Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Surely we should welcome the positive steps made at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit on 25 June. Prime Minister Olmert agreed to take a number of measures to assist President Abbas. The measures include the release of 250 Fatah-affiliated prisoners held in Israeli jails, the release of £300 million of Palestinian Authority funds, and the continuation of humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip, including water, electricity, food and so on.

Those are positive steps. I welcome what I thought was a balanced contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who paid tribute to those on both sides who are trying to work towards a peaceful solution. I also recognise the importance of a Middle East peace settlement, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The difficulty, we all know, is how we work towards this settlement.

I was truly baffled by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. Does she really believe that in this debate, which has gone on for more than 40 years, all we have to do is to persuade one side—just Israel; that we do not need to persuade any on the Palestinian side to stop making rocket attacks? It just will not work, no more than her suggestion that we should encourage boycotts and so on will work. Is that really going to promote dialogue in this complex and difficult situation? I do not think that anybody in this Chamber really believes, or very few believe, that that is the case.

I, like many others, welcome the appointment of Tony Blair. He has taken on another difficult task, but he has the determination and resilience to try to succeed.

8.08 pm

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was surely right to say that it is absurd to try to deal with the Palestinian issue in a three-minute speech. It is even more absurd to try to sum up a debate of this kind in three minutes. As I am not a party spokesman, I make it clear that I am doing so only because of my long connection with this issue. For seven years I was the president of Medical Aid for Palestinians, a charity which has done such wonderful work in the Palestinian communities.

I was also the first party leader to visit Yasser Arafat and to talk to him at a time when it was not fashionable to do so. In fact, it was not allowed by the Government of the day in 1980 because the PLO was treated as a terrorist organisation like the ANC. I have to say that I think he was a rather successful resistance leader but a pretty appalling administration leader, as the elections recently in the West Bank proved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, was right to remind us that the problem did not start in 1967. The Liberal Party was always “blamed” for the creation of the state of Israel because of the Balfour declaration. I use every opportunity to quote the 1917 Balfour declaration which envisaged the creation of the state of Israel. It said:

3 July 2007 : Column 984

Unfortunately, that has not been adhered to. That greatest statesman, Abba Eban, who was Israel's first UN representative, said after the 1967 war, when he was the country's foreign minister:

that is, the occupation of the Palestinian territories—

We need to get back to those profound words in order to understand the current situation in the West Bank.

I get particularly annoyed when I listen to Israeli Ministers dealing with the issue of the wall; to say, for example, that every nation has a right to build a wall to defend its security. That is not in doubt: I quite agree. The issue is the continued erosion of the Palestinian territory by the route of the wall. I cannot understand why we have been so weak on this issue. The Israeli Supreme Court itself has ruled that,

It ruled that the security wall caused “unjustified hardship” to thousands of Palestinians, yet we have done nothing in the wake of further encroachments on the Palestinian territory.

The Question of my noble friend Lord Dykes, whom I congratulate on raising this debate, refers to the return of territories, but day by day we see more and more territory taken. That is the reality of the situation on the ground.

I hope that we will return to the Beirut Declaration of 2002, to which reference has already been made. The Arab states have offered collectively to give recognition to Israel in return for withdrawal from the territories. That is what we must hope for. We wish Tony Blair every success in his efforts as the new Middle East negotiator.

8.11 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, recent events in Gaza have been a huge setback for all those working towards a two-state solution. Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip through the brutal use of force. We welcome the quartet’s prompt action in convening an urgent meeting and giving its support to President Abbas. We also welcome the United States and the EU lifting the boycott on the Palestinian Authority and resuming the transfer of aid. However, it is clear that those are only preliminary steps. Given that before the latest violence, 87 per cent of the population of Gaza was living below the poverty line, what action do the Government believe is required to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza?

The EU High Representative has said that most EU funding will go to the West Bank, but that some would go to Gaza. What form will the assistance to Gaza take? Will the Minister assure the House that there will be no weakening of our position with regard to Hamas meeting the quartet's conditions? The Arab League agreed to establish a fact-finding committee made up of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,

3 July 2007 : Column 985

Tunisia and Qatar to engage with Hamas and Fatah and report back in 48 hours. Can the noble Baroness update the House about the progress made by that committee?

The whole House will be united in calling for the immediate release of Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist. Anyone who watched the chilling video of him will feel enormous sympathy for him and his family. Given the public demonstrations by Palestinians demanding his release, I trust that the Foreign Office is taking every possible step to press for his safe return.

Achieving peace in the Middle East and a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, based on a viable two-state solution, is one of the most pressing issues of our time. The challenge for Tony Blair will be to show that he can command the confidence of all parties, which will not be easy. The former Prime Minister's mandate includes mobilising international assistance to the Palestinians and helping to develop their institutions and economy. Inevitably, his appointment has been condemned by Hamas, but we on these Benches wish him well in his new role.

8.14 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this debate shows us once again the fundamental importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for provoking a stimulating debate on this issue, and many noble Lords for putting it into its important historical context. Naturally, I share many of the concerns expressed today. The events of recent weeks have been shocking and we need a sober and measured response from all parties and from the international community as a whole.

The Government are pursuing a two-fold approach. First, we must respond to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. But, the over-riding objective remains the resumption of negotiations, leading to a two-state solution with an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel. That is the only realistic basis for a just and lasting peace and it is the very firm position of this Government. It is our position because it is right for the people of the Middle East. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, it is also an important element of our global anti-terrorist strategy. At this stage, however, humanitarian work is our immediate priority.

In addition to our extensive support through the EU and the UN, we announced on 19 June a bilateral contribution of £1 million to the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza and the West Bank. Our current commitment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—UNRWA—stands at more than £100 million over five years. I pay tribute to the work of those and other humanitarian organisations. Like the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, I applaud the bravery of those who have distributed aid and provided medical services in these conditions. My condolences go to the families of those who have tragically been killed while undertaking this work.

3 July 2007 : Column 986

The senseless violence we saw in Gaza only disrupts humanitarian efforts, which in turn compounds the damage already caused to the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Palestinians. Along with EU and quartet parties, we understand why President Abbas had to dismiss the national unity Government. We support his decision to form a new Government. We are now working with that Government and support their efforts to restore law and order to the occupied Palestinian territories. President Abbas and his new Prime Minister face enormous challenges, but they are men of peace. They understand that peace can come only through negotiations, not violence. They deserve our support as they try to bring stability back to the occupied Palestinian territories—all of the occupied territories.

We are working with our international partners to help them in their difficult task. On 18 June, EU Foreign Ministers called for an urgent political solution of the crisis. They also expressed their full support for President Abbas and his decision to declare a state of emergency and to install an emergency Government. The EU agreed to resume normal relations with the Palestinian Authority immediately. We will now develop the conditions for urgent practical and financial assistance, including direct financial support to the Government, support to the Palestinian civilian police, the resumption of the EU Border Assistance Mission, and intensive efforts to build the institutions of the future Palestinian state. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is right to point out the importance of a viable Palestinian economy. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Mitchell that a description of Israel as an apartheid state is rather emotive and therefore unhelpful.

I am delighted that Prime Minister Olmert has given President Abbas his support, and I welcome his decision to release $116 million of Palestinian tax revenues to the emergency Government. That is something that we and our European colleagues have consistently called for. It has been a long time coming and we have fought hard, but it has started to come. I say to my noble friend Lord Watson that for the first time in more than a year, all civil servants, including those in Gaza, will receive their full salary. We welcome that. We do not want a three-state solution.

I attach the greatest importance to talks between Olmert and Abbas. We know that negotiations of this kind are difficult and often emotive. The international community can help, but success depends on Israel and the Palestinian Government working to resolve some of the contentious issues.

My noble friend Lord Bernstein mentioned the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They clearly remain contrary to international law and an obstacle to peace. The road map is clear that Israel must freeze all settlement activity—that is settlement construction and the natural growth of existing settlements—and dismantle all outposts built since March 2001. We will continue to press the Israeli Government on that point.

My noble friend is of course right to say that the Government of Israel have a responsibility to ensure the security of their people. They have a right to self-defence. If they want to build a barrier, as the

3 July 2007 : Column 987

noble Lord, Lord Steel said, they are entitled to do so. But that barrier must be on or behind the green line. Any barrier on occupied land contravenes international law and must come down. We have made that point to the Israeli Government on numerous occasions and we will continue to do so.

We have given Israel consistent and clear messages on the need to respect and take forward the road map. Of course, Palestinian leaders must do the same. Some today have suggested that the international community has followed a misguided policy towards Hamas. I refute that. We have provided food, shelter and medical supplies to the Palestinian people. Militants have provided guns, violence and death.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made some telling points, but he will understand better than most the importance of a united position around the UN principles. Our policy has not changed. We expect Hamas to adhere to the principles set by the quartet in January 2006. Those are to renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept all previous agreements and obligations, as set out in the road map. I hope that it does that and that it takes the opportunity for dialogue and progress, but a political dialogue is impossible as long as Hamas dedicates itself to violence and destruction.

The quartet's engagement is key. We support its statement of 15 June that called for: an urgent end to the violence; the co-operation of all parties to ensure security; and the necessary access conditions for the passage of humanitarian goods and personnel both within the Gaza Strip and at key crossing points. Indeed, as my noble friend Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale rightly pointed out, the engagement of all international partners—the EU, the Arab League and the quartet—is crucial.

Like my noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Young of Norwood Green, we welcome the ongoing dialogue between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, the efforts of the Arab League to take forward the Arab peace initiative and the quartet's engagement, and the appointment of a new special representative. The meeting last week between President Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas was also a positive step forward. The international community must work together to maintain that momentum. I was asked for further information in respect of that meeting. I regret that I do not have further information this evening, but if I receive further information, I will certainly inform noble Lords.

As noble Lords have rightly said, the work of organisations such as the excellent One Voice is also a vital part of bringing together Palestinians and Israelis better to understand each other and to work for peace. Like my noble friend Lady Ramsay, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and the noble Lord, Lord Astor, I hope that everyone will join me in passing on best wishes to Tony Blair as he takes on his new role helping to build the institutions of a viable Palestinian state. That is vital work.

The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, asked, very specifically, whether we intend to make representations to the Israeli Government to mark the 40th anniversary of

3 July 2007 : Column 988

the occupation. The continuing unresolved conflict in the Middle East remains at the core of insecurity in the region. The 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War serves only to remind us of the urgent need to return to dialogue and secure a just, lasting and permanent solution. That means a viable and independent Palestinian state, alongside a safe and secure Israel. The British Government believe that the best way to help to achieve a peaceful resolution is to encourage both Israel and the Palestinians to take the steps necessary for progress through close engagement and dialogue at all levels. We will find peace in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories only through patient negotiation—negotiation which looks ahead to a two-state future, which focuses on the tragedy of the death and poverty of today’s Palestinians and the security of Israeli civilians, rather than old grievances which are no longer in our power to solve.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, was right to remind us of the plight of Alan Johnston. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to work closely with the BBC and the Palestinian Authority to secure the safe release of Alan Johnston. We will continue to call on those holding Alan to release him unconditionally.

The two-state solution is the only realistic basis for a just and lasting peace, but both parties need to fulfil their obligations in order for this to become a reality. The international community has a key role to play in helping to secure this outcome and this Government are fully committed to doing whatever they can to help.

I appear to have finished two minutes early. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn for pleasure until 8.27 pm.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.25 to 8.27 pm].

Offender Management Bill

Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

The Earl of Listowel moved Amendment No. 33A:

(a) the level of seniority required for the supervision of another officer;(b) minimum periods of time required for, and frequency of, supervisory meetings.

3 July 2007 : Column 989

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment will oblige the Minister to publish guidelines on qualifications, experience or training for those permitted to work as prison officers and to publish minimum standards for the supervision of prison officers. Its purpose is to probe the Government further on their plans for the prison officer workforce.

Last Thursday your Lordships debated the Leitch report on skills. The threat to our future prosperity posed by our comparative lack of development of low and medium-level skills was made clear. There is a recognition that we need to be more effective as a nation in this area. Our education system has disappointed young people and excluded them by not providing adequate vocational qualifications. We have not made available the apprenticeship schemes for young people to train. There is a gulf between the standard of development of our social care professionals and that of many continental countries; that is most apparent in our children’s homes.

The social care workforce White Paper Options for Excellence, published in October 2006, promised a move to learning organisations staffed by professional and reflective practitioners. While I recognise the important difference between work in the secure estate and that of social care, there is much common ground, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out. There is, I admit, also the problem of the churn of inmates in prisons, but I hope that the Minister can say that his ambitions to some extent overlap the Options for Excellence White Paper.

The Lord Chief Justice recently quoted Thomas Holmes, who wrote about young offenders in 1900:

Of course that is simplistic, but it must be an important part of prison officers’ work in rehabilitating offenders to provide the positive family role model that many inmates have never experienced, and to sustain constructive and clearly bounded relationships with offenders. Only a learning organisation with professional and reflective practitioners is likely to be able to deliver these rehabilitative relationships. Because the history of inmates is likely to be a strong force in undermining those relationships, officers need to reflect and to be able to step around the pitfalls. Many officers also share the same background as the inmates, which complicates matters.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page