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Information held by the board will be used only for statistical purposes—I emphasise that again—as all the board’s functions are of course statistical. Furthermore, personal information held by the board will be protected against unlawful disclosure by a criminal sanction. Given the nature of the data-sharing provisions in the Bill and the powers that the Information Commissioner already has, it does not seem appropriate to include such an amendment. That is the basic reason why the amendment, although well intentioned, is unnecessary.

There are several further reasons for not accepting this amendment. First, we think it unlikely that the Information Commissioner would need to use the powers in this clause. Given that much statistical information is given voluntarily through surveys, the board has a strong interest in ensuring that the confidentiality of the information is held secure and that people trust the board to hold its information. The ONS has a good working relationship with the Information Commissioner and often asks his or his office’s advice on matters relating to the protection and handling of information, so previous practice is a guide to future conduct. Secondly, I should note that the Data Protection Act applies to the board as a body dealing with personal information. The board must therefore be registered as a data controller with the Information Commissioner and comply with the data principles in relation to all personal data with respect to which it is the data controller. Finally, the Information Commissioner already has statutory powers to undertake the activities set out in this amendment.

The noble Baroness raised an important point about the Bill. In doing so, she sought assurances that what was said in Committee is definitive, and I confirm that it is. I emphasise that the data-sharing clauses in the Bill are for statistical purposes only. It is not the Government’s intention that the board will be a conduit for information across government. That is the definitive government policy. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that statement and withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for his comments. I am grateful to the Minister for reiterating the important points that came out of our debates in Committee, which was very useful. However, he said that the Information Commissioner already has statutory powers to undertake activities that are covered by the amendment. My understanding is that that is not the

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case. With that lack of clarity, it would not be right for me to press this matter to a Division at this stage. Between now and Third Reading, I shall research how the Minister’s reading of the statutory powers fits with my understanding of them.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I shall also look at that very closely before Third Reading.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 61 [Orders and regulations]:

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 38:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 40. This group of amendments responds positively to a recommendation from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It recommended that where under Clause 21 a Minister of the Crown or a Welsh or Northern Irish Minister in the devolved Administrations delegates one of his functions to the board, in so far as the terms of that delegation amend primary legislation, it will be subject to negative resolution in the appropriate legislature. This group of amendments gives effect to that recommendation. I should note that these amendments do not apply to Scottish Ministers because, as agreed with the Scottish Executive, they are not able to delegate functions to the board. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendments Nos. 39 and 40:

(a) an Act of Parliament;(b) an Act of the Scottish Parliament;(c) Northern Ireland legislation;(d) a Measure or Act of the National Assembly for Wales.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Palestine: Gaza Strip

6.39 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“We are deeply concerned about the recent violence and the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. The violence we have seen has been completely unacceptable with summary executions, attacks against hospitals and the cruel treatment of captives. Once again, extremists carrying guns have prevented progress against the wishes of the majority who seek a peaceful two-state solution.“Our immediate concern is the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We fully support the statement of the quartet and efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. In this regard, we welcome Israel's decision to facilitate humanitarian access and ensure the provision of basic services. We continue to call on all parties to respect the human rights of those in Gaza and to ensure the safety and security of international workers.“But it is also important that extremists are not allowed to derail the political process. The international community is united in its desire to continue moving forward the peace process. The Foreign Secretary spoke to President Abbas on 14 June as well as US Secretary Rice and the Egyptian, Omani and Qatari Foreign Ministers. The Foreign Secretary is currently discussing the situation with her European counterparts at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Luxembourg today, where they will also discuss the situation with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzippi Livni. Prime Minister Olmert is currently in Washington, and we look forward to discussion at the UN Security Council on Wednesday.“We welcome the Arab League's engagement at its meeting on Friday. The Arab world has a key role to play in supporting President Abbas's efforts to restore order to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We also welcome Egypt and Saudi Arabia's efforts to promote dialogue.“The emergency Government, who were sworn in on 17 June, have our full support. We will continue to work with all those, including President Abbas, who are dedicated to a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The emergency Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has said that his priorities are restoring security and improving the economic and humanitarian situation. We share those goals. “I would like to reiterate the Government's commitment to finding a solution that will result in a comprehensive and lasting peace with two states, Palestine and Israel, living side by side in peace and security. “Obviously, our thoughts remain with Alan Johnston. We continue to call for his immediate release and welcome the efforts being taken towards that goal”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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6.42 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement. Will she agree—as I am sure she will—that this is a critically dangerous situation since it deals a very serious blow to the hopes, which, frankly, were never very high anyway, of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, since one of the two states appears to be dividing itself into two bits?

We agree with the noble Baroness that the first concerns must be for the 1.4 million people in the Gaza Strip who could starve and die within days unless vital equipment and supplies are maintained and get through to them. Is it correct that although Israel has eased the boycott on vital goods, the immediate problem is that the breakdown of law and order in the Gaza Strip means that no one is there to receive some of the trucks when they cross the border? That applies particularly to gasoline, without which of course all transport will come to a halt in the Gaza Strip.

Which agencies still dare to operate, and operate bravely, in Gaza? Can they be specifically helped, supported and encouraged? How many people fleeing Gaza are being held up and live in tunnels and other temporary structures at the Erez crossing? There have been chilling reports of people being stuck there for days.

I turn to the wider implications. Do not these ugly developments confirm once again that democratic elections do not always lead to democracy, or make those elected into democrats? Does she accept that while there continue no doubt to be moderates—people who would like an agreement—among the Hamas factions in Gaza, the area seems to have fallen into the hands of throat-slitting gangsters?

The West Bank is now completely Fatah-controlled and with an all-Fatah emergency Government sworn in by President Mahmoud Abbas. Do our Government see this as a temporary stopping point on the weary, and now blood-strewn, road back to Palestinian unity, or is it more likely that the Government of Israel will see the reoccupation of Gaza as the only alternative to a Gaza completely controlled by a now violent and hostile force which of course is sworn to destroy Israel?

Does the noble Baroness agree with the assessment of one West Bank Fatah official that the immediate future will be,

implying, of course, that a Hamas-free Palestinian Authority will now get maximum outside aid, funding and supplies for the West Bank, while Gaza will be completely cut off? Is that the right way to look at the situation, because that seems to spell even greater dangers than we have now?

Finally, what about the quartet and its plan to reconvene on Saturday? Did she notice the comment of the UN official, Alvaro de Soto, last week that he now thinks that the quartet has become a sideshow? I hope that she does not agree. What priorities will we be urging through the EU spokesman, Javier Solana, in this confused and ominous scene?

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6.45 pm

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in the other place, limited though the Statement is.

This is indeed a desperate situation for the Palestinians, the Israelis, the region as a whole and for us all, but is it not exactly the scenario about which people have been repeatedly warning? Does the noble Baroness recall the World Bank warning about two years ago that you have a tinder box if you so block the economy by walls and closures that people cannot work and look after their families? Does she recall that as soon as Hamas was boycotted after the elections, there were warnings that if the West backed Fatah against Hamas, there could well be civil war? How could this therefore have come as a surprise?

I listened to the Statement in the other place and I was surprised at the level of surprise. What progress can you make if you do not even talk to elected leaders, however opposed to your point of view they may be? Surely, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice often puts it, it is no use just talking to your friends if you want to solve problems. How can Palestinian politicians show that elections and non-violence are worthwhile if that route does not lift roadblocks and the quartet will not talk to those who have been elected, while at the same time not enforcing what they ask of the other side?

Does the noble Baroness now not think that it was a grave error not to talk to Hamas when it was elected, and when it was part of the national unity Government? What effect does she think that it had on the development otherwise of responsible government in the Palestinian areas to set up the temporary international mechanism to bypass the elected Government? Elsewhere in the world, the Government channel things through elected Governments in order to develop good governance. How did it help not to pay salaries of the very people who were most likely to lend stability, such as doctors and teachers? Was it not a mistake to imprison Hamas MPs, as the Israelis have done—the very ones who are most likely to see the parliamentary route as worthwhile? What are we doing about that?

Now, with the lessons of that failed policy for all to see, are we now simply to seek further to marginalise Hamas and support only Fatah? Surely that feeds the extremists. Does it make sense, therefore, now to accept the emergency Government, as we have rushed to do? I should like the Minister to comment on that. Could that not once again be seen as backing only a favoured side, regardless of how the Palestinians themselves voted?

What are we going to do now to ensure that the quartet itself is not marginalised, that it is seen as four equal partners, not as partial to one side only? Does the Minister agree with the leaked report to which the noble Lord just referred from the UN Special Representative to Palestine, in which he concluded that the UN was in effect being sat on by the US? Does she take lessons on the way forward in the light of his comments? Will she address some of the practical problems that we now face? It is a very grave situation. How will the EU and the UN now get aid into Gaza? How will we prevent breakdown on the West Bank?

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What actions does she think Israel might take in relation to Gaza? Is she worried that refugees from the Palestinian areas will add to the flood of refugees from Iraq into the region, and what is being done to address that? What, above all, is being done to address the sense of injustice in this region, the illegal settlements, the root of the war, the road and border closures, and the withholding of customs revenues?

The EU is a major aid giver to this area. The Israelis have a very valuable trade agreement with the EU. The EU is a member of the quartet. Israeli citizens must be exceedingly worried about their future security and their very future in this situation. What different role will the UK now urge on the EU, given the failure of the policy to date? As in Northern Ireland, surely the peace and security craved by both sides will come only through prosperity and justice, not through oppression or force on either side.

6.51 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for responding to the Statement. It is indeed a very difficult, dangerous and complex situation, and we are very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the fact that food prices are rising, as well as the fact that Israel immediately closed all the borders. The noble Lord is right that Israel has said that it is easing the boycott. I hope that it is. I have no further information, but I will certainly follow the situation very closely. He asked how many people have been held up at the crossing since the violence escalated. I have no figures. I do not know whether they are known but, if they are, I will certainly write to him and place a copy in the Library.

The noble Lord suggested that Gaza is now controlled by violent militias. He is absolutely right. I draw a distinction between the Hamas miltias who have perpetrated the gross violence in Gaza and Hamas at the political level. There is a difference between the two that we would be wise to remember. He referred to the Government on the West Bank. We believe that this is an emergency Government that cannot exist in perpetuity. There will have to be re-elections, which is what President Abbas has said. The noble Lord suggested that Israel might wish to reoccupy the West Bank. I do not believe that it does. I do not believe that Israel as a state or the Israeli people want to reoccupy that land; I do not believe that there is a safe future for Israel if it reoccupies that land. The noble Lord repeated the suggestion that the recent troubles and the establishment of the new emergency Government were good for the West Bank and bad for Gaza. Our hope is that, although we are deeply concerned about the present situation, ultimately we trust that it will be good for both the West Bank and the people of Gaza, because we cannot allow a situation to continue in which the Palestinian people are so split.

I understand that the quartet meeting will sadly no longer take place at the weekend, although there were some very welcome conclusions to a very lengthy quartet discussion on 15 June. Our priorities for the quartet must be practical and ensure that the necessary

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assistance gets to the people in Gaza in particular, and to the Palestinian people on the West Bank. In respect of which agencies are currently active in the West Bank, I know that UN agencies, including UNRWA, have withdrawn. I am not sure which agencies are currently there, but I will seek to find out and inform the noble Lord.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, rightly stated that this is a very limited Statement: it is a very early Statement. As noble Lords will know, the GAERC—the general affairs council—is meeting today and Prime Minister Olmert is in the United States. I hope that there will be more to say on this subject in the coming days. The noble Baroness spoke of Israel, the border crossings and the illegal settlements. We have been urging Israel at every possible level and at every possible opportunity to stop building illegal settlements and to ensure that if there is be a barrier it is not built on Palestinian land. These are illegal actions. We say that to Israel all the time.

The noble Baroness expressed surprise at the surprise. We have tried to engage with members of the former National Unity Government who were not members of Hamas. Our problem with Hamas is that it is a political party with which we cannot have a real dialogue because it continually says that it wishes to obliterate one of the parties to the dialogue. It therefore cannot be a proper partner for dialogue. We believe that the temporary international mechanism is important, has been important and will continue to be important and necessary. We must not forget that this year the EU has paid more money to the Palestinian people than in any year previously. While the problems are enormous and the Palestinian people need and must continue to have that money, we must not forget that we are paying them a requisite amount.

As regards Hamas MPs who have been imprisoned, we, too, believe that is wrong and have called for their release, which we will continue to do. We want to assist all the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. I referred earlier to practical problems and solutions. I believe that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is today speaking with her colleagues in the GAERC about practical solutions to ensure that the people in Gaza and the West Bank have access to basic necessities such as food, water and electricity.

There have been and continue to be terrible injustices in the Middle East. We are working with both sides to ensure that those injustices are solved. We have impressed on the Israeli Government the need not just to dismantle the settlements and the barriers but also to pay the tax revenues which are the right and due of the Palestinian people. My right honourable friend will certainly discuss that with the Israeli Foreign Minister today. She will suggest that now more than ever is the time to ensure that those tax revenues are paid. As I understand it, Israel has paid back $100 million, but $750 million still has to be paid. Israel should and must pay that money back to the Palestinian people.

7 pm

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