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There is also a question about the strategy followed by the west since the Annapolis summit. We want peace and justice for Palestine. It seems that since the election of the Hamas-led Government there has been a process of denying Palestine aid and of refusal to recognise, negotiate or deal with Hamas, on the grounds that it does not unreservedly recognise the existence of the state of Israel. That is not to say that there are not elements in Hamas who want to hold negotiations and make some progress. However, the strategy of cutting off all links with Hamas, thereby cutting off all links with Gaza and acknowledging the Israeli sealing of the Gaza borders, is bringing not peace or justice, but a humanitarian crisis. It does not reduce support for Hamas either; in fact, it is probably having the opposite effect of increasing support for Hamas in Gaza. The reasons why Hamas won control in Gaza by elected means were first, they were not corrupt and secondly, they were delivering real social and health services for ordinary people. The Israeli strategy is clearly illegal under international law. Indeed, the UN representative there has said as much.

The question of settlements is a serious one. When Israel agreed to withdraw its settlements from Gaza, it reluctantly did so, but they were for the most part withdrawn. However, the number of settlements has increased on the west bank, and while the settlement policy is allowed to continue, settlements continue to grow and Israel is able to benefit economically through the exports from those settlements, which increases tension in Gaza and throughout the middle east. Unless something is done to force Israel to withdraw the settlement policy, we will have problems in the long term.

There are International Development questions later this morning, when I shall raise some questions on the Floor of the House, but my more immediate point is that by closing the area’s crossing point between Gaza and Israel, no goods can get through and no food can get in. By cutting off power supplies to the strip, there is unbelievable hardship within that area.

Last Saturday, a group of humanitarian organisations in Israel, led by the revered and highly respectable Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, organised a convoy of relief aid that was collected by ordinary Israelis who were disgusted by the activities of their Government. Those people attempted to go to the area’s crossing point and take in the humanitarian supplies, but I received a message yesterday from Uri Avnery, who said:

They are also preparing a case to go the Israeli supreme court. His draft letter says:


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They have since been held up, and the convoy includes all necessities.

I also received a message from Mohammed El-Rantisi and his family. In an e-mail describing the situation he said:

That means he is one of the less than 20 per cent. of people who are in work. He continued, saying that

Ordinary life for those people has been destroyed, and something must be done about it.

I have some specific questions. Do the Government share the assessment that Israel’s blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment within the terms of the fourth Geneva convention? The Prime Minister stated in December that the UK would provide about £243 million in aid to Palestinians if the conditions existed for aid to have any impact. Has that aid got through? If so, will aid continue to get through?

The number of people killed in the Gaza strip since the Annapolis conference is 136. Some 360 have been injured, 76 have been arrested and there have been 415 Israeli military attacks on the strip. There are 1,500 patients who need treatment outside the strip, 322 who need urgent treatment and 470 cancer patients who are suffering. That is a dreadful situation, but it will be dealt with only politically. We need the utmost pressure to be placed on Israel to lift the siege, lift the sanctions and negotiate with Hamas. We also need progress. If the UN’s John Dugard says that he believes Israel is in breach of the fourth Geneva convention on the illegality of collective punishment, what is being done about it? Additionally, what sanctions are we prepared to impose on Israel?

My views are shared by many ordinary and decent people in Gaza and by humanitarian organisations throughout the world who want peace and justice. Are we to watch the disaster unfold before our very eyes on our TV screens, or shall we, politically, do something about it?

11.16 am

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) on securing this important debate. I know how passionately he feels about the plight of the Palestinians, and that he understands the need for urgency and care in resolving the long-standing political and security problems that continue to generate the crisis in Gaza. He is right to describe it as a crisis.

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The Government recognise the impact and scale of the problems and the need to address all of them. We understand the political and economic pressures that nurture and drive them, and that, for example, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks. I join my hon. Friend in deploring the fact that so-called rejectionist Palestinian groups—including Hamas, I am afraid—fire those rockets indiscriminately from Gaza, with the intention of killing and wounding Israeli civilians. However, in the course of self-defence, it is imperative that Israel remain committed to undertaking its obligations under international law. The United Kingdom continues to monitor the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said clearly that restrictions on fuel supplies will not achieve Israeli security. He is dead right. Nor will the political aspirations of the Palestinian people be furthered by rocket attacks, so the United Kingdom urges restraint on all parties.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is an immediate cause of concern for the Government. In statements made on 11 and 21 January, my right hon. Friends the Foreign and International Development Secretaries made clear our concerns. On 21 January, they said:

Such restrictions have an impact on water and sewerage systems, both of which are powered by electricity generated from Gaza’s power plant. On 20 January, there was a blackout in Gaza—apparently owing to reduced fuel supplies.

We welcome Israel’s announcement that it will increase the amount of goods and fuel going into Gaza to pre-17 January levels, and we look forward to the resumption of normal operations of the crossings under Palestinian Authority control. Just two days ago, the Foreign Secretary, with his European colleagues in the General Affairs and External Relations Council, called for the continuous provision of essential goods and services, including fuel and power supplies, from Israel to Gaza.

I shall interrupt my contribution to answer the question that my hon. Friend asked about the UN Security Council resolution. I have not seen the wording of the initial draft, and I have certainly not seen the wording of the modified draft. My information is that all members of the Security Council except Libya had agreed to a text on Gaza. Libya made changes that were unacceptable to the United States, which was why the text fell. I shall examine the wording; my hon. Friend has been around a long time and he knows that words matters in such resolutions—people can become sensitive about them. I shall certainly try to find out what happened in the debate on the resolution.

Recent events at Rafah, where Palestinian militants smashed holes in the wall between Gaza and Egypt, have demonstrated yet again how incendiary the position is in Gaza. With his EU colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced on Monday support for the Palestinian Authority’s proposal to take control of the crossings, and we support the efforts of the Arab League, particularly Amr Mussa, in that respect. The EU is ready to consider resuming its border mission at Rafah, which has been dormant since Hamas took over Gaza last summer, as soon as conditions allow.

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I understand the overriding imperative for the Palestinian people and their supporters around the world to advance a political settlement that affords them the justice, security and democratic rights that the great majority aspire to, but there is also a need to ensure in the meantime that life and limb can be sustained throughout the crisis that my hon. Friend described. The United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Palestinians in Gaza. We have pledged £100 million over five years to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which works to provide essential supplies and services to Palestinians in Gaza. Last year, the UK provided £15 million to UNRWA and a further £1 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross for its work in the west bank and Gaza. Another £15 million reached Palestinians directly from the UK through the European temporary international mechanism.

We can give that vital help, but it will not solve the problem. It simply helps people to survive in the meantime. We must understand that Gaza is an integral part of any future Palestinian state. It is crucial that we continue to strive for peaceful progress in the region, and Gaza cannot be separated from that progress. As well as the continuation of crucial humanitarian aid, the international community, Israel and the Palestinians must work for a peaceful, political solution involving all Palestinian people.

We welcome the efforts to bring Gaza further into the peace process. The situation there was severely complicated by Hamas’s military takeover of the strip in June 2007, which caused the national unity Government to break down and led to Gaza becoming politically isolated. We continue to call on Hamas to adhere to the Quartet’s principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map. Those principles are not set unreasonably high, and they remain the fundamental conditions for a viable peace process. A political dialogue is impossible as long as one party is dedicated to violence and the destruction of the other. The option of engagement is in the hands of Hamas.

The best way to provide a long-lasting solution to the political, economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza is to secure real peace in the middle east. Our aim is to help the peace process be sufficiently robust to survive any setbacks. Since Annapolis, there have been major setbacks. The bedrock of our approach to the middle east peace process is still to give unstinting support for the principle of a two-state solution, to give every support to those who are committed to peaceful progress in the region, and to support economic and social development across the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Annapolis conference, which took place on 26 and 27 November, saw substantial political movement. Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas committed to meeting each other fortnightly and agreed to a joint
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bilateral steering committee for specific negotiations. Both parties renewed their commitment to the road map, with the United States providing a much-needed monitoring mechanism. The Paris donors conference in December raised more than £7 billion in pledges for the Palestinian reform and development plan devised by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, including a significant and welcome contribution from regional partners. As the single greatest contributor at Paris and also through the EU action plan, the EU has demonstrated its commitment to the process.

The Annapolis negotiations are continuing, as is the financial support for Palestinian reform and development that is crucial to a successful peace process. Those are significant breakthroughs, and the UK stands ready to support that progress, but there is a long way to go. Israel must display to the world that it is prepared to take and implement hard decisions to achieve its road map obligations on settlements. We consider settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territories illegal under international law, including Israeli settlements in both East Jerusalem and the west bank. Settlement construction is an obstacle to peace. We support President Bush’s view that there should be a complete freeze on settlement construction and that outposts should be removed. The Foreign Secretary has made clear our concerns on the matter to his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The Palestinians, too, must step up their efforts to implement their road map commitments. A reformed Palestinian security force will continue to be the key to the success of the peace process. Militias and gangs that fire rockets and mortars indiscriminately at Israeli civilian targets must be prevented from carrying out their murderous activities by the Palestinians themselves. Israeli security and Palestinian hardship can be tackled only through a political process that creates an economically and socially viable Palestinian state, at peace with Israel. Those issues must be addressed together.

I appreciate the contribution that my hon. Friend makes. I assure him that we have exerted serious—as he put it—and consistent pressure on the Israelis either to charge the elected representatives of the people with a crime or to release them. He is right to pursue that point; the situation is unacceptable and does nothing for the reputation of Israeli democracy. We call on all sides to take the crucial measures, clearly set out in the road map, that will lead to peaceful co-existence between two viable states. I urge my hon. Friend to continue his work on the matter. I shall continue mine, and between us we will try to take a balanced approach that will bring relief to the people of Gaza and sustainable peace to the middle east in the near future.

11.27 am

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o’clock.

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Hospices (Funding)

2.30 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): You will be deeply saddened to hear, Mr. Williams, that hospice funding is compromised. Unless action is taken, it will need a life support system. We all know that hospices provide high-quality, innovative care and that their services are free to patients and their families. The NHS has a commitment to providing palliative care to people with life-threatening illnesses. However, charitable hospices play a vital role by providing 80 per cent.—that is four out of five—of the UK’s adult in-patient palliative care beds, as well as important day care services and care in people’s homes. Every UK hospice has to raise, on average, £4,500 a day to provide that care, and £500 a day to maintain and develop their buildings.

The hospice service is growing, but the percentage of annual expenditure funded from Government sources in England has been falling for the past three years. It is now 32 per cent. for adult hospices and 4.5 per cent. for children’s hospices, which are a different case. We can see the results of that fall: in 2005, 43 adult hospices in England were in deficit, whereas a year later that figure had risen to 52. Members will be deeply concerned about that, and no doubt we will hear about specific cases from the excellent Members who are present. Clearly, we need to understand what is happening and to find sustainable solutions. Hospices need to redouble their efforts to secure charitable funds, which are under increasing pressure in the current economic climate, but we must also take action on the provision of public funding.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Like many Members, I should like to pay tribute to the excellent care that hospices provide. I refer in particular to the Earl Mountbatten hospice on the island. It needs £3 million a year to continue providing the excellent care that it provides. Many of my constituents go to great lengths to raise funds for it. Last year, 5,000 people walked the Wight, which is more than 26 miles, raising more than £200,000. Does my hon. Friend agree that hospices such as the Earl Mountbatten provide an invaluable service?

Bob Spink: I anticipated correctly that Members would want to talk about their local hospices in this debate, and that is absolutely right, as there are some fantastic hospices around the country. I know that my hon. Friend has not only fought consistently and diligently for his local hospice, but has supported the hospice movement nationally, and I commend him for that.

The whole House will want to pay tribute to the hospice movement, including staff, volunteers and fundraisers. They are all stars and all deserve recognition for their efforts on behalf of people who are going through an unbelievably traumatic time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I think that there is unanimity on the contribution that hospices make. We want more to be spent on hospices and for them to have a more secure future. I shall talk about that later. Does he accept that we need to consider the amount
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that has been invested in hospices in the past few years, which has increased, and the amount by which we want to increase it, rather than talking about the overall share of hospice funding? The share of funding depends entirely on the amount of money that hospices might have raised through charitable and other means. It is therefore slightly misleading to compare the share of overall resources.

Bob Spink: I accept what the Minister says, and he will make his case in his own way. However, I add that we have to consider whether the outputs that hospices deliver are appropriate and whether those that are met by the public purse are correct, auditable and delivered properly. We need to understand that the demands on hospices are increasing all the time because people are living longer and choosing better ways in which to end their lives—I know that the Minister agrees with me on this—so hospices might spend more money and replace more of what should be done in the NHS. They should be recompensed for that.

People go through an unbelievably traumatic time during their own death or the death of a family member. It is only those who go through such times who can really understand it. My beautiful sister Yvonne passed away just before Christmas, and her funeral, in Bradford, spoke volumes: it was attended by 800 people. She was a star, a wonderful mum and a great youth worker at her local church, hence the big attendance at the funeral service. She had been a district nurse for 30 or 40 years in Bradford, doing superb work, and she was just the same age as me. So, I do understand what families are going through when they have to fall back on hospice services.

I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for selecting this debate and to Members present for coming along and supporting it. I am particularly grateful to Havens hospices in Essex, whose representatives are here in force today, and to Help the Hospices and the UK hospice movement for providing me with information. There is no party political edge to this debate. The Government have made remarkable efforts to support hospices, and the Conservative Front-Bench team rightly sees hospice funding as a priority, so I warmly congratulate both sides. No doubt the Minister will set out the Government’s achievements later.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Spink: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has always been a great supporter of the national hospice movement and his local hospice.

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