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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I must say straightaway that I am not in a position to give the noble Baroness an answer to that question. I am sure she will understand that at the moment we are sailing in extremely dangerous waters. Matters are being handled with the greatest sensitivity. Indeed, it is for that reason that our Foreign Secretary is today visiting the region to try to talk to all the relevant parties.
Clearly, it is essential that we achieve some kind of rapprochement between the parties. To echo what the noble Baroness has indicated, there are one or two encouraging signs. I am sure that I shall be able to report to the House more clearly once we know a little more about the current situation.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I support all that has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The point she has raised is absolutely correct. A degree of even-handedness is the most desperately needed quality in this tragic situation.
It is certainly true that the Israeli actions have been extremely provocative, and in some cases--as we have now been able to read--hideous atrocities have been committed by one side against the other; namely, by the Jews against the Arabs. However, atrocities have also happened on the other side. The activities of the Palestinian groups have clearly been calculated and orchestrated in many cases--an organised rage.
Is it not absolutely vital now--I am sure the Minister's right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will pursue this point--that Mr Arafat issues the call for calm that he could perhaps have issued a few days ago? It might have saved a few lives. Can the Minister assure us that during his time in the Middle East the Foreign Secretary will bring to bear all of his authority and that of the British Government to ensure that that call for calm comes from the Arab side at a time when the extreme violence used by some of the Israeli authorities and military groups is rightly challenged and questioned?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can say without qualification that it is of the utmost importance that calm and moderation should be adopted by all sides in this very dangerous situation. Her Majesty's Government and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be doing all they can
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that any responsible leader of a country--especially an elected leader of a democratic country--faced with mob violence on the streets must take firm action to deal with it? Will she join with people like myself, who have been in some way involved with the peace process and who had great hopes for its success such a short time ago, in appealing to the Palestinian leaders to have the courage to quell the violence and to return to the negotiating table--not least because I doubt they will ever again have a braver negotiating partner than Prime Minister Barak?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the priority is for both sides to move forward. We were at a stage where we had great hopes of peace in the region. It is important now for us perhaps not to look back but to exhort both parties to go forward in the most beneficial and peaceful way; to return to the negotiating table, which is the best place to be; and to turn away from violence on the streets.
Lord Judd: My Lords, in view of the wider international ramifications of this crisis and the need to maximise the co-ordination of the international response, can my noble friend say what the Government see as the role of the Security Council in this situation?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the House will know that a Security Council resolution was passed earlier this month. That is an important indicator to both players in the region of the international community's views in relation to what is happening there. We hope that both sides will take proper cognisance of that resolution and use it as a way forward. We also know that Mr Solana and Kofi Annan are taking an active role. We welcome their involvement. We wish God's speed to all parties which seek peaceful negotiation.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I must declare an interest. I am president of the United Kingdom friends of an organisation called Sabeel, which is a group of Palestinian Christians seeking peace with justice rooted in Jerusalem. I am aware through them and through the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem of the long-standing difficulties that Palestinian Christians have experienced owing to the restrictions placed upon them attending their places of worship. Can the Minister comment on the suggestions we have heard from religious leaders in Jerusalem that Mr Sharon's walk on a sacred site was hardly an innocent Sunday afternoon stroll but an act of serious provocation, backed by a large number of Israeli troops positioned not too far in the background?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand fully the sentiments expressed by the right reverend Prelate. I know full well that Palestinian Christians have been very active in this area and that, regrettably, there has been much suffering among all parties throughout these difficulties.
The House will know that Britain stands by Security Council Resolution 1322 and we were represented on the team of negotiators that worked on the resolution. We must of course take cognisance of how the issues unfolded. As the right reverend Prelate said, justice is most important--but justice for all parties; not justice for one side at the expense of the other. One of the tragedies of the situation is that the "honours" are shared in relation to poor behaviour.
We begin today where we left off on Monday night--that is, considering the difficult issue of crime in both our rural and urban areas. The Government have amended their original Bill to remove the stipulation that a right of way subject to a proposal to extinguish or divert it for the purposes of crime prevention had to be located in an urban area. At Committee stage in another place, the Minister was persuaded by the strength of argument to change the
These amendments seek to remove the provisions in Sections 118B(1)(a) and 119B(a) of the Highways Act 1980 which require the Government to go through the lengthy and bureaucratic process of designating areas where the powers can be used before they can be so used. This would enable a measured and speedy response to problems and save on costs.
In any case, the Secretary of State is ill placed to determine in which areas the powers might best be used. Local highway and police authorities are surely closer to and have a far greater knowledge of their own locality. They should be able to come to their own decision as to whether or not a particular route should be closed or diverted. Each case should be treated on its merits and not depend on an arbitrary designation by central government.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question. Is she aware that the British Crime Survey has shown over many years that the level of actual crime is higher than the apparent figures published by local police forces? There is nothing new in the point that the noble Baroness is making.
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