(HANSARD) in the first session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of




13 May 2002 : Column 1

Monday, 13th May 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Middle East

Lord Steel of Aikwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their view on the situation in Israel/Palestine.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the Government are gravely concerned about the situation in the Middle East. The ongoing cycle of violence has led to the deaths and injuries of too many Israelis and Palestinians and to deeper and deeper mistrust between the two communities. The priority now is to create a safer environment for Israelis and Palestinians to live in and then to move quickly to political negotiations.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, while most of us feel automatic sympathy for a fellow democracy when her citizens are so torn apart by the terrible carnage of the suicide bombers, does the Minister agree that the most effective recruiting sergeant for those suicide bombers is the feeling of hopelessness among the Palestinian people? That has been brought about by the repressive policies of the Sharon government. Is that not likely to be exacerbated by yesterday's Likud executive vote against the very principle of a Palestinian state?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, there is a feeling of hopelessness and frustration on both sides. We have

13 May 2002 : Column 2

said a number of times in this House that there can be no military solution to the crisis. We continue to believe that and we will work with our partners to try to find the best possible solution.

With regard to the second question about the Likud executive put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, obviously that decision was reached internally and related to Israeli politics. What it demonstrates is the complexity of the politics within Israel, but it is important for us to focus on the fact that solid international support has been expressed for a two-state solution in the form of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness mentioned a two-state solution. Can she say whether her right honourable friend is considering recognising a Palestinian state now, rather than waiting for serious negotiations which do not look very much as though they are going to start?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we continue to focus on achieving the UN Security Council resolutions. A number of those resolutions place responsibilities on both sides. We shall continue with political discussions and political dialogue, as well as working with our Arab colleagues—noble Lords will know that discussions have been held around the proposals which have been put forward by Crown Prince Abdullah. I believe that we are all agreed that what we have to do is to ensure that those discussions and the dialogue continue. That is because, as I said in my original Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, we can see no military solution to this crisis.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, while the Likud vote against the idea of a Palestinian state is deplorable, inward-looking and utterly self-defeating, the best path to peace remains the idea of a regional conference put forward by Secretary of State Colin Powell? Can she assure us that, if we can reach the stage of that conference, Britain's experience, skills, strength and

13 May 2002 : Column 3

knowledge will have a proper voice in it? Our voice should not be lost in or submerged under a more general EU attitude which may not represent and reflect exactly what we have to contribute.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we need to recognise the fact that a number of different discussions are ongoing and that a number of different proposals have been put forward with respect to next steps and a way forward. It is important to focus on the UN Security Council resolutions as well as to support the work being undertaken by our partners, including the proposal from the United States for an international conference. Noble Lords will also know that we continue to play an important role, both in terms of our role within the European Union—my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is today in Brussels for discussions with his European Union counterparts in the General Affairs Council—and in terms of our bilateral role, as it were. Noble Lords will be aware that we were instrumental in some of the events surrounding the situation in Bethlehem. We will play our role within the European Union, but we will also continue to play whatever role we can with the United States and others to try to ensure that a proper, negotiated political solution to this crisis is reached.

Lord Rea: My Lords, I think that my noble friend is probably aware that last week, with the assistance of our consul-general in East Jerusalem, I was able to visit the West Bank with a small group of international MPs and journalists. In Ramala I visited the DfID-supported health and development institution devoted to strengthening civil society—the central aim of DfID. Apart from the disgusting vandalism that had taken place, all the computers had been systematically destroyed with the hard drives taken out. That means that years of meticulous work has been lost.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Rea: Can my noble friend assure me that those computers will be replaced and the bill preferably sent to Israel, without reducing subsequent DfID funding to this and other projects in the West Bank?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I was aware of that visit. We have highlighted our concerns about Israeli attacks on Palestinian infrastructure and it is important that we continue to do all that we can to support the reconstruction of infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it would be a mistake for the British Government to be deflected from their determined role to provide assistance in negotiations between the parties, which she has described, by the internal decisions of sometimes over-excitable political parties and organisations on both sides? Should we not just get on with the job of trying to achieve a settlement?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think I made it absolutely clear in my earlier answer that we shall

13 May 2002 : Column 4

focus on trying to find a political solution, working with our international partners. We should not get involved in internal Israeli politics.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords—

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, could we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, first and then definitely from the noble Lord, Lord Janner?

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, do the Government agree that the essence of a true settlement is that the Arab states recognise the right of Israel to exist? As long as people say that Israel ought to be driven into the sea, there is no possibility of a settlement.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have made it clear that we want a two-state solution based on UN Security Council resolutions.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, may I say to my noble friend—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether she accepts how pleased I am that I gave way to the noble Lord who just spoke? I identify myself with almost everything that she said. Does she agree that the suicide bombing began before Sharon took office? Does she accept that if we are going to help towards making peace, as our Government are rightly doing, there have to be people with whom we can negotiate? Does she believe that Arafat's failure to curb the suicide bombing and the terrorism is because he cannot curb it or because he does not wish to do so? In either event, how can anyone negotiate with him?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the UN Security Council resolutions have made it clear that there are responsibilities on both sides. We have to work with President Arafat, who has been legitimately elected by the Palestinians, and with Prime Minister Sharon. We shall continue to do that. A great responsibility lies on the shoulders of both men.

Ministry of Defence: Use of Consultants

2.45 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What impact there has been on productivity in the Ministry of Defence, particularly in the department of Defence Logistics Organisation, following the ban on the use of external consultants required to achieve objectives.

13 May 2002 : Column 5

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, there is no ban on the use of external consultants either in the department as a whole or in the Defence Logistics Organisation. The MoD remains committed to achieving improvements in productivity through a variety of methods. This includes the use of consultants, where appropriate and cost-effective.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page