Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are gravely concerned at the recent surge in suicide bombing in Israel. We understand the need of the Government of Israel to ensure the security of Israeli citizens within international law, but we do not believe that the decision to forbid most foreign nationals from entering the Gaza Strip furthers the cause of peace or contributes to security. We have made those views clear to the Government of Israel as a matter of urgency, and we look forward to the Government of Israel easing the restrictions as soon as possible.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, the cycle of provocation and reaction is globally unsettling and is prejudicing the road map. Arguably, regionalism is an answer.

21 May 2003 : Column 832

Do not current political policies fuel the resolve of the suicide bombers? Will they not create a humanitarian backlash that will come to haunt Israel? The guardian of Israel's well-being is to come to the negotiating table in a constructive manner.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree entirely that the "cycle of provocation", as the noble Viscount put it, on both sides is at the root of the problem. We hope very much that work on the road map will not be deflected by recent developments, both the suicide bombing and the reaction to it. The people who are not friends of a peace process are exactly the people who undertake such atrocities in order to try to derail that process.

Mr Sharon has felt, as a result, that he must stay at home. That is understandable, but it has meant that he has not been able to go to the United States of America and engage in the discussions on the road map that are so important. I am sure that that was what the suicide bombers wanted to achieve, and I can only hope that Mr Sharon will take up the invitation to go to the United States and hold those discussions very soon.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld: My Lords, I note what my noble friend says about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government. None the less, it is the responsibility of the Israeli Government to do everything possible to protect their people against the kind of barbaric terrorism that is being directed against them. Is it not responsible of the Israeli Government to warn off foreign nationals from entering parts of the West Bank and elsewhere that are highly dangerous? They are right to do that, and many people in this country agree with the action that they have taken.

I hope that, when Her Majesty's Government give advice to Israel, they remember that it is the only democratic country in the region and that the despotic countries that surround it give succour and comfort to the terrorists.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree that it is the responsibility of the Government of Israel or any other government faced with the horrors of suicide bombing to do everything possible to secure the security of their own civilians. I hope I made that absolutely clear in the opening statement that I made in answering the noble Viscount's Question. The issue remains whether the measures taken by the Government of Israel really do further the cause of peace and really do contribute to further security, or whether they actually contribute to what the noble Viscount called a cycle of provocation, which leads to bitterness and further violence.

Of course, we warn our own nationals about going to places where we believe they will not be safe. We are very clear at the moment about the fact that it is not safe to travel to Gaza. That is rather different from forbidding people to visit their families, to conduct legitimate trade, and the issues which perhaps do not contribute as much as they might to the security of the region.

21 May 2003 : Column 833

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, have the Government made it clear to the Israeli Government that the existence and expansion of Israeli settlements within the Gaza Strip, and, in particular, the recent expansion of the security zones for those Israeli settlements by the demolition of orchards, olive groves and houses, are part of the cycle of violence which breeds precisely the despair out of which suicide bombers come? Have the Government also made it clear that a reversal of Israeli settlement policy has to be part of an acceptance of the road map?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, yes, indeed, we have. As the noble Lord would expect, we have done so very recently with the visit of the Israeli Foreign Minister which we welcomed. He was received very much as a friend to whom we gave messages that friends give each other in privacy behind closed doors. Our policy on settlements is absolutely clear. Settlements are illegal under international law. We believe that they are an obstacle to peace. We believe that Israel should freeze all settlement activity, as the noble Lord said, as required by Phase 1 of the road map.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, as most European countries have maintained contact with President Arafat and now that the Israeli Government have said that they will not speak to anyone who retains contact with him, what is the position of the United Kingdom Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government will consider whether it is in the interests of peace to see President Arafat. We must remember that he is still the elected president of the Palestinian Authority. He has an important role to play. But I would remind the noble Lord that there have been substantial changes in the Government of the Palestinian Authority. Now the main responsibility for delivering reforms and progress falls on the shoulders of Abu Mazan. That is obviously where the first point of contact on these issues rightly is.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, does the Minister agree that despite five suicide bombings being carried out by Palestinian terrorists against Israel within a 48-hour period, Israel has withdrawn from some areas of Gaza to allow Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to take control of the situation? Since September 2000, the Palestinians have carried out more than 17,000 attacks, killing 778 Israelis. Does the Minister agree that the inconvenience of temporary border closing is a small price to pay if it stops one fanatical terrorist from blowing up mostly innocent people and destroying life which is so precious to all people in that region?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, if I could honestly lay my hand on my heart and say that we would know that it stopped one fanatical terrorist, of course I would agree with the noble Lord. But the problem we have here is the suspicion that for every terrorist it stops, it breeds two more. That is the

21 May 2003 : Column 834

dilemma we are facing. There is not an easy answer. I absolutely acknowledge the appalling statistics that the noble Lord gave about the death to Israelis. Your Lordships have discussed before the particularly cruel phase of using young people who are undoubtedly targeted by many suicide bombers.

I would just remind my noble friend that since the beginning of this year, 82 Israelis have lost their lives tragically and 385 Palestinians have lost their lives. There is a terrible loss of life on both sides. That is why all these discussions about whether it is right to close borders or whether it is right to have families going to see each other are really not the issue. The issue is to move forward on the road map. The issue is to go forward and to ensure that the dreadful people who want to derail this process are ignored and that that process is carried forward under the new Palestinian Authority Government.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the figures that the Minister has just given are very telling indeed. Is not the noble Lord who has just spoken right to remind us that if we are trying to look forward, in the past few days there have been these five suicide bombing attacks against Israel which were bound to sour the process and create the type of problems that we are now discussing? Does the Minister agree that if the road map is to start from here, or even from a few days back, the first moves between the two sides have to be simultaneous? There must be substantial concessions on the Palestine side—obviously, a move towards controlling and arresting the groups that perpetuate suicide bombing—and substantial moves on the Israeli side as well. They must be together and we must move away from this "you first" argument which will never lead anywhere except to more tragedy and bloodshed.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course the noble Lord is right to say that the suicide bombings were bound to sour the atmosphere for international discussions. I have no doubt that that was entirely the objective of those who carried out those evil acts. Of course I agree with the noble Lord that it is essential for both sides to be seen to move together.

The terrible history that we are dealing with is one of lack of trust between the two sides. It will take great courage and great statesmanship on both sides to take those first steps. As members of the international community, through the EU and with our partners in the United States, Russia and the United Nations, it is our role to give every encouragement to that process to take those first enormously important steps.

Clerk of the Parliaments

3.17 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I informed your Lordships on 12th March of Sir Michael Davies's intention to retire from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments with effect from Monday 14th July. I told the House on that occasion that it had been agreed that

21 May 2003 : Column 835

a trawl for Sir Michael's successor should be held, with applications being invited from the House of Commons and the devolved Assemblies as well as from the House of Lords.

There were six applications in all—five from the Lords and one from a devolved Assembly. One applicant from the Lords was not short-listed for interview but a board, consisting of myself, the other party leaders, the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, the First Civil Service Commissioner, interviewed the other five. The unanimous recommendation of the board is that Mr Paul Hayter should succeed Sir Michael Davies as Clerk of the Parliaments.

Following Mr Paul Hayter's appointment as Clerk of the Parliaments, I have been asked by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to say that he will propose to the House that Mr Michael Pownall should become Clerk Assistant and that Mr David Beamish should be appointed Reading Clerk. Both of those appointments have the support of the board to which I have already referred. The Lord Chancellor will invite the House to approve the necessary Motions of appointment on 14th July. There will be an opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Michael's distinguished career in the House on 10th July.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page