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Earl Russell: I beg the noble Lord's pardon--they are solicitors.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, that just shows how wise we are to have a panel of experts over and beyond the legally qualified to sit on our tribunals, accountants and solicitors alike.

The noble Earl entertained the House, as he so often does, deliberately--I am sure that he never entertains the House unintentionally--with his reference to the many footnotes to the regulations and the reference to lots of other regulations. The answer is, yes, the department intends to consolidate the child support regulations in due course and clarify the--I was about to say rigmarole--cross-referencing that makes such legislation opaque.

The noble Lord also asked about pre-1993 step-children. We are reviewing all aspects of child support. These regulations, as I hope I explained, are minor and technical. They make no substantive changes. We are not making changes at this stage.

The noble Earl also asked, more substantively, in relation to Regulation 33 about confidential information given to the courts, and whether the regulation will protect women who have been victims of domestic violence. The appeal tribunal will continue to allow any parent to opt to have her or his whereabouts kept secret. That confidentiality will also apply to the operation of Regulation 33.

Finally, the noble Earl is unduly cynical about the ability of the Government to turn the CSA around. I have the delight--though that can hardly be the right word--of chairing a review on the Child Support Agency. The agency has to be made to work. If it does not, the people who will lose will not be the Treasury or your Lordships--they will be the children of some of the poorer people in this country, who are entitled to enjoy the living standards that can be provided by both parents, their fathers as well as their mothers, in terms of both emotional and financial support. It is entirely a matter for private judgment whether those two parents can continue to live together as partners. Nonetheless, we are determined that those children should not lose both their parents. That is why we are determined to make the Child Support Agency into a child support service. I hope that in due course I shall be able to return to the House with proposals to that effect.

On Question Motion agreed to.

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Middle East

8.46 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government what are their proposals for engendering an environment for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the guiding principle of land for peace under the Oslo round has evolved and stalled repeatedly since its inception, with many arguing that, if not dead, it is in a deep coma, hostage to the internal political affairs of Israel.

Palestinians from the West Bank and those in Gaza, who are subjected to life in a barricaded ghetto cut off from the rest of the world, are caught in a downward spiral of rapidly falling standards of living, with costs pegged at Israeli levels, with its per capita average annual income of 17,000 US dollars alongside Palestinians whose average income is just 1,000 US dollars per year.

In addition, 900,000 Palestinians share the Gaza Strip with just 4,000 Israeli settlers; yet those settlers control and use disproportionate water resources, which, together with lamentable sewerage systems, wild west roads and refugees living in a state of desperation, is anything but conducive to an atmosphere for peace.

On the West Bank, provocative settlements, now practically encompassing Jerusalem, with its bypass roads system, suggest that the state of Israel has long decided to make a permanent home of the West Bank.

The city of Hebron exists in a state of animosity in a sometimes powder keg charged atmosphere, with extremist Israelis physically living on top of, and totally surrounded by, Palestinians with Israeli security forces protection. It is a non-workable situation.

A further example of how the intransigence of the peace process is testing many is illustrated in a disturbing survey published last week in Amman, showing that 80 per cent. of Jordanians have turned their back on the process and now regard Israel as an enemy.

While some might say that that is evidence to support the principal concern of Israel--security--it is in my view self-inflicted. However, we must all be on guard to ensure that the frustration manifested by the survey does not turn into any suggestion of violence.

So what is the current state of the peace talks? On Tuesday the Israeli cabinet voted to insist on the unilateral implementation of a stringent list of preconditions, citing vital interests, which Palestinians have rejected, before any future negotiations on the West Bank. Yesterday, Israel decided in addition that it intends to keep large parts of the West Bank in any final settlement.

The Americans had given Prime Minister Netanyahu extended time to address redeployment issues in order to accommodate the budget process, which cost the coalition an important resignation. They have called for a round of talks in Washington between President Clinton, Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister

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Netanyahu suggesting a merciful involvement in not only negotiations but, it is to be hoped, implementation, by the Americans.

Concrete progress must be made. Breakdown is not an option. A climate of obligations and responsibilities must prevail.

So it is against that backdrop that the Government must respond tonight, with the added dimension of being President of the European Union. This represents a combination of added responsibility but with an opportunity to be constructive and more forward thinking about engendering an environment for peace. We should also see our shared history as a basis for doing more today. Certainly now is not the time for platitudes.

I returned at the weekend from Jerusalem, Amman, the West Bank and Gaza and was left in little doubt that hard decision-making must now be addressed. Some on the Israeli side, including moderate high ranking politicians, are adamant that external pressure is unhelpful. Maybe so; I disagree. The outside world has an investment in peace in the Arab-Israeli arena, and there is a great deal of urgency to do something positive right away.

I support, however, the premise that the Oslo round is the only game in town and must be built upon. But I have criticisms when the US programme is not being spelt out in more detail. I had the opportunity to be fully briefed by the Americans and left satisfied. Madeleine Albright has said that while she wants accelerated final status talks, it will not be at the cost of not implementing the interim steps. That approach must be right.

That said, I wonder whether consideration might not be given to introducing a new face to the process by replacing Dennis Ross with a high powered politician. It might produce a fresh approach and he might even welcome the break. Europe, for example, has, in Ambassador Moratinos, a special representative. While not suggesting that he be that person, what are his remit and objectives? What direction and role are we setting for him during the presidency?

So what is the UK approach? In the past we have opted for a posture of quiet diplomacy complementing, not contradicting, the United States, while accepting that there can only ever be one principal in the mediator role. I believe that we in Europe should be more supportive of the process than just in name and be elevated to the position of equal partners with the United States, but with the job of co-pilot being alternated. We are the principal financial backers of the Palestinian economy, having already given 500 million ecu in multilateral aid. It must be relevant to ask how that money is well spent when Israel has blockaded the Palestinian economy. Israel's exports to the European Union measure some 60 per cent., so I submit that together with our investment for peace, our role should not be restricted to purely funding but should include geopolitics.

I believe that Europe should, in the event of a breakdown or stalemate after the Washington round, consider carefully its position. If the Israelis or Palestinians fail to agree on a common approach in

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Washington, the Americans and Europeans as equal partners should say enough is enough, and signal their dissatisfaction through quick impact measures. In any event, the Americans do not have a monopoly on ideas. It might possibly be easier for us to be more forthright. Europe should stand ready to show its teeth and be prepared to use its cards. By that I can think of our economic card particularly which, combined with the United States overall official and unofficial aid of 5 billion US dollars to the Israelis, would be useful bargaining power.

There are many confidence-building measures that could be taken in Washington. The signing of the reasoned and balanced MOU on security seems essential and falls within the Hebron note calling for reciprocity. The granting by Israel of the Gaza seaport, airport and safe passage issues would seem beneficial also to the Israelis, as economic development and general wellbeing is fundamental and the best deterrent against terrorism.

Two points present themselves. First, Israel stands accused of double standards in its state-sponsored terrorist act in Amman. It is Prime Minister Netanyahu who is holding up the implementation of the MOU. The second point is that the Palestinians really have little left to bring to negotiations.

On the Palestinian side, the redrafting of the covenant which particularly calls for the destruction of Israel is outdated and cannot be further delayed. The Palestinians say that they have sufficiently addressed this, but not to the satisfaction of the Israelis for whom this remains a major stumbling block. Robust remarks in Arabic by Chairman Arafat on anti-Semitic propaganda and to have generally toned down Palestinian rhetoric, would also undoubtedly help the process.

The United Kingdom can also play its part. The Government have come close to endorsing the call for a Palestinian state. Why not make a statement tonight unequivocally supporting that? I can remind the Minister that 81 Members of Parliament have signed an early day Motion to that effect.

I left the region last week with the sense that a regrettable ignorance exists of Jew by Arab and vice versa in, for example, family-related matters, religious customs and the functioning of civil society. Oslo did not address that serious deficiency and this must be overcome if there is to be a real, sustainable peace. There must be, I believe, more inter-faith dialogue, most particularly on such vexing questions as Jerusalem. Another example is the regional quandary of shared and limited water resources. That must be taken as an opportunity to unite in a common endeavour, rather than turning it into a divisive issue. Further delay of consideration rather than negotiation of final status issues is not helpful. I believe that mechanisms must be found to start serious debate of these matters in the spirit of assisting decision-makers in their search for common ground. We should make this an objective of our presidency.

True peace will only come from taking the hearts and minds of the people of the region with it. A question I asked Crown Prince Hassan in Amman is, to me, of the

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essence: what is the role of Israel in the Arab world? The objective must be for a regional, pluralistic society, economically intertwined with respect for differing cultures, including Syria and Lebanon. That has to be the best guarantee for Israel's security. To help achieve that underlying challenge, to be underpinned by the international community, must be to assist the state of Israel solidify its aspirations and feel at peace with itself, and its neighbours, both near and far.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising the issue, and am glad he went to the Middle East. I too have just returned. However, with respect, I feel that he does not fully understand the sensibilities and complexities of the issues which have divided those two peoples for so long.

Perhaps I may take one example. The noble Lord mentioned the covenant, and he was quite right. But that itself is a difficult issue. Prime Minister Netanyahu informed a conference of parliamentarians which I attended that the covenant had not been repealed. Nabeel Shaath, who is another friend of mine, a distinguished Palestinian negotiator, said that it had been repealed. I went to the Israel Foreign Office and said: "Well, one must be right and the other wrong". The representative said:"No, they may both be right because if they have repealed it, they have given no indication as to which articles of the covenant they have repealed".

So I went to see Chairman Arafat last Friday and asked him whether he would be good enough to provide a list of the articles because there were enough real problems without having unreal ones. I asked whether he would provide it to me or someone else, and he said: "Yes, I will provide you with it and I will do so soon". I thanked him very much and gave that information to the Minister of State, Derek Fatchett, who is in Israel now, he will be seeing Chairman Arafat and I hope that he will get the list. So in that way, between us we can at least help. With respect, it does not help to slam either side, to attack the prime ministers or chairmen of either side. It does not help to say: "Get rid of Dennis Ross". They will not listen to us if we approach matters in that way. If we want to be of help, we have to show some understanding.

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