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The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, it is not for the rest of us to survey the whole horizon. I shall look in two directions only.

The gracious Speech noted—the noble Lord, Lord Bach, underlined it—that the Government would next year hold the G8 presidency, which,

In that connection, I welcome the progress already made by the Prime Minister's commission, its preparedness to seek further advice and its recently published consultation document, Action for a Strong and Prosperous Africa. In northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is some good news to note. In the former, there are signs that both sides are prepared to discuss an end to the LRA's long and vicious war. Can we be assured that Her Majesty's Government are doing whatever they can at this delicate moment to encourage Uganda to grasp what may, at last, prove to be a real opportunity and to trust and value, as trail blazers and colleagues, the Acholi and other united groups of religious leaders?

I welcome the recent commitment to peace made by 11 central African states. How will the Government support that delicate flower and assist in its realisation? I welcome too the Security Council's presence and work in central Africa. It is a critically necessary sign of the world's commitment to the needs of Africa, when so much attention and such vast financial and other resources are focused on Iraq. A further 5,000 personnel are beginning to arrive in the DRC to strengthen MONUC, the UN force in the Congo. However, fighting continues in parts of the eastern Congo, and lawlessness and danger are still the daily experience of most of its millions of people.

In the past few days, noble Lords may have seen Mark Doyle's graphic reports on BBC News Online. The pillage of resources continues on almost as grand a scale as ever; arms still flow into the DRC; and its eastern neighbour states continue to be more interested and influential and more often present on the ground than they should be. Some, at least, of those charged with responsibility under the peace accords for rebuilding the DRC maintain their fiefdoms and their armed bands in the east.

The All-Party Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention has recently published two reports. The report on arms flows in the eastern DRC, which was recently communicated to the Security Council, and the report on the group's recent visit to the DRC—
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To Elections and Beyond—contain important recommendations to the Government and to the wider international community. They concern the equipping, priorities and leadership of MONUC and the vital elections that are due next summer, about which critical decisions are still to be made. Those elections must be at least as difficult to organise as those to take place in Iraq in January.

I should be grateful to know the Government's response to the two sets of recommendations. I anticipate that they will respond in the context of the rewriting of their country engagement plan for the DRC. Are the Government seeking parliamentarians' advice on the plan and, if so, how? Lastly on this subject, are the Government satisfied with the performance on DRC issues of the UK's national contact point for the OECD's guidelines on the exploitation of natural resources? Their NGO partners—I hope that the Government see them as such—are not.

I welcome too the mention in the gracious Speech of the Middle East. I also welcome the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and still more the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. My wife and I spent six days earlier this month in Bethlehem, with a day on either side in east Jerusalem at the guesthouse of St George's Cathedral. Just before we left, it was regrettably invaded by an unnecessarily large Israeli force in search of the peaceable Mr Vanunu, just a few hours after the death of President Arafat.

Like most if not all of your Lordships, I had read a good deal, not least in a regular e-mail correspondence with my Palestinian friend and colleague in Bethlehem over the past six years and, recently, in the second excellent Christian Aid paper Facts on the ground, which was launched here last month by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who was in her place earlier. However, although I had read much, the realities that we saw, which so many people—Christian and Muslim—told us about and tried to help us understand, were profoundly shocking.

There are the surrounding, overlooking settlements and their network of dedicated roads, tunnels and viaducts, all on Palestinian land. The wall—it is huge—the electrified fence and the outworks of each imprison tens of thousands of people. There are just three checkpoints in the circle enclosing Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. The vast scale of such things suggests that they must have been carefully planned long before the present intifada, which is claimed as the justification.

There is the lack of visitors and unemployment at 60 or 70 per cent. One sees the rough treatment and the delaying of people trying to get to hospital. There is demeaning treatment, especially—but not only—of women, at checkpoints throughout the territories. There is the racism that explicitly says to Palestinians that they should not have decent, attractive buildings, modern equipment or good facilities and that vandalises such things when it can. Hundreds of thousands of precious olive trees—valued symbolically as well as
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economically—have been destroyed. Thousands of houses have been demolished, most often to punish families and communities for actions for which they are not responsible.

There are the baleful effects of all of that on people's livelihoods, health, childhood, old age, family life and education. There is the killing and maiming of so many—especially of so many children—although that does not, in any way, justify the killing of Israelis by Palestinians: each is wrong. It is all too familiar, and I shall say no more.

We are seen, all over the world, to collude with Israel's illegal, inhuman and oppressive occupation and its effects when, from the Prime Minister downwards, those who represent us lecture only those on one side of the wall about democratic values. The more that we are committed, as we should be and as I am, to a secure future for an Israel that is defensible morally and politically as well as militarily, the more important it is, especially at this moment, that the rest of the world is brave enough to be honest and principled with both Israel and Palestine.

I hope that the Minister will assure us at the end of the debate that the Government will be a lot more brave, honest and principled in their dealings with both parties, with their neighbours and, crucially, with the United States. Anything else exposes us to accusations of double standards that are disastrous not just for our reputation but for the security from terrorism that the Queen's Speech is designed to deal with.

My friend the Bishop in Jerusalem's dictum still has a lot of truth in it. As he said some years ago and said to me a fortnight ago, the road to Baghdad lies through Jerusalem.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I intend to speak about the Israeli/Palestinian situation and Iraq, both of which were mentioned in the gracious Speech.

I returned from a visit to Israel and the occupied territories some two weeks ago and your Lordships might be surprised to hear that I returned home more optimistic than when I went, even though I was in Ramallah on the morning that a young Palestinian suicide bomber killed three and injured 40 in a Tel Aviv market. In response, the checkpoint at Ramallah was understandably in the circumstances closed by the Israelis.

But there are profound and significant political changes taking place in both the Palestinian and the Israeli societies. For the Palestinians, it would be impossible to exaggerate the effects of the death of Yasser Arafat—a father figure and an icon, but a disaster as head of a Palestinian Authority trying to establish the rudiments of government for an independent state. It is clear that the real future leadership lies with the generation of Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian Authority Minister of Security, or Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah West Bank leader currently in an Israeli prison serving a sentence
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for the murder of five Israeli civilians—something that the Israelis would find politically and juridically very difficult to pardon.

But for now, it is probably best that there is a transitional leadership from the generation which was with Arafat in Tunis. Some of these are reactionary Fatah old guard, but despite their efforts it has now been settled that the leadership transition is taking place according to Palestinian law, which means that the presidency of the Palestinian Authority on the death of Arafat passed to the Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, Rauhi Fatouh, whom I had discussions with in Ramallah. He is in that position until a new president is elected within 60 days.

It is expected that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will be elected and that Ahmed Qurei (Abu Alaa) will continue as Prime Minister. These two men, although part of the Tunis generation, are known to be reformers and as such are supported by the next leadership generation. There is, therefore, hope that a new leadership can broker a ceasefire. This would provide an opportunity for trying to convert Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan into a bilateral negotiation with a new Palestinian leadership. This would be an enormous step forward for the peace process, but it also depends on what is happening currently in Israeli politics.

It was astonishing for me to see how Prime Minister Sharon was dependent for support in the Knesset—both for his unilateral disengagement from Gaza and for the financial package of compensation for the displaced settlers—on the votes of the opposition Labour Party and opposition parties to the left of Labour, while he was opposed by many in his own Likud Party, including in his own Cabinet, and by parties to the right of Likud. This all makes for a new dynamic in Israeli politics which, along with a new Palestinian leadership, offers an opportunity to break out of the murderous impasse in which the peace process has been stuck.

I visited different sections of the security barrier and had discussions with the Brigadier-General (Reserve) who is head of the unit charged to examine the route of the barrier for humanitarian and quality of life issues in the light of the existing Israeli Supreme Court rulings.

I am convinced of two things. First, the route is going to edge ever closer to the so-called green line, although moving lengths already erected has considerable financial costs for Israel. Secondly, the barrier, which is a wall only for less than 4 per cent of its whole length, is mainly a broad swathe of ground bordered by two wire fences inside which there is sandwiched a broad ditch on the Palestinian side, then an electric fence—electrified to send an alarm, not to deliver a shock—and then a broad path along which Israeli patrol vehicles can move.

The whole edifice could be fairly easily and quickly taken down when circumstances warranted, but it will stay as long as the statistics show so clearly its efficacy in saving Israeli lives. In this intifada an average of 103 deaths a year has fallen to 28 a year since the barrier was started and 698 injured has come down to 83. How can anyone wonder at the current support for the barrier in Israel?
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Having spoken with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and also with leading figures from the whole sweep of the Israeli political spectrum, I do believe that we are at a point of real opportunity for movement. When we add to the equation an American President reconfirmed in office and therefore an administration more likely to take an initiative, I think that we have cause for cautious optimism and an opportunity for the British Government to help to further the peace process.

It was made clear to me by both sides that British initiatives would be welcome and I am confident that our Government, served by our excellent Ambassador, Simon McDonald, will make the most of the opportunity presented. I am delighted that my right honourable friend Jack Straw is today in the area for talks.

To turn now to Iraq, I have to repeat, as I have done before, to your Lordships that I still consider the military intervention in Iraq justified—morally, legally and politically: morally, because of the murderous nature of the Saddam regime, which continued after 1991 because the coalition made the cardinal error of halting hostilities too soon; legally, because one does not have to be a lawyer to see that violating 16 Chapter 7 UN Security Council resolutions provides legal grounds for action; and, politically, because this rogue regime was a threat in its volatile region and, through that, to us all.

No one, of course, can be other than disturbed at the current situation in Iraq. Mistakes have undoubtedly been made, but I have to say that it strikes me as tragically ironic that two courses of action, which I consider mistakes, were made from decisions of the coalition not to be heavy handed and to try to avoid the use of force and the risk of increased bloodshed.

The first of these two was made in not dealing with Moqtada al Sadr when the unarmed, unprotected and highly respected young Shia cleric al-Khoei was murdered in Najaf on his return from exile. Whatever bloodshed might have occurred by arresting al Sadr then, instead of waiting until an Iraqi judiciary was in place to issue a warrant for his arrest, could not have been worse than the cost in lives of the two bloody uprisings he has subsequently led.

The second was in delaying an all-out attack on Fallujah. The well meaning attempt to let Iraqi forces under a senior Iraqi officer deal with Fallujah some months ago was a failure. The cost of life both from the nest of terrorists who turned Fallujah into their haven and from the fighting now in taking the city is undoubtedly higher than the cost of life would have been in continuing with the first attempt.

As I have said, no one can fail to be concerned about the current situation, but there was always going to be an upsurge of violence to prevent the elections taking place. It is up to everyone of good will to give whatever assistance they can to the Iyad Allawi interim government so that elections can take place in January, as my noble friend Lord Bach made admirably clear in his speech. We all owe no less to the people of Iraq.
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3.58 p.m.

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