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House of Lords

Wednesday, 4th June 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before public business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I shall be undertaking a ministerial visit to Manchester on Wednesday, 11th June, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Middle East: Destruction of Palestinian Homes and Property

2.36 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are discussing with the Government of Israel the destruction of Palestinian houses and olive trees since 1967 and the prohibition on the building of rainwater reservoirs in the Occupied Territories.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we recognise Israel's right to ensure the security of its citizens, but its actions must fall within international law. We deplore the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and we have asked Israel to cease such activity. Furthermore, steps should not be taken which prevent access to fresh water.

We repeatedly urge both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to implement UNSCR 1435, which includes a call for a stop to the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure. The road map offers a mechanism to help achieve this.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that positive reply. Do the Government agree that the loss of so many homes and so many olive trees, together with recent disproportionate Palestinian casualties, damages the atmosphere for essential negotiations? Will the Government draw attention to the positive points in the Alexandria Declaration and will they seek the support of the parliamentary and other leaders of all the relevant countries for a final agreement that will end the occupation and create two viable states?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course there has been a substantial loss of homes. According to figures from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, between September 2000 and

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April 2003, as many as 12,737 people saw their homes demolished in Gaza and the West Bank. In itself that figure suggests the dimensions of the problem.

However, today of all days, I think that we should be looking at the positive. The noble Lord is quite right to say that we need to seek the widest possible support both in this country and from friends overseas for an agreement based on the two-state solution. I am delighted that the meeting in Aqaba today appears to have gone well; that we have the personal commitment of President Bush on seeing the road map through; that Mahmoud Abbas and Mr Sharon have met today and discussed these issues; and of course the welcome given yesterday to the road map by Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh is another positive indication. So, while acknowledging all that has gone wrong in the past, let us now look at the positive indicators for the future.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we should welcome today's developments. President Bush has begun his significant journey towards achieving an outcome for the road map. However, what are our Government suggesting by way of aid for the Palestinians, in particular to compensate them in some form for the regular destruction of the past 18 months? People need to live and have something to do in stable economic conditions and so forth. What are the plans of our Government to make available humanitarian and other forms of aid?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for her remarks, perhaps I may say to her that of course this journey did not begin today. It began last year when the President of the United States and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia supported a two-state solution. It is important to acknowledge that what we have seen today is another significant signpost on what will continue to be a very long road.

Food aid has been given by a wide range of donors, including the United Kingdom. The largest contributor is UNWRA, which last year distributed food to the value of some 21 million US dollars, and the United Kingdom plays its part in supporting that. I hope and believe that the Government will now take an active role in supporting the three phases of the road map, doing so in conjunction with the other members of the quartet, as well as through the European Union. For myself, I shall be very interested in any initiatives that we can take on the trade front.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, one of the most useful steps forward over the past few days has been the admission by the Israeli Prime Minister that Israel is in effect the occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza. Therefore, from now on, can we ensure that the Israeli Government recognise the full responsibilities of occupying powers towards those who are under occupation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, at the moment we must be very careful to offer every

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possible encouragement to both sides to do everything they can to lower the temperature in the region and to stop the violence. I believe that, today, Mr Sharon has been talking about the possibility of the unauthorised outposts being removed. Of course that is not quite the same thing as the settlements, but at least it is a step in the right direction. We must be careful about pinning people down on the exact nature of what we mean by an occupying force and precisely what is expected that goes outside the terms of what is laid down in the road map. This road map stands the best chance of success if we all muster around what it actually says and do our best with good will to help both sides make it a success.

Lord Turnberg: My Lords—

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I think that we should hear from the noble Lord, Lord Wright.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, is the Minister aware that most of the destruction of olive trees and orchards since 1967 has been carried out on the pretext that the trees concealed snipers in the vicinity of the illegal settlements?

In welcoming the positive news from Sharm el-Sheikh and welcoming in particular a statement attributed to the Speaker of the Knesset in today's Financial Times that Prime Minister Sharon has a plan to withdraw from 17 of the 150 settlements in the West Bank, is the Minister aware of a report in the Guardian on 27th May stating that Mr Sharon had assured one of his party's parliamentarians that,

    "the government would continue to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied territories"—

and that—

    "the Road Map certainly allows the unlimited building for your children and grandchildren, and I hope even for your great-grandchildren"?.

Do the Government agree with this interpretation of the road map?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords, the Government do not agree with that interpretation of the road map, but I urge the noble Lord again to act with caution regarding reported statements in newspapers at a very difficult time. Those statements were attributed to 17th May. It is now 4th June, and a rather different note has been struck today in Aqaba. We should take the words of those from the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government who have travelled a long and difficult path to get to Aqaba today. We should give them every encouragement in what they are trying to do to find a peaceful settlement. Although I understand that there will be scepticism and that people want to go back to things that have

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been said in the past or the very recent past, it is important to concentrate on what the road map says and to do everything we can to rally round it.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am very sorry, but we are in the ninth minute now.

Northern Cyprus

2.45 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What legal advice they are offering to British citizens who have bought, or are contemplating buying, property in the Turkish-occupied area of northern Cyprus, following the recent opening of the border between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot areas.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we cannot offer legal advice to British citizens who have purchased, or who are contemplating purchasing, property in the north of Cyprus. We recommend that before purchasing, British citizens appraise themselves fully of the situation created by the non-recognition of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" and the possibility of a future political settlement in Cyprus, and seek their own legal advice. We believe that issues concerning property already purchased in the north can be resolved only through a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. She will be aware that since the buffer zone was opened, large numbers of Greek Cypriots have visited their former properties in the Turkish-occupied part of the country which have been bought by British citizens. There have been some interesting encounters with the Britons, who bought the properties after the invasion of 1974. Does my noble friend recognise that the restoration of properties to their former owners, or at least a payment of fair compensation to them, whether Greek Cypriots in the north or Turkish Cypriots in the south, must be an essential part of any long-term settlement to the problems of Cyprus, and that people who bought their properties in dubious circumstances, largely against the advice of the British High Commission and others in the European Union, must not be allowed to frustrate that process?

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