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Queen’s Speech - Debate (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:09 pm on 22nd June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative 4:09 pm, 22nd June 2017

My Lords, I refer the House to my registered non-financial interest as president of the Conservative Friends of Israel and add my welcome to my noble friend Lord Ahmad to his role. I wish him well. Something I did not prepare may surprise Members of the House: I have to say that I agreed with every word of the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge.

Two nights ago, the Prime Minister received a phone call from Prime Minister Netanyahu, following the awful attack at the mosque in Finsbury Park. After every atrocity, Prime Minister Netanyahu has rung and written to offer support, but the read-out from the latest call was that Israel and the UK would continue working together to counter terrorism and extremism in all its guises. It was agreed that the relationship between the UK and Israel would continue to go from strength to strength. The Prime Minister reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to a two-state solution, enabling an Israel free from terrorism and a viable Palestinian state. UK-Israel relations are in a good place. The two-way trade in 2016 was nearly £6 billion, and I pay tribute to His Excellency David Quarrey, the British ambassador in Israel, and His Excellency Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador here, for their professionalism and dedication.

But something else is going on in the region. In part as a result of Iran’s regional ambitions, as it increases its supply of weapons to a proxy Hezbollah, and the threat of ISIS, it is clear that there is an alignment of interests between Israel and her neighbours in the Gulf, opening unprecedented lines of communication. This will and already has led to a regional push towards progress in the peace process, which is all good news. However, Iran continues to fund terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which is bad news. Iran played a key part in the formation of Hezbollah in 1982, and has openly provided financial assistance, weapons, ammunition and military training to the group for more than three decades. Do not take my word—take that of the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before leaving office, when he said that the budget of Hezbollah, its salaries, expenses, weapons and missiles all came from the Republic of Iran. It is estimated that Iran has supplied Hezbollah with up to 150,000 rockets and more advanced weapons which are situated worryingly close to Israel’s northern border in Lebanon. Hezbollah does not recognise the State of Israel but calls for its destruction. Its record of international terrorism I do not have the time to list—and yes, Hezbollah, together with Hamas, have been described by the Leader of the Opposition as his “friends”.

On Monday, I wrote to the Home Secretary after the al-Quds march that took place last Sunday, which I raised in the House earlier. Hezbollah flags were repeatedly displayed in direct contravention of Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Separating Hezbollah into military and political wings is untenable and an artificial exercise; its own senior leaders have long insisted that its military and non-military activities are indivisible. The United States, Canada, the Netherlands, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have all designated the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, and I urge the Minister to talk to his friends and the Home Secretary. In the wake of several deadly attacks against civilians in this country, it is time that the UK demonstrates its commitment to combating extremism and joining our important allies in proscribing the terror group in its entirety.

I turn to an area where the UK can and often does play a positive and influential role. While it is true that I have been critical of some aspects of DfID activity within the Palestinian Authority, much of which fails the test of transparency, on the one hand, and frees up money so that convicted terrorists receive salaries while serving time in jail, on the other, overall the UK taxpayer can and should be proud of the work and achievements of DfID. As Secretary of State Priti Patel stated:

“To those who doubt the ability of our aid to make a difference: tell that to the millions of children protected from paralysing polio by the British taxpayer, or the millions of Kenyans whose lives have been transformed by mobile money invented with British assistance, or the people of Sierra Leone who are getting back to their daily lives, free from Ebola after UK intervention”.

I am certain that Priti will continue to ensure that our support goes to the right place in a transparent and correct way.

This week, I talked to the high commissioner of Rwanda, the extremely effective and respected Yamina Karitanyi. She confirmed to me that aid from the UK to her country is one of the major reasons why Rwanda has lifted more than 1.5 million of its citizens out of poverty.

DfID has helped to enhance the domestic resource mobilisation IT systems for Customs and revenue and tax collection. Remarkably, today, domestic resources amount to 62%, external borrowing 19.7% and aid grants 19.3%. This compares to aid dependency in 1994 of 95%. DfID has helped the development of the financial sector, including capital market establishment in a 10-year development plan, and the training of civil servants, and has supported central government priority sectors such as education, agriculture and public management.

Rwanda post 1994 has been very efficient at using aid to implement a citizen-centred approach to governance and, it appears, will soon graduate to non-reliance on foreign aid. It is now focused on enhancing its trade partnerships: a great DfID legacy which will translate into a post-Brexit trade deal. I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell, who ended his thoughtful contribution by calling for deeper co-operation within the Commonwealth. Rwanda was not an original member of the Commonwealth, but chose to join. My noble friend was right: with 2 billion people in 52 countries all using common law and the English language, it is a market we should be expanding.

When our aid is focused, so much can be achieved, and I am confident that the Secretary of State will succeed in making UK taxpayers proud of their generosity and their support.