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House of Lords

Wednesday, 30th July 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

The Lord Grade--Took the Oath.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before the commencement of business, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to attend a meeting of the Cabinet tomorrow morning, 31st July, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Message from the Queen: Succession to the Crown

The Earl of Airlie: My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:

    "I have received your Address and, relying on the wisdom of my Parliament, I desire that my prerogative and interest in so far as they relate to the succession to the Crown should not stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament during the present Session of any measure providing for the removal of any distinction between the sexes in determining the succession to the Crown".

Palestine: British Mandate

2.32 p.m.

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary, in 1998, of the end of the British mandate in Palestine.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, there are no current plans. But the Government do not have a policy not to mark the end of the mandate. If there are proposals from my noble friends or elsewhere, we should be pleased to consider them.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Would Her Majesty's Government consider it appropriate to commemorate the servicemen and servicewomen who risked, and in some cases lost, their lives during the period of the mandate?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not aware of any previous ceremonies to commemorate those who served in Palestine from 1945

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to 1948, but it is of course important to remember them. As I said, the Government will be interested to hear proposals to commemorate those who served.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the League of Nations' mandate was carried out brilliantly by the British forces for the benefit of the Arab people, and the Palestinian people in particular? An excellent job was done by our forces. Should not we at least commemorate their wonderful endeavours in this House as well as in the country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that we all look forward to suggestions from my noble friend and indeed others as to a suitable way in which to commemorate the end of the mandate.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, the mandate was a very positive factor in that part of the world and the servicemen and women, both military and civil, who served the mandate over its period certainly deserve commemoration. However, would not the most appropriate step be for Her Majesty's Government to join next year in the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel, remembering that it managed to overcome the hostility of Ernest Bevin, who wished to strangle it at birth?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we enjoy good relations with our friends in Israel and we would wish to mark the anniversary in an appropriate manner.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, does the Minister support the idea of a meeting of all religious faiths, including divisions of those faiths, to debate the future of Jerusalem, thereby taking the initiative away from the political arena?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we must listen very carefully to the advice that we receive about ways in which to take forward the issue of the status of Jerusalem. Pending agreement, we recognise de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem but we consider East Jerusalem to be illegally occupied. We recognise no de jure sovereignty over the city. I am sure that the whole House joins with me in condolence for those who lost their lives in the appalling bomb outrage only a few hours ago in Jerusalem.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the great Ernest Bevin did not want to strangle the State of Israel? He made it possible for it to come into being. The allegation made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is absolutely contrary to the truth.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that I am in a position to debate with noble Lords an event that happened before my birth. But the UK's responsibilities in the region continued beyond the end of the mandate. It has been important since the end of the mandate to work for a just and lasting peace

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in the region between Israel and her neighbours. That is the aim towards which Her Majesty's Government are currently working.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government commemorate the 50th anniversary by increasing current levels of UK bilateral assistance to the Palestinian national authority as a measure of goodwill?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will look at any sensible suggestions which are brought forward from the noble Lord and his friends about ways in which we might commemorate the passing of the mandate and, indeed, ways in which we might commemorate the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel next year.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I appreciate the very sympathetic and positive response from the Minister to my Question. Therefore, I do not wish to prolong this discussion unnecessarily. Following up the question from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, does she agree that commemorating the end of the mandate and celebrating the birth of the State of Israel need not be mutually exclusive? Could not both those events be commemorated?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that nothing that I have said will be interpreted as the opposite of that. Both events are possible. They are not mutually exclusive.

Gibraltar: Frontier Delays

2.38 p.m.

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there has been any recent improvement regarding restrictions and delays at the land frontier between Gibraltar and Spain.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there has been a recent improvement at the frontier following representations to the Spanish authorities by the British ambassador in Madrid. But the situation remains unpredictable. We continue to urge Spain to provide sufficient staff to ensure that delays are kept to a minimum.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. In effect, her final remarks cover the question that I primarily intended to ask. In view of the fact that the Government continue to urge Spain to provide sufficient staff to reduce delays and keep them to a minimum, do the Government propose to use more persuasive arguments, particularly in regard to channelling traffic on a single lane basis, which at times

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causes great delays? Have the Government sought the lifting of weekend restrictions on commercial goods and increasing hours for clearance on weekdays?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we take very seriously the delays at the Spanish-Gibraltar frontier and frequently raise the matter with the Spanish authorities when the delays become disproportionate. We welcome any measure introduced by the Spanish authorities aimed at reducing the delays, including the intention to implement their proposal for red and green channels in the way suggested by the noble Lord.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, bearing in mind the desirability in the long term of reaching a solution to this problem, recognising that this country no longer has a major strategic interest in Gibraltar, and acknowledging that Spain and Britain are now partners in the European Union and allies in NATO, will the Minister consider looking with a favourable eye on the proposals allegedly put forward by the Spanish Foreign Minister for an arrangement whereby Britain and Spain exercise joint sovereignty over Gibraltar rather in the way that similar authorities have successfully exercised sovereignty over Andorra for hundreds of years?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we look for co-operation with our friends in Spain over the question of Gibraltar. But the Government stand firmly by the commitment made to the people of Gibraltar in the preamble to Gibraltar's 1969 constitution that we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. I hope that that makes the position clear.

Lord Whaddon: My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend says. However, can she tell the House whether there is any more optimistic news regarding the recognition by Spain of passports issued in Gibraltar?

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