Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I also thank the Foreign Secretary for his courtesy in seeing the family. However, have not the Israeli Government failed to put in train the full and transparent investigation asked for by the British Government? Is not the so-called command inquiry likely to end in the kind of cover-up that has followed other shootings such as that of Ian Hook, the UN worker, in Jenin? Is it not already plain that the tale originally told—that James was shot in the back having been caught in cross-fire—was completely false? The bullet entered the front of his neck. The film of another camera crew shows that the firing was coming from Israeli troops alone, and James was killed when he and his companions were wearing helmets with "TV" on them and carrying white flags and shouting that they were British journalists. When the British Government are giving all possible support to the Israeli Government in their fight against terrorism, are they not entitled to expect in return a proper investigation to establish responsibility for this crime and redress for the family of a British citizen unlawfully killed?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's last point. We are pressing for a full and transparent inquiry, as I hope I made clear in my original Answer. I thank the noble Lord for

11 Jun 2003 : Column 191

his remark about the Foreign Secretary. Obviously, we need to wait for the findings of the Israeli defence force inquiry when it publishes its report into the full circumstances surrounding what I am sure all noble Lords will acknowledge is a desperately sad case. But it is very difficult to establish exactly what happened. The noble Lord referred to some conflicting reports about the exact circumstances. This incident took place late at night. It is important that we do everything we can to establish the full circumstances. I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be writing to James Miller's widow within the next couple of days.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, will the Minister underline to the Israeli authorities that there is widespread support for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in many parts of this House and outside it? Does she agree that, not only in the case of Ian Hook but also in that of Tom Hurndall, internal inquiries were perceived to be partial and were not seen as dispassionate or objective? Great cynicism was expressed subsequently about their findings. Does the Minister agree that the transparency she mentioned and the independence of such an inquiry in investigating the case of James Miller are paramount?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I shall ensure that these exchanges are drawn to the attention of the Israeli authorities. The noble Lord refers to two other tragic cases. We are very concerned about civilian casualties resulting from Israeli operations. By "civilian" I mean both civilians who are indigenous to the area and those who go in to investigate what is happening. We urge the Israelis to do everything they can to ensure that civilian casualties are avoided and that their actions always fall within international law. Given the number of recent incidents, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred, we have asked, through Mr Shalom, to establish whether anything can be done about revising the rules of engagement for the Israeli defence forces so that they can do their best to avoid these tragic and terrible incidents.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, what timescale do the Government believe will be involved for the internal inquiry to come to its conclusion? Most of the work already appears to have been done, including a comprehensive autopsy. Are the Government raising the very real concerns about indiscipline inside the Israeli defence force, which led to so many of these incidents?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not able to give a timescale. It is important, when trying to establish exactly what happened in such an incident, that any inquiries are exhaustive. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, versions of what happened on that terrible night have already changed during the course of some of the inquiries so far. It is important to ensure that that is properly dealt with. As to what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred to as indiscipline, I hope that

11 Jun 2003 : Column 192

I made clear that we have expressed our concern to the Israeli Government about the rules of engagement. The noble Lord will understand what I mean when I say that the rules of engagement are a matter of concern to Her Majesty's Government.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we join others in extending our sympathies to James Miller's family and relations following his tragic death. What further advice and recommendations will Her Majesty's Government give to journalists, including cameramen, to help to protect their safety when working in areas of conflict?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords wish to send their sympathy to James Miller's widow and two young children. We advise that everyone going into the area looks very carefully indeed at the travel advice that the Foreign Office issues. I understand that although some individuals know that the travel advice is unequivocal in advising against travel to the West Bank and Gaza, they none the less feel that they have a very strong reason to go. A number of peace workers and journalists are there. We advise them, as the travel advice states, that if they feel they really must be there, they must take every possible precaution against getting into situations in which there may be cross-fire or flash points of violent incidents. As we know, there have been several fatal attacks. All of that is made very clear in the Foreign Office travel advice.

Royal Mail: Transport Policy

2.53 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the decision of the Post Office to remove the carriage of mail from the railways.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, Royal Mail planned under its transport review to continue to use rail as part of its integrated transport network. However, two years of negotiation with English, Welsh and Scottish Railway have stalled on cost grounds. Royal Mail's board has decided therefore to drop plans to include rail in its new network. The Government regret that loss of business for rail freight but stand by their policy of allowing Royal Mail freedom to operate commercially.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I seek an assurance from him that the Government will examine the basis of the costing that the railway and Post Office have adopted. Is a full cost associated with the rail mode and has the road mode been assessed on a marginal cost basis, which, among

11 Jun 2003 : Column 193

other things, does not take into account the fact that the heaviest lorries do not pay a proper contribution to the maintenance of the highway?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that commercial decision will be taken by Royal Mail; that is its decision. The costing basis that it uses is for it to decide. I should have thought that in both cases marginal costing was very important for those decisions.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. First, my noble friend said in his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that Royal Mail's decision to use road instead of rail was taken on cost grounds. Is he aware that there are three other rail freight operators who could quote for that work, and does he know whether they have been asked to do so? When I discussed this with Royal Mail some time ago, the answer was that it had not.

My second point relates to Royal Mail's facilities at terminals and in trains, which are probably used for only eight hours a day. Royal Mail could surely save an enormous amount of money if it allowed third-party operators, such as DHL, Securicor and others, who are very keen to use rail freight, to use those expensive facilities as well.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, again, whether Royal Mail approaches other operators is entirely a commercial decision for it. If the other operators were any good, however, I should expect that they would have seized the opportunity to approach Royal Mail and make it an offer.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it will be very environmentally damaging to make the proposed change of mode? The Post Office spokesman, when challenged about the environmental implications of its policy, was wholly unconvincing. It is totally unacceptable, and quite contrary to the Government's policy of encouraging transfer from road to rail, to allow that to go ahead. The Minister's answer that it is simply a matter of commercial judgment must be challenged by a Government who are serious about the environment.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the right position is to leave that as a commercial decision. However, the road transport review, which has taken place, will result in environmental improvements; they will be very substantial indeed. They will not be as large as they could have been if that transport had been kept on rail, Nevertheless, because of efficiency, there will be very big environmental improvements.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page