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3 July 2007 : Column 969

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I shall not reiterate what my noble friend said, but we were all very much looking forward to hearing something about this. The number of women prisoners has almost doubled in 10 years but they are still a small proportion of the prison population. I was enthused by the Corston report. Given the quality and the experience in your Lordships’ House, I should have thought this would have been an area on which we would be consulted, and that the appropriate department might take our views into account when thinking the matter through.

Unsurprisingly, the report suggests that if women should be in prison at all—I shall say a few words about that in a moment in relation to my visit to Downview—they should be in small, easily accessible units. Those units should, if possible, be situated in cities, although that may be a little unfair to those who live in rural areas. However, they should be situated in easily accessible areas to enable family members such as husbands to keep in contact. As we all know, families are likely to stay together longer if such contact is maintained, and, we hope, long enough for the children to get the full benefit of that.

The idea went through my head—noble Lords might think it quite mad—that, although a couple of women’s prisons have already been sucked into the male circuit, if all of them became male prisons, that would provide places to resolve prison overcrowding and the new set-up could begin almost at once. The rather splendid idea of providing these sorts of prisons could be introduced. That may or may not make sense.

I visited many women’s prisons while I served on the Parole Board, but on my recent visit to Downview I was struck by two things. First, all the women participating in an excellent course to train to be communicators and run a television unit were hard on me, asking why on Earth women had such long sentences compared to men. Only about a third of them, compared to many more men, had previous convictions when sent to prison. When one thinks it through, quite a lot of them were there for carrying drugs, maybe as mules, but then we need to think why and who sent them there. Were they subject to abuse? Were they in some form of slavery? I suspect that that side has not been sufficiently researched for some time, and it reinforced my thoughts about this range of issues.

At Downview it appeared that a number of good initiatives were going on. One brilliant woman won a prize from Asda—I think I mentioned that to the noble and learned Baroness—and the television unit made a film about it. She was given a great deal of attention by the local Asda. Out of all that came the interesting thought that Asda central office was not taking the view that all Asdas might take in offenders, think of them in this way and get rid of the awful feeling that anybody who has been in prison should not be recruited. It could have done that, but it has not. If the noble and learned Baroness, as I suggested to her, got Asda central and other companies likely to behave in the same way involved, you could extend enormously the number of employers—when a lot has already been done to get them aboard—that would take on the problem.

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We should think about women as part of the scene, as a crucial part of society. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, wanted a report in six months. Well, we have had another amendment passed that is looking six months hence. I would like some assurance from the noble and learned Baroness that the important and rather different role of women is being taken account of and that wider consultation is going on rather than just inward discussion.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I—

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sorry, but the Minister has already spoken and we ought to bring the consideration on the amendment to a close.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I apologise; the misunderstanding is my fault. I tried to bring forward the commissioner amendment and to speak to why I was proposing that the Commissioner for Women should be on the offender management board. I apologise if I caused any confusion because my noble friend has been saying something that needs to be said, and the importance of women must be recognised. If it is not appropriate to speak now to the commissioner issue, I would welcome guidance on whether I should now reply to what the Minister said.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord is faced with having to withdraw his amendment or insist that the House consider it.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, obviously I would like to hear what the right reverend Prelate has to say, if that is possible.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not have the precise reference in the Companion, but it is pretty clear about the rules of debate on Report. I apologise if that is the case, as I feel constrained myself in offering advice to the noble Lord, but that is how the House is supposed to work.

I refer the noble Lord to paragraph 7.134 on page 122 of the Companion, which states:

That is the position.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I accept that and it is clear that I should have tried to amend the grouping before it came out. I failed to do that because I did not see it until late.

The issue has been raised, and I understand the noble and learned Baroness as saying that it will come back to the House in the form of a major debate. I hope there will be one, because then we could raise these issues in a much wider context.

I was concerned to hear the other day how suddenly one of the women’s prisons, Cookham Wood, had been changed into a male young offender establishment. An enormous number of good things had been going on in Cookham Wood. Many

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organisations had been funded by voluntary foundations to do work there, and imaginative programmes were being introduced, but all those have gone. One of my reasons for suggesting that we have a Commissioner for Women right at the heart of any offender management planning is that that sort of issue could be better represented by someone who knows all the issues, knows what is going on and can fight the case to prevent the unnecessary destruction of a vast amount of good work specifically designed around the needs of women and young women to prevent their reoffending. I apologise for the confusion caused. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned and begin again at 8.27 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Palestine: Occupied Territories

7.27 pm

Lord Dykes rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, following the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territories in June, they will make representations to the Government of Israel about the return of those territories.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government Whips’ Office for the opportunity of raising this subject now and for providing time for the debate. I am delighted to see many noble Lords far more distinguished and competent than I am to debate these complex and frustrating issues, particularly when the authorities in Glasgow, London and elsewhere are grappling with the present emergency. For the moment, at least, the near East seems to have gone quietish, but for how long that will last is a matter of conjecture.

Above all this debate is about the search for justice and fairness for the Palestinians and real security for the state of Israel. After what has happened over the years, the time for toying around with endless American pseudo-initiatives for a settlement is over.

I launch this debate above all as an enthusiastic friend of Israel of many years’ standing. It has become a great and impressive country in the effervescent near East cockpit, a normal country with major internal socio-economic problems as we have here in Europe and Britain, but a country none the less of great achievements. The economy is strong and the country is militarily completely safe other than from marginal and often futile bomber attacks, which have anyway declined markedly in recent months. The Hamas long-term hudna appears to be holding, for the most part.

Having quite rightly built up Israel to be the unbeatable military power in the region to ensure its relative high security and the safety of its citizens, the United States, after 1967 and especially since the

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arrival of the most incompetent and mediocre President in post-war history in 2000, decided that, through the excessive use of US vetoes in the Security Council and elsewhere in the UN—indeed more than 30 times since resolution 242 after the six-day war—Israel should be strangely exempted from the normal obligations of UN members to adhere to international law and to withdraw from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

Successive US intermediaries came and went over the years, including the highly distinguished Senator George Mitchell, all with sensible recommendations for peace, all ignored. Was there a secret Bush-Sharon agreement? Many people still think so, but the jury is out on that. On 14 June, I asked the then Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Triesman—whether the Government here would make a further request to the US Government to persuade the Government of Israel to follow international law in response to UN resolutions 242 and 338. He replied:

I welcome that Answer very much. Some sceptical observers think that the Blair Government here were pretending about all that, but I give them the full benefit of the doubt. Far too many years have been wasted already, and it is a total disgrace that the quartet exercise has never even begun because the Israeli Government will still not open proper negotiations with the Palestinians. I believe that the Minister—I thank her very much for coming, listening and winding up the debate—and the new Prime Minister are sincere in wanting a just solution to the Palestinians' hideous plight, and the even greater enhancement of Israel's security and civic safety that will result from that lasting settlement.

A bad moment ensued on 21 June at the special summit in Egypt with Israel and Jordan when Prime Minister Olmert still refused to start substantive talks with President Abbas, after all that the latter had done in recent times by way of deep co-operation and conciliation of Israel’s perfectly legitimate security demands. What will Mr Blair’s role be as some kind of putative peace emissary, not involved in negotiations? We wait to see the clear details of the mandate. Mr Wolfensohn gave up in disgust in spring 2006 and went home, so the jury remains out on that question as well.

Also, can we really trust the Americans after all the sad incidents that have taken place? The jury must be out on that too. When I was in the West Bank in November 2005 with Gerald Kaufman MP, Hillary Clinton was visiting Israel. She went only there; she did not go to the Palestinian territories at all, and she declared the new wall a very good idea. I am not sure you will get an even-handed approach from the Democrats, unless they miraculously bring back Jimmy Carter.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian territories seethe with huge rumours of US plots to split Palestine into two docile future parts. It is up to the Americans to show that those rumours are unfounded nonsense.

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Naomi Klein, the distinguished writer, recently and vividly described the new boom in Israel as the creation of the,

with new entrepreneurs inventing equipment to,

She went on to say that such items had all become important exports for Israeli companies, like other military hardware. Why not, but is that the total economy to be created if no lasting security comes?

I understand perfectly that, for many Israeli citizens, it makes much more sense to concentrate on seeking the good life—it is easily available if people work hard in Israel—rather than be bothered with what is happening in the Occupied Territories. It is just like how we Brits used to shrug our shoulders at the unrest and the mistreatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland. Of course, that cosy stance is a fine piece of self-delusion for a people led by—I am sad to say—a short-sighted and narrow-minded Government under Prime Minister Olmert. For instance, the despair and anger expressed in the vivid report of Álvaro de Soto, the Middle East UN envoy, at his end of mission on 5 May emphasised that western-led peace efforts had failed completely. He also thought that the boycott of Hamas was extremely short-sighted. Sending Hamas into exile had, he asserted, “effectively transformed the Quartet” into a sanctions-imposing body, harming a,

Many international observers consider that all the quartet powers are in breach of international law and the Geneva Convention in allowing the Palestinians to be subjected to huge collective punishment in ghettos separated by often brutal Israeli checkpoints, apartheid roads and no-go areas in their own towns, with the Israelis still holding over 9,000 detainees, mostly without due process. For example, the French press on Monday reported that Said al-Atabeh had had 30 years in detention without any trial whatever. The sad situation goes on unless real action is taken by the international community and the immediate parties concerned: Palestine, the future state, and Israel, the present state.

I ask noble Lords to read the appalling details of Amnesty International's latest report on the misery of the occupied Palestinians and its accompanying letter of 4 June. The fourth paragraph of that letter read:

Most of the assertions in that and other similar reports have been backed up repeatedly not just by the international NGOs of repute, but by the home-grown Israeli and Palestinian ones as well. Once again, I pay tribute to the wonderful work of Israeli groups such as Peace Now, B’Tselem and the brave

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ladies of the checkpoint watch organisation, trying to stop young and often nervous IDF soldiers misbehaving and harassing the local population. The recent vicious civil war in Gaza and the West Bank has left the majority of thinking, civilised Palestinians in despair.

The West cannot leave the Palestinians to rot in this mess created by Israeli intransigence, American defiance and EU myopia. The situation remains a total disgrace. The real bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority should have started years ago. At least a miserable overall scenario is mitigated by the amazing courage of individuals, groups and organisations from both Palestine and Israel who still work together to promote coexistence, despite an atmosphere of deterioration. George Soros's criticisms of the activities of AIPAC in the USA with pusillanimous politicians there is relevant, too. I feel sad that I have to say that.

Why are the Palestinian missions in the capital cities, particularly Washington DC, so feeble and badly organised? I am sad to make that criticism as well.

Israel is an established and successful state, with wide international support. Palestine is fighting a despairing battle for statehood and recognition. Surely the established state has the moral and legal obligation to take the lead in ending its colonial occupation forthwith and asking the provocative settlers to move back to Israel proper, to a prosperous economy with plenty of jobs available in the future. That is the key to Israel's survival as a mainly Zionist-based state, otherwise the population growth statistics will confound the legitimate aspirations of millions of sensible Israeli citizens. That remains the reality.

It took years for the West to stand up to the nauseating evil of apartheid in South Africa. There are no direct comparisons to be made between that and what is happening between Palestine and Israel, but Israel needs to accept the overdue demand of the whole world community to do what is urgently needed. Israel has so much and Palestine so little, with only 22 per cent of the combined territory left if they return to the 1967 lines.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords—

Lord Dykes: My Lords, now is the time for Israeli generosity, pragmatism, imagination and, above all, courage.

7.38 pm

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for reminding us of 40 years ago, at least in the Question if not in his speech. Too often, commentators speak as though the whole Palestinian-Israeli problem started in 1967, and it does us all good to remember the real situation then. Israel was under a dire threat from surrounding hostile armies poised for war. Israel expected Egypt and Syria to fight, which they did, Egypt losing Gaza and Sinai and Syria the Golan Heights. However,

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Israel did not also expect Jordan to attack, which it did—unfortunately for it—losing the West Bank and east Jerusalem, with the old city.

I was in Israel in August 40 years ago and remember, in the weeks after the six-day war, the euphoria and high hopes of peace at last that permeated Israel, and the mad rush of Israelis to see places—many of them holy to Judaism—that they had not been able to visit since 1948. They fully expected that many of those places would, under any hoped-for settlement, not be in Israeli hands for long.

I would like to put on record that I visited Gaza then for the first time. It was a hellhole, and it was only a matter of weeks since it had been Egypt’s responsibility. We now know that the hopes for peace were dashed, and after some ups and many downs we are where we are now. There are some signs of hope again. First, on 25 June, Egypt hosted a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh of Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to advance the peace process and to consider the Saudi initiative. The Saudi peace plan was first proposed in 2002, and it is now being reconsidered by all the interested parties. Israel has restated its commitment to withdrawals of West Bank settlements, and it is releasing funds for the Palestinian Authority under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Last—because it is all I have time for—but by no means least, Tony Blair is now the Middle East envoy of the quartet. He said on appointment that a solution was possible but required “huge intensity and work”. None of us who know him doubts that he is capable of both, as he so amply demonstrated in Northern Ireland and throughout his premiership. Given all his other talents of negotiation and persuasion, we have grounds for hope. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the whole House and all people of good will should wish him well in his formidable task.

7.41 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for initiating this timely debate. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum, and I am involved in interfaith dialogue promoting peace and harmony among different racial and religious groups. I am convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want a durable two-state solution.

That being said, history has proven that Israelis and Palestinians, even when they are ready to negotiate directly, will need a credible third party to guide them through the process. Here, the role and full support of the President of United States will be essential. America remains the only power that is acceptable to both sides. I welcome the appointment of Tony Blair as the Middle East quartet’s new envoy. He is likely to obtain support from America and from other countries. He has the skills to engage with Hamas as he did with Sinn Fein.

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