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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, given press reports that some circles in Washington are sedulously denigrating the work of Hans Blix, can my noble friend the Minister assure us that there is no question of a

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casus belli being constructed from information that has not been corroborated by Hans Blix, simply on the grounds that it has not been passed to him?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there have been voices in the background criticising Dr Blix since before he got to Iraq in the first place. I repeat to your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government has the utmost confidence in Dr Blix and in Dr ElBaradei.

There will be a discussion on the Iraqi declaration made on 8th September—all 11,807 pages of it—at the UNSC tomorrow, 9th January. That will be an opportunity for Dr Blix and Dr ElBaradei to give an update on their work, and I suggest that that will be an opportunity for any of the worries that the noble Lord mentioned to be aired in the most suitable place—the Security Council.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said—rightly—about the safety of British intelligence forces and other western personnel, is she aware that 42 per cent of the population of Iraq are under 16? That represents 9.6 million children. Is the same weight given to the probability of innocent suffering in Iraq, should war break out, as to the protection of our people?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, one of the most awesome and dreadful responsibilities that a government can face is the responsibility of having to put troops into a conflict. It is an awesome and terrible responsibility not only because of the risks to the troops of this country or any of our allies who would be involved and the terrible loss that there would be if the worst circumstances were to prevail, but also that all war, by its very nature, may involve the loss of innocent life.

It could be argued that the loss of young life is, in many ways, more terrible than the loss of older life. However, I am bound to say to your Lordships that, whether a person was 16 or 60, the loss of an innocent life would always be a matter of grave responsibility. That is why we are so careful in how we proceed on that issue. It is why we have pursued the United Nations route; why we have persuaded others that that was the right route to pursue; and why we have also put as much information into the public domain as we possibly can to explain why the Government are so convinced that we are taking the right action on that issue.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I should like to express a degree of—

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has given way on at least two occasions. I believe that it is his turn.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the Minister has expressed the Government's confidence in Hans Blix and the work that is being undertaken by the UN

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inspectors. However, if the UN inspectors find no material breach, is there any reason for military action to be undertaken by the Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the initial full report to the United Nations Security Council is not due until 27th January—although, as I have indicated, there will be a preliminary discussion of the findings so far taking place in the United Nations Security Council tomorrow.

I stress to your Lordships that the report on 27th January is not the end of the process. It is merely a staging point which was committed to in UNSCR 1441. If there is no material breach at that point, that does not mean that the whole process of inspections is over. It is up to anybody else who feels that he has material breaches to report to do so. There is nothing to stop any other country at that point also bringing the Security Council into its confidence over what it believes is happening. But at that point it would be a decision about the continuation of the inspection. Therefore, I stress to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that that date is not a date on which a decision must be made one way or the other. It is simply a point at which a report will be made and discussed.

Middle East Plan

3.2 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the suicide bombings in Tel Aviv on 5th January, it is still their intention to proceed with a Downing Street meeting on the Middle East Plan.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we condemn the suicide bombings that have taken place and express our condolences to the relatives of all those concerned. However, we believe that these events emphasise the need for a political process. The London meeting is intended as a part of this. We would regret a decision by the Israelis now not to allow the representatives of the Palestinian Authority to attend. This would not help the cause of peace and security for Israelis any more than for Palestinians. We are therefore in touch with the Israeli authorities about ways in which Palestinians we have invited might be able to come.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the recent slaughter of 22 innocent people in Tel Aviv is to be utterly condemned. I also agree that the withdrawal of the present talks regarding the situation in the Middle East would be unfortunate in the extreme. What steps are being taken internationally by the Government to rally support for this imaginative concept, albeit on a different date? I stress that the negotiations must be wider than with the Israelis concerned.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I reiterate the outrage which I am sure we all feel at the

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appalling carnage and barbarous murder of innocent people in Tel Aviv. However, we believe that the already delayed process of getting back to negotiations would be helped by the talks which the Prime Minister has suggested on reform of the Palestinian Authority. Not only have we been in contact with the Israeli Government, but members of the United States Administration have joined us in asking the Israeli Government to think again on that point.

I can report that Her Majesty's Ambassador in Tel Aviv, Mr Sherard Couper-Coles, is due to see Prime Minister Sharon at 3.45 p.m. our time today. He will be handing over a letter from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister urging the Israeli Prime Minister to think again about the travel ban that he has placed on the Palestinian Authority. We shall not have a definitive response on that issue until later today. But the Americans support us in our suggestion that thought should be given again to this matter.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, it is vital for the sake of both peoples, both of which are suffering, that a way towards peace is found which is acceptable to them both. Does my noble friend see that when atrocities are carried out by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which is part of Arafat's Fatah, it makes it very difficult for the Israelis to take part or to agree to separate negotiations with the Palestinians because, rightly or wrongly, their government believe that that is impossible while they denounce the terror but take no steps to prevent it?

In those circumstances, what can our Government do to bring the parties together or, in the words of the classic Arab proverb, make both hands clap?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course the key to peace is to find a way forward which is acceptable to both parties. However, I stress to my noble friend that the only way that can be done is not through the barrel of a gun but through discussion. One of the major concerns voiced by the Israeli Government is what they describe as the lack of reform in the Palestinian Authority. Some of their concerns in that respect may well be justified. It is for that reason that my right honourable friend thought it wise and sensible to hold the conference that he suggested should take place next week. It will also be attended by members of the quartet, as well as representatives from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

My noble friend says that it is difficult for the Israeli authorities to allow the Palestinian representatives to attend in those circumstances. I appreciate that the Israeli authorities have many grave concerns over that and, in light of the recent atrocity, little wonder that they do. However, elected authorities or elected governments cannot always be responsible for the terrorist activity of those operating within their territories. I believe that drawing the direct line between the two is unfortunate. We very much regret

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that the Israeli Government have taken the view that they have and we hope that they will, on wider consideration, think again.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, if a Palestinian citizen from Ramallah were to migrate to the United States and set up settlements in Brooklyn, would that not be considered an act of aggression and a criminal act? Why on earth should people from Brooklyn be allowed to migrate to Israel and set up settlements subsidised by the government of that country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, is aware, we have discussed settlements in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions. I have been perfectly clear that Her Majesty's Government are extremely unhappy about the level of settlement activity. When we last discussed it I reported that in the past year there have been some 34 settlements in the Occupied Territories which Her Majesty's Government consider to be illegal.

I fully take the point made by the noble Lord. However, we must find a way forward. It is sometimes easy for what I can only describe as both sides of this argument to reiterate the grievances that they have. There are grievances on both sides. They are very deeply felt by both sides. Simply reiterating those grievances does not move us any further forward. That is why we need to talk, and talk around a table, as we should be doing next week.

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