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Gaza: Israeli Withdrawal

3.1 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that Prime Minister Sharon's proposals for withdrawal from Gaza are consistent with the road map, phase one of which calls on the Government of Israel to freeze settlement activity and dismantle outposts. The important point is that the proposals should form part of a peace process, not be an end in themselves, and not prejudice a final settlement. As phase three of the road map makes clear, the final status issues must remain a matter for the parties to negotiate.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I draw her attention to the fact that virtually every moderate Arab state has erupted in dismay at the decision by the President of the United States, with the support of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, to accept and endorse the proposal of Mr Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank without going through the negotiating process laid down in the road map. Is the Minister, whom I recognise is a great expert in this region, aware that even newspapers in Israel, such as Haaretz, have specifically condemned what has happened, and—I quote from Haaretz—referred to whether we want to,

in Palestine? Will further settlement development in the West Bank now cease? Can the Minister say how, given the so-called facts on the ground, the present situation is to be brought back within the structure of the road map reasonably soon?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are going over some of the ground that we went over on Monday, when I urged your Lordships to give these proposals a chance to take forward the road map. What is proposed by the Prime Minister of Israel at the moment could conceivably go further than phase one of the road map. Phase one calls only for the freezing of settlement activity, and what is proposed here is that some settlements—those in Gaza and some on the West Bank—will be dismantled. We need to see further movement from the Israelis on the humanitarian issues that are in phase one of the road map, and, I hope, activity on the Palestinian side in relation to security. It is enormously important that we concentrate on the outcomes rather than the process at this stage, provided that it is consistent with the road map and does not

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prejudice the final status. What has been remarkable is the moderation of the reaction of a number of Arab countries to these proposals.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it would be more constructive to welcome the proposed withdrawal, to start making preparations for the well being of the Palestinians and to fill the vacuum by seeing that the public services on which they depend are provided by a proper authority instead of largely being provided by Hamas, as they are at present?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have welcomed these proposals, but we have done so in a specific and cautious way. We have done so provided that they are consistent with the road map. I urge your Lordships to bear in mind the caution that we have not seen the full detail of these proposals. There have been leaks in newspapers, but we have not seen an authentic version from the Israeli Government. While I agree with my noble friend that it is important, as the Prime Minister has said, that we see these as a step in relation to the road map and the opening up of its further phases, we are looking specifically at the proposals on Gaza and at consistency with the rest of the road map. My Answer to your Lordships was very careful. I very much look forward to seeing the detail of what is proposed on the ground.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the Minister agree that crucial details need to be negotiated in advance of withdrawal from Gaza? I refer, for example, to the physical handover to the Palestinian Authority of the settlements and the facilities that go with them, to arrangements for policing and security in Gaza, to access by land from Gaza to the West Bank and Egypt, and to international access to Gaza airport.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord has said. That is why it is so important that we look carefully at the detail of what is proposed while giving these proposals a fair wind and backing them up as far as we are able to. I draw your Lordships' attention to the crucial element of the Gaza/Egyptian border, which is known as the Philadelphia road. How is peace to be secured there? The Israelis have said that they want to leave part of the Israeli defence forces undertaking those duties, but the security questions raised by the noble Lord are absolutely crucial. There have been some fairly unhelpful things said by Hamas, who have offered their services for security purposes. That is not a proposal that recommends itself either to the Palestinian Authority or to the Israeli Government.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure that we all hope that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will somehow lead us back to the road map if the details to which the noble Baroness has been referring can be worked out. Ought not Ministers in their various gatherings to have put even more emphasis and attention on what Mr Sharon plans in the West Bank? Is it not the position that many people with

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Mr Sharon believe that withdrawing from Gaza somehow solidifies the settlements in the West Bank—not all of them, but many of them—and if that is the case, does that not threaten the whole prospect of a viable, separate, Palestinian state? That would take us right away from the road map for good.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord was not in the House on Monday when we discussed this, and I made precisely that point. I said that it is important to bear in mind that the eventual settlement must facilitate a contiguous, viable Palestinian state. It may be prejudiced if some of the settlements stay in ways that do not allow particularly that contiguity for a future Palestinian state.

The noble Lord asks why Ministers have not tried a bit harder. To be frank, the noble Lord has not been in the room when these discussions have been going on. The fact is that Ministers from the United Kingdom Government have pressed these points over and over again, and we shall continue to do so. The noble Lord pulls a bit of a face about that, but I have been there, and I assure him that that is precisely what has been happening. We shall continue to do so.

Abuse of Elderly People

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as an employee of Age Concern England.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take to address the issue of abuse of older people.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, since 1997, the Government have done a great deal to address poor practice and to tackle the wilful abuse of elderly people. More initiatives are planned.

The Health Select Committee's recent inquiry into elder abuse is greatly welcomed. It draws public attention to an issue of great importance and confirms the Government's long-standing approach. Over the next few weeks, Ministers will carefully study the 40 recommendations made by the Select Committee, before issuing a formal reply.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The Health Select Committee has accepted evidence from the National Care Standards Commission and from my honourable friend Mr Burstow that over-prescription of anti-psychotic and neuroleptic drugs is happening to vulnerable older people in care homes. Will the department, as a matter of urgency, issue regulations covering the administration of medication to vulnerable people, so that that abuse will stop? Will elder abuse feature in any future review of the National Service Framework for Older People?

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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the Select Committee referred to the Government's good practice in trying to restrain over-medication, which is something that we cannot tolerate. We would like to see it reduced, especially as it tends to become part of the culture of management, rather than being used to meet medical needs.

The current situation is that people who are on medication and are taking four or more medicines have their situation reviewed every six months, as opposed to the annual review for other people. Those provisions are monitored by the strategic health authorities. The NSF will come under review over the next six months, and it is likely that the issue of medication will be examined. However, the National Care Standards Commission and CHAI inspect the issue of medication robustly and in connection with national standards. We anticipate that next May the National Institute for Clinical Excellence will produce guidelines on dementia care, including the use of anti-psychotic drugs. We are keeping the situation very much under review.

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