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Reproduced below are just a few of the topics discussed in the House of interest to Muslims:

15 Oct 2008 : Column 882

Local Government

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Although my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) cheered us all up with his knockabout attack on the various follies and errors in Government policy, the debate has necessarily been rather sombre, given the background. It has also been thoughtful and constructive, and I want to respond to some of the main points.

I am sorry that the Minister is not in his place—doubtless, he will scurry in shortly—because I wanted to congratulate him on his elevation to the Privy Council. In the light of that good news, I expected many Government Back Benchers to flock in to support him. However, at the start of the debate, only two were present, neither of whom—how can I put it politely and diplomatically?—is famous for supporting every dot and comma of Government policy. Nevertheless, the Minister did his usual excellent job, in his polite, thoughtful and constructive way—and we are grateful for his comments about the Icelandic banks—of defending the indefensible.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) presented the argument, as I expected, for local income tax. To put it mildly, we do not agree with her. We do not believe that, at this point in the economic cycle, with a downturn looming, we should impose more taxes on hard-working families. However, I am determined to agree with her about something, and I agreed with her intervention about IN35, one of the indicators that measures PVE—preventing violent extremism. She was right to point out that the Government should ensure that money does not go to extremists, but that local councils should have the maximum flexibility to use PVE money as they want.

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The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell), who has not returned, made a doughty defence of his local interest. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) asked me for a commitment on neighbourhood renewal money. I am sorry to disappoint him, but I am not in a position today to write on the Floor of the House our general election manifesto on every pot of money that the Government produce. I know that he will be disappointed, but I am afraid that he must live with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) made, as always, a polished and assured speech, and demolished the various follies of unitaries. He made a telling point about parish councils, which do a job that the Government seem to want to reinvent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) reverted, as one might expect, to the Buncefield fire, a subject that he has raised many times. It proved again, were proof needed, that he is capable of phenomenal hard work on behalf of his constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) brought all his council experience to bear—I am sorry to hear that he is finally to leave his local government post—on various aspects of Government policy with which he disagrees.

I want to ask a few questions about community cohesion, especially about the way in which the Department perceives the role of local government in helping prevent violent extremism—an aspect of local authorities’ work that we have not discussed so far. I will make three brief points about that.

First, it is wrong to assume that violent extremism is the monopoly of any particular ethnic or religious group. It is worth noting that, in the past year, a neo Nazi from Yorkshire was sentenced for serious offences under terrorism legislation for designing violence to be committed specifically against Muslims.
Secondly, we must recognise, however, that the main threat to public safety—to Muslims and non-Muslims alike—comes from those who would exercise violence in the name of Islam. I would like quickly to make the point that it is not often appreciated that Muslims face a particular difficulty, because the aim of al-Qaeda is to drive out mainstream Muslim leadership and replace it.

Finally, many people talk about the causes of violent extremism and give different reasons for it—the failures of multiculturalism, foreign policy, discrimination, and so on. The point is that local government has to pick up those issues and deal with them. They are not just a matter for national Government. I appreciate that the Minister will not have time to answer all my points, so I would be grateful if he indicated that he will write to me about any that are outstanding.

Government policy on preventing violent extremism has been through three main phases since 2007 and the horror of 7/7. The first was to work through the preventing extremism together programme, with which I know the Minister was involved, with partnership organisations at a national level. The second phase, begun after Tony Blair rushed out his famous—or notorious—12-point plan, saw the Department for Communities and Local Government in the driving seat and the start of the preventing violent extremism programme or PVE, the

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flagship DCLG scheme. The third and current phase sees the Home Office back in control, seeking a more targeted approach. We must all hope that the latest strategy works, and of course we entirely support its aim of preventing extremism and supporting moderation. However, it raises questions about the future of PVE and the role of local authorities.

As I have told the House before, we must recognise that targeting taxpayers’ money at one faith community is problematic. None the less, given the seriousness of the threat of violent extremism, we have supported PVE and continue to do so. Indeed, I pay tribute to some of the good work that I have seen up and down the country. However, we must recognise that considerable sums are being invested in PVE—some £45 million this year and the next two years, on top of the £7 million or so that was spent on it last year. It is vital to ensure that the money is effectively spent.

The Department should therefore surely support an independent study of the scheme’s effectiveness in achieving its indispensable aim of preventing violent extremism. If Ministers will not commission such a study, questions are increasingly bound to be asked about whether the scheme, which works through local authorities, is achieving its aims. We have to be sure that it is doing so. Will the Department commission an independent assessment of the effectiveness of PVE?

In July, the Secretary of State announced that she planned to establish a new board of academic and theological advisers. I previously floated the idea of a privately financed institute of British Islam to achieve the same aim and we have some reservations about the danger of the state being seen to impose a preferred model on British Muslims. Will the Minister say whether members of the board have been appointed yet and, if so, who they are, whether they have met, whether they will publish any reports and what role local authorities will play in the process, if any?

We are aware that the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board published a draft constitution last year and obtained responses, and has since published a second draft constitution in the light of those responses. We would be grateful if the Minister said when MINAB will publish a fully fledged constitution and what plans there are, if any, for links between MINAB and local authorities.

In closing, I make no apology for returning to the implications for community cohesion and local government of sharia courts in the UK, a matter on which the new Minister quite properly opined last weekend and which we discussed yesterday. As both I and the Minister intimated yesterday, my hon. and learned Friend the shadow Home Secretary has received a letter from the Home Secretary confirming that Muslim arbitration tribunals were established in Britain last year. We have no objection in principle to the use of arbitration vehicles, including such tribunals, to resolve private family and contractual disputes. However, those tribunals will clearly be run by sharia judges and are therefore likely be marketed to Muslims as state-licensed sharia courts. There are, in particular, important questions about whether Muslim women will always come before such tribunals voluntarily.

I want to put it on record that we are deeply concerned about the paucity of information that we have received from the Home Office and about the implications,

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therefore, for community cohesion. This is a subject of great public interest, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, for one, will confirm.

Ministers do not appear to have announced the establishment of these tribunals last year. They have not said how many there are, or who was consulted. They have not told us who the mediators or judges are, how many cases have been heard or what measures are in place to protect women. The House and the public are being told very little. I was grateful to the Minister for confirming yesterday that he will use his good offices to clear up these matters, by ensuring that we get answers in writing, but our message to Ministers this afternoon is that they should not take refuge in letters that conceal more than they reveal.
I could close this debate in the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst quite properly opened it, by attacking all the flaws and follies of Government policy in relation to centralisation, the target culture, the planning quangocracy, the gimmicks—such as doughnuts for voting—to which my hon. Friends have referred, and people pressing buttons when councillors are not even in the chamber. Or I could refer to the absurdities of the Standards Board for England, about which so many councillors complain.

However, given the questions that I have just raised, to which I am seeking answers from the Minister, I would like to end on a note on which I think the whole House can agree. The challenges of violent extremism are clearly serious. If we are to succeed in tackling it, much of that success will depend on the effectiveness of an unwritten social contract between British Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims, such as me, all the non-Muslim Members of Parliament and others, have to make Britain a warm place for mainstream Islam and acknowledge the contribution that Islam has made to the west in the past, is making now and will surely make in the future.

The other side of that social contract is that Muslims themselves must continue—as the majority do—to seek to drive out support for terrorism and extremism. The success of that social contract will depend on what is effected not only at national Government level but at local government level, where local councils have responsibility. That is the forum in which many of these great issues will be decided. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Sadiq Khan)

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Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friend the. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) spoke, characteristically, in a partial, unbalanced but witty fashion. I enjoyed his contribution, as I always do. I think that he and I agree on the ends—such as community cohesion—and also on some of the challenges that we face, although I suspect that we disagree to an extent on the means. He was wise to point out that issues of terrorism and extremism are not the purview of a single faith, religion or race, and I am pleased that he gave other similar examples. I shall write to him to answer some his questions, but if he considers a meeting with me to be desirable, I shall be happy to meet him—with or without officials—to discuss the issues that he raised. We need national unity during the times of crisis that he described, as well as at times of economic crisis.

This has been a very important debate, and I congratulate all who were able to take part in it.


15 July 2008 : Column 193

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): The international terrorist threat to the UK, our interests abroad and our international partners remains severe and sustained. The Government are determined to do all we can to minimise the threat, including using proscription to prevent terrorist organisations from operating in the UK by inviting support, raising funds or otherwise furthering their objectives. The purpose of the order, if the House and the other place so approve, is to add to the list of 45 international terrorist organisations that are already proscribed. We propose to do so by substituting the proscription of the Hezbollah External Security Organisation with a new listing covering its entire military wing. This is the seventh proscription order made under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Section 3 of the 2000 Act provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. That is achieved by adding the organisation to schedule 2 to the Act, which lists the proscribed terrorist organisations. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.

The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation only if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. If that test is met, she may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. When considering whether to exercise that discretion, a number of factors are taken into account that were first announced to Parliament in 2001: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities, the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom, the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas, the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.

Proscription is a tough but necessary power and its effect is that the proscribed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. The consequence of proscription is that specific criminal offences apply to a proscribed organisation. They include: membership of the organisation; the provision of various forms of support, including organising or addressing a meeting; and wearing or displaying an article that indicates membership of the organisation. Further criminal offences exist in relation to fundraising and various uses of money and property for the purposes of terrorism.

Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe an organisation only after thoroughly reviewing all the available relevant information on the organisation, which includes open source material as well as intelligence

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material, legal advice and advice that reflects consultations across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Decisions on proscription are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is right that both Houses must consider the case for proscribing new organisations.

The Hezbollah External Security Organisation, a unit of the military wing, was proscribed in 2001 because of its involvement in terrorism outside Lebanon. We now have evidence that further parts of the organisation are directly concerned in terrorism, which is why the entire military wing, including the External Security Organisation, is specified in the order. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that I am limited in what I can say about the evidence in support of that belief, as much of it is intelligence material and of a sensitive nature.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): To their great relief and even joy, the people of Lebanon finally have a Government of national unity again. Hezbollah is part of that Government, so what contribution to that peace process does the Minister think that he is making by proscribing parts of that organisation at this time?

Mr. McNulty: As far as I am aware, no one who is involved in the other parts of Hezbollah and who is part of that welcome new Government has anything to do with the External Security Organisation or any other aspect of the military wing of Hezbollah. We welcome the advent of the new Government, and at the start of these proceedings, I was very careful to read out the criteria under which we proscribe organisations. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that Hezbollah has definitive political, social and humanitarian wings that perform entirely legitimate functions in Lebanon. That is why they are not part of this order. However, given all the information that we have to hand, as well as the advice that we have received and the discussions that we have had, it is right and proper in the context of the criteria set out in the Terrorism Act 2000 that we proscribe the entire military wing and not just the External Security Organisation. We will continue to maintain the distinction between that wing and the humanitarian, social and political parts of Hezbollah.

Mr. Ancram: I thank the Minister for giving way again. It is important that we get our distinctions correct. How does he define the military wing of Hezbollah? It is a movement that sometimes finds itself involved in terrorism or violence, but at other times is involved in politics.

Mr. McNulty: The right hon. and learned Gentleman takes a great interest in these matters and will know that there are distinct parts of Hezbollah. That is the information that we have. We proscribed the External Security Organisation in 2001, but we now want to proscribe the broader military wing. People involved in aspects of Hezbollah activities that, according to the criteria of the Terrorism Act 2000, are found to support or act as a supplicant to the entire military wing will be dealt with under the offences that I have outlined.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an entirely reasonable point, and it is a consideration that the Government have to take into account. However, the criteria are clear, as are the offences that follow on

15 July 2008 : Column 195

from them. The evidence that we have is also clear and, in that context, it is right and proper that I bring this order before the House. However, I can say unequivocally that Hezbollah’s military wing is providing active support to Shi’a militant groups in Iraq, including Jaysh al-Mahdi, which has been responsible for attacks on both Iraqi civilians and coalition forces. That includes providing training in the use of the deadly explosively formed projectiles used in roadside bombs. Although, as I have said before and for obvious reasons, I am unable to go into the full detail of the evidence, I can inform hon. Members that Hezbollah’s support for insurgent groups in Iraq was confirmed when coalition forces captured a senior operative, Ali Musa Daqduq, in Iraq on 20 March 2007.

Daqduq is a Lebanese national who served for 24 years in Hezbollah. In 2005, he was directed by senior Lebanese Hezbollah military commanders to train Shi’a groups in Iraq. Hezbollah’s military wing is also providing support to Palestinian rejectionist groups in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters. It will signal our condemnation of the support that Hezbollah provides to those who attack British and other coalition forces in Iraq, as well as Iraqi civilians. It will support our international partners in disrupting terrorist activity in the occupied Palestinian territories. It will also send a strong message that the UK is not willing to tolerate terrorism, either here or anywhere else in the world.

I return to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). The House will be aware that, alongside its military operations, Hezbollah performs legitimate political, social and humanitarian roles in Lebanon. Proscription is not targeted at, and will not affect, those legitimate activities, but it sends a clear message that we condemn Hezbollah’s violence and support for terrorism. We continue to call on Hezbollah to end terrorist activity, abandon its status as an armed group and participate in the democratic process on the same terms as all other Lebanese political parties.

I have said already that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of that, there is an appeal mechanism in the legislation. Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be de-proscribed. If that request is refused the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal that reviews whether the Home Secretary has properly exercised her powers to refuse to de-proscribe an organisation. The POAC can consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions and a special advocate can be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission.
Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene again. Has he consulted his French colleagues on the proscription of Hezbollah? They have invited members of Hezbollah to Paris for talks.

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Mr. McNulty: With respect, I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that my French colleagues have not invited members of Hezbollah’s military wing to talks of any description whatsoever—

(Mr. Ancram indicated dissent).

Mr. McNulty: The right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head, but there is a clear distinction—not least on Hezbollah’s own terms—between that organisation’s social, political and humanitarian wings, and its military wing. That is very clear.

Given the evidence of the military wing of Hezbollah’s direct support for terrorism in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories, I believe that it is right that we continue to proscribe the External Security Organisation and that we extend the existing proscription to cover Hezbollah’s entire military wing.

I commend the order to the House.


Interfaith Strategy

1 July 2008 : Column 722

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): What progress has been made in developing an interfaith strategy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): The consultation on the interfaith strategy closed on 7 March. We plan to publish the strategy in July.

Ms Barlow: Is my hon. Friend aware of the work of Hope 2008, an organisation that supports the voluntary work of the Churches in Britain? Every year, churches, mosques, synagogues and temples perform a very valued service in the community, not least in my constituency of Hove and in Portslade. What will he be doing to support that valuable organisation’s work?

Mr. Dhanda: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she does in Hove, and she is right to say that Hope 2008 does excellent work, which underpins and is very much in tune with our work on an interfaith framework. We have adopted a phrase coined by the Chief Rabbi and believe that organisations should work face to face as well as side by side, in the sort of collaborative action supported by Hope 2008. As I said, we will unveil our interfaith strategy later this month and, alongside it, details of the multi-million pound pot that will support that work.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): But given what the Minister has just said about outcomes that faith groups can achieve, will he ensure that not only Government, but local government provide equal access for faith groups that care for some of the most vulnerable people in our community every day? Those groups often face prejudice when accessing resources and funds. Will he do something about that in the interfaith strategy?

Mr. Dhanda: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and it is one that is made to me regularly by our Faith Communities Consultative Council. It has been very supportive of the work on the interfaith framework, and its ideas are being put into practice in the framework, as he will see in a few weeks. He is right to say that there is more that we can do with our faith communities. We are committed to that, and I have seen the very good work that they have done, not least during the floods last year—including in my constituency. The council has also been involved in planning for a possible flu pandemic and how we would approach such an emergency. The engine for that work was the faith communities in the first place. They have written reports and are working with us. When we publish the report, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that, like a stick of rock, it has their work, commitment and values running through it.

1 July 2008 : Column 723

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that interfaith strategies in the north of England would have a greater chance of success were Muslim women welcomed into their mosques?

Mr. Dhanda: I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done a great deal of work in that respect, including setting up the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group, which is working closely with the Department. I have been pleased to see some of the interfaith work that is being done in the north of England, especially around the mosques and madrassahs. However, my hon. Friend is right that we can do much more with Muslim women. I hope that the work of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board will also make a real difference in that context.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Has not everything that the Minister has said pointed to the danger of imposing some form of strategy from above? Instead we should encourage local communities, churches and others, bearing in mind that we have an established Church, to develop their own approach to those of other faiths.

Mr. Dhanda: That is why the title of the initiative has changed from a strategy to a framework. That is something that the faith communities wanted, and they have been at the heart of driving this work. I am pleased to say that we have had some 185 responses to the framework consultation, but the hon. Gentleman will find that local activity is at the heart of it. It is about collaborative social action being supported by local authorities and run at a local level, although it is supported financially at times by the Government.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): Last week I attended a function organised by my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Abubaker, as part of their charitable fundraising efforts in memory of their son, Yusef, who tragically died aged 12 playing his beloved sport of football. In attendance at the function were members of the Syrian, Malaysian, Chinese, Palestinian and, of course, Scottish communities of Dundee. Does the Minister agree that the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Abubaker are an example of how we can bring together wide and varied communities, regardless of ethnic origin, creed or colour?

Mr. Dhanda: I thank my hon. Friend for discussing this matter privately with me yesterday. I wish to pass on my condolences and, I am sure, those of the whole House to Mr. and Mrs. Abubaker on the loss of their son. I was fortunate enough to see the website that has been set up describing some of the activities that are happening in their son’s name in Dundee, which range from touch rugby tournaments to Arab food tasting. The website lists Yusef’s favourite charities and his hobbies, and the work that is being done in his name, bringing different cultures, races and faiths together, is a brilliant example from which we can all learn.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): First, I am sorry to hear about the death of the son of the constituents of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern).

The Minister will know that trust between the Government and faith communities is essential if the interfaith strategy is to work fully. He will also note that the Education Secretary recently claimed to have found “shocking evidence” of faith schools asking parents to

1 July 2008 : Column 724

pay for school places. In the case of some Jewish schools, this “evidence” turned out to be voluntary contributions towards school security measures against potential attacks by violent extremists. So will the Minister kindly pass on a message to the Education Secretary? For the sake of the interfaith strategy as a whole, he should stop knocking faith schools in order to build up his own Labour party leadership ambitions.

Mr. Dhanda: I fear that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks may not have been as bright as his suit on this occasion.

Mr. Goodman: Or your tie.

Mr. Dhanda: Indeed. I thank the hon. Gentleman.

I will be talking to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in due course, not least to congratulate him on and thank him for the work that he has been doing with our Department on the school twinning programme and on cohesion projects, not least sending two sixth formers from every sixth form in the land to Auschwitz—something that I believe the Leader of the Opposition called a gimmick.


Palestinian Occupied Territories

24 Jun 2008 : Column 143

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): What assessment he has made of compliance of the operations of the Israeli defence force in the occupied Palestinian territories with the fourth Geneva convention. [213061]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): We expect Israel, including the Israeli defence force, to comply with its obligations under the fourth Geneva convention, and have made clear where we profoundly disagree with Israel on key issues, such as the route of the barrier and location of settlements. The Annapolis talks provide the best opportunity yet to move forward. The announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza was welcome. We are doing all that we can to help to relieve suffering and move towards resolution of long-term issues.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and agree with his points. I am interested, however, to know what he means by “location of settlements”. Article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention is extremely clear that colonisation of occupied territory is illegal. The settlements in all of the occupied territory are the biggest physical obstacle to a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Now that a ceasefire is in place, surely the Palestinians can expect us to pursue

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the matter under international law. What kind of signal does it send when settlers’ leaders are then invited by Her Majesty’s ambassador to Israel to a party celebrating the Queen’s birthday?

Dr. Howells:
Not very helpful signals, and I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that this is the time to push the Israelis hard on the question of illegal settlements. Clearly, they are illegal and are not helping the Annapolis process in the least. Indeed, they are an obstacle to progress.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Can the Minister help us with another question concerning the role of the occupying forces in Palestine: the imprisonment of elected Palestinian parliamentarians, about 70 of whom are still in detention, which is outrageous? If we support Palestinian democracy, what pressure are we putting on Israel to release those who were elected to represent the Palestinian people?

Dr. Howells: We continue to raise the issue with the Israelis, and continue to urge them either to charge those individuals or release them—it is as simple as that. They are elected representatives and should be treated as such. If the Israelis believe that they are guilty of some crime, they should charge them, not keep them incarcerated without a proper trial.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): In the Minister’s opinion, is the continued holding of hostages by Hamas, Hezbollah or whoever helpful to the peace process? Under the current ceasefire, will further pressure be exerted to release the Israeli hostages?

Dr. Howells: The taking of hostages was not only a despicable act in itself, and it remains so—kidnapping is always one of the worst crimes—but caused thousands of deaths in the Lebanese war of July 2006. We urge the Palestinian and Hezbollah factions to release the Israeli soldiers. That would be a concrete and important step towards a sustainable peace in that region.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is it not the case that in Israel too small a minority, unfortunately, realise that the behaviour of the Israeli soldiers and armed forces generally in the occupied territories demonstrates, day in and day out, a contempt for human rights? Have the Israeli Government any understanding of the contempt that we have for the way in which their country occupies the post-1967 territories?

Dr. Howells: I certainly do not believe that all officers and all men in the Israeli army behave in that way. Many soldiers, including many whom I have met, have a real regard for human rights—the human rights of Palestinians as well as of Israelis. We will continue to urge Israel to abide by international law in its treatment of Palestinians in those occupied territories, and to work towards a sustainable settlement so that the Israeli defence force does not need to be in those areas. That must be our object, and we believe that a two-state solution is the right one.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about settlements, but given that the website of the Israeli

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Ministry of Construction and Housing lists 4,900 housing units that are currently in the construction programme, may I ask him what response is coming from Israel to our representations on the matter, particularly in relation to the E1 scheme?

Dr. Howells: I should like to think that my hon. Friend had inferred that our actions were having some effect, but I do not think they are having a great effect. The latest announcements—within the last few weeks—of 1,000 new dwellings on occupied territories are doing no good whatever to the Annapolis process.

When I met Prime Minister Fayad in Berlin last night, he repeatedly referred to the issue of illegal settlements as one of the greatest impediments to progress on Annapolis. My hon. Friend is right: we must keep plugging away, and trying to convince the Israelis that this is one of the most important steps forward that they could take.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): When my hon. Friend assesses Israel’s reactions to attacks on its citizens, does he bear in mind that false allegations can be made? Is he aware, for example, that Hamas has now admitted that the explosion that killed 50 people on 13 June was not Israel’s responsibility?

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend is right. I have seen and heard many reports of truck-loads of rockets intended to be fired into Israel that have been hit or handled badly and have exploded. People have been killed, including onlookers and innocent people in the streets of Gaza. I take reports of that kind with a pinch of salt, and I think we all should. The fact is that there is a propaganda war going on in the area, as well as a deadly war involving bullets, bombs and rockets.


Orders of the Day – Counter-Terrorism Bill

11 Jun 2008 : Column 320

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): I want to thank the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the various meetings we have held to address the concerns about the impact that counter-terrorism legislation has on law-abiding British Muslim communities. What safeguards can my right hon. Friend guarantee to ensure that individuals who are arrested and detained for more than 28 days are fully compensated for the immense damage done to them and to their families and communities?

Jacqui Smith: I am glad that my hon. Friend has been willing to engage in such a constructive way in ensuring that we deliver provisions that safeguard all our people regardless of their background. He identifies the wholly exceptional nature of holding anybody in detention beyond 28 days and for up to 42 days. I know that he, like others in the community, has expressed concern about those who have subsequently been released without being charged, and because of the representations that he has made, I have asked my officials to develop an ex gratia scheme that, because of the exceptional circumstances, would be available to compensate those who had been detained and then released without charge, or who had faced any other executive action. I hope that that offers my hon. Friend some reassurance, both about the exceptional nature of our proposals and about the fact that they are designed to protect all our communities, regardless of their background.

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Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I want to take the right hon. Gentleman back to the important point that he was making, and one of its consequences. The definitions in the Bill are such that if, like the right hon. Gentleman and myself, one has occasion to read the documents on such matters, one has to conclude that such threats exist now. It follows, therefore, that one trigger is already present, and if the Government seek to activate the procedure, the only thing that the House of Commons can profitably discuss is whether the police have in detention persons whom it is necessary to hold for a period longer than 28 days. In other words, we will be left with the absurdity of the House of Commons behaving like a court.

David Davis: The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. He is very experienced in this area and he knows the subject backwards. He has, in fact, been used by the Government on the matter. He points out what is fundamentally flawed in the Bill. This House is not a court. It cannot be and it should not be.

Mr. Baron: Having served in Northern Ireland, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that internment was not just a mistake, but counter-productive. It went directly against the armed forces because terrorists were able to go into communities and recruit actively, on the basis of internment, much better than they could otherwise. We do not want to make that mistake in this country with communities from whom we seek co-operation.

David Davis:
That is exactly right, and that is why so many of the chief constables and ex-chief constables whom the Home Secretary does not quote feel that the measure is very dangerous.

Jacqui Smith: Like who?

David Davis:
Geoffrey Dear, Her Majesty’s former inspectorate of constabulary, who said in terms that many of his currently serving colleagues say the same.

The other problem is that there are no additional judicial safeguards over and above what we have now for the individual. The House need not take my word for that; indeed, David Pannick QC, a leading practitioner in the field, the Government’s counsel of choice and the man who literally wrote the textbook, provided a formal legal opinion on the Bill:

11 Jun 2008 : Column 338

“Not only do the Amendments fail to replicate the safeguards in the 2004 Act but they fail, significantly or meaningfully, to provide similar or analogous safeguards.”

That is the point that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) raised earlier.

The truth is that the Government’s so-called concessions are not a serious attempt to sustain consensus by providing proper checks and balances of the Home Secretary’s now draconian powers. They are a vain attempt to save face. The Government have salami-sliced the safeguards, watered down the checks and buried an issue of high principle in a blizzard of fine print.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Why are those Members who are opposed to the principle of 42 days’ detention without charge prepared to accept the Civil Contingencies Act or the existing legal possibility of derogating to the European convention on human rights? It is because both the CCA and the power of derogation could be used only in exceptional circumstances. The fear in the Muslim community in my constituency, and in Muslim communities up and down the country, is that if the 42-day period goes on the statute book in the terms proposed, it would become routine, with all the negative consequences for our security and for community cohesion that we have heard about.

David Davis: I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Lady.

There is nobody in the House—not one person—who does not feel horror at the loss of life or the pain and mutilation suffered by the victims of terrorism. But two wrongs do not make a right, least of all if what we do is ineffective, unnecessary or even counter-productive, as the hon. Lady has just pointed out.

I have no sympathy whatever for terrorists. However, to put the issue in real terms, not on paper, I want hon. Members to imagine what it feels like for someone who is innocent under the proposed regime. They are taken from their bed in the early hours of the morning, which is what normally happens. They are locked in a cell for six weeks—1,000 hours—and they do not know why: not what they are accused of, not what the suspicions are, not what the evidence is. They do not know what is happening to their job. They do not know what is happening to their reputation. They do not know what is happening to their wife or their neighbours. They do not know what is happening to their children, who sometimes face the harsh cruelty of other children. They do not know that for six weeks—1,000 hours. No money on this earth will compensate for that.

What we have is the worst of all worlds: a symbolic assault on liberty that is unnecessary, a change in the law that is counter-productive and a procedure that is unworkable. We do not defend our liberties by sacrificing our liberties. We must reject the Government’s proposals.

Keith Vaz:
I begin by thanking the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) not just for giving formal evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs when we considered the Government’s counter-terrorism proposals, but for the private notes

11 Jun 2008 : Column 339

that he sent me and other members of the Committee, which were extremely helpful in allowing us to make our final determination.

The right hon. Gentleman and others are quite right: this is an occasion of high politics, because this is Parliament, and of high drama, because of the outcome of the vote. More importantly, however, this is an occasion of high stakes, because we are dealing with the protection not just of our people, but of the liberties of individuals. Everyone, in all parts of the House, will take the issue and this debate very seriously indeed.

Last year, the Committee held an inquiry into the Government’s counter-terrorism proposals. It began as a short inquiry, looking into the way in which those proposals had developed and at the 28-day period. Shortly afterwards, however, following the Prime Minister’s statement to the House, we extended the inquiry to cover a number of other aspects. We took evidence from Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the deputy assistant commissioner, Peter Clarke, the director of human rights for the police, the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, and the Prison Service.

We sought the opinion of the members of what was called the Forest Gate two— Mr. Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Mr. Abul Koyair, who had been detained by the police and then released. We also took evidence from Rachel North, a writer and one of the survivors of 7/7, as well as from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, speaking for the Opposition, and the then Liberal spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). [ Interruption. ] We did indeed take evidence from the Home Secretary—I am coming to her, but she has to wait her turn.

Those evidence sessions and the fact that we took evidence from a wide variety of individuals and organisations were important, because we wanted to produce a thorough report and to ensure that we covered all the points that were made to us. We also took evidence from the Home Secretary, who answered 149 questions and appeared before us twice, on one occasion at very short notice, leaving Cabinet before time to get to us. The co-operation that we received from the Government and others was extremely helpful.

We came to the conclusion that there was absolutely no evidence to support a permanent extension of the 28-day period to 42 days. We felt that the nature of permanence was such that no information placed before us could justify such an extension.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Did the right hon. Gentleman take evidence from Mr. Khurshid Ahmed, the chairman of the British Muslim Forum? I ask because Mr. Ahmed was reported yesterday as having views that justified the headline “UK’s top Muslim backs ‘42 days’”, but he is quoted this morning as saying:

“In some cases 28 days have been needed but there has not been a case demonstrated to go beyond.”

Keith Vaz: Anyone could have given evidence to our Committee. We did not take evidence from that particular gentleman, although he has said that he is in favour of the extension. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we could not take evidence from absolutely everyone involved. I have read a list of those involved, but anyone could have submitted evidence to us.


International Development

The Secretary of State was asked— 12 March 2008

Palestine

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What support his Department has provided to Palestinian communities affected by recent airstrikes. [193262]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander):
The recent air strikes and incursions have exacerbated an already grave humanitarian situation: 80 per cent. of the population is at least partly dependent on food aid and 90 per cent. of mains water is polluted. I have allocated an additional £2 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provides water, sanitation, food, medicines and shelter. That is in addition to our wider contribution—linked to political progress—of £243 million over three years.

Mr. Carmichael: The Secretary of State is doubtless aware that the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs report on the situation in Gaza during the week from 27 February to 3 March recorded that, in that week alone, 107 Palestinians were killed and 250 injured by the Israel Defence Forces and that two IDF soldiers and one Israeli citizen were killed and 25 injured. It also outlines a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with some 30 per cent. of the population currently without access to a regular water supply. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a prima facie case of Israel being in breach of its obligations under article 33 of the Geneva convention regarding collective punishment? If he does agree, what action will the Government—

Mr. Speaker:
Order.

Mr. Alexander: Of course we unreservedly condemn the rocket attacks that continue to affect Sderot and the Negev in the southern part of Israel, but we are equally clear that we do not support the decision taken by the Israeli Government to close the crossings, restricting the flow of humanitarian supplies such as the ones the hon. Gentleman describes. It is also the long-standing position of the British Government that any response

12 Mar 2008 : Column 266

by Israel should be in accordance with international law, including the fourth Geneva convention. We also, of course, deplore civilian casualties on both sides of the conflict.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for condemning the rocket attacks, but is it not a fact that the bulk of the responsibility lies on Hamas, which has allowed terrorist organisations to rain rockets down on Israel in an attempt to kill children there and, indeed, has undertaken terrorist activity against its own citizens in the military takeover of Gaza? Will the Secretary of State ensure that, however much aid is vitally needed by the citizens of Gaza, none of it gets to those terrorist organisations?
Mr. Alexander: We are obviously keen for Hamas to accept the Quartet principles, which were set out some time ago. Equally, however, we are clear that the humanitarian situation is serious. While we unequivocally condemn both the rocket and sniper attacks, of which my right hon. Friend spoke, we are also clear that there needs to be the means by which humanitarian supplies can reach the 1.5 million people in Gaza.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Spokesmen for the Israeli Government repeatedly say that they have not imposed any blockade on Gaza. Is that true?

Mr. Alexander: The crossings are presently closed, other than for very limited entrance for certain supplies. As the OCHA report, to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) has already referred, reflects, there is a growing and grave humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is therefore important that all sides recognise their responsibilities and facilitate the entrance to the Gaza strip of exactly the humanitarian supplies that would address that grave situation.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the real problems facing the people of Gaza is shortage of fuel and electricity, as a result partly of an Israeli air strike on their power plants and partly of the blockade? What are we doing to ensure that electricity supplies get through to Gaza, particularly when, as I understand it, we and the European Union are paying for them to get through?

Mr. Alexander:
My hon. Friend is right to recognise that, in addition to the fatalities identified in the OCHA report, the air strikes resulted in an additional 30,000 people being cut off from water supplies—200,000 were already cut off before the incursion—and the electricity infrastructure was damaged. There are at present on average about eight hours of power cuts being suffered each day in the Gaza strip, which is why we are in regular contact with all sides and why we are encouraging through the Quartet the continued progress of the Annapolis peace process. Although there is an immediate humanitarian challenge, the long-term resolution to this conflict ultimately has to lie in the political process.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab):
Following on from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) said, may I tell the Secretary of State that although everyone recognises the sufferings of the ordinary citizens of Gaza, some responsibility must also be placed very firmly on Hamas for its rocket attacks on Israel? Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that aid given to the citizens of Gaza actually reaches those ordinary citizens rather than the militaristic Hamas? What discussions has he had with the ICRC to ensure that that happens?

Mr. Alexander:
I assure my hon. Friend that, once again, we have unequivocally condemned the rocket and sniper attacks on Israel. That has been the British Government’s position for a long time. As for the related issue of whether we can be comfortable about the work being done, in this instance, by the ICRC and the United Nations, there are long-standing procedures to ensure that we provide the supplies that are immediately required to meet the humanitarian need, while not providing the political support that my hon. Friend has described, which I do not think any Labour Member would be keen for us to provide.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The Secretary of State and others are right to acknowledge that the people of Gaza are victims of both Hamas and the Israeli assaults, but will the Secretary of State also acknowledge that the Bethlehem development and investment conference will have limited scope to change things if Israel has no access to Gaza? The same applies to the west bank, where movement and access continue to be restricted although no rocket attacks are being launched in the area.

Mr. Alexander:
I find myself in complete agreement with the right hon. Gentleman. I travelled to the Palestinian territories in December and had an opportunity to observe the presentation from OCHA, which made clear the significance of the consequences of the blockages of movement and access that apply not just in Gaza but throughout the west bank. In our discussions both with the Palestinian authorities and with the Government of Israel, we have stressed repeatedly that if there is to be the economic progress that we should like as a result of the Bethlehem development and investment conference, there must be changes on movement and access.

12 Mar 2008 : Column 268

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): According to the Secretary of State, the British Government have consistently said that Israel’s actions and response to violence from Hamas and others must comply with international law and meet United Nations humanitarian standards. Have the British Government assessed whether the Israeli Government’s recent actions meet those standards?

Mr. Alexander: There are appropriate bodies to adjudicate on international law. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in conversations with Defence Minister Barak of the Government of Israel we made it clear that we are keen to see Israel adhere to international law, whether in relation to the barrier or settlements or in terms of its response more generally. The issue is the subject of continuing discussion between the British Government and the Government of Israel.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that a group of leading charities recently described the situation in Gaza as the worst for 40 years? In particular, it cited shortages of essential medical supplies, electricity, fuel and especially water, which are causing increasing misery. What more can the British Government do, working with the Quartet and the temporary international mechanism, to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis?

Mr. Alexander: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a few moments ago, in which I announced that an additional £2 million would be given to the ICRC to address exactly those concerns. He is right to say that the crisis action report identified the grave humanitarian situation currently affecting the citizens of Gaza. That is why we not only continue to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the ICRC, but have today pledged a further £2 million for the ICRC in recognition of the need to respond to that humanitarian situation.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What specific representations has my right hon. Friend made concerning Hamas’s callous decision to launch its rocket attacks on Israelis in civilian areas in Gaza such as the United Nations school in Beit Hanoun?

Mr. Alexander:
I assure my hon. Friend that we utterly deplore the rocket attacks, not simply because of their location but because of their consequences—the bombing and casualties in Sderot and the Negev in Israel. We take every opportunity in international forums to make it clear that we unreservedly condemn those attacks, and indeed the sniper attacks as well. However, we make it equally clear that we want Hamas to adhere to the Quartet principles that we set out some time ago.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): I join other Members in condemning the violence on both sides of the conflict. I also join the Secretary of State in acknowledging the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In response to a couple of questions, the Secretary of State has said that international bodies are there to judge whether Israel is in breach of its international obligations. Does he agree with my hon. Friend the

12 Mar 2008 : Column 269

Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) that Israel is in breach of the Geneva conventions, and, as I asked him when we last discussed these matters, does he think that the Israeli reaction is proportionate?

Mr. Alexander: I hope that I can offer the hon. Gentleman the comfort for which he is looking in the statements that I and the Foreign Secretary issued on 11 and 21 January and 8 February, where not only did we unequivocally condemn, as he has, the rocket and sniper attacks, but we consistently made it clear that any response by Israel should be in accordance with international law. We deplore civilian casualties on both sides and it is a matter that we repeatedly bring to the attention of the Israeli Government.


Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

21 Feb 2008 : Column 561

[Relevant documents: The Tenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2007-08, Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Ninth Repor t) : Annual Renewal of Control Orders Legislation 2008, HC 356.]

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I should like to add my congratulations to the police and the security services on a brilliant operation to protect that brave Muslim soldier whose life was so despicably threatened. However, is not there a lesson to be drawn from that case? Until the matter went to court and the people involved found that they had no option but to plead guilty, there was widespread concern in the Muslim community that they had been wrongly arrested and that Muslims were being unfairly targeted. Does not the case show the importance of getting as many cases as possible into court and keeping as few people as possible under alternative arrangements such as control orders?

Mr. McNulty: I agree 100 per cent. That has been the Government’s position throughout. I am currently carrying out a little analysis of the broad press coverage in the wake of Operation Gamble, which involved Khan among others, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said. If I feel so inclined, I may play back their words to some of the people to whom the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) refers. It is right and proper that due process takes place. However, there is a difference between those who freely assert their view of reality, largely from a position of ignorance, and the prosecution and police authorities who rightly do not do that to afford the defendants due process.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The Minister began by saying that there is a threat from about 2,000 individuals. They are clearly linked with Islamic extremism, so will the Minister outline, first, how mosques have provided a safe haven for some of those people and, secondly, how they have helped to expose such individuals and how they can help in future?

Mr. McNulty: I should very much like to go into such detail—most of it positive, rather than negative—but I fear that if I do so, I may stray beyond the bounds of the renewable order before us. Perhaps this is a hostage to fortune, in the general sense, but a fuller debate on the Government’s prevent and contest strategy—in particular the prevent part, which goes to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions—might be long overdue, so I will happily take that back to the appropriate business channels.

Mr. Ellwood: Will the hon. Gentleman explain how we can sensitively understand what sometimes happens behind the closed doors of mosques that have been seen to harbour a form of extremism?

Mr. Winnick: In my borough, there is no such problem. The Muslim community in the Walsall area has always been moderate and totally opposed to any form of terrorism or anything of that kind. I believe there are very few places of religious worship that would wish to help or encourage those engaged in terrorism, but of course any that exist should be exposed. What the assistant chief constable of the West Midlands police said is important: everyone should recognise that the terrorist threat is real, and must be combated in every way possible.

Mr. Grieve: As it happens, I visited the Birmingham mosque shortly after those words were uttered by its chairman. I do not think the chairman’s words necessarily represented the views of the worshippers in the mosque, or indeed anyone’s views. It should also be said that one of the regrettable aspects of the police operation in Birmingham—I hasten to add that it was none of their fault—was that, as the hon. Gentleman probably remembers, details of it were leaked to the press in a manner that turned the central mosque and the main area in which Muslims were living into a goldfish bowl. I am afraid that it produced the very circumstances in which paranoia can thrive.

Mr. Winnick: What happened in Forest Gate is another example. I hope that the authorities—the police, the Home Office and the rest—will always bear in mind the fact that if certain steps are taken which are not appropriate, they can prove entirely counter-productive in the fight against terrorism.

I hope that in the short period between now and the Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism Bill the Government will make some attempt to find a consensus, particularly on the number of days for which people can be held without charge. There is already a broad consensus in the House that the period should be 28 days, and no evidence has been produced suggesting that it should be longer. If the Government want to secure a consensus, they should again enter into negotiations with those of us who are highly critical of an extension beyond 28 days, and certainly with the Opposition parties.


Topical questions

19 Feb 2008 : Column 150

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Yesterday saw the publication of the first version of the dossier that took us to war in Iraq. It is quite clear that it was written by a Foreign Office press officer, yet in May 2003 Downing street said:

“Not one word of the dossier was not entirely the work of the intelligence agencies”,
and much of the wording from the first version is replicated in the final version. When will the Foreign Secretary correct that totally wrong statement, and when will we have a proper inquiry into why we were led into an illegal war in Iraq contrary to British interests?

David Miliband: I certainly continue to believe that the September 2002 publication was the work of the intelligence services. The fact that both that document and the so-called Williams draft drew on similar intelligence material explains why the wording, to use the hon. Gentleman’s phrase, is so similar. It seems to me that he and the Government have a difference of opinion about the Iraq war, but the publication of the Williams draft puts to bed many of the phantom scare stories put around about the origins of various aspects of the September 2002 document, not least of which is the so-called 45-minute claim, which he will now see was never in the Williams draft.


Palestine

30 Jan 2008 : Column 302

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he has taken to ensure that aid allocated to Palestinians is spent on the purposes for which it is intended. [182971]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Shahid Malik): Aid to the occupied Palestinian territories is subject to the highest possible level of scrutiny. Projects are run by internationally respected organisations, with rigorous checks on each payment and independent auditing. UK aid is spent on helping Palestinians pay for their doctors and teachers, maintain water and electricity supplies and support refugees. In addition, the Department for International Development is supporting programmes to tackle corruption and improve the management of public funds.

Mrs. Ellman: But on 29 December a lorry was found to be taking 6.5 tonnes of bomb-making potassium nitrate into Gaza, disguised in a bag labelled “EU sugar”. Again on 14 January a lorry was found to be taking bomb-making equipment into Gaza disguised as aid. In view of that, does my hon. Friend not think that more urgent attention should be given to ensuring that only humanitarian aid goes into Gaza, so that the very genuine needs of the people are met?

Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend rightly highlights the need for constant vigilance where aid is concerned, but it is important to put the matter in context and in perspective. The Israeli authorities accept that the bags had nothing to do with EU projects and were fraudulent. EU aid was thus not misused. Such

30 Jan 2008 : Column 303

opportunistic frauds are an attempt to undermine the peace process. There is also the problem of weapons smuggled through tunnels, and I take her point about vigilance. We are clear that the Palestinian Authority are committed to the middle east peace process and to tackling extremism and terrorism.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What assurances can the Minister give that, contrary to recent reports, no British aid whatever is being used to fund extremist educational materials in the Palestinian territories that indoctrinate children and young people in Palestine with the belief that martyrdom or the murder of apostates is a legitimate political or religious aim?

Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue, which has been raised a number of times over the past 10 years or so. I can categorically say that UK aid does not fund textbooks or the Education Ministry. The allegations relate to textbooks that were used pre-1994. Since 2002 the Palestinian Authority have had a new national curriculum that is hatred and violence free. Importantly, that has been confirmed by both the European Commission and an Israeli civil society organisation that was commissioned by the US. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which we support, supports education in the occupied Palestinian territories and produces textbooks, but they are UN approved and endorsed and are free from extremism and violence.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned UNRWA. Is he aware that John Ging, the UNRWA director of operations in Gaza, came to Parliament in the autumn? Was he not right when he said that the problem with Israel’s action is that it
“presupposes that the civilian population in Gaza are either themselves responsible for, or somehow more capable of, stopping the rocket fire than the powerful military of the occupying power”?

Is not the collective punishment being imposed by Israel unjustified? What are the Government doing to ensure that the United Nations passes an appropriate resolution to bring the situation in Gaza to an end, or at least to express much firmer international disapproval of it?

Mr. Malik: We constantly call on all sides in the dispute and conflict to adhere to international law and to respect human rights. Israeli security and justice for the Palestinians will not be achieved by cutting off fuel, closing crossings, or firing rockets. That is a recipe for continued misery on all sides.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con):
Given the nature of the Hamas regime in Gaza, can the Minister explain to the House whether the controls on aid going to Gaza are tighter than the controls on British aid going to the west bank?

Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman will know that aid to the Palestinian Authority was suspended following the establishment of the Hamas Government in March 2006. All aid to Gaza goes via the temporary international mechanism and is checked and audited by the World Bank or the European Community.

30 Jan 2008 : Column 304

Payments for salary allowances are checked against five different internationally recognised terrorist lists. UNRWA also works in Gaza and the budget is approved by the United Nations General Assembly, which has a strong audit unit. Donors such as the UK receive regular financial reports. We are as assured as we can be under the circumstances that aid is going to the areas where it needs to go.


Middle East

28 Nov 2007 : Column 283

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and express strong support for his words and for what he and his counterparts did in Annapolis. The hope that he

28 Nov 2007 : Column 285

expressed that the conference will give new impetus to the hope for a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians is shared across all parties in this country and, indeed, most of the world.

We welcome the fact that the conference reaffirmed the vision of a negotiated, two-state solution based on the road map. The priority now is, obviously, to build on what momentum has been created and to address some formidable obstacles that remain. Among the greatest threats to the negotiations must be the continued refusal of Hamas to recognise Israel and renounce violence, its rejection of the conference outcome and its complete unwillingness to prevent rocket attacks against Israel. What discussions did the Foreign Secretary have about those issues, and can he explain how Gaza, which he rightly describes as an integral part of the future Palestinian state, will be approached within the negotiations?

On Israel’s part, alongside the freeze on settlement activity to which the Foreign Secretary referred, does he agree that speedy progress on movement and access would make a considerable difference in improving the quality of life for Palestinians and demonstrating that the path of peace brings tangible benefits and the promise of a better life?

I have a few questions about the process going forward. The Foreign Secretary referred to a timetable for follow-up on the negotiations, including review conferences. However, little has yet been said about the timetable of the negotiations themselves, and even before Hamas came to power neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis had been able to adhere to the previous timetable. At what stage of the road map will those negotiations pick up the thread? How confident is the Foreign Secretary that a realistic timetable for negotiations will emerge, given the expressed intention of concluding a peace treaty by the end of next year?

Secondly, is the Foreign Secretary confident that there is the sustained commitment needed to push both sides towards the necessary compromises? Did he form the impression at Annapolis that President Bush and his Administration will invest the immense amount of time and political commitment necessary to move this initiative forward? What specific role will the Quartet play in the coming months, given that the joint understanding refers only to an American, Palestinian and Israeli mechanism” to monitor the implementation of the road map? Does the right hon. Gentleman also see a role for the so-called “Arab Quartet”, who have been crucial in marshalling Arab support for the peace process and proposing a basis for wider Arab-Israeli peace?

The joint understanding issued after Annapolis made no mention of the Syrian-Israeli track, although I understand that that was on the conference’s formal agenda. What is the Foreign Secretary’s understanding about when that track will be addressed? He referred to Lebanon, which once again is on a knife edge. What steps is Britain taking to try to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate, and that Lebanon does not spiral afresh into violence?

28 Nov 2007 : Column 286

Finally, Iran is emerging as one of the primary causes of instability in the region. Does the Foreign Secretary share our concern that the nexus between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas has the potential to derail the peace process? Is it not vital to intensify the peaceful and multilateral pressure on Iran, including effective financial sanctions across the EU?

Given how many tensions and potential conflicts that there now are in the middle east, is not working to resolve the difference between Israelis and Palestinians one of the highest possible priorities for the international community? Is it not the duty of us all—Governments, Oppositions and nations of every continent—to do our utmost to support that?

David Miliband:
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s approach to this matter, and I shall try to deal in detail with all the questions that he asked.

When I spoke yesterday at the Annapolis conference, I made the point that, although I was obviously speaking on behalf of the British Government, I believed that I was speaking on behalf of all shades of political opinion in the UK. I think that that had a resonance, and it has certainly been backed up by what the right hon. Gentleman has said today.

At the beginning of his response to my statement, the right hon. Gentleman said that there were formidable obstacles, and at the end he said that the middle east peace process must be one of the highest possible priorities. He is right on both counts.

Hamas took control of Gaza in June, and it is striking that since then there have been about 1,000 Qassam rocket and mortar shell attacks on Israel. That is a very serious security concern for the Israeli Government, but it should be a serious concern for us all. Equally, I spoke yesterday to the UN Secretary-General about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and I have also spoken about that to various members of the Israeli delegation. From my visit to the middle east last week, I know that there are ongoing discussions between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government about what is happening in Gaza. President Abbas is the elected leader of all Palestinian people and he was speaking in that role yesterday. That is why it is right that the responsibility for negotiations lies with him, as does the responsibility for deciding when and how to approach the issue of reconciliation among the Palestinian people.

Three or four months on from Hamas’s takeover, and not least in light of the killing two weeks ago of six innocent civilians who were demonstrating peacefully, it is my impression that Hamas’s rule in Gaza is doing nothing for its popularity among its own people. However, we should not underestimate the force of Hamas’s organisation in Gaza or the strength of its structures there, and it is for President Abbas to lead that process.

The right hon. Gentleman was right in what he said about movement and access. It makes sense to deal with the security of economic projects one by one. At present, there are some 530 checks on, and other interruptions to, the movement of Palestinian people in the west bank. One approach is to try to tick them off one by one, but another is to build economic growth and tackle each of the security impediments or checkpoints around those poles of economic activity. I think that that second approach lends itself to progress.

28 Nov 2007 : Column 287

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the timetable for the negotiations. The first meeting on 12 December will be key to setting a forward plan, and I shall be happy to keep him and the House informed about that.

In respect of the US commitment, the deep freeze of the last six or seven years has been ended by the conference. The strong words of President Bush and Secretary of State Rice, formally and informally, suggest that they realise the depth of commitment that is needed.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): President Bush is anti-Palestinian.

David Miliband: I look forward to my hon. Friend’s turning his statement into a question.
There is recognition in the United States, and in the Arab world, that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing for a number of reasons. Unless the opportunity is seized now, the consequences will be very grave indeed, which is why there is not a moment to lose.

The Quartet will continue to have an important role, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to notice that the structures are being moulded to fit the new circumstances of the negotiations. The approach forged from the Quartet on to the road map required that phase 1 of the road map be completed before phase 3—the final status negotiations—started. One of the big changes at Annapolis is that that distinction has been ended and the parties will start the final status negotiations, but the Quartet has a continuing role, not least in the donors conference next week.

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East will be in Lebanon in two weeks’ time, and we are all waiting day by day, even hour by hour, to see the next step forward, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that compromise is essential if Lebanon is to avoid descent into another bloody civil war.

Many players have the capacity to disrupt the process, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that discussions about financial and other sanctions against Iran are ongoing at ministerial and official level among the E3 plus 3 and across the European Union to make sure that we make it absolutely clear to Iran that it has a clear choice—full engagement with the international community, including access to civilian nuclear power, or confrontation and a nuclear arms race in the middle east. The latter is not an option that the rest of the world wants Iran to take and is something it is prepared to do everything in its power to prevent.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op):
I, too, welcome the modest beginning of this new start. The Foreign Secretary referred several times to the situation in Gaza, and to the division of Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian Authority. What can the Quartet and our Government do to bring about the reconciliation of the Palestinian people and ensure that there is a viable two-state solution, with one Palestinian Authority governing both parts of the Palestinian territories for the benefit of the people of Gaza?

David Miliband:
My hon. Friend may have noticed that on Monday the spokesman of the President of the United States said he was determined to support a two-state solution in the middle east, not a three-state solution. That certainly remains our view.

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On what we can do to promote reconciliation, we have to recognise that President Abbas is the key player. One hundred and twenty-nine people—innocent Palestinians, many of them—were killed in the attempted coup in June. It is for President Abbas, as the elected leader of all the Palestinian people, to lead his people and seek the reconciliation of which my hon. Friend spoke. I am convinced that the moderate majority, in Gaza as well as the west bank, wants a clean, effective administration that can govern in the interests of all the people. That is the best way forward. The political horizon that has been established can give credibility to President Abbas, and that is the best way we can support him.

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Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend refers to an end to settlement construction, does that include huge settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim on the outskirts of Jerusalem? What is being done about an end to the building of the illegal wall and an end to the 500 checkpoints? When he talks about Gaza, will he remember that—as I was told at a UN conference in New York, which I participated in last week—80 per cent. of the inhabitants of Gaza subsist solely on UN funds? Does he accept that, however odious Hamas is, there will be no peace until Hamas is involved?

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend speaks with real experience and authority on this issue. I am grateful for his correction. I said that 60 or 70 per cent. of Gazans were dependent on UN aid; he said that it was 80 per cent. I understand the depth of his feeling on the matter. On his last point, I certainly believe that we can get a solution only if we engage the hearts and minds of the people who voted for Hamas in the election in June. It is vital that a new Palestinian state carries legitimacy and support from all the Palestinian people.

On borders, and the settlements, which I saw when I drove from Jerusalem to Jericho, there is a critical issue about the so-called E1 part of the settlement plan. It is clear that expansion there would deal a very deep blow to the prospects of a viable Palestinian state. I believe that the basis of a deal will be around the 1967 borders and will include land swaps to deal with small items around the edge. The deal will have to be on that basis; otherwise the Palestinian state is not going to be the viable entity that we all want to see. That raises profound questions for settlement activity and for the outposts that have been have constructed since March 2001, as I said in my statement. The announcements from the Government of Israel are an important step forward in that respect. There was the statement from Prime Minister Olmert that he was determined to fulfil all the obligations under the road map. However, it is important that that is followed through.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his constructive efforts to try to bring justice to both Israelis and Palestinians. Does he feel confident that enough measures can be put in place to prevent a renewal of the terrorism that sabotaged previous attempts to find a negotiated two-state solution?

David Miliband:
My hon. Friend has a distinguished record of highlighting such issues. The precise answer to her question of whether measures can be taken to provide security is yes; as to whether they will be taken, that is what we have to work towards. I am in no doubt about the commitment of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad to leading the development of a Palestinian security infrastructure in which people have confidence, but we are engaged in a race against time.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): May I join in the welcome extended to the Foreign Secretary for his remarks today, including his remark that Hamas must face up to responsibility for the rocket attacks on Israel? Nothing should prevent humanitarian aid from going to those who need it in Gaza, but is it not absolutely clear that rocket attacks do absolutely nothing to assist the people there in their suffering? Is it not time that people stopped making excuses for Hamas, and that it faced up to its responsibilities?
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the rocket attacks do nothing for the interests of the Palestinian people. In fact, they undermine those interests. It is urgent that the whole international community, including in the Arab world, does as much as possible to prevent that. The discussions that I had in Egypt last week about the smuggling through its crossings is obviously an important part of the solution.

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Is the Foreign Secretary confident that the talks have shown sufficient respect for the democratic process in Palestine? Apparently, Hamas is not represented at the talks, and there have not been any direct representations from or to it. Whatever one thinks of Hamas, clearly it is a factor. It also has a large number of elected parliamentarians, many of whom are currently in prison in Israel. Is it acceptable for an occupying power—that is, Israel—to imprison a large number of elected parliamentarians and then pretend that it is undertaking negotiations to bring about peace? Is he confident that the parliamentarians will be released soon?

David Miliband: In respect of the arrested parliamentarians, I am happy to say that I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation is not acceptable. As I made clear in the House in July, we have serious concerns about the issue. The parliamentarians need to be either charged or released—and some of them have been. I will get the precise figures on what has happened to the 44 who were originally arrested. I do not have in my head the precise number who have been released or charged, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend about the matter. On whether I am confident that President Abbas represents the aspirations of the Palestinian people, the answer is yes. On whether I recognise that there is deep division within the Palestinian community, the answer is yes. On whether it is the job of political leadership to overcome that division, the answer is also yes.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Foreign Secretary spoke hopefully about the weakening of Hamas in Gaza, following the isolation of Hamas and the blockade of Gaza, and about conditions there. Is it not an irony that although there is a significant difference between Hamas and Salafist movements such as al-Qaeda, recent polls indicate that the ambition of 71 per cent. of Palestinian children in Gaza is to become a martyr, so we are in danger of driving people from supporting Hamas to supporting something a whole lot worse?

David Miliband:
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are grave dangers. One of the important points that I discussed with Israeli counterparts in the past 10 days is the fact that the alternative to President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad is a very dangerous one. That is why we need to make progress with the current Palestinian leadership. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the battle for the hearts and minds of young Palestinians—Palestine has a very young population, along with many other Muslim countries—is key. First, the way forward on the issue has got to be through addressing conditions on the ground. An immiseration strategy is no strategy for winning hearts and minds. That is why the humanitarian concerns are important. Secondly, the political horizon is important, too. There has to be a combination of change on the ground and a political horizon in which people can believe, with leaders who can deliver; that, in the end, is the way to win them back.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab):
The Foreign Secretary has re-expressed the British Government’s view that all the settlements—not just those that Israel regards as illegal under its law—are an obstacle to peace, in that they preclude the two-state solution. Thus far, in its agreements with Israel, the European Union has always maintained its position on which parts of the territory are Israel, and which are

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not. Can the Foreign Secretary assure me that that line will be maintained until there is an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which may slightly alter the position?

David Miliband: I am happy to confirm that there is no change in our positions. The key is detailed negotiations between the parties. There are dangers in saying that it is up to the parties to take the issue forward on a bilateral basis, but in the end the compromises and the leadership will have to come from the leaders of Israel and the leaders of a future Palestinian state. As was pointed out by the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), the role of the United States as an honest broker is a shift—it has never played that role before—and the facilitation, encouragement and drive that will have to come from the international community will have to be subtle and careful. Detailed discussions about settlements and land swaps, given the basic parameters that were set out in 2000-01, remain to be held.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD)
: If it was right in principle for successive Governments to talk directly to the political representatives of terrorist groups in order to achieve peace in Northern Ireland, why is it not right in principle for the international community to talk to the political representatives of Hamas?

David Miliband:
There are many lessons from Northern Ireland that it is worth trying to apply around the world, not least as regards policing, but one distinction that the hon. Gentleman might want to think about when answering his own question is the distinction between the Provisional IRA and the Real IRA; that distinction emerged as an important part of the peace process in the past 10 years. The deep debate within the Palestine Liberation Organisation between 1988 and 1993 led it and its supporters to conclude that a peaceful process was the only way forward. Hamas has not yet made that move, so the hon. Gentleman should be careful about suggesting that there is an exact parallel between Northern Ireland and Palestine to support his case. However, I am happy to continue this discussion with him.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend was correct to draw attention to the hundreds of rocket attacks from Gaza, including one on a primary school in Sderot on 11 September. Hamas also used a UN school as a launch pad in Beit Hanoun in October. Will he confirm that if Hamas is to be involved in the process, the three previous preconditions must stick, including the requirement that it ceases violence and terrorism against Israel?

David Miliband: Yes, but I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that we do not want to get into a position in which Hamas’s deliberations become a veto or a block on the political dialogue. An agreement hammered out by President Abbas and put to all the Palestinian people can trump the Hamas card, because in the end the Hamas argument is either, “No one will deliver a Palestinian state to you,” or “We’re the only people who can deliver a Palestinian state to you.” If President Abbas is able to do that, that is the best way to undercut Hamas.

 


Business Statement

MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2007

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): May I support the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) about post offices, as I am dismayed by the announcement of closures in my area? My point, however, is about yesterday’s security statement. I was pleased that the Government have consulted Muslim women and plan to set up a committee to consider access and influence in mosques. Will my right hon. and learned Friend use her position and talk to other Ministers to ensure that Muslim women in Wales are involved in such important discussions? May we debate the issue next week? The key to capturing hearts and minds lies with Muslim women, and they should be at the centre of any strategy.

Ms Harman:
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As she will know, I and the other Minister with responsibility for women have as one of our priorities the empowerment of black and Asian women within their communities. We are also determined to ensure that there are more black and Asian women councillors. Part of the process is to include all communities within democracy so that they feel that they have a real stake in its future.


Palestine

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Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Palestine; and if he will make a statement. [165622]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband):
As I said in my written ministerial statement this morning, I have returned from the region today more convinced than ever that there is an opportunity for progress towards a two-state solution. The Annapolis meeting later this month and the process that will follow need the support of the whole international community. As the Prime Minister said last week, we intend to make up to $500 million available over the next three years for economic reconstruction in the occupied Palestinian territories and on Sunday I saw in Jericho the basis for the additional £1.2 million for the EU police training mission in the west bank.

Chris McCafferty: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In light of Israel’s declaration of Gaza as a hostile entity, will he confirm that the Government view any collective punishment of Gazans, in particular the cutting of water supplies, as a war crime under the Geneva convention?

David Miliband: As the Secretary of State for International Development and I made clear when the announcement was made, we always oppose any form of collective punishment. It is vital that all states adhere to international and humanitarian law. I assure my hon. Friend that in, I think, all my meetings in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories over the past three days, the humanitarian situation in Gaza in the short term, and the political situation in the longer term, have been a feature of the discussions.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con):
Any possibility of a settlement for the Palestinians has been made immensely more difficult by the building of illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank. It is a breach of the fourth Geneva convention and has been opposed by successive British Governments. However, there is a report in The Jerusalem Post that the Foreign Secretary visited one of those illegal settlements. Plainly, it would be a manifest stupidity for someone in his position to have done that. Will he take the opportunity to tell the House that he did not visit one of the settlements and that the Government’s position on Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory remains what it has always been?

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David Miliband: Of course I am happy to make that clear. I visited Jericho and the EU police training centre there. I am certainly happy to make it clear that, as the hon. Gentleman indicated, successive British Governments have made their position on this issue clear, and there is certainly no change on the basis of any report in The Jerusalem Post or elsewhere.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): While the Foreign Secretary was on his way to Jericho, did he not see the cranes and bulldozers expanding the settlements at Ma’ale Adumim, on Palestinian land, which is doing more than anything else to strengthen the position of extremists and to undermine moderate Palestinian positions, because it is in defiance not only of international law, the Geneva convention and UN resolutions, but the Oslo accords and the road map?

David Miliband: I did see those settlements. I also had a briefing from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which monitors these issues extremely carefully. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is very important that the settlement process that has been started is brought to a close. In that context, however, it is important for the House to recognise the statement made by Prime Minister Olmert yesterday, after his Cabinet meeting. He said, as a confidence-building measure in advance of the Annapolis meeting next week, that he was committed and that it was the position of his Government to fulfil their responsibilities under the first phase of the road map—which is precisely to cease settlement activity.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): In the past year, there have been well over 1,000 identified rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Thirteen Israeli citizens have been killed and 317 wounded. What are the Government doing to prevent the proliferation of missiles in the Gaza strip, which are the cause of unacceptable daily attacks on Israeli citizens?

David Miliband:
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue. Obviously arms smuggling into Gaza is a major concern of the Israeli Government. I discussed that in detail with the Israeli Foreign Minister and was then able to take up the issue that she raised with the Egyptian authorities—the Egyptian Foreign Minister and others—whom I met yesterday. I know that the hon. Gentleman studies this issue and he is absolutely right to raise the matter of rocket attacks. He mentioned the figure of 1,000 attacks. The House should be in no doubt that such attacks have continued right over the summer and continue to the present day. I know that it is of major concern to the Israeli Government—rightly—but it should be of concern to everybody.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)
: Can the Foreign Secretary indicate what assurances President Abbas was able to give that he would be able to fulfil the first requirement of the road map—to dismantle the apparatus of terror?

David Miliband: I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that President Abbas was absolutely unstinting in his commitment to fulfil Palestinian obligations in respect of building a viable Palestinian state not just in

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1

economic terms, but in security terms—in relation to both the security of its own people and the security of Israeli people. The issue of the link to Gaza and the representative nature of President Abbas—as a representative of all Palestinian people—is vital. I am sure that the whole House will have seen the scenes last week of hundreds of thousands of Gazans demonstrating and then six of them being killed by Hamas thugs. That is an important issue that of course needs to be addressed in any long-term settlement.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con):
Does the Foreign Secretary believe, before Annapolis, that it is possible to make genuine progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state without the consent and participation of representatives of all the Palestinian people?

David Miliband: There are two parts to that question. First, before Annapolis, the best that we can do is maximise the consensus that exists between both sides and launch negotiations for the first time in many years. The process of negotiation has been in deep freeze.
Secondly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers obliquely to the position of Hamas. President Abbas is the elected leader of all the Palestinian people. It is for him to lead any process towards reconciliation across the divide that now exists between Gaza and the west bank. My impression is that much of the activity undertaken by Hamas since the coup in June has shown its true nature, not just to the wider world, but to the Palestinian people.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his visit to the region in the past few days and on his attempts to promote dialogue between Israel and Palestine? I welcome the points that he made about the need for economic development in the Palestinian territories, but can he reassure me that something will be done about the 563 restrictions on movement and access? If something is not done about them, any chance of Palestinian economic development or statehood will be a pipe dream.

David Miliband:
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will have noted the announcement made by Defence Minister Barak yesterday that between 20 and 30 checkpoints are being taken away—a start to the process that my hon. Friend describes. He will also know that Jon Cunliffe and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, in his previous capacity at the Treasury, produced a Government publication on the economic road map to peace. It makes very clear the links between economic development, improvements in security and tackling the checkpoints issue in the west bank.


Integration and Cohesion

17 Apr 2007 : Column 24WH

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Olner. I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate on integration and cohesion in Britain.

I am sure we all agree that public discussion about integration and cohesion has travelled a long way in recent years—from Lord Parekh’s commission for the future of multi-ethnic Britain, to Ted Cantle’s report on the 2001 riots, to the Government’s new, or fairly new, Commission on Integration and Cohesion. The discussion has not ended up where one might have expected at the beginning of 2001. There has been an unmistakable new interest in integration among opinion formers such as the BBC journalist George Alagiah, the Pakistan-born Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali and Trevor Phillips, who is to head the commission for equality and human rights.

This debate allows the House an opportunity to explore all aspects of that developing public discussion. I want to concentrate on an important part of it—relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain—before asking whether there is merit in Cantle’s main recommendation, which the Government have not to date taken up: the development of a statement of allegiance that would follow what Cantle described in his report as

“an honest and open national debate”.

The events of 9/11 and their consequences have had an unmistakable impact on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain since 2001. In Britain, they have included the Dhiren Barot conviction, Richard Reid’s attempted shoe bomb atrocity, the Abu Hamza affair—and, of course, the horror of 7/7 as well as the events of 21/7. I am the Conservative Member with the largest number of Muslim constituents and my constituency also felt those consequences last summer in the form of the alleged aeroplane bomb plot; two of my constituents currently face serious charges in respect of that.

Last autumn, I offered the House my analysis of barriers to integration as they affect British Muslims. They include racism and Islamophobia, lower life chances, intergenerational conflict, the failure of the multiculturalist consensus, foreign policy and, perhaps above all, the impact of ideology. In its most stark form, that ideology is one of terror—hence 9/11 and 7/7. In its less brutal form, it rejects terror in Britain but embraces separation. Separation, of course, inevitably leads to a lack of integration and cohesion and the “parallel lives” of which Cantle warned.

A common term for the ideology is “Islamism”, a term sometimes used by Ministers. It is worth noting that some separatist Islamic groups in the tradition of al-Banna or Mawdudi use the term to describe themselves. However, many Muslims are unhappy about it and argue, understandably enough, that the use of the term tends to conflate that ideology with Islam itself. It is perhaps necessary to reiterate that the two are not the same. Islam is an ancient religion, whose history and practice seem to me just as various, complex and multifaceted as Christianity’s.

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The separatism that I have mentioned is in essence a modern political ideology, and I want to give the House a flavour of it.

Earlier this year, I discovered from a Channel Four “Dispatches” programme, “Undercover Mosque”, that a DVD featuring a preacher called Abu Usamah was being distributed from my constituency. In the programme, Abu Usamah was quoted as saying:

“No one loves the kuffar”—

that is, the non-Muslim—

“not a single person here from the Muslims loves the kuffar, whether those kuffar are from the UK or the US. We love the people of Islam and we hate the people of kuffar, we hate the kuffar”.

Abu Usamah also said: God has created the woman, even if she gets a PhD, deficient. Her intellect is incomplete, deficient. She may be suffering from hormones that will make her emotional. It takes two witnesses of a woman to equal one witness of a man.”

He went on to say:

“Do you practise homosexuality with men? Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain.”

I shall not weary the House with any further quotations, but it is important to demonstrate what this ideology of separation is like. It favours an ultimate political settlement in Britain in which the barrier between the sacred and the secular is torn down and different people are governed by different laws. As Dame Pauline Neville-Jones wrote in her recent report “Uniting the Country”, even those ideologues

“who eschew violence advocate…a social order…not compatible with modern western ideas of individual freedom, the equality of men and women, fundamental human rights and democratic government under the rule of law”.

I stress, of course, that this ideology is rejected by the majority of British Muslims.

When I last had the chance to address the House on these issues, I said that it is important to diagnose the cause of an illness—in this case, the to-some-degree poisoned relations between Muslims and non-Muslims—before attempting to treat it. Today, I want to set out some ideas that might help to find a cure.

I am delighted to see the Minister in her place, because I want to ask her some questions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in his, because he is an acknowledged expert in this field. I am also grateful for the presence of my hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer), and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), who is a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. It is a pity that there is not greater representation on the Labour Benches.

In my view, the origin of such a cure lies in strengthening the unwritten social contract that exists between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain. Under that contract, non-Muslims are obliged to recognise that Islam is now a permanent presence in Britain, that British Muslims have lower life chances than the non-Muslim majority as a whole, and that those life chances must be raised as part of any programme of social justice. In turn, Muslims are obliged to face up to the fact that Dhiren Barot, Richard Reid and the perpetrators of 7/7 claimed to act in the name of Islam,

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however unjustified that claim is, and recognise that the separatist ideology that I described earlier must not merely be condemned—it must be actively challenged, confronted and rooted out.

First, I want to deal with ways of raising Muslim life chances. According to the Office for National Statistics, Muslims are more likely to be lower paid than Christians, but the relevant figure, like others that point to Muslim disadvantage, must be read carefully. According to a study called “Religion and economic activity in the South Asian population”, 41 per cent. of Indian-originated Muslim adults are in full-time work, compared with 26 per cent. of Pakistani-originated Muslim adults and 23 per cent. of Bangladeshi-originated Muslim adults.

Those figures help to put some of the statistics about Muslim disadvantage in context. Indian-originated Muslims often come from a more prosperous background than Bangladeshi-originated, Pakistani-originated or Kashmiri-originated Muslims, so the figures suggest a hierarchy of disadvantage. As Munira Mirza wrote in her “Living apart together” report for the think-tank Policy Exchange—in my view, the leading think-tank on Islam and Muslim-related matters—

“Policy-makers talk about helping ‘Muslims’, but levels of social disadvantage actually relate more closely to ethnicity than religious grouping, and even more importantly, to socio-economic class.”

In other words, it is only common sense to recognise that Muslims who speak English as a second language, or not at all, and who come from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to enjoy good life chances than Muslims who speak fluent English and come from more prosperous backgrounds. Homes and schools are therefore vital locations for the levering up of life chances, especially given that no fewer than a third of British Muslims are under 16.

Some questions need to be addressed. Do parents who can speak English always encourage their children to do so at home? Do parents champion the value of education as a source of opportunity and not seek to discourage young women from entering the labour market should they wish? Are the expectations that some schools have for Muslim pupils too low? Is enough done to encourage parents to enter the teaching profession or to come forward as governors? How can integration possibly be helped by the planned reduction of support—although I understand that that is being reviewed—for the teaching of English to new migrants?

So, raising Muslim life chances, especially the life chances of Muslims from poorer backgrounds, is necessary if the unwritten social contract between non-Muslims and Muslims in Britain is to be strengthened. However, although improving life chances is necessary for that to happen, it is not sufficient. Marc Sageman’s study of 172 al-Qaeda operatives around the world suggests that there is no simple link between lower life chances and separatist ideology. Indeed, he found that many operatives were from relatively wealthy backgrounds. The horror of 7/7helps to prove that point: Mohammed Siddique Khan was, after all, a qualified teacher and a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan university.

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Therefore, in the interests of integration, I turn to ways of rooting out the separatist ideology that I described earlier. The Government alone cannot do so, but ministerial leadership is crucial. According to recent reports issued over the Easter break, the Minister’s Department will lose its lead role in relation to British Muslims to the new office for security and counter-terrorism. The Minister is shaking her head, but it is important that she clears that matter up today. After all, her Department has only been in charge of this matter for about a year and placing relations with British Muslims in a security context will obviously have big implications.

Mention of the Department leads me to reflect on Government policy as a whole since 7/7. It is fair to say that the entire political and media establishment was caught off-balance by the horrendous events of that day. The Government’s initial reaction was to set up the “preventing extremism together” project, but there is some controversy about how many of its recommendations have been implemented. That approach has clearly been superseded by the new Commission on Integration and Cohesion. There have been reports that Ministers want to raise the age at which spouses can enter Britain from 18 to 21. Will the commission consider that matter and report on it in June as part of its findings?

The Government’s approach to preventing extremism needs to be synoptic, but it is hard to see such an approach at the moment. For example, the Department for Education and Skills—partly in reaction to a legal case involving a girls’ school in my constituency—has recently issued guidance on school uniforms, which makes it clear that schools are entitled to bar the niqab or veil if they wish. However, the Department of Health refuses to issue similar guidance. I asked about that matter after the Royal Preston hospital was reported last year to be modelling a gown for patients based on the burqa, which, as hon. Members know, is not worn by most Muslim women in Britain. The answer that I received was that national guidance was inappropriate. Perhaps the Minister will explain why guidance appropriate for schools and teaching staff is not appropriate for hospitals and medical staff.

Terror groups are reported to be targeting universities and prisons. What guidance is issued to prison governors on the receipt of extremist literature by prisoners and is enough being done to encourage college principals to follow the example of universities such as Birmingham, which checks visiting speakers’ credentials in advance? More broadly, many of our constituents will ask why it took so long for the Danish embassy protesters who shouted support for terror to be charged, and why the loophole that allowed Abu Hamza to pass on property from prison is still unplugged.

I turn from preventing extremism to its flip side, which, of course, is supporting moderation. Having tried to give a flavour of what extremism is like, I shall now provide a flavour of what moderation is like by citing an event that took place at the Palace of Westminster before the Easter recess when I was privileged to co-host a reception for the Sufi Muslim Council. The SMC is unambiguously moderate and campaigns against extremism. It wants to see citizens

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from all backgrounds living together under one common law. It believes that British Muslims can live privately under sharia law in the same way that Jews, for example, can live privately under their own religious law. It rejects placing entire areas of Britain under state-run sharia law, which extremists such as Abu Izzadeen advocate. Just as importantly, it also rejects permitting different religious groups to live under different state laws—the system that operated in India under the empire, and which is championed by such Islamists abroad as Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. I believe that organisations such as the British Muslim Forum, to which the three main mosques in my constituency are listed as affiliates, broadly take the same moderate view.

In the light of that, can the Minister confirm that the Muslim Council of Britain is no longer being treated as the main representative voice of British Muslims? According to Dr. Mirza’s research, only 6 per cent. of British Muslims believe that the MCB speaks for them, and only 1 per cent. believe that the Muslim Association of Britain, which is usually regarded as the British arm of Hamas, speaks for them. Can the Minister explain, therefore, why the MAB was given the same status as the MCB, which at least has a large number of representative organisations affiliated to it, and the BMF on the steering group of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body project, which is looking at the future of British mosques?

Indeed, can the Minister confirm whether the Government would like the MCB, the MAB, the BMF and the SMC—I apologise for all these acronyms—to be rolled into one representative body for British Muslims? If so, is the amalgamation of such divergent organisations really practical, and do Ministers believe that a single organisation can provide a reliable link to all British Muslims—the highest figure is 1.8 million—a proportion of whom do not attend mosques regularly, if at all?

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Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The passion for secular democracy, individual liberty, freedom and equality before the law, religious toleration and pluralism is, I believe, at the heart of what it is to be British. It might be depressing to think this way, but let us make no mistake: those values are not compatible with much of the Islamic teaching that we hear about today. I do not dispute what my hon. Friend had to say about ensuring that the more moderate aspects of Muslim and Islamic thinking are also put across, but it is, I fear, a stark reality that much of that religion’s teaching is incompatible with the values that have grown up in the past 500 years.

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Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD):
I want to spend a minute or two dealing with the historical realities versus the British myth, because a lot of the conversation that I hear in this building and in the media has a patronising tone about how Muslims need to shape up and fit in with British society, with an underlying assumption of some golden model of British society that has a historic inevitability about it

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that is wholly admirable and wholly desirable. I remind the House that 500 years ago, the Catholics were trying to blow this building up, but of course we do not think about it quite in those terms; we think of Guy Fawkes. A consequence of their attempt was a purge of Catholics in this country that exceeds anything that we have contemplated in the debate so far. Much more recently there was another attempt to blow up this House, which killed the then hon. Member for Eastbourne. On that occasion we did not have a purge against Catholics, which shows that in 500 years we have learned something in this society about understanding the difference between terrorism and an ideological belief or a religious conviction…. Any impression, therefore, that there was a golden age of integration and cohesion in England is completely inaccurate. Furthermore, although this is perhaps of marginal significance now, we cannot have a Catholic king, let alone an Islamic one…. When we talk to our Muslim colleagues, therefore, who have a very multifaceted faith just as Christians do, we need to be a little more sensitive and just a little less arrogant in what we say and presume.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con):

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Islamism is distinct from Islam. Islam is a great faith that has nourished millions for hundreds of years. To this day it contributes intellectually and spiritually across the globe to enriching the lives of a great many people. No one on the Conservative Benches would want to criticise Islam as a faith. Indeed, it has enriched this country. Islamic scholars and tens of thousands of British Muslim citizens make Britain a better and more tolerant place today, but the best of those—in fact, the majority of them—also recognise that those who call themselves, sometimes, Islamists or jihadists, or who use another name, such as Salafists, and who follow the specific Islamist ideology are following a 20th-century totalitarian aberration that is intended to undermine the very tolerance that makes Britain both a safe and a warm house not just for its Muslim citizens but for all citizens. If we are to ensure that toleration will survive in this country, and protect pluralism and liberty, we need to be aware of the precise nature of the threat. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe deserves praise for drawing attention to that challenge in this House and elsewhere.

17 Apr 2007: Column 43WH

I would like to acknowledge that the Government have moved but also to indicate that there is still some way to go.

I believe that the Government have accepted that, before the fateful events of 7 July 2005, they had fallen down on the job when it came to questions of integration and cohesion, and of extremism, specifically within the Muslim community. They have acknowledged that the principle of the covenant of security—that unless someone is actively engaged in violence against the state, their activities would be tolerated, no matter how extreme their preaching—was a mistake. More than that, I believe that the Government have acknowledged that some of their chosen partners in the Muslim community and elsewhere were not as well chosen as they might have been.

The Secretary of State was absolutely right to point out recently that Muslim organisations that boycott holocaust memorial day should no longer receive public money. I also note with approval that recently she has been showing a willingness to work with the Sufi Muslim Council, the British Muslim Forum and especially the Fatima Women’s Network, all of which are more moderate Muslim organisations.

The Government’s greater openness to working with moderate, mainstream organisations is to be welcomed, but it provokes a couple of questions. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe pointed out, the Government still seem to be taking a disjointed and far from synoptic approach. I mention one area that he did not, which comes under the rubric of the Department for Education and Skills. Why is it that the Government’s adviser on the teaching of Islam in higher and further education, Dr. Ataullah Siddiqui, is linked with the Islamic Foundation and the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, both of which are institutions that were set up by the Jamaat-e-Islami party, an explicitly Islamist organisation, and its supporters? In other words, why is the man who is charged with checking extremism on Britain’s campuses in fact linked with a body that was set up by a separatist Islamist organisation?

In that regard, I am very interested in my hon. Friend’s question about the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. Why is the Muslim Association of Britain—the UK branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organisation—on an equal footing with the British Muslim Forum and the

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Muslim Council of Britain? Why is Finsbury Park mosque, which used to be the haunt of Abu Hamza, now run by the Muslim Association of Britain’s Dr. Azzam Tamimi? Why, having got rid of one extremist, do we have another version of extremism in control?


Intelligence and Security Committee (Annual Report)

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Mike Gapes:
My right hon. Friend referred to domestic terrorism. Does he share my concern about the opinion poll that was published a few days ago indicating that 13 per cent. of British Muslims sympathised with, or actually supported, the aims of the people who carried out those terrible murders in London a year ago? Does that not indicate that we need to deal with not only intelligence, but the way in which we engage the Muslim communities in detecting, preventing and combating the ideology of al-Qaeda and its sympathisers?

Mr. Murphy:
Yes, I do, although that is not necessarily a job for the intelligence agencies or the Committee that I have the privilege to chair. However, it must be taken seriously into account. One thing that we can take from the poll is that although some people thought in the way in which my hon. Friend outlined, the people who live in our Muslim communities in this country overwhelmingly do not share that view. It is important that hon. Members understand that, especially those who represent constituencies in which large numbers of Muslim people live.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): One of the reasons we got great intelligence in Northern Ireland was the fact that the community was on side and thus presented a massive number of human sources. Has the Committee taken any evidence about, or inquired into, the impact of some of the draconian counter-terrorism legislation that the Government have introduced and the extent to which that has deterred people from Muslim communities from coming forward as sources?

Mr. Murphy: No, not in that sense, but we had a look in some detail at how to deal with the problems in Muslim communities in which extremists live, work and plot. When we compiled our report, we cross-examined and interviewed many people, from Ministers down. We also went through hundreds of documents to find out whether we could get to the bottom of the issues that were causing concern. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated in his opening speech the difference between what happened in Northern Ireland and the situation that we face today. There was a structure to the terrorist activities in Northern Ireland that we faced. The situation was very much on our doorstep, and the people spoke the same language. We now face a disparate global terrorism that is completely different from what we faced in Northern Ireland, and I say that as someone who spent five years of his life as a Northern Ireland Minister. The way in which we deal with such terrorism is a huge challenge to the security services, this country and the world. I still believe, however, that intelligence can play a hugely important role in combating global terrorism, the effects of which we have seen today in India.

Our agencies face new challenges, especially in counter-terrorism, but they are largely meeting those challenges.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD):
On behalf of my party, I join other hon. Members in expressing condolences to everyone who was maimed or bereaved in the cold-blooded and callous bomb attacks in Mumbai today. I join other hon. Members, too, in welcoming the ISC’s thorough, detailed and authoritative annual report for 2005-06. As it notes, it is especially timely as there is a “sustained threat from international terrorism”, particularly from al-Qaeda. Only last Friday, we commemorated the tragic 7 July bombings in London, and I echo the tributes paid to those who make heroic efforts to secure our safety.
The report should be read alongside the earlier ISC report on the 7 July bombings, as together they fill in important gaps in the jigsaw of events that led to those terrible attacks. It is worth reiterating that the jigsaw will be complete only if there is a full, independent, public inquiry into the 7 July attacks and the events that led up to them. On 11 May this year, the Home Secretary told me that an inquiry would be too costly and would divert resources from other work. The expense of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, running into hundreds of millions of pounds, is regularly cited by Ministers as a reason why an independent inquiry into 7/7 is not justified. I have looked up the costs of key public inquiries in recent years, and they are not as excessive as suggested. The Bichard inquiry, which made 31 important recommendations, cost £2 million; the inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove and Southall train crashes cost £1.2 million, and made 39 recommendations; and the inquiry into the awful death of Victoria Climbié cost £3.8 million, and made 17 recommendations. The Home Secretary may be reluctant to hold a public inquiry but, given the record of previous public inquiries, the issue of costs is not the most powerful reason for failing to do so.

John Reid: For the record, the hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. The official cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, in which a large number of families are involved and which has lasted six or seven years, is £185 million. However, that is not the point. When I use the word, “costs”, I am referring to manpower, and the diversion of a huge amount of resources and efforts by men and women from the primary task of trying to protect us against another 7/7. That—and not financial cost—has always been the major consideration. In view of the challenges that we

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face—the massive threat to this country and the possibility of another tragedy—to divert a great deal of resources and manpower from our badly stretched security services for a prolonged period would result in a huge drain on our capability to fight terrorism, thus increasing the risk of another 7/7. In all conscience, I cannot do that, especially as I do not believe that there will be a commensurate reward in terms of questions answered, because there are some questions that we just cannot answer. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue, nor do I blame the families, because I understand that there are many questions to which they want answers, but against that we must weigh the protection of every family in Britain.

Mr. Clegg: I am grateful to the Home Secretary. I merely make two observations. First, it is difficult for me to assess how many resources would be diverted. Given that much of the information is out there somewhere, I find it hard to believe that it would be beyond the means of an inquiry to allocate a small team from the security and intelligence services to make that information available. Secondly—and this is a much more important, substantive point—the Home Secretary implied that there are not a sufficient number of questions that need to be answered, as enough ground has already been covered by other inquiries and reports. It is difficult to judge with scientific accuracy whether that assertion is true. The week before last, a report was published on the death of Zahid Mubarek, who was killed in custody. That inquiry took place after full reports by the Prison Service and by the Commission for Racial Equality, yet it still identified 176 failings and made 88 recommendations. It would rest heavily on the Home Secretary’s conscience, as it would on mine, if we failed to cover important ground and prevent future terrorist attacks because we omitted to hold an independent inquiry.


Counter-terrorism Strategy

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Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): The Home Secretary is right to tell us that the majority of Muslims here wish only to live peacefully and do not support terrorism in any form, but is he worried about the result of a recent public opinion poll, which indicated that 13 per cent. of British Muslims view last year’s suicide bombers in London as martyrs rather than criminals? Will he work more closely with moderate Muslim leaders here explicitly to condemn such attitudes and to support and work for the concept of a separation between allegiance to a state and allegiance to a religion—a concept that is rare in the Muslim world, but not unique, as shown by the good example of Turkey?

John Reid
: Yes, I think everyone would be worried about the percentage that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. On the other hand, we should not assume that general sentiments expressed in an opinion poll are

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an indication that people wish that they were engaged in such terrorist activity. It is not unknown in respect of past terrorist acts that the allegiance of young people—whether it be here, in Northern Ireland, Spain or Italy—can sometimes be attached in theory to something that they would never support in practice. We should not underestimate the problem and we cannot be complacent, but we should not brand large sections of the Muslim community as inveterately committed in that direction. I think that that would be wrong. As I said earlier, the dividing line is not between Muslim and non-Muslim, but between evil terrorism and those of us who hold a set of values in common throughout all religions and all civilisations. I merely point out the fact that many of the victims of these terrorist acts—not only in London and New York, but in Saudi Arabia, Amman, Turkey, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, Egypt or in many other areas where terrorists are inflicting their ills on societies, including Afghanistan and Iraq—are themselves Muslims. Not only that, but many victims are often women and children as well as men, so we are all at threat. Terrorism threatens us all and only by a united response will we ultimately defeat it.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD):
Following on from that, does the Home Secretary accept that some of the statements from Ministers, including the Prime Minister, over the last year have served only to heighten the alienation? What does he propose to do to re-engage the majority moderate members of the Muslim community who, like everyone else, want to get rid of terrorism?

John Reid:
No, I do not accept that in respect of the Prime Minister and I would say to the hon. Gentleman that engagement does not mean patronising. The vast majority of Muslims in this country—just the same as everyone else—want to live in a free, decent society where their children do better than they did. They value the freedoms that we protect here and they find terrorism abhorrent. When we engage with people in that community who may not be part of that mainstream, we should be not just engaging them but prepared to enter into discussion and, if necessary, debate with them over values. A values-based discussion will sometimes lead us into debate, which I believe is a good, not a bad, thing.


Orders of the Day – Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

13 Oct 2005 : Column 466

Alan Simpson: I am well aware of that. We might also look at Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami, an organisation originally formed to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. I suspect that, at that time, no one would have described it as a terrorist organisation. It was almost certainly founded with the covert backing of the CIA, and would have received direct funding from the CIA for its heroic acts of resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. However, now that circumstances have changed and that group’s hostilities are directed towards those whom it regards as the current occupiers of that country, it has become a terrorist organisation. Parliament must exercise greater judgment and scrutiny of the legitimacy of current threats and the impartiality of the lobbying that we receive from other Governments to add organisations to our list.

Two of the criteria for inclusion on the list apply to organisations whose principal aim is to overthrow legitimate Governments and to those that advocate armed struggle or the killing of the leaders of such Governments or of the Administrations that run their country. Bearing in mind those criteria, I would urge people to look at the website of the Christian Coalition of America, which is run by Rev. Pat Buchanan, who actively and openly advocates the assassination of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. If we are to be

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consistent, we should consider imposing a proscribing order on the Christian Coalition, too. Those who actively advocate the assassination of democratically elected leaders of Governments, and whose organisations platform such ideas openly on their websites, ought to be included in the banning order. The thing is, they are not Muslims. We take a very different view of Christian fundamentalists, including those who advocate armed insurgency and the killing of nationally elected leaders, because they are somehow part of civilisation. I worry when, at each stage of a banning process, we are faced with a list of organisations whose crime has been to shift allegiance from pro-western terrorism to anti-western terrorism, and which excludes organisations that advocate precisely the same acts of terrorism against regimes that the west does not like.

Simon Hughes:
I share the hon. Gentleman’s views on this issue, and I also happen to be a member of the Christian Church. I believe that we do inter-faith and inter-community relations a disservice if we take a differential view. That is why, when we debate the Equality Bill, which will come before us soon, we must remember that protecting one faith in this country while not giving protection to the others represents a fundamental flaw in the equality with which we should treat all these issues in Parliament.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am grateful for being able to make a small contribution on the most important and dangerous subject facing Parliament at the moment. I am also grateful to be able to endorse the views of my Nottinghamshire colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). He has just made an extremely important contribution, which was not trivial in any way, shape or form. I welcome this opportunity because, like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that these organisations need to be considered in detail. We need to have time to debate what they stand for. We should not simply take a block of names, philosophies and confused ideologies, give them a convenient tag, and write them off. We need to look at the matter in detail.

I shall not oppose the Government today, and I praise the dispatch with which they have now chosen to move, but I wonder why they have taken so long to ban one, two or possibly three organisations that, so far as I can see, probably represent the same thing. I am concentrating particularly on the organisations that call themselves Ansar Al-Islam and Ansar Al Sunna. The Minister might equally have put on the list al-Qaeda in the Country of Two Rivers, and a series of other names by which these organisations go whenever it suits them.

It is an aphorism I know, but we are not considering concrete organisations. We are considering ideologies and organisations that have more in common with a piece of mercury, which, when hit with a hammer, will split into various different parts and spring up enormously dangerously. As we are concentrating on those organisations—which, it is fair to say, owe their allegiance to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the gentleman who brings us on the television screen the charming views of Britons’ heads being sliced off with bread

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knives, who is such an expert in handling the media that when we lose one of our aircraft, whether to friendly fire or enemy fire I do not know, he has his cameras on the spot within minutes and those images projected across the world within hours, and who runs a propaganda machine far in advance of anything that we seem to be able to handle in countering his particular threat—I wonder why this individual has not had more interest shown in him and his organisation before now.

Without making any judgment on the rights or wrongs of the Iraq war, I am interested to hear those criticisms that spring up, saying that the war has made us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks since we engaged in it. Let me point out that those organisations, Al-Islam and Al-Sunna, brought us the January 2003 ricin attack—please note, before we went to war in Iraq. That organisation, I suggest, leaves al-Qaeda as we believe it to exist in the shadows. It is a long way in advance of some of the amateurish operations that we have seen from that group. That organisation tried to use weapons of mass destruction, and I use the phrase advisedly, on the mainland of this country as long as three years ago. If the newspapers are to be believed, it was active as recently as last weekend and its suspects are in custody. Whether they will be charged, released or released on control orders I have no idea. While I am delighted that the Government are getting a move on from this particular point, why has it taken so long to address those two, three or four groups, whatever they might call themselves?

I challenge the Government to go a step further. Many of us have ignored the problem of terrorism—writing it off, thinking it would never happen in this country and that the study of it was too difficult. Well, it has happened. We have had the events of 7 July and 21 July. Possibly, something was planned for last weekend. Certainly, the arrests that followed suggest that we are still very much in jeopardy. Given that a debate on emergency planning is coming up later next week, I ask the Minister why all we see from the Government is lists of names and suggested legislation. Why do we not see concrete methods for the prevention and suppression of terrorism?

The Minister talked eloquently about those organisations on this list of names adding to the hostile environment. There are a million things that we could do to make terrorism that much more difficult to demonstrate inside this country, but I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South: we need to raise our awareness of it in the House and to ensure that our public understand what the threat is. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), we must not think that these are a series of bizarre websites with bizarre names that we do not understand. We need to understand them.

We the public—not just here in Parliament, but on the street—need to understand what the threat is. We must not just proscribe those organisations, but have a campaign for public information and public training that makes people understand what the threat is and know what to do about it. We have done this a million times before. For instance, I could ask the Government what their approach is on flooding. They are taking it extremely seriously, telling us what the danger is and how to cope with it.

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I shall finish on this point, if I may. This is not just a question of proscribing organisations, although that will help, and laying down laws, which might help, although I have yet to see a suicide bomber who would have been deterred by a law. We must have concrete measures, we must ensure that our people understand the dangers and know how to deal with them. We will be attacked again. We must ensure next time that we first make things more difficult for our enemies and that casualties are minimised.


Tuesday 5 April 2005:
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

To The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain):

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op):
Will my right hon. Friend clarify something that will, I suspect, cause much disappointment to many of my Muslim constituents? Is it the case that we could lose the provisions on incitement to religious hatred, and can he explain why?

Mr. Hain:
I very much regret that it looks as though we shall lose the opportunity to introduce the new offence of incitement to religious hatred that would have given particular comfort to the Muslim community. However, the Opposition made it absolutely clear that they were not willing to see that particular clause of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill go into law, so they bear full responsibility for blocking it. I am sure that Muslim communities throughout Britain will take careful note of that, and of the position of the Liberal Democrats on the matter.