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In respect of arms, the hon. Gentleman did not quote accurately what I said last week, but I am happy to repeat that it is not yet completely clear what equipment
has been used. However, as with all conflicts, we will take into account the recent conflict and the conduct and methods of the Israeli defence force in that conflict in the assessment of future export licences. To put it on record again, as I did last week, the policy is absolutely clear: where there is a clear risk of shipments of exports being used either for internal repression or for external aggression the export licence is not granted. That remains exactly the position.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a report on whether the so-called consolidated criteria on arms exportsthe EU and national criteria that have been brought in over the last 10 yearsare being adhered to. I can offer him not just a Government report; in a recent case the High Court ruled that the Government were implementing the consolidated criteria in full and without any of the dangers or breaches that had been alleged. It found our application of the consolidated criteria correct in all particulars.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that investigations take place immediately into the use of illegal weapons by Israel, with reports of re-bombing of places that it has already bombed with white phosphorus to try to destroy the evidence, and that all evidence will be collected, collated and put before the International Criminal Court so that these war crimes can be properly investigated and the perpetrators, be they Ministers or not, brought to justice?
David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will know that there are detailed applications of the law on conventional weapons in respect of white phosphorus and it is important that they are followed absolutely and clearly. Certainly, the practice in respect of avoiding its use on populations is very clear and needs to be followed.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Who does the Foreign Secretary expect to pay for the reconstruction of the non-military targets that were either destroyed or severely damaged in the recent bombardment, and does he expect the Government of Israel to make a contribution towards those costs?
David Miliband: In a way, it is good that the financing arrangements have not been the centrepiece of the focus of commitments on reconstruction and that what have been absolutely clear are the commitments to reconstruction themselves. I hope that the whole international community will make a contribution.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): In welcoming the increased aid from the UK to Gaza, may I ask my right hon. Friend to clarify the logic whereby we can send the Royal Navy to enforce an arms ban on Hamas while continuing to sell arms to Israel, after a conflict in which 1,200 Palestinians were slaughtered and four Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets? That is an exchange rate of one Israeli life for 300 Palestinian lives.
It is not least because of those statistics that we have said from the beginning that the response was disproportionate, but that is no comfort to the people at the receiving end. In respect of the logic for which my right hon. Friend asked, the best thing is
to repeat that our arms exports criteria remain some of the toughest in the world. They are explicit in saying that where there is a clear risknot a certainty but a clear riskthat any components would be used for internal repression or external aggression the export does not take place. Given my right hon. Friends record in tackling the illicit flow of arms around the world, he will see that there is logic and good sense in trying to do everything possible to interdict the arms upstream so that they do not become either a source of insecurity for Israel or a reason for Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Getting fresh water into Gaza and dealing with the sewage problems must be a priority, and should be considered as one. When the Foreign Secretary is discussing access to Gaza with his counterparts in Israel, will he not neglect Israels blockade of Gaza by sea and does he think that it could be lifted at some point? Although he is absolutely right in saying that UNRWA will lead on the emergency services needed in Gaza, it will not necessarily lead on reconstruction, so given the British Governments recent experience in both Afghanistan and Iraq, will he state today that Britain will take the lead and convene a conference in London to plan the long-term reconstruction of Gaza?
David Miliband: We certainly want to play a leading role in the reconstruction effort, and the presence of the Department for International Development Minister today in Israel is testimony to that. Of course, in respect of the sea, there are two clear issues: one is how aid comes in; the other is the interdiction of the arms that are going there. The truth is that the main supply of humanitarian aid must be through the crossings, and it can be massively increased, given the blockage that has been in place for quite a long time.
On the UKs contribution to the sea-based interdiction, the Prime Ministers offer on the role for the Royal Navy has been widely welcomed. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) asked me for exact details on how that would work. I am not in a position to provide those exact details, because that depends on what contribution other countries make, but we certainly want to ensure that the Royal Navys expertise is properly used. Its value is being shown around the world at the moment, and I assure hon. Members that we will ensure that the appropriate contribution of the Royal Navy is used to best effect.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends efforts to achieve a ceasefire, and I hope that he will put equal effort into reopening the crossings and lifting the blockade if the ceasefire is to last. Although specific allegations of war crimes must be investigated, does he not agree with the thousands of people who have marched or written to newspapers that Israels conduct of the war has been not only excessive and disproportionate but inhumane, both in scale and method, and an abuse of human rights?
My hon. Friend knows that some very deep legal questions are engaged in the phrases that he has used. In that context, it is better to stick to
the political statements that we have made, which have been clear and unequivocal in our view of the conflict. The legal consequences will of course be investigated, and any legal issues will of course be taken up, but they will rightly be taken up in the courts, rather than here.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Surely, it is not by casualty figures but by the scale of the force that we determine whether action has been disproportionate; but by either yardstick, the Israeli actions in Gaza have been wholly disproportionate. Surely, in the circumstances, it is unthinkable that we should issue export licences to Israel until we have what is not just a ceasefire but a peace deal.
David Miliband: We should certainly not issue export licences for internal repression or external aggression, and we are agreed on that. That is the existing policy. In respect of the first part of the hon. Gentlemans question, both those considerations come into play.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): The aid that my right hon. Friend has announced for humanitarian purposes to the Palestinians is very welcome. Will he confirm that UK taxpayers money will be properly accounted for and that Hamas will not be able to cream off any of that money for its own ends?
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): The only thing that seems to be balanced is opinion in Israel, where 41 per cent. of people appear to support the action and 41 per cent. opposed it. Will the Government find a way to publish their assessment of the conditions of life in the Gaza strip before Operation Cast Lead and now, afterwards? Will the right hon. Gentleman also find a way to make a statement again on the British Governments policy on the wall and its location, on the settlements and on the future possible conflict involving Iran, Israel and perhaps others?
David Miliband: Those in the UN are the best people to tell hon. Members about the situation on the ground. There was a debate last week in the UN Security Council, with a report from Sir John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, precisely on the situation that existed before the conflict and two thirds of the way through itat that stageand, no doubt, there will be a further report from the UN in due course.
I am sure that we will have many occasions on which to debate the wider issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, but the parametersI use the word advisedlyof a solution are widely agreed. In it, the 1967 borders are, more or less, the borders of a Palestinian state and of Israel; any difference from the 1967 borders being accounted for on a one-for-one basis, with Jerusalem being the capital of both countries. I could almost say that there is consensus. There has been consensus between the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership on the long-term vision at various points. Importantly, in the end, the peace cannot be between Israel and the Palestinians
only. It has to be between Israel and the whole Arab world. That is the significance of the comprehensive approach that we advocate.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): When I was in the Gaza strip on 14 April last year, the first thing that we came across, just inside the Erez crossing, was a large lagoon of sewage, in which a five-year-old boy had already died. Raw sewage was pouring into the sea 24/7, and there were piles of rotting rubbish lying in all the streets because the refuse vehicles could not function. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public health situation in Gaza is now even more urgent than it was then, because the population is so traumatised that disease will spread if it takes hold?
David Miliband: Yes, and my hon. Friend did not have time to mention that 13 medical personnel have been killed in the course of the conflict, adding to the dangers of the spread of disease. The emphasis that I have placed on the issue, by talking about not just food and fuel but emergency sanitation equipment, speaks directly to the point that he makes about the sewerage system, or lack of it. That is a significant part of the emergency that still exists, because although things are absolutely terrible now, they could get worse. That is what the whole international community needs to try to avert.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I very much welcome the Governments offer of naval patrol boats as part of an EU force. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that their remit will place equal emphasis on preventing arms smuggling and ensuring the free and fair movement of humanitarian aid and medicines? That is vital. Also, will he assure the House that incidents such as the ramming of the MV Dignity a few days ago by Israeli gunboats will not be repeated when that remit is in place?
David Miliband: The vast bulk of humanitarian aid will go overland, or by air. Certainly, the purposes of the Royal Navy activity relate to the interdiction of smuggling. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the humanitarian advice that we are getting, from the US and elsewhere, is that it is overland work that is absolutely critical to the humanitarian situation.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): Following the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), as the Navy will be deployed in preventing the importation of arms, can we at least seriously consider whether it should be deployed to ensure the importation by sea of any goods that the Palestinians need? We would thus restore the Royal Navy to its ancient task of ensuring the freedom of the seas and breaking blockades.
David Miliband: I take my right hon. Friends point very seriously. If there is any way for the Royal Navy to play a positive role in ensuring that humanitarian relief gets to people who need it more quickly, of course we should find and use that option. I have to say that it has not yet been suggested that my right hon. Friends idea is necessary, but I know exactly the spirit in which he makes the suggestion, and I assure him that I will look into it.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I was going to ask a similar question. What kind of ports and harbours are there on the coast to the west of Gaza, and are there any plans to extend those ports, temporarily or permanently?
David Miliband: They are very limited; that is the answer. The hon. Gentleman will know that Gaza airport has been closed for a number of years, and that is the obvious way in which to try to get aid in fast, which is important.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend rightly says that the ferocious violence has reverberated around the world. Many hundreds of people from Crawley have contacted me to raise concerns and make suggestions. Will he give me an assurance that those concerns and suggestions will get to the heart of Government, so that we can dissuade violent and extremist behaviour, and so that those people can know that he is listening to their concerns?
David Miliband: I am happy to confirm that. People all over the country have become engaged, and have focused on the crisis for the past three weeks for good reason. The reverberations do indeed go around the world, and I am happy to hear representations, or discuss further with my hon. Friend the views of her constituents.
Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Ind Lab): First, may I remind the Foreign Secretary that there was a ceasefire before, and the consequence was that Israel tightened and tightened the siege, then it started the bombing in early November that broke the ceasefire? Secondly, there is no peace process, because Israel keeps breaking the Geneva convention, building more settlements and the wall, and the roads are subject to closure. We will not achieve progress without action on Israel, requiring it to comply with international law. We need action in the Security Council to set up a war crimes tribunalthat is how we can get action. So what action will the Foreign Secretary take to ensure that Israel is held to account under the Geneva convention? Otherwise, there will be no progress.
David Miliband: I said last week in this House that, although the immediate trigger for the crisis was the upsurge in rocket attacks after 19 December, as the right hon. Lady rightly says, in the preceding six months there was a ceasefire only in name, because there were rocket attacks, a tightening of the blockade, a further closing of the crossings and a deterioration in the humanitarian situation. I do not quite subscribe to the sequence that she put on those three facts, because I think that they all happened at the same time: there were further attacks, a further tightening of the blockade and a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation. It is obviously vital not just that the Security Council remain engagedthat is why I was in New York last week, and why we continue to believe that the Security Council has an important role to play. It is also why I emphasised the Madrid modelit is not the exact model for the future, but it engaged the international community fundamentally in those issues. It is important, too, that every signatory to any international convention adhere to its requirements and to international humanitarian law in general.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): May I welcome the Governments early and consistent call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and may I contrast it with the situation in Lebanon, as such a call was not made then? If there is to be an investigation, will my right hon. Friend assure me that it will take account of the frustration and anger at the timing of the attack? The Gaza people have suffered, and they are victims of a double whammy. First, the forthcoming elections in Israel have been used for some perverse reason by Israeli politicians to show their toughness. Secondly, those same politicians have exploited the dying days of the Bush Administration, which should be taken into consideration.
David Miliband: I hope that my hon. Friend understands that I shall not comment directly on the implications for the Israeli general election. It is clear that the peace process of the past year was too slow in making progress, which is at the heart of the ticking time bomb in Gaza that went off to such devastating effect. It is certainly to the return of some sort of inclusive process that we are dedicated.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is the harsh reality not that those two unilateral ceasefires are extremely vulnerable unless the international community convinces lots of ordinary Israelis that there is a better route to their security that does not involve the slaughter of the past few days, and convinces a great many more Palestinians that there is a route to a viable Palestinian state that depends on engaging with the peace process?
David Miliband: Yes. The drive for an end to the stateless tragedy of the Palestinians and the insecurity of the Israelis has been a race against time for a long time. At the moment, time is winning, rather than the peace process. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it gets, and the more serious the consequences of failure, as we have seen over the past few devastating weeks. That is why I am glad to have, if I may say so, the right hon. Gentlemans support, as well as his partys support, in pursuing a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the problem, which requires every country, not just the United States, to play a part.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that the people of Gaza made Hamas their elected choice in what were described as free and fair elections. The Israelis have locked up 45 Hamas MPs, and some Fatah MPs as well. What can my right hon. Friend do to secure the release of the properly elected representatives, either to stand trial or to be let go?
David Miliband: My right hon. Friend has made an important point. We should continue precisely to make the case that those people should be either charged or released. They have now been in custody for at least 18 months, I think. That is an unacceptably long period, and they must either face the law or be allowed to go about their business.
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