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Mr Hague: It is a very important part of any middle east peace settlement, and my hon. Friend's question reminds us that it is very important to continue the work on a middle east peace settlement overall. The proximity talks have been taking place and we want them to become much more serious. European nations now have to look to how we can buttress the efforts of the United States to push those talks forward. It is one of the things that I want to discuss around European capitals next week. Ending this blockade of Gaza is an integral part of finding any such durable solution.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Is it not clear that Israel believes that it has done absolutely nothing wrong when it sends armed commandos to attack in international waters ships carrying humanitarian supplies to a tiny strip of land where more than 60% of the population are food-insecure? Could that not be because, for many years now, Israel has put itself above international law, without consequence from the international community? What does the Foreign Secretary think the practical consequences should be if Israel does not abide by the will of the international community this time?

Mr Hague: We will see whether Israel thinks, in the end, that it has done nothing wrong. The Israeli Cabinet is, as I understand it, meeting this afternoon for the first time since the incident and since Mr Netanyahu returned from north America, and we will see what, if indeed anything, comes out of that in terms of the investigation-the inquiry-that we and most of the rest of the world have called for. Again, I stress that it is important to make the case for those two things, the investigation and the lifting of the blockade, because it would be wrong to characterise everyone in Israel as insensitive to international opinion. This is an argument that has to be won within Israel, as well as in the rest of the world. That is why I am taking the approach that we are taking and, indeed, previous Governments, broadly, have taken; and I am sure that, for now, that is the right approach.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a little rich for the Israeli Government to justify their behaviour on the ground that they are denying matériel to a terrorist organisation when they have in the recent past shown themselves perfectly willing to import proscribed munitions for use against civilian targets?

Mr Hague: Again, my hon. Friend adds to a strength of feeling and to points made that will be widely noticed and, I hope, taken note of in Israel itself.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary has quite rightly said that we need a credible and independent inquiry. This was an illegal act in international waters, involving citizens from many countries throughout the world. Surely the only way in which we can have a credible and independent inquiry is if it is an international, credible inquiry. Does the Foreign Secretary support that? If not, why not?

Mr Hague: We shall see about that. The hon. Gentleman may be right in the end, but, in answering his right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), I referred to the fact that Israel has previously held
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inquiries-into some of the events in Lebanon in the 1980s and into the Lebanon war in 2006-that certainly were independent and credible by international standards, and that meted out considerable and, sometimes, severe criticism to the authorities in Israel. It is possible for them to do that. Today I have made the additional case that such an inquiry and investigation should have an international presence and, therefore, be not just an Israeli inquiry. But I have also not excluded this Government from advocating the sort of inquiry that the hon. Gentleman would prefer to see, if no other action is taken in the meantime.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Behind Hamas lurks the spectre of both Syria and Iran. Were the Gaza blockade to be lifted at some point in the future, what practical assistance could Her Majesty's Government, the European Union or NATO offer to Israel in order to stop the smuggling of weaponry from those two rogue states?

Mr Hague: Such assistance and such assurance is very important, and that is why we are now consulting other nations on the best vehicle for providing it: whether that is best done under United Nations' auspices, and how much more the European Union can do. There have, of course, been previous attempts to provide it under EU auspices, but it is very important to be able to stop the flow of arms into Gaza, just as it is so vital to be able to open up Gaza to humanitarian aid and to more normal economic activity. My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I join my colleagues in condemning the actions of the Israeli Government. Two of my constituents, Sarah Colbourne and one other woman, are currently in detention in Israel. I thank the consulate for its work with them, but I am concerned about their position. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that an international flavour to an investigation, and an independent investigation, are important. Notwithstanding that, will he or the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), agree to meet my constituents and others who were there-because nothing beats hearing it from the horse's mouth-in an attempt to shape this Government's foreign policy towards Israel?

Mr Hague: Yes. In fact, my hon. Friend is already working on plans to meet such a group when they have returned, if they desire such a meeting.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement, in particular the call for an international and impartial element to an investigation. However, is it not crucial to ensure that the peace talks resume and that the role of Turkey, which had been an important regional ally of Israel's, is both supported and encouraged?

Mr Hague: Yes, that is very important. It is important that the proximity talks turn into something much more than proximity talks. Turkey has become very active diplomatically in the whole region, and in a very welcome way; in our proceedings this afternoon, we have referred several times to the role of the Turkish Foreign Minister.
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Turkey has tried hard in recent years to bring Syria and Israel closer together and it has sometimes come within an ace of bringing permanent peace between the two countries. In general, Turkey has played a very constructive role in the region, and I am sure that she will want to do so in future.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The unauthorised boarding of a vessel in international waters by armed combatants is normally referred to as piracy. The Foreign Secretary is a Yorkshireman noted for his blunt speaking. Will he not use that word on this occasion?

Mr Hague: The blunt Yorkshireman has been converted into a Foreign Secretary who weighs his words carefully, dramatic transition though that may be. As we are advocating a prompt, independent, credible and transparent investigation and inquiry, in the terms that I have put forward, it is important for us to be prepared to see what it produces before feeling that we need to add any other language to how I have expressed things today.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): This afternoon, the Secretary of State appears to have ruled out a number of options for dealing with Israel within a European Union context. What exactly is the United Kingdom doing within the European Union to maximise diplomatic pressure to end the blockade on Gaza?

Mr Hague: I am not conscious of ruling anything out, and I am not ruling anything out. But again I must stress that there is an enormous amount of pressure. I had dinner with many of the European Foreign Ministers in Sarajevo last night and I have seen many more of them this morning. They are all expressing themselves in very similar ways, and very emphatically, to the Government of Israel. There is no doubt about the intensity of the feeling and pressure from the European Union. Clearly, we will now want to discuss as a body what more we can do and, most importantly, what we can do working with the United States to try to give new momentum to the middle east peace process as a whole. The issue is right up there on the agenda and in the minds of European Foreign Ministers, and there will be a great deal of pressure.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): As someone who has been to Gaza twice since Operation Cast Lead, I ask the Foreign Secretary to exempt Members of the House, at least, and other people who can bear witness, from the advice not to travel to Gaza. Perhaps he would like to go himself. Having a news blackout and hiding the appalling situation is exactly what the Israeli Government want, as they did during Operation Cast Lead. May I add that the Foreign Secretary's testy conversations with Mr Lieberman are not going to get us anywhere? We need sanctions if Israel is to lift the blockade at all.

Mr Hague: Testy conversations with Mr Lieberman are part of what we need to do. I have explained our overall approach and my reaction to the suggestion of sanctions. I understand the hon. Gentleman's strength of feeling and knowledge about the situation in Gaza. Our general travel advice is not to go to Gaza, but
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sometimes Members of Parliament are able to go in a privileged and particularly safe way. Such visits must happen and are welcome; it is important for this House to have as much knowledge and information as possible about what is happening on the ground. I am not discouraging right hon. and hon. Members from going under the right circumstances, but let us not mistake that for our general travel advice to the British public.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): As the Foreign Secretary mentioned, under Israeli law aid workers may face charges. Should not the killers of the aid workers face charges under international law?

Mr Hague: Since we have called for an investigation, I do not think that we can pre-empt such matters. I stress that, as far as we know, the aid workers, activists, or people who were aboard the ship-however we want to describe them-and who may be in that position do not include any of the British nationals. Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a point that illustrates the strength of feeling in this House. That is one reason why we need to continue to call so strongly for the credible investigation to which I have referred.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary has rightly referred to the strength of feeling in this House, and, indeed, almost on a global basis. However, he will be as aware as anyone that Israel has a well-founded reputation for toughing out these crises, hoping that they will go away, and has been very successful in doing that. He made the point, again rightly, that these events are the recruiting sergeants for terrorism. Can he tell the House-this is a serious question-what will be different this time?

Mr Hague: I cannot guarantee to the hon. Gentleman what the course of events will now be. I can say, slightly reiterating what I said earlier, that these incidents have shone a particular spotlight on to the situation in Gaza. The speed and unity of the diplomatic response is unusual. I referred earlier to the ease with which the UN Security Council statement was agreed, including with the United States-I stress that point. I think that that will have been duly noted in Israel; in fact, I know that it has been duly noted in Israel. Can I promise what reaction the Israelis will now provide? No, I cannot, but we will watch it very closely and minutely, and we will argue very strongly for the measures that I have set out today, not excluding other courses of action in the future.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): It is an unusual and impressive sight to see a Yorkshireman linguistically restrained, but I thank the Foreign Secretary for what was, in the main, a robust and refreshing statement. I also include the shadow Foreign Secretary in that.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned that the Rafah crossing has been reopened. We have been told in the past that that will open up an enormous amount of access for munitions and weapons of war. If some good has come from this bloodstained horror, it is the opening of the Rafah crossing. Will this be monitored, will there be a report to the House, and will we be able to consider, in this House, whether the truth of the Rafah crossing is that it is simply another border crossing, and not an access point for matériel for Hamas?

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Mr Speaker: There were three questions, but one answer will suffice.

Mr Hague: Yes, it is very important that this is monitored, and I certainly welcome other opportunities for the House to discuss these matters and to be updated on these events.

David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): Is it not the case that resolution 1860, as well as calling for an end to the blockade, acknowledges that the international community itself has responsibility to ensure that weapons are not smuggled into Gaza? We know that the Foreign Secretary does not want to send a gunboat to ensure that this happens- [ Interruption. ] I think that a gunboat has a rather different aim from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) wanted. Given that, what practical steps can the international community take to offer assistance not only to Israel, but to Egypt, to ensure that weapons are not getting into the Gaza strip, which will reassure the great mass of Israeli public opinion, which I believe will be as horrified about these events as are people in this House?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on what is required. There have been previous attempts at various forms of international presence and activity around Gaza that were meant to give assurance. Clearly, that has not worked, so we now have to find a new mechanism for doing so. Britain stands ready to help in many ways. When the hon. Gentleman referred to needing a gunboat, one of my right hon. Friends said, "We haven't got one." That was indeed how it turned out under the previous Government, when such a thing was offered but never materialised. That is why I am not making any rash promises. However, given the huge importance of this issue in international affairs, the United Kingdom will do whatever we can to assist.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): My constituents want more than pressure. Will the Foreign Secretary come back to the House and report on a timetable for the discussions on a diplomatic solution, just as we did on Ireland?

Mr Hague: I think that there will be many more discussions in this House. I am not offering a timetable
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today, but I have indicated that we have not excluded other actions and pressures in the future. I would be very disappointed if we did not have a further opportunity to discuss these things.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab) rose-

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, I call Mr Denis MacShane.

Mr MacShane: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the robust condemnations and statements from the Foreign Secretary and from my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary, but is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Hamas charter states:


and that

Such anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish language is the official doctrine and policy of Hamas. I share in all the points that the Foreign Secretary made and wish him well, but Hamas is part of the problem, not yet part of the solution.

Mr Hague: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman-I never thought I would say those words, but I am. I hope that I made that point in my statement in a slightly different way, by referring to the ideological motives of Hamas and reminding the House that there is a Hamas dimension to the whole problem. It has refused to forswear violence, recognise previous agreements and recognise Israel's right to exist, and until it starts making some concrete movement towards those things, it will be very difficult for the international community to discuss the future with it. The right hon. Gentleman adds force to that argument.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their co-operation, as a result of which everyone who wanted to contribute on the statement was given the opportunity to do so.

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Debate on the Address

[4th day]

Debate resumed (Order, 27 May).

Question again proposed,

Education and Health

4.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): It is a great honour to be asked to speak in support of the Gracious Speech this afternoon. As the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) will know, there are few greater honours and few more daunting invitations than being asked to lead the Government Department responsible for the country's schools. I am grateful beyond words for the chance to serve my country in this job.

I am grateful also to have a team alongside me that is distinguished and dedicated to ensuring that every child has a better start in life. I am grateful that my hon. Friends the Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) have agreed to serve in this partnership Government. I look forward to working with them in the years ahead.

This Gracious Speech contains two education Bills. Those measures will grant more freedom to teachers, give more choice to parents, reduce bureaucracy for all schools and provide additional help for the weakest. They will ensure that standards rise for all children and will specifically target resources on the most disadvantaged, so that we narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Michael Gove: In due course. This is a progressive programme and, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) appreciates, it comes from a partnership Government. I know that our programme commands support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. It also owes a great deal in its design to someone I am proud to call a right hon. Friend. Before I say anymore, may I therefore say a few words about my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who was for three years the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education? During that time I, like the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, got to know, like and admire my right hon. Friend. In all our dealings, he was unfailingly honest, considerate, thoughtful and principled. He never, ever sought personal advantage, but instead sought at all times to do the right thing, consistent with his principles.

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