Previous Section Index Home Page

David Miliband: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. As the House knows, there is publicly available history here, dating back to the 1980s, upon which it is reasonable to reflect in the light of the incident that has most recently taken place. It is right to be extremely cautious when saying anything
23 Mar 2010 : Column 136
about the investigations that are being conducted by other countries. They are continuing, as I said in my statement, and I did not press the Foreign Ministers to whom I spoke yesterday, and this morning actually, for details. All of them were clear that these investigations were being conducted by independent authorities in their own countries and needed to be carried to their conclusion. That is right. They did not give me a time frame for when they would conclude, either. It is right to make it clear to the House that no country had as many passports involved in this sorry affair as the United Kingdom; no other country was even close to double digits.

We are clear that we keep our travel advice up to date, so the response that we seek from the Israeli Foreign Minister in reply to my request for a specific assurance will of course affect what our travel advice about the situation and its consequences.

In respect of biometric passports, the Government believe that they are as invulnerable as possible, which was, I think, the right hon. Gentleman's phrase. They are certainly not more vulnerable than passports from the rest of the EU. The link to biometric fingerprinting is obviously important in this case in strengthening the security of the passports.

Finally, on the UAE, its investigation is continuing. It is too early for the Foreign Minister of the UAE to have given me any suggestion of a tightening of his visa regime but it is important that we continue to support the UAE in its investigation, which it is carrying out in an extremely professional way.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me an advance copy of it. Now that SOCA has concluded that British passports were indeed misused by Israel, may I join him in expressing our deep concern? It is indeed intolerable that a close ally should treat Britain and British nationals in this way. I fully support the proportionate measures proposed by the Foreign Secretary today. It is difficult to get the correct balance when dealing with a state such as Israel that is a close friend of this country, but I believe that he has judged it well.

I have three areas for brief questions. First, will Ministers and SOCA work with other countries whose sovereignty may have been breached by Israel on these occasions to assist them in their investigations? In answer to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Foreign Secretary touched on this, but is Britain offering our support to those countries with their investigations?

Secondly, given that it is alleged that these counterfeit passports were used in an extra-judicial killing by Israeli agents, has the gravity of that misuse been weighed in the balance in the Government's response? Thirdly, and more widely, although I strongly agree with the action that the Foreign Secretary has taken today, may I invite him to reflect on how the expulsion of a diplomat in response to passport fraud, serious though that is, might look to Palestinians in Gaza, the west bank and elsewhere, who have been the victims of more serious breaches of international law by Israel? Given the action that he has taken today, can he assure me that when it comes to policy issues such as the blockade of Gaza and illegal settlements on the west bank, the Government
23 Mar 2010 : Column 137
are willing to back stronger condemnation of Israel, as President Obama and other EU countries now appear willing to do? We are right to feel like wounded friends of Israel over these passports, but we must also be ready to be more critical friends of Israel over matters that are harming the peace process and are also not in Israel's long-term interests.

David Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who speaks for the official Opposition, for their support. It is important that a united message goes out from across the political parties about the necessary nature of the measures that we have taken today, significant though they are.

On the hon. Gentleman's questions, first I should say that, when asked, SOCA is available to help partner agencies around the world. Secondly, the matter of gravity that the SOCA investigation was looking into was confined to the passport counterfeiting, cloning and so on; SOCA was not conducting an investigation into the alleged murder in Dubai. SOCA's investigation was narrowly construed, but none the less it has wide-ranging ramifications alongside the other inquiries that have been taking place.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman will know that it is my very strong view that engagement with the people and Government of Israel is essential if we are to convey to them the concern we have about issues such as Gaza, which he raised. The situation in Gaza was discussed yesterday at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels as part of a wide-ranging discussion following the Quartet meeting with the Quartet envoy, Tony Blair, yesterday. So the measures that we have taken today, including those relating to a member of the Israeli embassy, relate to the investigations that have taken place in the run-up to this announcement.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on being the first western statesman to take specific action against the serial crimes committed by the Israeli Government? However, he surely must recognise that anybody passing through the corrupt passport control and airport security system at Ben Gurion airport is liable to have her or his passport cloned and abused. If he wishes to have any further information about my own personal experiences of those corrupt systems, I shall pass it on to him.

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend has certainly added to the gravity of the situation with the issue that he has raised, and I certainly would like to see whatever information he has available. I think that not only the measures that we have announced but the advice that we have given on the Foreign Office website as of now will provide a degree of warning and protection for any traveller to Israel and will allow them to mitigate the risks that they might face.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Like the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), I consider myself a friend of Israel, but on this particular occasion I think that we have a legitimate grievance. May I take the Foreign Secretary back to his statement?
23 Mar 2010 : Column 138
He has made much of his discussions with the Israeli Foreign Minister, in which it seems that most of this pressure has been about what will happen in the future. Surely what we need to establish from the Israeli Government is an acceptance that they were involved in this incident, not just a suggestion that they should not be engaged in similar incidents in the future. May I ask the Foreign Secretary to press his counterpart in Israel to admit at some stage that the Israeli Government were involved in this before admitting that they will not do anything similar in future?

David Miliband: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I can say to him that in my meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister-also in Brussels, as it happens, last month-I pressed him very strongly on the circumstances of this incident. He said-he has said this publicly-that he had no information relating to the incident. Although I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, I am sure he will also recognise that there is an ongoing criminal investigation in the UAE into the alleged murder that is the primary focus of the legal side of this affair. It is helpful, though, for him to have made his view clear about the seriousness of this issue. Israel has a huge amount to gain from adherence to international law and international obligations and it is very important that a message goes out that we expect that in all cases.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I ask the Foreign Secretary to clarify whether the diplomat leaving London will be selected by the Israeli ambassador or whether a specific person is being expelled whose fingerprints have been found in relation to this matter? If it is the latter, this is a very limp response. If the person is guilty of being part of this fraudulent dealing with our passports, the House should be told.

David Miliband: As I said very clearly in my statement, the request for an individual to leave-and the decision of the Israelis to accede to that request-was made by us. It was linked, precisely as I have said, in the work that we have done to the investigations that have taken place. We were very clear with the Israeli authorities about the basis on which we were asking for an individual to leave.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): What the Foreign Secretary has described is a criminal conspiracy to facilitate murder, probably contrary to UK domestic law under the terrorism legislation. That being so, has the Foreign Secretary considered what officials not in the Israeli Government or elsewhere, not covered by diplomatic privilege, may be liable to criminal sanctions before the UK courts? If he has, what steps does he intend to take to pursue that matter, for example through the issuing of international warrants of arrest?

David Miliband: As we have discussed in this House many times, the procedures for arrest-never mind for prosecution-are not ones that are in the hands of the Government. The measures that we have taken in this case have obviously been carefully weighed and walked through with legal advisers as well as with others who were conducting the investigation. I think that that is the right basis on which to leave it.

23 Mar 2010 : Column 139

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): I welcome the statement from my right hon. Friend, and given the fact that this extra-judicial murder was an affront to British interests and British subjects, it was quite inevitable. However, this action was not aberrant-it was a measure of the impunity and illegality with which Israel acts. At this very moment, as we speak, 1.5 million Palestinians are illegally trapped, blockaded and destitute in Gaza, and in the west bank their land and their water are stolen daily and defenceless children are shot. When are we going to take this forward on a greater level and condemn more actively than we do the wider actions of an ally that is rapidly becoming a rogue and pariah state?

David Miliband: I am pleased to be able to say that we discuss often, in this House and elsewhere, the situation in the middle east and, specifically, the situation in Gaza as well as that in the west bank. One has to choose one's words and cases carefully. My hon. and learned Friend is right that settlement building, if that is what he was referring to, is not only a roadblock on the road to any kind of peace settlement or Palestinian state, but illegal. It is contrary to international law and that is something that we make very clear. We should continue to recognise that there is a strong British national interest in a resolution of the conflict at the heart of the middle east that is based on a Palestinian state that is able to live alongside Israel but that is also based on Arab states being able to normalise their relations with Israel on the basis of the Arab peace initiative, which was published in 2002.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made is just as important even if one is not dealing with an alleged killing. The courts of England send people with no previous convictions to prison for passport forgery and their sentences are measured in years. What does this story tell us about the integrity of the Government's proposals for identity cards? Does it not undermine the Government's case?

David Miliband: I am delighted that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised that point, because it makes a very strong case precisely for the national identity register that we propose. I think that many people, if they can be diverted from the issue at hand for a moment, will see that the determination to have a national identity register precisely fits into the sort of concerns that people have about identity theft. Actually, the case is made for the proposal that the Government have put forward, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will reconsider his opposition to it.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): In his statement, the Foreign Secretary said that

That being said, why is only one diplomat being removed and why not much higher up the chain? Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the Israeli Government were culpable in the act of deception over the passports and the murder, or does he believe that some quasi-state authority in Israel undertook it in the name of that country?

23 Mar 2010 : Column 140

David Miliband: I make no allegations about quasi-state authorities in this case. Let me address the point that we should have moved, as my hon. Friend put it, higher up the chain. He is saying that we should either have expelled the Israeli ambassador or have withdrawn our ambassador from Israel. I do not believe that that would have been the right thing to do. In fact, it would have been a retrograde thing to do, because it is vital that we are able to express with passion, commitment and principle to the Government of Israel the feelings from across the House and within the Government. It is essential that we are able to do so in this country and in Israel itself. The last thing that we should be advocating is the isolation of Israel; we do not advocate the isolation of Iran and we do not advocate the isolation of Israel either. That would be quite the wrong lesson to draw from this affair. However, it is important that my hon. Friend recognises that the decision that we have taken about this case and about the withdrawal of a member of the embassy's staff is designed to be targeted and effective, and I believe it will be.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Does the Secretary of State understand that his statement today displayed remarkable restraint and fastidiousness? He described the operation as "sophisticated" and said there was "compelling" evidence, in relation to passports, of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. From that, he concluded that

What factors stand in the way of his reaching a similar conclusion regarding the killing in Dubai itself?

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said that the steps I was taking were unprecedented, and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) says that we have been fastidious, so I look forward to their arguing that out. Perhaps we have struck the right balance. On the alleged murder in Dubai, the investigations are continuing and we wait to see what the UAE authorities conclude on that matter.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement and the action that he has taken, as well as the speed with which SOCA has completed its report. I appreciate that aspects of the report ought to remain confidential, but will he confirm that they have been shared with the head of the Identity and Passport Service and the head of the UK Border Agency?

David Miliband: I want to check the details of the internal sharing, but I am happy to write to my right hon. Friend on that matter.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The Foreign Secretary sought an assurance from the Israeli Foreign Minister. Does he expect such an assurance to be given?

David Miliband: I very much hope that such an assurance will be given and I very much hope that it will be given soon.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, which referred to the "killing" in Dubai, whereas the heading on the Annunciator
23 Mar 2010 : Column 141
referred to the alleged "murder". I seek assurances that the Government are not trying to signal some ambiguity as to the criminal character of state-sponsored assassination. He has told us what Foreign Minister Lieberman told him yesterday, denying any knowledge. Does he believe Mr. Lieberman? If not, how can we believe any assurances that Mr. Lieberman gives in future?

David Miliband: I believe that in Israel the system for governance of the intelligence agencies is rather different from the system in this country, as the Foreign Minister explained. The Foreign Ministry does not have the line of responsibility for foreign intelligence in the way that it does in this country, where the Secret Intelligence Service is responsible to me. That is not how the system works in Israel, and I take at face value exactly what the Foreign Minister said to me a month ago and yesterday.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): In 2004, relations between New Zealand and Israel were put on hold after a robust reaction from New Zealand to Israeli sovereignty violations. In 2005, the then Israeli Foreign Minister apologised to New Zealand. Will the UK be demanding from Israel the same respect it showed New Zealand, especially given that UK passports were used to facilitate a murder? Will the removal from the embassy be random or specific? Are the people to be chosen by Israel or by the UK?

David Miliband: We actually answered that earlier-in the second question. It is not a random selection, and it is made not by the Government of Israel but by us.

If the hon. Gentleman goes back to the 2004 case, he will find some significant differences from this case. I think that the information that I have seen about it is available in the public domain. However, he will see clearly from my statement the degree of concern that we have, and the measures we have taken.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I welcome the Government's robust action and I oppose the isolation of Israel. Nevertheless, why does the UK continue to regard successive Governments of Israel as friends and allies of the UK, when they repeatedly demonstrate-as in this passports case-that they pay little or no attention to the UK and we appear to have no real influence whatever over Israel?

David Miliband: I am not entirely with my hon. Friend in his description. We have some strong shared interests with Israel and we do some important work together. However, in cases when Israel flouts the friendship
23 Mar 2010 : Column 142
between our countries, it is vital that the Government speak up without fear or favour, which is what we have done in this case.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I think we can rest assured that even Mossad will think twice before trying to steal the identity of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman).

Given the importance of the proportionate response that the Foreign Secretary has rightly outlined to the House, how was it that the BBC, nearly two hours before he made his statement to the House, put up a news item headed, "Britain to expel Israeli diplomat", quoting diplomatic sources? Should that not have been said in the House first?

David Miliband: I am glad to have the opportunity to tell the hon. Gentleman that of course the House should be the first to hear. I have been assured that there is no suggestion of the Foreign Office being the source, and I am determined that when we have something to say it should be said here first.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I commend my right hon. Friend on his decisive action in expelling a so far unnamed diplomat from the Israeli embassy, although he is of course welcome to name him. I have the diplomatic list, from the ambassador to the defence attaché, who, to refer to the previous question, just happens to be a Colonel Kaufman.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to take similar action every time Israel disregards the law, whether it is by building settlements, building the wall in occupied territory, the annexation of east Jerusalem, targeting civilians in Gaza or the use of human shields?

David Miliband: We are clear that it is important that Israel has diplomats in this country. We think it is important that we are able to engage with them in a way that allows them to reflect in their own society, and their own country, the degree of passion in this country. I assure my hon. Friend that on the issues he has raised we speak very clearly to the Israeli embassy as well as to the Israeli people.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Could the Foreign Secretary be clearer? He has been very evasive about the person who will be expelled. Could the Foreign Secretary say what position the person held? Did he have any relationship to Mossad?

David Miliband: I am not going to give any further information about the individual concerned, and I am not going to describe anything further about the role that he played. I have been very clear about the basis on which he was chosen. That is the right thing to do.

Next Section Index Home Page