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Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that imitation firearms can be just as dangerous as real ones? In fact, for obvious reasons, they can be lethal when brandished by people in the streets. Has any thought been given to the practice in some other European countries whereby toy and imitation firearms must be coloured very brightly to make it clear that they are just toys and imitations as opposed to the real thing?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. In some circumstances, imitation firearms can be just as dangerous as the real thing, partly because they can be adapted to become lethal and partly because they can be used in the commission of crime. That is why we are introducing a new offence of possessing imitation firearms or airguns in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. We should consider my noble friend's idea about painting imitations in a particular way and perhaps take it up with manufacturers.

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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should be tough not only on guns but on the causes of guns and that the illegal drug business is the main reason why so many illegal firearms are held in society? He is no doubt aware of the Trident programme, run by the Metropolitan Police, which is so successfully targeting some of the drugs gangs that carry so many of the firearms. Are similar programmes being implemented by other urban police forces in other parts of the country? If so, are they ongoing? Are the Government supportive of such programmes?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with that proposition. As the noble Baroness said, Operation Trident is run by the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police would be the first to say that if you do not get in among the community and get it committed to turning its back on guns, then you will not make the progress that should be made. The work that the Metropolitan Police have done in that respect is incredibly impressive. I have been to many meetings with the community where it was perfectly plain that the Metropolitan Police have been making efforts to gain the community's confidence, so that people will, for example, actually give evidence against those who have committed the gun crime. There is a terrifying statistic. In the year to the end of 2000, 140 offences in Manchester involved firearms, but only one witness came forward. If we cannot persuade people to speak out against crime, we will not be able to fight crime effectively. Are other police forces engaged as well? Yes, they are. Do we support them? Yes, we do.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether he has issued a circular to chief officers of police in connection with the operation of this amnesty? If so, will he further confirm whether the circular requires that in cases where it is believed that a serious offence involving a surrendered weapon has taken place, normal procedures will be followed and urgent inquiries made?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the amnesty has been prepared and developed in association with the Association of Chief Police Officers. I pay tribute to the association and the work it has done with us in making the arrangements. Everything that has been done has been done between the two organisations, the Home Office and ACPO. If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord on the details of the circular.

Lord Renton: My Lords, what happens to real firearms that have been handed in?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, they are handed in to a police station and then examined by the police. If there is no reason to keep them, for example in relation to the investigation of crime, they are destroyed. If it is considered that they might have an historic or other value, they are kept and looked at.

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Israeli-Palestinian Dispute

2.50 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What recent progress has been made towards a settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, on 10th March, President Arafat announced the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas to the newly-created position of Palestinian Prime Minister. This is a significant first step towards stronger Palestinian political institutions and a resumption of the peace process.

Yesterday in Belfast, President Bush restated his commitment to publishing and implementing the quartet road map as soon as Mr Abbas is confirmed as Prime Minister. Implementation of the road map is the way forward to a final, comprehensive settlement. We call on the parties to co-operate fully with the quartet to this end.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I feel sure that, like the noble Baroness, noble Lords will welcome the two events to which she referred. Is it not likely that President Bush will have to spend a lot of time and energy—as he undertook to do—in promoting the road map, bearing in mind that Israel has already put in a great number of amendments to it, including one which could possibly prevent any negotiations at all? On the Palestinian side, there appear to be differences between Yasser Arafat and the newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister. Nevertheless, are not these negotiations vital for stability in the whole of the Middle East and for the control of terrorism? Will the noble Baroness give an assurance to the House—I am sure that she can—that Her Majesty's Government will exert every possible effort in supporting President Bush in what he has undertaken to do?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I given that undertaking unequivocally. The Prime Minister has already exerted every possible effort to get us to the position in which we find ourselves today. I agree with the noble Lord that much work remains to be done. We cannot be complacent on the basis of statements made yesterday that a smooth path lies before us. There will be a great deal of difficulty. No doubt many on all sides will not wish the road map well. On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, noted, the President of the United States, in talking about the hard work that had gone into the peace process in Northern Ireland, said,

    "I am willing to spend the same amount of energy in the Middle East".

That is a very heartening phrase from the President of the United States. I know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will also wish to put a great deal of effort into this matter in the future.

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Lord Sheldon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many believe that the road map is a euphemism for a journey that will not end at an acceptable destination, and that unless the United States puts realistic pressure upon Israel the Middle East will remain an area in which conflict will continue?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there is a great deal of truth in what the noble Lord says. Realistic pressure must be brought to bear on all sides, not just upon the Israelis. We need to recognise that there will be enemies of the road map on all sides and that a great deal of straight talking will have to be undertaken not only as regards the Israelis but also as regards others. I say to the noble Lord that it is very important indeed to recognise the phases that have been set out in the road map. I refer to the insistence on ending Palestinian violence—a very important issue for the Israelis—issues about security and other reforms leading to a second phase with the creation of the independent Palestinian state within provisional borders. There is a road map and it behoves us all now to do everything that we can to support it.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the dates in the road map are now getting rather close. Is it envisaged that as the road map has already been delayed, the stages for the road map will necessarily have to be delayed a little further?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have to be very careful about that. Once you start moving around certain parts of the road map—the noble Lord can see where I am going here—it opens up the possibility of changing other parts of it and tacking here and there. Then we will find that the road map does not look like the document that we all wish to support at the moment. The important date concerns a permanent status agreement being reached in the year 2005 under phase three, including an agreement on borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. That is the objective towards which, I hope all your Lordships agree, it is right for the international community to work.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that any map or route plan must include some reference to the right of Israel to exist within safe and secure boundaries, and that Resolution 242 of the United Nations is as important today as it was when it was first carried?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly. The whole point of the road map is that two states should be able to exist side by side within secure borders and, importantly, be respected as two states within those secure borders by other countries in the region. We attached enormous importance to the statements of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia when he made the point very forcefully that that was the basis on which the Saudi Arabians—who, after all, have had some bitter things to say in the past about our friends in Israel—

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would be willing to support the measure. So my noble friend is absolutely right: the safety and security of the borders is vitally important. That is why phase one, which deals with security, is so important.

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