|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
while respecting the inviolability of the distinctive signs and emblems of the Convention, Israel will use the Red Shield of David as the emblem and distinctive sign of the medical services of her armed forces.
That is a recognition by Israel that, somehow, the red cross or the UNs emblems have some universality. It concedes that point and uses the red shield of David, which was originally its preferred option, for its armed forces. That is worth pointing out.
Mr. Hayes: That is indeed so, but as my hon. Friend will know, Israels Magen David Adom society uses the unrecognised red star of David as its emblem. As a result, the society is still not a member of the international Red Cross movementsomething that many Israelis think is unjust. As my hon. Friend invites me to say more about Israel, I will do so, with your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Burns: My hon. Friend has made the point that the star of David is an integral part of Israels flag and is used by its military; but on the other side of the coin, of course, Arab and middle eastern states have the crescent on their national flagsPakistan, for example.
Mr. Hayes: That is indeed true, and as a brief examination of the minutes reveals, it was one of the arguments used at the end of the 19th century against the adoption of the red crescent. Many of those who resisted that demand made precisely the point that my hon. Friend makes. Indeed, many people in Israel understand the difficulty, and Israels ambassador to the UN in Geneva shares that opinion. He would like to be a member of the international Red Cross and points out that the MDA is active all over the world. He says that it is often the first on the scenefor example, following the tsunami or earthquakesand that it deserves to be part of the international movement. There is a thirst on the part of Israelis to be part of the movement but a resistance to the use of the symbols that are adopted by the movement.
As I have said, the problem is that the star of David is primarily Israels national symbol, rather than an emblem of humanitarian relief. Even though it is true that the crescent appears on the flags of many states, I am not sure whether one could convincingly argue that those crescents are as intimately associated with the very identity of the nation as is the star of David with Israel. Lest any hon. Member or anyone elsewhere should think that I am critic of the state of Israel, I want to put on record that the opposite is the case. I am a staunch defender of that place and its people, but as a friend, one has the right to be critical on occasion. It would be better if Israel joined that international community and perhaps compromised in the use of universal symbols.
Gillian Merron: I hope that I can assist the hon. Gentleman by confirming that in 2006 the Israeli national society joined the international movement, because of the very subject that we are discussing todaythe addition of the red crystal, along with the red crescent and the red crossso it is not true to say that the Israeli national society is not a member of the international movement.
Mr. Hayes: Yes, that is most helpful of the Minister. Indeed, I have a further note to that effect. Arab states have made it clear, however, that they will never accept recognition of the red star under the Geneva conventions. At the same time, the conventions stipulate that the national relief societies must use only recognised symbols, as she has made clear.
There is a case for the Bill. I do not start from the presumption that it is implicitly unwelcome, but we need a thorough debate about it. Scrutiny in this
place needs to be real and thorough, and the Executive need to be held to account. Opposition Members have made brief interventions, and we hope to hear more from Labour Members
Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend will recall that we have just served on a Public Bill Committee whose evidentiary sittings allowed us to put our questions and concerns to the bodies that would be directly impacted by the legislation. Todays debate on the Bill is rather truncated: does he agree that it would be better for us to break today so that we can have evidence sessions and a proper Public Bill Committee? We could then speak to representatives of the Red Cross and its derivative organisations and get answers to some of our very real concerns.
Mr. Hayes: Indeed. Part of the problem in modern representative democracy is the balance of power between Executive and legislature. I could speak about that at immense length, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you would not allow me to. I will therefore not be encouraged down that tributary because, although fascinating, it would not be relevant to this debate.
I have been encouraged to speak about the difficulty of Israel. That difficulty has been exacerbated by the current circumstances of the middle east, which make it hard for Israel to cross borders and work in the occupied territories. The Minister has said that Israel is prepared to use the red crescent sign outside its borders, once the negotiations are over. Indeed, it has signed an agreement to that effect regarding the occupied territories.
If we are to speak about Israel, it would be perverse not to speak about Syria also. On the surface, and given what the Minister said in her intervention, everything looks promising for the approval of a new emblem. If we had debated the matter a while ago, it would have been possible to assume that it would have been plain sailing.
Switzerland is the repository state for the Geneva conventions. It sent out invitations for a conference on the matter, and the Swiss diplomats who played a key role in getting the agreement between the MDA and the Palestinian Red Crescent were optimistic. One issue might get in the way, however, and that is the fact that many Arab countries already see the third element as an unnecessary accommodation of Israel.
Some people are suggesting that, now that the MDA has agreed to work with the Palestinian Red Crescent in the occupied territories, a similar agreement is necessary for the Golan heights. [ Interruption. ] Is my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) keen to get in?
I mistook my hon. Friends inherent enthusiasm and energy for a desire to intervene. I am always happy to accept interventions from him just as
I am from my experienced and sagacious colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire.
Mr. Greg Knight: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, but I wish to express a different view from the one expressed in the previous intervention. What on earth has the position of Syria to do with whether we approve the Bill?
I accept that the red cross has not always done that, and a few moments ago we talked about the Ottoman empire and the subsequent evolution of the symbols concerned. None the less, the cross and the crescent combined at least seemed to enjoy a universality and a widespread recognition across borders that it is not clear that the new symbol will enjoy. That is why I raised the issue of Syria and the doubts in the Arab world about the motives and effects of the new symbol.
Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend has an enormous intellect, but is there not one slight flaw in his argument? We are not forcing the red crystal on to the Red Cross and the Red Crescent; they want it to be introduced. Is that not the case?
Mr. Hayes: There are three things to note about that intervention. The first is that I do not have an enormous intellect; I am a pygmy among giants in this House. Secondly, of course there are flaws in my argument, because we are all flawed and faulted. We fell from a state of grace a long time ago. It is only having accepted our frailties that we can claim any kind of wisdom or accomplishment. The third point I did not entirely grasp.
Mr. Walker: Well, I repeat my point. We are here in support of the Red Cross, which wants to bring the red crystal into being. We seem to be frightfully concerned about the position of the Red Cross, but it is very much in favour of the use of the red crystal. That is why we should have an evidence session before the Bill goes into Public Bill Committee, as it should do. We could then hear from the Red Cross, and it could make its case directly to us.
Mr. Hayes: That is a good point, and I now understand it. Perhaps my intellect is growing by the moment. It is true that the Red Cross seems comfortable with the proposal, but I am not entirely sure whether that is a defensive response, or whether it is positively in favourwhether it would have sought the measure had circumstances been different from those that I am beginning to describe. It may be that the measure is an accommodation to deal with difficulties, rather than something that the Red Cross would have promoted of its own accord.
Mr. Chope: To what extent has my hon. Friend had regard, in making his argument, to the preamble to schedule 7 to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, which is inserted by the schedule to the Bill? That preamble emphasises
that the distinctive emblems are not intended to have any religious, ethnic, racial, regional or political significance.
Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend anticipates an aspect of the main part of my argument, which I will move on to when I finish these introductory remarks. When I spoke of the significance of symbols, I did not go on to describe in detail the fundamental character of the cross. Chesterton may be right about the reality that lies behind symbols. The reality of the cross is that it was used long before it was associated with Christian imagery. Its universality depends on that ancient lineage.
Mr. Swire: Talking of ancient lineages, we all know that ancient symbols can be hijacked by movements. I refer my hon. Friend to the events of 1977 when, as he will know, the Indian Red Cross Society consulted the International Committee of the Red Cross about using as its symbol a red swastikaa symbol long familiar in Indiaon a white ground. That symbol was, of course, hijacked long after it was invented, and became wholly unacceptable to most of the civilised world.
Mr. Hayes: The swastika was hijacked, as my hon. Friend puts it, from the Greeks, was it not? It is a reference to the Nazis desire to emulate the tokens and symbols of the ancient world. It is true that it has been used in India from ancient times, but it was as a Greek symbol that it gained the admiration of the wicked masterminds of the Third Reich. However, my hon. Friend is right that the hijacking of symbols is important in our considerations today. Indeed, the red cross was used as a symbol relatively recently by terrorists posing as serving a humanitarian purpose when they were, in fact, malevolent in their intent, so symbols in themselves are no guarantee. None the less, it is important that we understand their significance and defend their use where they serve a moral purpose, as I believe the red cross and the red crescent do.
Mr. Greg Knight: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. His last point encapsulated the core of what I was seeking to say to the House earlierthat where someone deliberately uses the symbol and the name to masquerade as a humanitarian unit and then opens fire, perhaps on other people involved in the conflict, that is when the full 30 years imprisonment mentioned in the Bill should come into play. Does my hon. Friend agree that where there is a totally unconnected use of the symbol or the name, as I suggested in my remarks, it is doubtful whether that should even be an offence?
Mr. Hayes: It is not merely malevolence but confusion that we are dealing with. That is why I was attracted by the arguments that my right hon. Friend advanced when he said that he had been on the internetnot a practice that I personally indulge in, but I understand that there are those who have the kind of lives that allow them the time to do soand found that the red symbol was used for all kinds of purposes, none of which seemed to relate to humanitarian aid or any of the purposes of the Red Cross or the Red Crescent.
There is a real risk of confusion resulting from the use of many symbols, combined or separately. The Bill makes it clear that they can indeed be combined in all sorts of ways. I am not sure in how many ways three symbols can be combined.
Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend may be premature in bringing his opening remarks to a conclusion before he has addressed concerns about organisations using the red cross in a way that diminishes its valuethat is, organisations not connected with bringing aid to the third world and war-torn parts of the world.
Mr. Hayes: To confusion and malevolence we may add, I suppose, mischievous use of symbols. It is entirely possible that they might be used for not a criminal but an unhappy, mischievous purpose. The risk is likely to be exacerbated the more symbols we have. I am strongly committed to the principle of a universal symbol, as I highlighted earlier and will speak more about shortly.
I must say a word or two more about Syria. The disputed territory of the Golan heights is what took us to the subject. Because it is disputed territory, some argue that the Syrian Red Crescent should have a role there. We look forward to hearing the Ministers thoughts about that in due course, as we draw to a conclusion later this evening.
The Syrian Red Crescent cannot operate there,
We have no diplomatic relations with Syria, the issue is simply not in the debate. But Im not excluding that some Arab countries will try to raise it, and if they do, the losers will be the Palestinians,
he went on to say. So Geneva, usually a peaceful place, has become a hive of activity as officials have desperately tried to reconcile these conflicting views about the use of the cross, the crescent and other symbols.
The ambassador for Pakistan is negotiating on behalf of 56 countries belonging to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and he said, with notable understatement, that it is all very complicated. It is, and although the Bill looks uncontentious on the surface, it is also complicated. We have no desire to make life difficult for the Government; we want to hold them to account, but only in a way that is appropriate. However, we do expect from them a full explanation of some of those complicated matters.
Mr. Swire: One solution that would do away with all these territorial problemsit would be wholly ridiculous and unacceptable, but would need to be addressed at some stagewould be for us to do away with the red cross and the red crescent altogether as symbols and merely have a non-contentious symbol such as the red crystal. That gets us back to the original idea of having one universally recognised and uncontentious symbol.
Mr. Hayes: We have come to expect such inventiveness from my hon. Friend; we have not heard that argument thus far in the debate, but it has some merit. None the less, I do not agree with it, so I shall move on.
Mr. Hayes: I do not want to be unnecessarily contentious, but I dismiss the point for the reason that I offered at the outset of my contribution. The virtues of the red cross are that it is widely recognised, easy to understand and well established. I know that there are not only conservatives on the Conservative Benches of the House, but I would have thought that my hon. Friend would understand that pretty intrinsic to the Conservative appreciation of the world is the notion that what is time-honoured should be valued, and that changes should be made only when absolutely necessary. By and large I try to resist change, but even I recognise that sometimes it is absolutely necessary. However, surely that does not apply on this occasion.
Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend has slapped me in the face and laid down the gauntlet. Seriously, we must be pragmatic and not ideological about this. The role of the Red Cross is to save as many lives as possible and alleviate suffering wherever it can. At some time in the future, the red crystal may have more resonance in more parts of the world and should be the universal symbol of an organisation bringing aid. Religious baggage should not be attached to the Red Cross because it came from Switzerland. However, such baggage is being attached to that symboland to the crescent, and to the flag under which Israel operates.
Mr. Hayes: That is a perfectly reasonable argument and it would, I suppose, be a way out of this mess. However, the cost of abandoning a well-established emblem such as the red cross would be an expensive price to pay to deal with the albeit important matters implicit in my hon. Friends intervention. There is just as strong an argument for the universal adoption of the red cross, and it has supporters and weight within the international movement. Indeed, as my hon. Friend will know, that argument was made forcefully at the end of the 1940s.
Mr. Swire: I do not want my hon. Friend to read anything into this; I am not abandoning the idea that the Red Cross should be the umbrella organisation. However, he needs to reflect that an enormous numberif not the greatest proportionof the countries where the aid agencies operate, and are likely to be needed in future, are non-Christian. In other words, the number of countries where the Red Cross will operate under the symbol of the red cross must surely diminish in direct proportion to the number where it will operate under the symbol of the red crescent or the red crystal.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|