 1.9 per cent. to 2.5 per cent. of gross domestic product by 2014. That is a tremendous challenge, but unless we ensure that enough engineers are being trained
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effectively in our universities to meet future demand, the UK will be left behind compared with our international competitors.

The shortage of maths and physics teachers seriously undermines the quality of secondary education in this area. That is no surprise to the Minister because the matter has been raised on the Floor of the House many times. A crucial problem is that teachers are often expected to teach subjects outside their own discipline. On average, only 19 per cent. of science teachers specialise in physics and only 25 per cent specialise in chemistry. Those shortages have become even more pronounced in schools with pupils with greater needs such as those with a higher percentage of pupils who are eligible for free school meals and those with more special needs pupils. Teachers are undoubtedly more comfortable and enthusiastic teaching the subjects that they specialise in, and that enthusiasm rubs off on pupils. Given that maths, physics and chemistry underpin engineering, that is a cause for concern among engineering professionals.

There has also been a considerable downturn in the number of those studying maths and physics at A-level. Those subjects are often required to study engineering at university and that downturn will no doubt have an adverse effect on the number of people who are able to do so. While the number of those entering university between 1994 and 2004 rose by almost 40 per cent., the number of those opting for engineering degrees remained almost static at 24,500. That was a drop from 11 per cent. to less than 8 per cent. of entrants. The Minister will say that the figures have risen as well as dropped, but those are the latest figures that I have.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service higher education figures reveal that applications for some engineering courses at some UK universities are down by around 25 to 30 per cent. I am thinking of electronic engineering. If that trend continues, many of the courses will disappear. What is even more worrying is that less than half of engineering graduates chose to enter the profession. How do those shortages impact on industry? The 2006 engineering skills survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology found that nearly 35 per cent. of engineering companies did not expect to be able to recruit enough suitably qualified staff this year. The study found that senior engineers with five to 10 years’ experience are in most demand, with more than half of respondents saying that they are having trouble recruiting them. The institution suspects that that is due to engineers leaving the profession as well as to problems with graduate recruitment. The study also found that 23 per cent. of respondents were having problems in finding suitable graduates and 21 per cent. in finding qualified technicians.

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