I should make it absolutely clear to the hon. Member for Slough that the Salvation Army and its subcontractors have not been prevented from speaking to the evidence sessions. I understand that each of them has been contacted personally by Ministry of Justice officials who have encouraged them to make their important contributions to the process. I want to ensure that, as we proceed with the draft Bill, the pre-legislative scrutiny and, subsequently, the Bill in its final form, we have an opportunity to consider all the input—and that will

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include careful reflection on much of what has been said today about issues such as non-prosecution and domestic abuse.

I believe that the debate has sent a clear and ringing message about our commitment to ensuring that this appalling crime is dealt with firmly, effectively and finally for the benefit of all the victims of this trade, and to achieving together what I think we all want to achieve: the consigning of modern slavery to the history books, which is where it ought to be.

4.57 pm

Fiona Mactaggart: I think that I have had a unique experience today: this is the first time in my 17 years in Parliament that I have agreed with almost every single word of every single speech in a debate. I thank all who have contributed, particularly the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), whose endorsement of the call for the return of the overseas domestic worker visa is, in my view, likely to have much more impact than anything that I might say. I hope that we can work together to ensure that that happens.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) conveyed the voice of victims to us very powerfully. I loved the call from the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for us all to become, in effect, dropped-kerb vigilantes; I think that if we take up that challenge, we shall be able to find a practical way of preventing modern-day slavery. The call from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) for specialist foster care for children was echoed by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), whose reference to the excellent Barnardo’s pilot scheme reminded us of the need for practical action. Strikingly, the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) emphasised, from opposite sides of the House, the importance of action to deal with the international sex trade in children. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) asked specifically whether we could make trafficking and slavery an aggravating factor in sentencing.

I entirely understand why the Minister was not able to answer every question that he was asked, and I thank him for his specific response to the challenge that I issued about victims’ organisations. I hope that during the debate which will carry on he will be able to answer some of the very practical challenges that we have heard during this debate. Specifically, I hope he will address the call by the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) for civil penalties to be part of the suite of actions that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority can take and for more effective actions on houses in multiple occupation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) reminded us that practical—

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Business without Debate

Business of the House (10 December)

Motion made,

That at the sitting on Tuesday 10 December, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means

5 Dec 2013 : Column 1191

may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business.




Hon. Members: Object.


Heaton Chapel Train Station (Stockport)

5 pm

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): It is my pleasure to present this petition on behalf of the Friends of Heaton Chapel Station.

The petition states:

The Petition of Friends of Heaton Chapel train station,

Declares that 619,506 passengers purchase tickets at Heaton Chapel train station every year; further declares that there is currently no disabled access to the train station; further declares that Heaton Chapel train station is not compliant with national legislation; and further declares that accessibility for disabled people at Heaton Chapel train station must be improved and barriers to transport removed in accordance with the Department for Transport’s March 2006 “Railways for All” strategy.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Transport to work in conjunction with Transport for Greater Manchester, Stockport MBC, Network Rail and Northern Rail to undertake an urgent feasibility study setting out a business case to support the provision of new disabled access facilities and further requests that the House urges the Department for Transport to give greater priority to improve Greater Heaton Chapel train station over all other less well used stations in Greater Manchester.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Occupied Palestinian Territories (Water Shortages)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Claire Perry.)

5.1 pm

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the acute water shortages in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Perhaps it would be useful if I started by referring to an article by Giles Fraser, who until recently was the canon chancellor at St Paul’s cathedral. While on a visit to a refugee camp near Jerusalem, he went to the local secondary school, which has 2,000—not 200—pupils. There had not been any running water there for some nine months—we can only imagine that type of situation. The pupils did not quite understand the purpose of the visit, but they hoped that it would bring the supply of water, but it did not.

I checked with the Library yesterday to see whether there had been any response from the Israelis. Usually the Israeli embassy is quick to respond to criticism, but apparently there was no response to that article in a national newspaper, so I decided to look further into the situation of water in the territories occupied by Israel. There can be little doubt that there is much wrong and unacceptable with the availability of drinkable water and that those who are under the Israeli occupation are denied access to necessary water.

The reports that have been made on the situation show that the average Palestinian uses some 50 litres of water daily, which, as I am sure the Minister is aware, is just half the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation, the average Israeli uses at least four times that amount, and sometimes uses more. Nearly 10% of Palestinian communities in the west bank—about 200,000 people—have no connection to any drinking water system at all. That should be of utmost concern to all Members of Parliament. Because of restrictions on movement, travelling to buy water is far from easy. Indeed in some circumstances, Palestinians pay up to 40% of their total income on water alone.

The Joint Water Committee was established to administer the water arrangements under the Oslo accords. It is true that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have representation on that committee, but there is one snag: Israel has a veto. That veto has been used on new water drilling for Palestinians. Again, I make a comparison. That veto is frequently used when it comes to Palestinian water development, but it does not apply to the settlers or to those who are given every encouragement to live on land occupied by Israel, which is illegal under international law. Again, that is a matter that should concern us.

Palestinians are frequently prevented from developing water infrastructure, particularly in area C in the occupied territories, and that is where Israel maintains exclusive control. The Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group—EWASH— of which I am sure the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and the Minister are aware, is made up of some 30 humanitarian agencies and it has involved itself in every possible way in trying to assist Palestinians over the water situation. It does a first-class job and should be supported in every way.

In its report, EWASH stated that between 1995 and 2011, Palestinians submitted 30 waste water treatment plant projects to the Joint Water Committee. How

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many were accepted? Was it 20, 15 or 10? No, it was four. Just four out of the 30 projects that the Palestinians put forward were accepted. In 2011, the Palestinian Water Authority submitted 38 projects to the Joint Water Committee, and out of that 38, how many were approved? Was it 30, 15, or 10? No, it was just three. As EWASH said, that is an approval rate of under 8%. Something is wrong and unacceptable. Pressure should be put on the Israelis over that situation.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. Does he agree that there is a legal and moral responsibility on every Government, particularly when they claim to be civilised and democratic, to treat all their citizens equally and fairly and, under international law, that also applies to civilians whose country has been occupied in defiance of the Geneva convention and UN resolutions. Even in apartheid South Africa, I do not recall the Government depriving anyone of water in the way that the Government of Israel have done with the Palestinians.

Mr Winnick: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that his words will be noted by the Minister, and perhaps even by the Israeli authorities; we shall see. I do not disagree with what he said.

An Amnesty report said that Israeli settlers in the occupied areas use up to 20 times more water than Palestinian villages. What of the Gaza strip where Israel gave up control and prided itself that it no longer controlled the area? It says that things were now up to the people of Gaza. Now, this is a terrible statistic and it should shame us that we allow it to occur without constant pressure: some 90% of the water in Gaza is unfit for consumption. That figure comes from an Amnesty report. The continued Israeli military action prevents much of the equipment needed to maintain water treatment facilities from being imported.

Let me mention that figure again: 90% of the water in that territory, Gaza, is unfit for consumption. During the operation in which Israel was involved, which is well known, water pipes were destroyed as a result of military action. In a debate in the Lords on 3 July last year, much concern was expressed over the situation in Gaza and rightly so. Lord Warner had been twice to Gaza and confirmed that 90% of Gaza’s water is not drinkable. What about the population of that area? Half of the population are under 18.

My politics are far removed from those of Hamas. I have nothing in common with the politics of Hamas and no one would expect me to, as a left-leaning Labour Member of Parliament. My loathing of all forms of anti-Semitism and, indeed, racism, has been with me all my life—perhaps since before I was teenager—and will be with me until my dying day. I make my position absolutely clear, but that does not alter the fact that when injustice is involved, whoever is in control—whether that is in Israel or somewhere else in the world—it is our job to do as much as we can. Indeed, the previous debate on slavery demonstrated that we are not indifferent to what is happening in places where there is so much injustice.

I have come back to this point time and again in this brief speech: there must be the utmost pressure on Israel. That pressure should obviously come from the British Government but it should also come from the

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United States, as the United States has far more ability to put pressure on Israel than we have. I know that the United States would say that it has encouraged talks between the two sides—I am pleased about that—and that it does not want to interfere too much as they want the talks to proceed. That is not much consolation, however, for those 2,000 people to whom I referred who were studying at the school. For all I know, the situation that Giles Fraser wrote about, in which there is no water at all, has not changed.

It is simply not good enough for western Governments to refuse to raise the issue at every opportunity. I hope that will change and that western Governments—certainly ours—will raise the issue at the United Nations and do everything possible to bring a change.

Let me conclude by quoting a Palestinian whose words are in the Amnesty report, “Thirsting for Justice.” These are his words. He is an ordinary Palestinian, not someone in politics or in national life in any way. He said:

“Water is life. Without water we cannot live...it’s very difficult and expensive”


“bring water from far away…They make our life very difficult, to make us leave.”

5.13 pm

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): I thank the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) for calling this debate and want to say at the outset that I agree with pretty much every word he said.

We take access to clean water for granted in the UK. We rarely question where the water in our taps and sanitation systems comes from and we assume it will be there again the next day. We take it for granted that it has been treated effectively to make it safe for us to use. The same cannot be said of those living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories today. Water resources there are limited. A lack of rainfall in recent years, inadequate infrastructure and the inequitable distribution of water resources with Israel combine to make life very difficult.

We cannot do anything about the naturally arid environment, but we can address the binding human and political constraints that perpetuate this problem. It is an injustice that in the 21st century Palestinians should still lack for something as basic as clean water and sanitation. Let me reassure the House that the UK and others are working to right this wrong.

In the west bank, the story begins with the unfair and unequal allocation of resources. Palestinians, as the hon. Gentleman said, are limited to withdrawing 20% of the water from the aquifers underneath the west bank. Domestic usage, understandably, is prioritised, leaving little left over for the vital irrigation of agricultural land. Palestinians have to buy water from the Israeli national water company to make up any shortfall. In 2012, this cost about $37million. Illegal Israeli settlers, on the other hand, do not have to worry—they are free to consume, on average, four times as much water per capita as Palestinians in the west bank.

Around 200,000 Palestinians in the west bank have no access to piped water at all. Half of Palestinian wells have dried up over the past 20 years. The only option, as the hon. Gentleman said, is to travel to buy tankered water—an option made all the more difficult by Israeli

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movement and access restrictions in place across much of the west bank. As a result, communities depending on tankered water pay up to 400% more for every single litre than those connected to the water network; and, of course, there is no guarantee of its quality.

That is no minor inconvenience. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group, which co-ordinates efforts by around 30 donors and agencies to improve water and sanitation in the west bank and Gaza. It estimates that in isolated communities in the west bank, water consumption can be as low as 20 litres per person per day. Even worse than the hon. Gentleman’s description of that is the fact that that is the minimum amount recommended by the World Health Organisation in emergencies to sustain life.

We are perhaps more accustomed to hearing about such precarious situations in Gaza. While the situation there has indeed been precarious for a long time, in recent months things have only got worse. Today, only 15% of Gaza’s population receive clean running water daily. The Gaza aquifer is set to become too polluted for use by 2016, and will be irreversibly damaged by 2020. Just two weeks ago, the failure of the main sewage pumping station in Gaza City led to 35,000 cubic metres of raw sewage flooding into the streets.

There the problem is not so much access to water, but the ability to treat and distribute it effectively. Why? In part, it is because Israel continues to limit the import of construction and dual-use materials into Gaza that are necessary for building pipelines and pumping stations. The Gazan economy remains stifled, so there is no way in which it could pay for the infrastructure anyway. Recent actions by Egypt to close the smuggling tunnels have cut off a lifeline and served to make the situation even more difficult.

In fact, water shortages in the west bank and Gaza are part of a much bigger problem. Even while the US-led middle east peace talks continue, life for ordinary Palestinians is getting worse. We have seen a spike in settlement announcements and demolition orders. Violence has erupted in east Jerusalem and the west bank and unemployment is on the rise.

To make the case for peace, which this Government firmly believe in, we need to bring about real and tangible change on the ground, and to do so before it is too late. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has made clear, there is no more urgent global priority in 2013 than the search for middle east peace. We see a two-state solution as the best way to meet the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

So, first, we will continue to support efforts to achieve a negotiated peace. Working with our EU partners and with the US, we will encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to take the bold steps needed to reach an agreement. Hard work and difficult choices lie ahead, but we are ready to provide support in any way we can. In part, that will include support to the Kerry-led economic package to foster private sector led, sustainable economic growth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Mr Winnick: We all want to see a satisfactory settlement to the negotiations—but a settlement that would mean a sovereign Palestine, no less sovereign than Israel, and

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not some kind of statelet. But how can it be said that the Israelis are really genuinely committed when they are continuing to build settlements on land where, as we know, it is illegal under international law?

Mr Duncan: It is very clear in the policy of Her Majesty’s Government that we totally condemn the illegal construction of settlements. They are an impediment to peace, and of course are an essential component of the discussions which we hope will lead to a successful conclusion next year. In the meantime, to assist those discussions, we in the Department for International Development and the Government, working with the EU, are doing our best to underpin some economic progress. For instance, our plan aims to generate investment of $4 billion, increase Palestinian gross domestic product over the next three years, and reduce unemployment to single digits. Water is one of the sectors set to receive private and public sector support in this plan, and we will get behind that.

We will continue to lobby Israel to make good on its promises made in September to improve access to water for Palestinians. This includes doubling the amount of water sold to the Gaza strip, and reviving the Joint Water Committee to adopt a truly co-operative approach to shared water resources. We know that Israel has made excellent progress in water technology in recent years. From drip-irrigation to desalination, perhaps no other country has contributed more breakthroughs in the area of water and food security than Israel. What an opportunity there is now to share this advance with its neighbours.

Finally, we will do what DFID does best, which is to provide practical support for those most in need. We recently agreed to provide a further £10 million of support to the International Committee of the Red Cross to further its important work on human rights and humanitarian assistance. As part of this support, over 60,000 people in Gaza and the west bank will have improved access to clean water in 2013 alone.

Mr Winnick rose

Mr Duncan: I sense that the hon. Gentleman is itching to intervene again.

Mr Winnick: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene a second time. Ambassadors are sometimes called in when we feel that some injustice is taking place and it would be appropriate for the Minister or the Foreign Secretary to speak to the ambassador as a result. Could not the Israeli ambassador be called in to discuss some of what the Minister has said or what I have said? The Minister said that he agreed with every word I said. He is not likely to repeat that on any future parliamentary occasion, I imagine, but could not the ambassador be brought in and told of the concern felt by so many Members of Parliament on both sides of the House?

Mr Duncan: I and the House, I sense, share the hon. Gentleman’s sense of injustice, but I hope he will allow me to stay within the remit of DFID and not stray into the areas of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by making a judgment on the call that he has just made.

I am pleased to be able to tell the House this evening that the UK is also embarking on a new programme of support to help provide water to irrigate agricultural

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land in area C of the west bank—a critical area to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The World Bank recently estimated that better irrigation in area C could boost the Palestinian economy by more than $700 million. To that end, as the DFID Minister, I have just agreed £1.8 million to restore agricultural wells serving nearly 1,000 farming families. We will be helping farmers to work more productively. For each £1 invested in rehabilitating groundwater wells, we can expect an additional 16 kg or 17 kg of vegetables to be produced annually.

Sir Bob Russell: Does the Minister think it right that British taxpayers’ money should be used to do work made necessary by the behaviour of the Israeli Government?

Mr Duncan: I detect in the hon. Gentleman’s question the suggestion, which I think is slightly warped logic, that somehow our support for the Palestinian Authority subsidises the occupation. That is not the logic that we adopt. We believe that our support for the Palestinian Authority is underpinning an organisation that is a

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putative Government for a Palestinian state that we hope will be the result of the negotiations that are under way.

It is our wish to build a viable Palestinian state and to protect those who are most vulnerable. On the specific topic of this debate, water shortages are a stark reminder of the harshness of Palestinian daily life. From the farmer in the west bank who cannot grow the same produce as his settler neighbour, to the family in Gaza having to wade through sewage to get home, the situation is unfair and untenable. Indeed, it is unjust. It is essential that peace negotiations on a two-state solution include discussions on shared water resources as part of a final status agreement, and it is essential that Israel makes good on its promises to improve access to water. In the meantime, Her Majesty’s Government and DFID will continue to support those who most need our help in any way we can.

Question put and agreed to.

5.25 pm

House adjourned.