Thank you, Sir Nicholas. May I begin by wishing you and all the staff of the House a happy Christmas and peaceful and prosperous new year?
I should like to refer to the report that was published in March just before the general election. It was the last report published by the Select Committee in the previous Parliament. It is a comprehensive report and it covers a wide area. In my introduction, I will not be able to go into all the areas in great detail, but I see that a number of colleagues from the Committee are here. I am sure that they will supplement, or even contradict, what I might say on some aspects, and they may refer to the parts that I do not touch on.
There has been no let-up in terrorism internationally since the report was published. We know, sadly, from the events of
Two weeks later on
Since the destruction of its bases in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda has become much more dispersed and decentralised. It is perhaps no longer appropriate to talk of al-Qaeda in the sense of one organisation. There are local franchises operating independently in many parts of the world. The al-Qaeda leadership, as such, is not necessarily in charge or control of, or even in regular contact with, those groups. The dispersal and break-up of al-Qaeda does not mean that the threat has been reduced. On the contrary, as the Committee has heard in recent evidence sessions, the threat may be much more difficult to cope with. We have heard from many witnesses about the shift towards home-grown cells, which has made it more difficult to prevent terrorist attacks. Attacks have been carried out by groups about which there was, from what I have been told, no intelligence beforehand. Moreover, because of the use of the internet, the terrorist organisations and terrorist cells may now no longer be travelling to terrorist training camps, but are getting the information in their home or neighbouring countries from other sources.
The international community has not done enough to counter the internet and the use of the internet, not just for terrorist training purposes, but for propaganda by terrorist organisations. Our Committee has heard that there has been a serious failure in counter-propaganda and in public diplomacy. One of the difficulties that we confront is the perception, in large parts of the Arab and Muslim world, that there are double standards. Countering that perception is not made any easier when there are well publicised and well reported cases of abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or torture, or pictures of people at Guantanamo Bay, which are, in a sense, propaganda victories for terrorist organisations and those who speak for them.
The BBC has recently decided to restore, after a 10-year gap, a dedicated Arabic television service, paid for in part by reducing some of the European and other radio services. Our Committee pointed out in our report in July 2004 that the proposal for a BBC Arabic television service had not received additional funding in the Treasury spending review. Consequently, the decision has had to be pushed through at the cost of other BBC services. We have taken evidence on that matter recently and will no doubt return to it in another report.
The BBC has a clear and important role in trying to counter the propaganda of those who justify and excuse terrorist organisations, but it is independent of our Government and must remain so. I hope that it will gain a significant viewing within the Arab world, so that it is not just al-Jazeera and similar channels that are broadcast throughout those countries.
I shall say a little about the issue that has received so much publicity this week: extraordinary rendition. Perhaps my colleagues will also speak about that matter later in the debate. Extraordinary rendition was confirmed by Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary of State, as being a policy pursued by the US Government. She said:
"Rendition is a vital tool in combating trans-national terrorism. Its use is not unique to the United States, or to the current administration."
However, she went on to say that
"the United States does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances."
The US Administration seem to believe that that statement and associated statements that they will not transport people from one country or another for the purpose of interrogation under torture will be sufficient to prevent further outcry internationally. I do not believe that that will be the case. I think that there are still many unanswered questions based on the so far unsubstantiated allegations that were made over the past few weeks. It is clear that hundreds of flights are taking place across the world by US aircraft associated with the Central Intelligence Agency. They carry we know not whom—or why; we do not necessarily know where. Questions are being asked in several different countries.
There was an interesting exchange when the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, raised the matter with the US Secretary of State. There are reports of a man called Khaled el-Masri, a German national who claims that he was kidnapped in Macedonia, imprisoned in Afghanistan and released five months later in Albania. He is suing the former director of the CIA, George Tenet.
There are worrying indications of the impact of the policy. The Foreign Secretary, holding the presidency of the Foreign Ministers Council, wrote on behalf of the European Union to ask the US Administration to respond to the press reports, and it would be helpful if the Government would make further requests about aspects of the matter directly relevant to this country, and not simply in general terms.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on this important and topical issue. Will he comment on the statement made by the Prime Minister in the Chamber about paragraph 97 of the report, giving details of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's view of extraordinary rendition, as compared to the information that was given to the whole House in response to a question from the leader of the Liberal Democrats at Prime Minister's question time on Wednesday?
I have no further information than the hon. Gentleman about what was said in the House. All that I would say is that I have no evidence to challenge the Prime Minister's assertion that this country is not engaged in torture, and condemns it. The question is what is happening with respect to the United States and its flights around the world. It has been reported that there are so-called black sites in Poland and Romania—prisons or detention centres, which may or may not now be closed, but which at some point have perhaps been places where people were kept for some time before being moved to another United States facility elsewhere.
It is worrying that those issues have become so prominent and—to return to my earlier point—have become part of the debate about standards, double standards and the image of the democratic world in the context of the war on terrorism. It is not justifiable or excusable and it is also politically foolish for us to use measures that imply that our standards have changed so as to infringe human rights and break international law in the pursuit of the cause of protecting our people from terrorism.
I do not want to comment now on the important judgment by the Law Lords today, but it puts the discussion into context. I hope that when the Government consider the matter internationally and make representations to the United States, they will recognise that we can be damaged and tainted by association with the activities even if we do not participate in them. The need for clarity in our position and our response to what is happening is very important.
I shall deal briefly with the situation in Iraq. The report that we published in March refers to Iraq in considerable detail. The Committee has closely followed developments there. We note that violence continues to be a serious problem in some, but not all, parts of Iraq. The north of the country is relatively peaceful, and the democratic autonomous region there has thrived for many years, both before and since the intervention in 2003. The south of the country around Basra, which is where the British forces are, was much more peaceful and less violent until recent months in which there have been some unfortunate developments and problems. We gave detailed consideration to these matters in the report, but since then there has been the very important development in Iraq of the constitutional referendum and the preparations that are now well under way for the elections on
I supported the intervention in Iraq, as did many other Members. Some of my colleagues took a different view, but whatever our position, I believe that we all want there to be a successful outcome to those elections and all parts of Iraq society, including the substantial body of Sunni political figures who so far have not engaged directly in the political process, to be involved in the process in the coming months so that the next Iraqi Government to be formed after the elections can unite all the communities in the country so far as possible.
That will not be easy, because there are still massive stockpiles of former Ba'athist weaponry, many people with the ability to use those weapons and people with an agenda who are determined to destroy the progress towards democracy and stability in the country.
In paragraph 27 of the report, the Select Committee makes clear its conclusion when it states:
"Iraq is providing a dangerous training ground for terrorists similar to that previously provided by Afghanistan."
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that Her Majesty's Government are doing enough to dissuade Iranian and Syrian involvement in the insurgency in Iraq?
I was about to say that opposition to stability and the democratic processes in Iraq comes not only from elements of the former Ba'athist regime. I have seen the work that our forces have been doing in the south of Iraq, and I believe that our Government have been doing a very important job. I also know that great diplomatic efforts have been made to talk particularly to the Iranians about their activities in southern Iraq. It is clear from the events of recent months that there has been a big problem, as there is evidence that Iranian-backed groups have been involved in activities designed to attack British and other coalition forces in southern Iraq.
Suggestions have been made that Iranian militant groups are linked to factions in the Iraqi police force. There was an incident on
The Iraqi police and the Iraqi defence forces are not yet strong enough to provide security even after the democratic elections next year. They will need assistance from the international community for some considerable time. I am sure that when the Committee considers Iraq in coming months, we will comment on those matters in detail.
We disagree on the invasion, but I am sure that we agree on its antecedents. I have been seriously underwhelmed by the response of most people in this country to the Volker report. That is an important document, which has huge implications across the world for those who were bailing out the Ba'athist regime, including British companies and individuals. Is the Select Committee likely to examine the Volker report and to consider what can be learned from it?
We have no plans to do so, but I will bear my hon. Friend's suggestion in mind. I will discuss that matter with my colleagues in due course.
Syria is another factor in the instability of Iraq. Syria is not just associated with incursions by terrorists and insurrectionists who enter Iraq, but has known links with some of the more radical rejectionist Palestinian terrorist groups. It is quite clear that the Syrian regime could do much more to reduce terrorism, not just on its borders, but throughout the region. The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has come under international criticism and scrutiny, not least due to United Nations Security Council resolutions and its links with the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. It is time for the international community to tell Syria that its behaviour is not acceptable and that it must change.
The Guardian reported today that Syria wishes to reopen negotiations with Israel about the withdrawal from Golan. The international community can assist with that, but only if Syria begins to behave as though it were a constructive member of the international community, not least with regard to the incursions and insurrection in Iraq.
The Committee's report addresses a number of countries in north Africa and the Maghreb and the importance not just of economic links, but of poverty and the migration of peoples across the Mediterranean. Some of the more extreme terrorist organisations from that region have been involved in activities in western Europe. It is important to recognise that the politics of that region has historically fed the development of extremist and terrorist groups. Democratic change and processes are not easy to develop and there is more than one model. Nevertheless, changes are taking place in north Africa. There have been moves towards democracy in a number of countries, which all hon. Members will welcome as a means to create greater stability, political transformation and economic benefit to the people of Africa.
No. I am short of time, and I wish to say something about Israel, the west bank and Gaza before I conclude. I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak so I do not wish to take any more interventions at the moment.
Last week, some Foreign Affairs Committee members visited Israel, Gaza and the west bank, while other members visited Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. I have no doubt that other hon. Members will comment on that. I wish to highlight the massive political changes that have taken place. Israel has been hit by something of a political earthquake in the last three weeks. First, we saw 82-year-old Nobel prize-winner Shimon Peres replaced as leader of the Labour party by radical left-wing trade union leader Amir Peretz. Secondly, Ariel Sharon withdrew from Likud, taking 14 Likud MPs with him to form a new centre party, Kadima, with three Labour MPs. Following that, Mr. Peres announced that he was leaving Labour after 60 years to support Mr. Sharon, although not to join his party. That political realignment is of enormous significance.
There will be Palestinian elections to the legislative council on
The question is where will we be in the future? I had not been in the west bank, Gaza or Israel for several years and I had not seen the separation fence—the barrier, the wall—but my perception is that Ariel Sharon is not the man who will negotiate a final status agreement with the Palestinians. Following the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, he is set on unilaterally defining the borders of the Jewish state. My perception, from discussions with Israelis and Palestinians last week, is that he will withdraw from areas east of the separation barrier and abandon the settlements there, as happened in Gaza. He will then consolidate behind the settlement blocks to the east of Jerusalem that are inside the fence—the wall, the barrier. He will consolidate the state, based on greater Jerusalem and a significant percentage—perhaps 7 or 8 per cent.—of the west bank, which will include 74 per cent. of the settlers.
As a result, Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be enclosed within the wall. Palestinians in the west bank will be separated from their families and their places of work outside the wall. A few years ago, 150,000 people from the Palestinian territories worked in Israel, but the figure is now a few thousand, and the position of the Israeli Government is that no Palestinians will be working there by 2008. That will cause huge economic problems and add to the effects, which we saw, of the road blocks, the closures and the security measures that cover vast areas of the west bank.
We were told—I say this as someone who has always supported the two-states position and always believed that the Israelis have a right to defend themselves from attack and suicide terror—that it used to take one hour to travel by road from Hebron in the south to Ramallah, north of Jerusalem; it now takes an average of three hours. The disruption caused by the conflict, the self-imposed folly of the second intifada and its consequences, and the reaction of the Israelis, who have destroyed so many economic and political possibilities, have lead to great poverty and hardship among Palestinians. We are seeing a consequence of that in a cycle of radicalisation among Palestinians.
My message, having been there last week, is not a very optimistic one for those of us who believe in negotiation, dialogue and processes. However, one state cannot impose a two-state solution. Unilateralism is not enough, and at some point, with the engagement of the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who played such an important role in getting the Rafah border crossing agreement, the American Administration must get far more engaged with the support of the European Union, the Russians, the UN, and the rest of the Quartet, to work for a comprehensive two-state solution in the middle east.
I should like to conclude my introduction of the report. We covered other areas, such as Afghanistan, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other matters, but in the time available, it is clearly not possible to go into detail about all of those. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Like Mike Gapes, I welcome the opportunity to debate the report, which I hope the House found helpful. We members of the Committee believe that it is an important and significant report, which we published as Parliament was about to be dissolved for the general election. I intend to focus on two issues, both of which were extensively covered in the report—first, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and secondly, the all-important issue of Israel and Palestine.
Starting with the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, I confess to some reluctance at having to quote from the Prime Minister's speech on
"The possibility of the two coming together—of terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction or even of a so-called dirty radiological bomb—is now, in my judgment, a real and present danger to Britain and to its national security."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol.401, c. 768.]
The Prime Minister referred to what he said as a possibility, which now, nearly three years later, has become a reality. There is little doubt, judging from comments made by senior police officers, that it is not a matter of if but when there is some form of attempted WMD attack on the United Kingdom and other countries. In addition to what has appeared from public sources, it seems to me that we are now into the reality of an era when terrorist groups, as yet unknown and unidentified to security agencies around the world, are working in unknown locations and seeking to put together some form of weapon of mass destruction.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South spoke about the importance of the internet. I wholly agree with him. I was certainly struck by the report that appeared in The Sunday Times on
"An Al-Qaeda website containing detailed instructions in Arabic on how to make nuclear, 'dirty' and biological bombs has attracted more than 57,000 hits and hundreds of readers' inquiries."
The article continued:
"The manual, posted on October 6 on a forum titled Al-Firdaws, or Paradise, contains 80 pages of instructions and pictures of kitchen bomb-making techniques."
"Normally you just get generic principles, but this appears to be more like a proper instruction manual".
The seriousness of what is available on the internet cannot be underestimated.
As well as what is available on the internet, we say in our report that we are all too familiar with the fact that ready-made WMD are already available throughout the world, not least in Russia, where huge quantities remain of the former Soviet stockpile. We refer to the stockpile in Schuch'ye in Russia, where nearly 2 million active chemical shells are apparently stacked together on wooden racks. They contain sarin, soman and VX, and they are held under what has to be described as somewhat questionable security. That is the biggest chemical weapons stockpile in the world—there are something like 40,000 tonnes of chemical agent—yet a minute fraction of that represents a fatal dose.
It can be said with certainty that if by any appalling chance a terrorist group was able to release a weapon of mass destruction, the casualty toll would utterly and totally dwarf any terrorist attack that used conventional devices. It would totally dwarf the casualty toll of 9/11 and probably dwarf the casualty toll of the worst natural disasters that the world has experienced. I shall not mince my words. Many victims will suffer an extremely painful death and some will suffer an extremely protracted death. That is the reality of what we face.
Having reread the Government's response on that issue, I put it to the Minister that there cannot be a more serious and significant element to the Government's security and defence policy than the protection of the people of this country against some form of WMD attack by terrorists. That must be their single greatest priority.
I worry and I am truly concerned as to whether the Government are giving sufficient priority to resources and planning. Are they making available sufficient finance and the necessary training to give the intelligence services the human resources to deal with the problem? Are they making sufficient money available to provide us with the technical resources to anticipate and pre-empt the problem, and are they doing sufficient to galvanise other countries into playing a more proactive role before the worst happens? The issue needs to go substantially up the Government's priority list, and I urge the Minister to do that.
I come now to Israel and Palestine. I do not believe that if the Israeli-Palestine conflict were settled tomorrow that would be the end of militant Islamic terrorism. Regrettably, a small minority are happy to use the Israel-Palestine position as a justification for terrorism that is totally spurious, because nothing ever justifies terrorism. I believe that if there was a final status settlement tomorrow, some would continue their baleful and appalling efforts to destroy people not merely in the non-Muslim world but in the Muslim world that is representative of regimes or traditions with which they are in disagreement. However, if we could achieve a settlement in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it would at least remove from millions of people their sense of grievance and their feeling that there was something on which they had to take a vengeful attitude towards the non-Muslim world.
The Government appear to be dealing with policies of illusion when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian position, and not with the realities on the ground that we had the benefit of seeing last week. Those policies are to establish an independent Palestinian state and to produce a final settlement, which would have to be equally and fairly negotiated. We spoke to many people in Israel and Palestine, and I take exactly the same view as the hon. Member for Ilford, South. With one exception, not one of those to whom I spoke—not only Palestinians but Israelis—held out any prospect of an agreed final status settlement. Unanimously, apart from that one exception, they said that all that would happen would be the unilateral imposition of a settlement on the Palestinians by the Israelis. The exception was a professor in conflict management, an Israeli gentleman of a particular dogmatic view. He said that there could be a final settlement, but in a generation's time— 30 years.
When the Government talk bravely about being on track on the road map and moving towards a final status agreement, that is out of synchronisation with anything and everything that we heard in Israel and Palestine last week. We are not even on the road map as far as the political negotiations are concerned. We are merely on a continuation of the unilateral settlement policy, the imposition of a settlement by the Israelis on the Palestinians. That will be a settlement, as the hon. Member for Ilford, South indicated, which incorporates East Jerusalem into the state of Israel, which runs broadly down the line of the wall and separation barrier, and which brings about a substantial de facto annexation of a significant area of the west bank including key water resources.
The second policy of illusion that I believe that the Government are dealing with concerns the second leg of the policy commitment, which is not merely to create a two-state solution and an independent Palestinian state but to create a viable Palestinian state. Are we on the road to a viable Palestinian state? On all the evidence last week, we are moving further and further away from the possibility of the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
What are the criteria for a viable state? First, a state has to have a capital. Of course, capitals can be created on greenfield sites, but that will not be accepted in that part of the world. Every Palestinian man, woman and child will say that what is absolutely non-negotiable under any circumstances is having East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. East Jerusalem of course contains within it the third most important mosque in the Muslim world after Medina and Mecca.
It is desirable for an independent and viable state to have a contiguous boundary. That did not happen with East and West Pakistan, but it does happen with most other countries around the world. That is not a geographical possibility with Palestine, because it is of course separated between Gaza and the west bank. The discussions on the connection between Gaza and the west bank are therefore all-important.
We had a fascinating and revealing briefing from the Wolfensohn team, which was charged with the feasibility study report to the Quartet on the connection between Gaza and the west bank. They told us that the Israelis wanted the connection to be solely by rail—a very limited form of connection, which is clearly profoundly unsatisfactory to the Palestinians. The Palestinians want the connection to be by road, which is clearly critical to the viability of a new Palestinian state. And, incredibly—we heard this with disbelief—the Israelis asked for a third option to be considered, which is a road tunnel between Gaza and the west bank, under the state of Israel. It would be the longest road tunnel in the world, if it were built, and would be constructed at fantastic cost. Its aim, presumably, would be to try to keep the Palestinians from travelling on the surface of the Israeli state. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us in his reply that the British Government will have no truck with the proposal for the only connection between Gaza and the west bank to be by tunnel. I hope that they will press for a road.
In addition to the issue of the contiguous boundary, there is the open question of whether the Israelis' long-term ambition will keep the west bank as a single, contiguous entity. The hon. Member for Ilford, South discounted the possibility of any part of the west bank that is to the east of the barrier and the wall being incorporated at a future point into the state of Israel. I would not wholly rule that out, because there are two land fingers that now point eastwards across the west bank—the Ariel finger and the Ma'ale Adumim finger—and some believe that the long-term plans are to move those fingers still further eastwards, possibly right across to the Jordanian border, which would provide a division of the west bank itself.
The final, crucial requirement is that the Palestinian state is economically viable. The degree of disruption to the lives of individuals and those who are trying to generate income, employment and business opportunities on the west bank has to be seen to be believed. I will not, Sir Nicholas, wave it around now, but I have the United Nations map which shows the position in August. It shows that throughout the west bank there is a combination of permanently manned checkpoints, partially manned checkpoints, gates through the barrier that are manned by soldiers and roads closed with concrete blocks, earth mounds, earth walls or trenches. The map shows every single one.
How many were there? There were 376 checkpoints and closures on the west bank in August 2005 in a pocket-sized territorial area. What an impediment to anyone trying to run a business. How can people run a business when they cannot be certain when their employees will arrive at work? We heard from the British Council that at one point staff were having to go on donkeys through back routes to get to the British Council offices in Ramallah. How can people run an efficient business if, when they export goods to Israel, at the freight crossings they must solemnly take every single item out of their Palestinian number-plated lorry and transfer them by forklift truck into an Israeli number-plated lorry because only Israeli number-plated lorries can go into Israel?
How can people farm viably when their village is separated, as we saw in Jayyus, by the barrier from the land they are trying to farm and they cannot be certain whether they will get through and whether their goods will be held up at the barrier in turn? How can people do anything when their lives are ruled by whether they can get permits to visit their town, to visit Gaza, East Jerusalem or the west bank or even, for farmers, to go on their own land, for example? We were told by the Jayyus farming community that some farmers had been refused permits. As a result, unbelievably, of the application of old Turkish law, coupled with, we were horrified to hear, old British mandate law, if an area is not farmed for a period it can be automatically confiscated into the state of Israel.
That is the way in which the viability of the Palestinian state is week by week, month by month, year by year being set backwards and possibly made a hopeless task. This is all done in the name of security. That security justification is in part valid. Israel faces a continuing appalling threat from suicide bombers. We saw yet another suicide bomb attack just a couple of days ago. The security justification only washes in part. Anyone who has seen the barrier on the ground will know that the line of the barrier is so wide that the only logic of the barrier is to create further land for expansion of the existing settlements.
The Government have to deal with the realities of what is happening on the west bank and in Gaza. I do not believe that they have begun to do so. The prospect of a road map settlement is diminishing. The well-nigh certainty of unilateral annexation is increasing and the prospect of a viable Palestinian state is diminishing by the week, month and year.
I am pleased to follow my two Foreign Affairs Committee colleagues. Like them, I want to focus on the middle east, because the failure to find a lasting and just solution in that region affects the security of us all. The perpetrators of every atrocity since 9/11 have cited the failure to find a just solution to the problems of the middle east as a justification for their outrages. One does not have to accept the warped logic of the terrorist to see that that failure has created a culture in which terrorism and those who support it flourish—and failure there has, indeed, been.
I was in the west bank two years ago with the Foreign Affairs Committee, and we could see the tangible signs of failure. I went to a Palestinian town called Qalqilia in the northern west bank, very close to the Israeli border. The Israeli security wall entirely encircles that town, completely cutting it off from neighbouring towns and villages. It is a sizeable town of 20,000 or 30,000 people, but there is only one way in and one way out—through the checkpoint—and it takes hours to gain access to the town and hours to leave it.
I met a farmer whose land was outside the town wall and whose home was inside it. He was sleeping in the fields, because he could not get through the checkpoint—it would have taken too long. We saw children whose homes were on one side of the wall and whose school was on the other. It was clear to members of all political parties who were on the visit that the town was slowly but surely being strangled by the combination of the wall and the fence that completely encircled it.
When we went back to the west bank last week, I hoped that things might have improved. However, the situation is much worse than it was two years ago. For one thing, there is much more of the security wall and the fence. We went to Abu Dis on the outskirts of Jerusalem and saw the 25-foot-high reinforced concrete wall snaking its way down the middle of the street, dividing communities, families and friends; people were unable to cross the barrier with any ease. When it is finished, they will be completely unable to cross it.
We saw new Israeli settlements outside Jerusalem. Sir John Stanley referred to Ma'ale Adumim. That is a sizeable settlement and next to it there is an area referred to as the E1 zone. That is set aside for Israeli settlement—deep into the west bank. The Israelis clearly have every intention of fencing that off and putting the wall around it.
We went to see Israeli settlements way beyond the security barrier, deep in Palestinian territory, and we met settlers at Shiloh. We were shocked when we realised that there were so few cars on the main road out of Jerusalem to settlements many miles to the east. The only cars allowed on the road were Israeli cars—settlers' cars. As one drove past Palestinian villages on either side of the main road, one could see the small roads coming down from them. At the point at which they met the main road, they were sealed off by concrete barriers or earth mounds put up by Israeli defence force bulldozers. Even if a Palestinian could get on to the main road, there are IDF checkpoints every so often. If a Palestinian wants to go from one village to another to visit a relative, friend or place of work, their journey, which would have taken 10 minutes by car a while ago, will routinely take an hour or more on the back roads, although even those are subject to closure at no notice and at the whim of IDF conscripts. Underpinning all that is the tangible site of the wall encroaching into the west bank, which I thought was appalling.
If the west bank is worse than it was two years ago, nothing had prepared me for going to Gaza. Gaza has been described as the largest prison in the world because people cannot get in or out. Like many hon. Members, however, I have been inside prisons to see constituents, and it is a darn sight easier to get inside a prison. We were a visiting delegation of British Members of Parliament, with security clearance, diplomatic clearance and diplomatic-plated cars, and the Israelis had our passport numbers in advance, but we spent three hours kicking our heels at the Erez border crossing before we got into the Gaza strip.
I can see why the Israelis do not want British Members of Parliament to go into Gaza strip—they do not want the eyes of the world to see what is going on there. Frankly, it is shocking. There are thousands upon thousands of families living on less than $2 a day and trade is almost impossible. We went to look at the goods crossing at Karni, where every consignment of goods has to be dismantled, stripped down to its smallest component part and shipped from Palestinian trucks on to Israeli trucks. It is chaotic and inhuman and takes for ever. I cannot see how anybody manages to trade across the border.
As one drives through Gaza, especially the southern part, one sees the ruins of properties destroyed by the IDF, the bullet holes and the poverty. There is a palpable sense of a people who have been humiliated, subjugated and oppressed. I have an enduring memory of a small child—perhaps only three years old—playing in the dirt of a Gaza street under a billboard. There are billboards at the end of every road and they have on them paintings of what they describe as martyrs—the suicide bombers just from that street. Such people are lionised. What chance does that child have of growing up in the expectation of seeing any kind of peace or prosperity? It is a deeply depressing scenario.
It almost goes without saying that none of that oppression justifies the suicide bombings for one second. Such bombings must be unequivocally condemned wherever they take place. Whether innocent people die in Tel Aviv or, like a constituent of mine, in the 7/7 bombings, suicide bombings deserve unreserved condemnation. However, that does not mean that we should ignore the injustice in the Gaza strip. If terrorism is to succeed, it requires more just the terrorists themselves; it requires somebody to recruit the bomber, somebody to arm them, somebody to provide a safe house and somebody to transport them. As in Northern Ireland, there must also be a wider group of people in the community who acquiesce to the acts of terror taking place in their name and an even larger group who simply look the other way and do not bother about them. It is those other people whom we need to peel away from the terrorist cause.
The scenario is very depressing. The moderate Palestinian leadership is in danger of almost complete collapse in the Gaza strip. Last week, Fatah abandoned its primaries in scenes of absolute disarray. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is becoming more popular, as is Hamas, partly because it is not Fatah, which is becoming tainted and seen as corrupt and out of touch. Fatah does not have much authority at all in the Gaza strip. If the Palestinian elections take place on 25 January—it is not absolutely certain that they will—it is entirely likely that Hamas will win a third of the vote across the Palestinian territories, and it is quite possible that it will be the outright winner in the Gaza strip.
There is a chink of light in the gloom—the border crossing at Rafah between the Gaza strip and Egypt. There is huge excitement among Palestinian people that at last they have some, if not total, control over a border crossing. It is a small building block on the road to nationhood, and they are incredibly pleased about it and incredibly proud of it. In passing, I should say what a fantastic job the European Union monitors are doing. They are mainly Italian Carabinieri, although I believe that British monitors are due out there, and they are doing a really good job.
I have come to some rather depressing conclusions about the middle east peace process and the knock-on effects that it will have on terror. Sharon seems likely to win the elections in Israel in March. He has a huge poll lead, and if he wins, I am sure that there will be a policy of unilateralism on the west bank just as there is in Gaza. I can see no will on the part of the Israeli Government to negotiate with the Palestinians. They will seek simply to impose their own solution. We know what that solution is on the west bank. A wall is being built deep into Palestinian territories. It is looping around new Israeli settlements, and there is no doubt that it will become the de facto border of Israel.
I suspect that most Members in the Chamber support, as I do, the road map and a two-state solution. I want a secure Israel that is at peace with a prosperous Palestinian state next door, but that is a long way from happening. As my hon. Friend Mike Gapes said, in a two-state solution, one state cannot impose its will on the other state, but we are in grave danger of one state, Israel, leaving the other putative state, Palestine, with only disconnected fragments of unviable territory. That will not work. The Palestinians will not accept such a state, and to be honest, why should they?
There is a view in parts of Israeli society, which was articulated by the professor whom the Select Committee met last week, that the wall will provide peace, that it is enough, and that it will stop the suicide bombings. That is a chimera. It is simply nonsense. The wall may be able to reduce the number of suicide bombings, but it will not bring peace. It cannot. Peace can come about only if there are political and economic measures side by side with security measures. As we learned in Northern Ireland, security measures alone cannot provide lasting peace; they can provide only protection until lasting peace is found. The security wall is a blemish on Israel's reputation as a state, and its continued existence is an affront to human dignity in the whole of the middle east.
The report also mentions Guantanamo Bay. I realise that this may be a rare point of disagreement between my hon. Friend the Minister and me, but the war on terror is, at least in part, a war for human rights. Our opponents in this war have no respect for human rights. The people who carried out the 9/11 bombings and murdered 3,000 people have no respect whatever for the human rights of their victims. Nor do the people who carried out the bombings in Bali, London, Madrid, Turkey and Sharm al-Sheikh. Saddam had no respect for the human rights of his opponents, and neither did the Taliban for the human rights of their opponents in Afghanistan. I put it gently to my hon. Friend the Minister that we cannot prosecute a war for human rights while denying the human rights of our opponents, and that is essentially what is happening at Guantanamo Bay. As long as 500 people are kept there without recourse to the courts, any habeas corpus, full cognisance of the Geneva conventions and any prospect of being charged let alone released, that completely undermines our position.
In the war on terrorism, the United Kingdom and its allies in the United States are in the right. We should have the moral high ground, but it is difficult for us to occupy the moral high ground when it is being taken away from us by human rights abuses in places such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. We have a special relationship with the United States. We have stood—rightly, I believe—shoulder to shoulder with the United States ever since 9/11, and through Afghanistan and through Iraq. I voted for British troops to participate in the war in Iraq—I have been to Iraq since, and I will go back—and I believe that we were right to do so. Things have been difficult and we have made mistakes, but we were right to participate in the war in Iraq. We should now take the opportunity afforded to us by the special relationship to say, as America's best friend—best friends are sometimes the only people who can say this—that what is happening at Guantanamo Bay is wrong. It is undermining our position and the Americans should end it now.
I shall confine my remarks to the situation in Iraq, which is obviously a subject of much comment in the Foreign Affairs Committee report and central to the debate about the war against terrorism. I say immediately in that context that we are all very concerned about the four hostages held by terrorists in Iraq, particularly, of course, Mr. Norman Kember, the British citizen. I am sure that we all support the efforts of the Secretary of State to do what he can in a very difficult situation. It is always difficult for Governments in this situation to bring about a successful outcome, but we must hope for one.
I voted against the war in Iraq for reasons that would take rather long to explain, so I shall not rehearse them again now. It has to be said, however, that the jury is still out on whether what happened was a good thing or a bad thing. I would not go along with Zhou Enlai, the former Chinese premier, who once said when asked whether the French revolution had been successful, "It's too early to say." However, I think that it will be some years before there can be a real judgment on whether the invasion of Iraq by British and American forces and others has been a success.
Having gone into Iraq, the questions are whether we should come out, when, how and what staying in is doing to the politics of the area and the war against terrorism. They were lively, immediate topics during my participation in the recent trip to the middle east by the Foreign Affairs Committee. I should perhaps explain that we split into two groups: one went to Israel and Gaza, and my little group went to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. That was economical for taxpayers: we covered more ground at less cost. It is sensible for Committees to do that.
In the end, the questions whether we come out, when and how boil down to the security situation in Iraq, and that in the end boils down to the Iraqi army and police force. How strong are they? How far can they produce an orderly situation? The problems of achieving a strong Iraqi army and police force are immense. There is the language problem. Very few Arabic speakers have been seconded to the American and British forces there. After Pearl Harbour there was a huge effort in America to get Japanese speakers seconded into helping with the war. No similar attempt has been made, as far as I am aware, to get the 600,000 Arabic speakers in the United States involved in helping with that enormous problem. An inability to speak the language of the people whom one is dealing with leads to missing all the subtle signals that are so essential to training a foreign group in the art of counter-insurgency.
The culture of the American army is against a training role of this kind. It is a shooting army, designed to kill, which it no doubt does and has done extremely effectively in many theatres. It is not a training army. Indeed, training is regarded as a career loser in the American army. Someone who gets involved in the training of that army does not seriously promote their advancement.
People are also concerned about the effect on the morale of and recruitment to the army. There are problems with the national guard, too, which has been heavily relied on in the Iraqi theatre. The space of time that soldiers spend there is therefore extremely short. That, again, is inimical to a proper training role. I do not think that American forces have quite the depth of knowledge that British forces have traditionally had in this context.
One thinks of the old India hands in the British Army in India, which would no doubt have the sort of people we now need. In the romantic fiction of John Buchan that I used to read as a child there was someone called Sandy Arbuthnot, the third Baron Clanroyden, well known in the Tweeddale yeomanry, but even better known in the foothills of the Pamirs, in Samarkand and Tashkent and through the Taklaman desert and the Hindu Kush. It was all second nature to those redoubtable Scots—they were mainly Scots—who set out to play the great game in the north-west frontier. We are rather in need of such people nowadays, who could get into the skin of an Arab and find out what he thinks and feels. People from Carolina and Louisiana may be good in other respects.
That is a huge problem, but it is not only a training problem; there is also an equipment, logistics and support problem. I can say in favour of the American effort in Iraq that when Ambassador John Negroponte took over he switched huge resources from reconstruction to training. About $2 billion was simply switched from one column to another to help with the problem before the elections at the beginning of the year. That was wise and sensible, because those elections would not have proceeded as smoothly as they did if the effort had not been made to get 130,000 Iraqi soldiers up to speed for the purpose.
Some major American soldiers, such as Generals Petraeus and Dempsey, who are career soldiers, are taking the issue seriously and trying to train Iraqi soldiers in the way that they perceive to be necessary to deal with the situation. Efforts are clearly being made, but all the reports about the atmosphere in the White House and at the centre of Government suggest no real sense of urgency about developing such solutions. Paul Wolfowitz is now elsewhere doing other things. Meghan O'Sullivan, the President's special adviser on Iraq, has not even spoken in public since she was appointed a year ago. I do not know what she is doing. Donald Rumsfeld is dealing with the wider issues of army reform and the difficult problems that that entails. He is not solely focused on Iraq any more, if he ever was. All that suggests that there is not the necessary sense of direction to grasp such a difficult nettle with the appropriate firmness.
Although, according to most commentators, there is a reduced sense of urgency, the situation with training and logistics that I have described needs an intensification of effort. People need to be trained differently and to be there for longer periods, not for short tours. There is a growing gap between what is necessary on the ground and what is actually happening, and the view in Washington. That is the conclusion drawn in an article, which I recommend to all who are interested, in the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly by James Fallows, who is an expert in this area. In the final paragraph, he concludes:
"America's hopes today for an orderly exit from Iraq depend completely on the emergence of a viable Iraqi security force. There is no indication that such a force is about to emerge. As a matter of unavoidable logic, the United States must therefore choose one of two difficult alternatives: It can make the serious changes—", which I have just been trying to describe,
"including certain commitments to remain in Iraq for many years—that would be necessary to bring an Iraqi army to maturity. Or it can face the stark fact that it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly."
I do not think that he is suggesting that the Americans should in any way embark on a kind of Vietnam exit of that sort.
All the people to whom I have spoken about this—including the highest in the land and my colleagues—were a little divided about whether we should pull out. In so far as people felt that we should pull out, they preceded that with two caveats. First, there should be a diplomatic démarche to ensure that it was done after parliamentary elections and over a period of time in which there could be clear explanations about why what was happening was happening. Secondly, they emphasised that there would still be some need for coalition forces to guard the frontiers of Iraq against Iran, and perhaps in the north. Those caveats were mentioned to us by Government Ministers. None the less, there was a clear understanding that it would be in the best interests of the conflict and of the credibility of Britain and America—there is no doubt that America and Britain have a lot at stake—as well as important for the war against terrorism that that should be considered.
The Government face the more difficult question of whether, if the Americans do not wish to pull out, the British should pull out anyway. That is more difficult because there are questions of honour, which were put to us plainly. We went in together, so can we reasonably come out separately? There is also the issue of logistics. Most of the American armour and equipment goes through the southern part of Iraq and Basra, which is controlled by the British, so there are delicate questions, such as: should the coalition forces pull out in those circumstances? Should Britain pull out separately from America? Can we really see the main alternative put forward by James Fallows in his article—a real reinforcement of the efforts necessary on the ground—being made by Washington in its present political stance? I do not pretend to have any answers to those difficult questions, and I am not proposing anything now, but the Government need to do some hard thinking over the next few months, which could be critical to the whole future of the effort in Iraq, whether one voted for or against it.
I welcome this opportunity to speak in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee on opening it. He was not present when we drafted the report, which must have made what is already a difficult task more difficult.
All my colleagues on the Committee have pointed out something that remains obvious to all of us involved in the continuing struggle and debate on how we can secure a peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In whatever Arab or Muslim country that we visit, and we have been to many, one thing rises above everything else in the minds of those to whom we speak—all our interlocutors, whoever they may be: that there must be a just and peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. As other hon. Members have said, after last week's visit to Israel and the occupied territories, that peace seems as elusive—perhaps more so—than ever.
I was one of the Committee members who visited Saudi Arabia and the Gulf last week. Not being content with visiting only those regions, I went to Israel the previous week, at my own expense, to meet a constituent—a holocaust survivor who lives in Leeds. As a child, he was taken from Lodz ghetto in Poland to various concentration camps before being released at the age of 16 at Teresenstadt in May 1945. That man, Arek Hersh, went back to the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau for the first time last year. Yorkshire Television recently made a documentary about him. He had a room at the Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Jerusalem dedicated to him for the work that he does to bring the holocaust into sharp focus for the younger generations who simply have no recollection of it. Arek Hersh has done a brilliant job and he was being honoured at Yad Vashem. I wanted to be with him.
Of course, like most politicians, it is not good enough to simply be with a constituent, however far away. I have a long-standing and continuing interest in the future of Israel, and of the Palestinian people. Therefore, I made it my business to meet people with whom I could discuss current issues. I met very different people to those whom my colleagues met last week, and I came away with a slightly more optimistic view, although I am, of course, a realist.
The founders of the state of Israel had high ideals and one has to go back only 30 years to remember the Israel of Golda Meir, of David Ben Gurion, and of the kibbutzim to which so many students of my generation—whether Jewish or not—went during their summer vacations from university or after leaving school. Many still stand for the high ideals on which the state was founded, but not the majority, clearly.
Two weeks ago in Israel, I learned that the seismic shift taking place in politics could, if one is optimistic, and with a fair wind, have a beneficial effect. I am not trying to contradict anything that my colleagues have said. My hon. Friend Mr. Pope said something on which we both agree, namely the effect of the wall that has been built to keep out terrorists and suicide bombers. The barrier has, largely, achieved that aim, although there was an attack just the other day in Netanya, a place to which many British people emigrate and where many of my former Leeds constituents now live. It is clear that the wall is not sufficient and I agree with my hon. Friend that the wall is a blemish on the Israeli state. I understand why it has been built, but I am horrified every time I see it.
We must be clear that the barrier takes the form of a wall around Jerusalem and Qalqilia, which we visited two years ago, but it is, in most parts, a fence and, in most places, it is on the green line. It is significant and it says much about the state of Israel that, just last year, the path of the barrier had to be altered because former members of the Israeli defence forces took their Government to the Israeli supreme court to have that path moved around the eastern part of Jerusalem. That is significant because the rule of law and the legal system was able to change a policy that would disastrously affect Palestinian farmers such as the one whom we met in Qalqilia, to whom my hon. Friend referred. Those people are honestly trying to farm their own land and are being cut off from the land between the village where they live and the land that they farm by the barrier. They are then taking several hours to get across the border simply to go to work and try to earn a living.
I met a number of interesting people while I was briefly in Israel. It was not the intense Foreign Affairs Committee visit with which we on the Committee are familiar. It did not involve meetings from 7 am until very late at night, but I had the chance to talk to some of our diplomats: Simon McDonald, our ambassador in Israel, whom many of us know well, gave me a long and full briefing over lunch in Tel Aviv; and Dr John Jenkins, our expert in East Jerusalem, who has the important job of trying to look after Arab and Palestinian interests on behalf of the British Government. Both those diplomats are experts in their field and can make an important contribution to what should be a road map to peace, but seems to be a road map away from peace—in fact, towards anything but peace.
So how do we move back towards a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians? We all agree that the only future for Israel is a vibrant, democratic Palestine. That two-states solution, to which my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee referred, is something that both he and I and many others have espoused for many years, and want to see achieved. Can it be achieved? What will the clear favourite to win the election in March next year, Ariel Sharon, a man for whom I have absolutely no time—he destroyed many of the moves that his predecessor, Ehud Barak, tried to make towards a lasting settlement—bring to Israeli politics and more importantly, to that elusive peace process if his Kadima party, the Forward party, wins the largest number of seats?
Even more important than that answer is what the Labour party can do. Is it genuinely newly invigorated by the surprise election of Amir Peretz, and the coalescence of the progressive peace forces around the Labour party? It is very much old Labour, not new Labour. Will Peretz win sufficient seats to be pivotal and to have sufficient influence on Ariel Sharon? I am afraid that we shall have to wait for the election outcome to see. The early indications, according to The Jerusalem Post, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn pointed out, are that Sharon looks set to win. However, Israeli politics are notoriously unpredictable: the Labour party, or another, could achieve a larger number of seats. We will have to wait to see the outcome.
One thing is for sure, however. The Likud party, the former party of Prime Minister Sharon, is divided. The bid for that party's leadership by the former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be, in my opinion, the greatest danger posed towards any possibility of peace. Those of us who have heard Netanyahu in the House and elsewhere, and those of who met him in Israel when he was Prime Minister, will know that he is a man who stands for the concept of "eretz Yisrael"—a greater Israel—that conforms not to our notions of the green line and the 1967 borders, but to a notion of Israel according to the Old Testament, which excludes all Arabs and Palestinians and does not acknowledge their existence at all. That can only be truly dangerous for Israel's future and that of the Palestinian people.
I agree wholeheartedly that the poverty, oppression and day-to-day barriers put in the way of law-abiding Palestinian people will only turn them away from peace, conformity to the law, and an attempt to try to earn a living for themselves. That is increasingly impossible, now that they are going to be excluded from working in Israel itself. However, we must have hope—hope in adversity, as seems clear at present, certainly from the findings of my hon. Friends who were in Israel last week. A situation such as that can never be deemed to be hopeless. One of the factors that may make a difference is the role that diplomacy plays. Mention has been made of the role of the Quartet. When I met Ghassan Khatib, the Minister of Economic Planning—I know my colleagues also met him—I had one hour. He came to the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem where I was staying and we discussed whether there was any hope for lasting peace or a settlement. He is a member of Fatah, of course, and was hopeful that the recent intervention of Condoleezza Rice and the role of the Quartet led by Jim Wolfensohn was a different factor that might make a difference.
I hope that the Government will make a plea to the United States to tell them that, if they put their minds to it, they and only they can have a powerful influence on Israel, whoever is elected to government, to get back on track with the road map and round the table for genuine negotiation. We all know, as do they, that negotiation with a partner is the only road to a lasting peace. The imposition of peace, however unilateral or well meaning, can mean nothing unless the partner is a true partner and will sit down and negotiate properly on equal terms.
I mentioned the role of diplomacy. We are fortunate to have good diplomats in the region; I have mentioned two. We also went to Saudi Arabia. We have there a diplomat who is working for the interests of this country, was the ambassador to Israel and still, even after two years, has a strong reputation: Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. I am told that, now that he is our ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he is often summoned to update King Abdullah on the state of Israeli politics. As our former ambassador in Israel, he has many friends there and keeps up with the day-to-day developments. That can only be beneficial to us.
I want finally to mention the importance of Iran in our war against terror. The Iranians are trying to develop, we think, enriched uranium and plutonium for military grade weapons. It is important that we ensure that that development does not take place. Of course, the Iranians are entitled to civil and peaceful nuclear power, as they claim. It is important that the deal with the Russians to ensure that that enrichment cannot take place goes ahead and that pressure from the Government and those of Germany and France, as well as from Javier Solana on behalf of the EU, is successful. In the end, dialogue and constructive engagement will ensure that countries such as Iran do not develop such weaponry. It is in the interests of everybody in the world, not just the region, that we ensure that they do not.
I will take a slightly different perspective to that which has developed so far by asking people to look back at some historical parallels and to the problems of propaganda and counter-propaganda in war.
I mean to look back a long way to the autumn of 1914 when a photograph was prominently published on the front pages of a number of British newspapers showing what was obviously a Royal Navy battleship sinking beneath the waves. The headline was "An audacious picture". The battleship, as the Chamber may have guessed, was HMS Audacious, which had been holed by a mine. The reason that the Government were so upset about the picture being published was that they felt that the news of the loss of the battleship should be suppressed for fear of undermining morale at home in the early stages of the great war. It was, of course, a forlorn hope that such a disaster could be concealed from the British public and, indeed, it was not.
By the second world war, the Government had learned a great deal about warfare propaganda. When one looks at the films that were made during the war—many dealt with events in occupied European countries—one is struck by the fact that they were dauntingly realistic. The cavalry did not always come to the rescue. The paratroops did not always land in the nick of time. The tanks did not always roll through the defences just in time to save the partisans from the firing squads. On the contrary, those who played the freedom fighters and the men and women of the resistance in those films often paid with their fictional lives, just as the people of the resistance and the freedom fighters in reality paid with their lives in the occupied countries that the films fictionally represented. Instead of the usual two-word ending, the films would often end with a defiant three words: "Not The End". In other words, the fight went on despite the sacrifices.
What has all that to do with the conflicts that have been so articulately discussed today? Quite a lot, I suggest. The belief has grown that war is something that can be waged cleanly, quickly and with minimal loss. In fact, it is horrible, unjust and dirty. It is extremely costly in lives and in the damage caused to all the countries involved, whether they are innocent bystanders and victims or aggressive nations that are being resisted.
The battle that is being faced today would I suppose have been called low intensity warfare in the 1960s and 1970s. It is therefore rather surprising that we do not seem to have learned all that much from the two main post-war conflicts in which Britain has been involved—namely, the conflict in Northern Ireland, which has already been mentioned, and the conflict in Malaya, which has not. One of those conflicts went on for three decades and the other for 12 years.
Some hon. Members will have received representations from servicemen anxious to know if they will be allowed to receive medals from the present Malaysian Government in gratitude for what they did then. What worries me is whether the Malay conflict could have been pressed to a successful conclusion, with the sort of tactics that had to be used over such a long period, had the spotlight of publicity been shining upon it, focusing day by day on every incident and every casualty.
It was said earlier that security alone did not bring peace to Northern Ireland, and that political solutions had to be found. That is a one-dimensional view of what solved the conflict—if, indeed, it has been solved. Political solutions would not have been found had it not been for the security presence and the political determination of successive British Governments to make it clear that no matter how many murders or atrocities took place—can one imagine anything more heinous, despicable and contemptible than blowing up the people at the Enniskillen war memorial on Remembrance day?—the IRA would in the end have to conclude that they would not be able to bomb and kill their way to victory. Therefore, the political solution was contingent on the ongoing long-term security and military contribution, backed up by the political will to win. It worries me greatly, when we consider the situation in Iraq, to hear people talking about bringing troops back soon, and saying, "Next year, before the election, we will hand over security to the local forces." That smacks not so much of the approach that was successful over a long period in Malaya and Northern Ireland, but of the process that was tried and failed in Vietnam. Let us face the fact that if we engage in a conflict with a combination of outside extremists and domestic insurgents, we will not be able, in the short term, to hand over the security situation to the indigenous forces.
Is there not a big difference between the situation in Iraq—or even that in Vietnam—and that which existed in Malaya? Malaya was a colony at the time, not an independent state, and it did not have a democratic process or a putative sovereign Government that was going to have its own views on whether and how it would get assistance from international forces. The hon. Gentleman's parallel is slightly wrong.
Historical analogies are always debatable because, by definition, they are not identical to the situation that we face today. However, I do not believe that either of the factors that Mike Gapes mentioned reflects on the principal point that the communist insurgents in Malaya did not have the external support that is enjoyed by today's insurgents in Iraq. They were, therefore, in a weaker position, yet it still took 12 long years for them to be defeated.
One thing that I hope will come out of the report of our visit to Saudi Arabia is that we are engaged in a battle of minds. Frederick the Great said that one cannot ride on horseback against ideas, but at the moment we have to do so. Saudi Arabians are extremely proactive at dealing with the kind of extremist ideas that are developing, so the picture is not quite as depressing as it might appear to be.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady made that intervention. It neatly brings me to the central point that I was about to make. That is that victories in such environments depend wholly on having the majority of the indigenous population—however much they have been terrorised, bullied and attacked by extremist minorities—on one's side. We have a long way to go in that respect.
I venture to suggest that the Government have not even begun seriously to address the issue. By that I mean that our military opponents are not physically strong. They are not exactly endowed with powerful weapons systems although, of course, we have to fear that they might acquire some. However, they are masters of propaganda, and we are not doing what we should be doing. We should be learning the lessons of the propagandists—I use the term non-perjoratively—of world war two. We should quite openly be going on the offensive with a propaganda operation to make it absolutely clear what the true situation is and what values we are fighting for.
The other day, there was a shock-horror story in the press. The Americans had been found to be paying a newspaper in Iraq to publish some good news stories. All I can say is that I would be surprised and annoyed if they were not doing so, and I hope that they do more of it. We must not try to suppress bad news, because that will sink in the same way in which the attempt to suppress the loss of the Audacious did. We must actively promote the good news about what our forces are doing time after time.
We must go on the offensive and detail name by name, incident by incident and atrocity by atrocity what our opponents are doing. We must highlight these facts, instead of glossing over the fact that 30 people have been killed in a suicide bombing in a restaurant or a market. We must publicise again and again the nature of the victims, who overwhelmingly will have been ordinary Iraqis.
There is one more thing we must do. We must ask whether it is our fault that extremists in Iraq are killing other Iraqis because of the coalition's invasion and are trying to make us lose our nerve and pull out, or whether it is the fault of the extremists who do not mind killing the people whom we went in with a view to helping to build a peaceful and democratic state. One has only to pose the question to arrive at the correct answer.
Much has been said about the business of us not besmirching our own record by behaving unacceptably. That is certainly true, but it is also true, as I say time and again in these debates, that free societies cannot survive if they insist on tolerating the intolerant. There is something very wrong with our set-up when it takes us 10 years to extradite from the UK across the channel to France someone who is strongly suspected of being a terrorist. The French Government and the French people were justifiably appalled at the way in which that extradition, which has at last happened, was spun out for so long and with so little justification.
There is also something wrong with a system such as ours in which we would not be able to extradite Osama bin Laden or his deputy to the United States of America, if, by some chance, they fell into our hands, unless we were assured that they would not face the death penalty there. This is where the asymmetry of this sort of conflict comes in, because there are groups that do not observe the laws of war and put themselves outside all conventions, yet are the first to claim the protection of the legal systems of the countries that they seek to destroy when it looks as if they are being cornered.
Something was said about
We must set up a systematic operation actively to promote the positive case for what the coalition forces and the security services are doing. In promoting that case, we must not paint rosy pictures suggesting that victory is just around the corner; we must tell the British people the truth. If we do that, they will not let us down.
I start by bringing our attention back to the Select Committee report. A lot hinges on the first sentence of the summary, which states:
"We recommend that in its response to this Report the Government make a statement of how it ensures that it pursues its various foreign policy priorities in ways which take into account their inter-connectedness".
I was struck by the slightly clumsy word "inter-connectedness" and I wondered what it meant in this context. To begin with, I feared that it alluded to an excessive attachment to policy tidiness and that policies would need to conform to a degree of consistency just for the sake of it. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realised that coherence is essential if, to quote the excellent words of Mr. Pope, we are to win not only the war on terrorism, but the war for human rights. My fear, which the report sets out in great detail, is that if we are too inconsistent and erratic in prosecuting our war for human rights—as he rightly said, it is an indispensable component of our war against terrorism—we risk feeding precisely those forces of anger, radicalism and public alienation that have done so much in other parts of the world to provide the seedbed in which terrorism has been allowed to flourish.
I therefore want to highlight two obvious areas in which an inconsistent approach by the Government and the United Kingdom will risk inflaming the public debate and the feeling that seems to propel young Arabs, in particular, towards terrorism. First, I want to talk about extraordinary rendition.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not mean to say "young Arabs", because the greater part of the Muslim population in this country is from south Asia. Members of that community take great exception to being lumped into one homogenous group; they are not Arabs.
I stand corrected and rightly so. I take on board the observation that the Minister rightly makes.
"Extraordinary rendition" is a euphemism and much sinister intent might lie behind it. The debate about this issue has now escalated, for all the reasons with which we are familiar. We, as a country, need not only to ensure that we behave with due regard to law and proper process, but to dispel any doubts elsewhere in the world that we are complicit in any way in a practice that could rightly be seen as a flagrant case of double standards.
I recently read that Condoleeza Rice had said that rendition was required
"where the terrorists cannot in practice be reached by the ordinary processes of law".
She added that
"the captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice."
No wonder that legitimate fears have arisen that extraordinary rendition is nothing more than a way in which suspects can be apprehended illegally, out of the ambit of the law, to be subject to mistreatment in a manner that is illegal and immoral and that undermines the fundamentals of our moral case in the war against terrorism. We are all entitled to ask questions of the Government about their response—which so far has not been entirely clear—to the events as information has come out into the public domain in dribs and drabs.
I draw the Minister's attention, first, to page 9 of the Government response to the Select Committee's report. It states:
"The British Government has not received any requests, nor granted any permissions, for the use of UK territory or airspace for these purposes"— namely, the landing and taking off of the aeroplanes holding the suspected terrorists. There appears to be a well documented body of evidence suggesting that up to 400 flights have landed and taken off from British airports. It simply stretches credulity that that can have taken place without the British authorities and the British Government having any knowledge of it whatever. I would like the Minister to put my fears to rest: it is either an act of extraordinary incompetence or something much worse to suggest that 400 such flights can take place without the Government being aware of them at all.
Secondly and perhaps of even greater importance is the attitude that the Government should have towards the US interpretation of the legal context in which the process of extraordinary rendition has taken place. The convention against torture quite explicitly stipulates that any transfer of individuals to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture should be prohibited. However, if I understand the situation correctly, the US Administration have picked their words extremely carefully to suggest that they will not tolerate any extraordinary rendition if they believe that the individual in question will be tortured. There is a world of difference between someone saying that they believe a person will be tortured and saying that they think a person may be in danger of being tortured. It seems to me that a great deal hinges on that.
If we are going to lower the bar, as the words of the US Government seem to suggest, so that there is a unilateral judgment on whether someone will be tortured and that judgment will determine whether extraordinary rendition should take place, that will totally fly in the face of the letter and the spirit of the convention against torture. I am keen to know the Minister's attitude towards that subtle legal reinterpretation of the terms of the convention.
Thirdly and finally, it is worth recalling—this seems to have fallen slightly beyond the parameters of the public debate over the past few days—that the convention against torture does not just prohibit torture. It also prohibits
"other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
In other words, the convention against torture, to which we are a signatory, goes far wider in terms of the forms of treatment or maltreatment that it covers than the definition of torture that has become the focus of so many of the legal niceties and pronouncements by the US Government. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the UK Government want the full and unconditional application of the full definition in the convention against torture.
This is not just a series of debating points. It goes to the core of the legitimacy of our war against terrorism. If we cannot uphold the legal and moral principles that we invoke in our fight against terrorists, we significantly weaken our case and blemish the standing of this nation and our beliefs and views elsewhere in the world. That does untold damage to the long-term prospects of the war against terrorism.
I want to mention the middle east conflict. I shall be briefer on this point, not least because so much has been said in an extremely articulate and pointed fashion. It is almost trite to observe that a durable settlement in that ancient conflict would do much to allay the false stereotypes, the anger, the vitriol and the hostility that feed so much of the opinion, in other parts of the world, that bears directly on the rise in terrorism throughout the world. I was struck by how tentative the Select Committee's report is about the middle east. The section on the middle east—I am not sure whether the fact is representative of anything—is just over two pages. That compares to almost 11 pages on Libya.
I should point out that the report is the sixth report of the Committee on the foreign policy aspects of the war on terrorism. Previous reports have covered the middle east in great length, which is why the focus in the present one has shifted to other areas.
I wonder, too, however, whether the shortness of the passage is also related to an understandable reticence about pronouncing from outside, so to speak, on a conflict that is so complex. Page 101 includes the statement that the Committee recognises fully that
"the danger that active engagement by the West with a view to influencing the outcome of events in the Middle East more widely could be counter-productive, unless it is sought and welcomed by the people of the region and by their representatives."
That has been borne out fully by the comments of other hon. Members. It is almost inconceivable that any durable settlement could be achieved without bold, forthright and principled influence being brought to bear from the outside.
I recently visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Hebron and other parts of the west bank and I should like to add something to what others have said: although the barrier, or wall, or whatever one wants to call it, is the most striking and visible expression of division and hostility in the west bank today, it disguises something that is in many ways more pervasive and destructive—the almost totally dysfunctional nature of the west bank itself.
Sir John Stanley rightly talked of the hundreds of road blocks, both permanent and temporary, and the complex—almost byzantine—system of permits, that make it almost impossible for people to do their jobs, meet their families or travel from one town to another. I experienced that when we tried to travel from Hebron back to east Jerusalem. We were stopped at three road blocks. It took hour upon hour. The crescendo of frustration and hostility felt in the crowds of people caught up in the road blocks was tangible.
I find it striking that the slightly less visible form of fragmentation that is imposed on the west bank does not seem to be well known among Israelis. I am not sure whether this anecdote is worth much, although it spoke volumes to me. I had supper with an old friend of mine, with whom I used to study in the United Kingdom, and who is now a best-selling author in Israel. He is very much of what I should call a liberal-progressive persuasion and sends his children to one of the few Arab-Israeli schools in Jerusalem. In conversation, it became quite obvious that despite assiduous reading of liberal press publications in Israel, he was almost totally unaware of the extent to which life in the west bank had been fragmented and disfigured by the web of physical and bureaucratic obstacles that make it impossible for the Palestinian community even to approach a semblance of social, political and economic, let alone geographic, contiguity.
It is therefore incumbent on those of us who care passionately about an equitable peace settlement in the region, to do everything in our powers to ensure that the Israeli Government and authorities are not allowed to forget that the rest of us are watching what is happening in the west bank with increasing concern. That is not because we do not understand the need to take measures to protect Israelis against suicide attacks—of course, the attack in recent days has only reinforced that—but that making the Palestinian community so dysfunctional makes it all the more likely that there simply will not be a partner to negotiate with in any final peace settlement.
My final question for the Minister is whether the existence and pervasiveness of the closures is being raised in sufficiently forceful terms by the Government in their contacts with the Israeli Government. As a postscript, I have read that a number of campaigners have called for the use of existing agreements between the European Union and the Israeli Government to try to highlight some of these issues. Personally, I do not think that there is any merit in talking loosely about invoking economic trade sanctions, embargoes or whatever. It is politically totally unrealistic and would almost certainly be counter-productive.
What struck me when I talked to officials on the ground, both British diplomats and diplomats from other EU states, was that they had apparently not discussed among themselves or with their various political masters in the EU capitals whether the provisions of the EU-Israel association agreement are being properly monitored in the first place. As the Minister will know, it is a very complete agreement covering a number of trade and economic issues. It also includes a number of crucial human rights and other provisions that place a legal obligation on Israel to respect the rule of law in all that it does and equally place a legal obligation on the EU to ensure that that is monitored fully and continuously. I am concerned that there does not seem to be any mechanism for that monitoring to take place.
I understand that there will be a meeting between the EU under the British presidency and the Israeli Government on
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Sir Nicholas, and to speak under your chairmanship this afternoon. I also welcome the Minister back from his travels in Afghanistan. I congratulate the Chairman and the members of the Select Committee on their report. This has been an excellent debate that has made a great contribution.
Let me start on a personal note. On
There has been much talk about the middle east peace process. I am envious of the excellent visits that have been made, particularly the recent one by the Select Committee, which clearly learned a great deal. Its members were very privileged to make some of the visits that they did.
Will the Minister comment on the Foreign Office assessment of the likely success of the current middle east process, looking forward to the elections in Israel next year? In particular, as one or two speakers have hinted during the debate, will it be a genuine two-states settlement or, as regrettably appears likely at the moment, a unilateral approach by Israel? An update on that situation will be most welcome.
I have followed closely the debate in the European Union on the fight against terrorism. Since the attacks of
The framework decision lays down the penalties that member states must incorporate in their national legislation and I know that one of them relates to the freezing of funds of a list of terrorists and terrorist groups. That is not working wholly as was intended, and I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister shares my view. In particular, the 1998 joint action that was outlined on the identification, tracing and confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds from crime has not been successful in Zimbabwe. Does he share my concerns in that regard?
I understand that the Minister has just returned from Afghanistan. British and American forces have had some success there in removing the Taliban. However, does he fear that they have merely been displaced? Mike Gapes, who chairs the Select Committee, has performed an excellent task this afternoon in giving us a good overview of the report despite not having sat through the evidence. Now that we know that al-Qaeda is operating from more remote cells—that there is not just one headquarters—it is much more difficult to respond to it. Will the Minister update us on his assessment of that matter?
In our view, terrorism and extremism must be confronted and overcome wherever they appear. Obviously, a more international approach to terrorism is more effective. Action must be taken where necessary against rogue states—the breeding grounds of international terrorism. We are deeply concerned that opium growing in Afghanistan seems to be continuing unabated; there is undoubtedly evidence that proves that much of the income from the opium growing is being used to fund terrorism.
Some 18 months ago, I attended an excellent briefing given by the UK ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Emyr Jones-Parry. I understand that dealing with opium growing is a massive task. However, the Government are president of the organisation that is examining the matter—I think that it is being done through the G8—and I am disappointed at the results to date. We would lend every possible support that we could to the Government's encouragement for the growth of alternative crops, although that would obviously take place jointly with the Minister's colleagues, not just at the Foreign Office but at the Department for International Development. However, there must be some control of the opium industry, which seems to have continued to grow unabated, even though we have seen the demise of the Taliban.
The situation in Iraq has provoked a stimulating debate this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington took a different view from me on the war on Iraq, and raised the question of how long our troops will be based there. Reverting for a moment to Afghanistan, I shall mention that a group will be going from the Allenbrook barracks at Topcliffe to Afghanistan, but we still do not know what remit the next set of troops going to Afghanistan will have. Will the Minister update us on how the Government see the projected withdrawal from Iraq and give us his view on whether that can be done elegantly, as I am sure everyone in the Chamber this afternoon would wish?
The conclusions in the Select Committee report—paragraph 25 onwards—relate to the migration of people, particularly across the Mediterranean, and refer to the countries of the Maghreb. We ignore the countries of the Maghreb at our peril. My mind was not put any more at rest on that matter when I turned to the Government response to the Select Committee report. We have seen the recent developments in the Spanish principalities of Ceuta and Melilla, with Africans trying to come into the European Union through those enclaves. Conclusion 37 of the Select Committee is well made and hard hitting:
"We conclude that insufficient priority has been attached to an exchange of high-level visits between the United Kingdom and Morocco."
That could also apply to some of the other Maghreb countries. When the Minister sums up, will he tell us what measures the Government are taking in respect of the migration of peoples across the Mediterranean?
As early as July 2003, the Conservative party called for an examination of international law. It struck a chord when the Prime Minister agreed to come up with some proposals. However, I think that those proposals were published some time ago, so it would be helpful if the Minister could update us on what stage has been reached on that matter.
In connection with domestic policy, there are other efforts that the Government could make, particularly to avoid a clash of civilisations in the UK. It would not be in any of our interests to give disaffected Muslims, whom al-Qaeda might attempt to recruit, the impression that we are their enemy. We certainly are not. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government are minded to incorporate some of the proposals that we set out when the Terrorism Bill reached the House of Commons, such as encouraging the training of more imams in Britain, so that their teachings will be seen as consistent with the society in which they preach? That would be seen to be a positive instrument to deploy.
I speak as the Member for the Vale of York in north Yorkshire and it was a source of great concern to us all in the Yorkshire and Humber region that the culprits of the July bombings came from the Leeds-Bradford area. We thought locally that the integration of all the different cultures and civilisations in Yorkshire and Humber had been handled as sensitively as possible. When we saw the hatred felt by the four accused suspects and the lengths to which they went, that was an obvious source of concern. Will the Government consider measures, such as introducing the training of more imams in this country, to lead to greater integration?
Overall, we welcome and commend the conclusions; they are well thought out and well examined. The evidence that the Select Committee took speaks forcefully for itself. I recognise the work, over successive reports, that the Government have done. My right hon. Friend Sir John Stanley suggested that perhaps the gloomiest outcome for the United Kingdom would be for the war on terror to strike at the heart of the country: we have already had one such successful attack, and one less successful one, this year.
What resources are the Government making available to combat such a threat? Why, in particular, have the Government not seen fit to appoint a Minister for homeland security—we have appointed such a shadow Minister—who would straddle the various Departments? There are too many Departments involved in the fight against terrorism in this country—there are international, defence and home aspects, as I mentioned, such as the Terrorism Bill and other legislation. It would be welcome also to recognise that the country has, at present, little protection against rogue ballistic missiles. We recognise the work currently being undertaken in the United States, and we make a plea to the Minister and ask whether similar work is being reciprocated here.
There has been much talk this afternoon about rendition. The Government set out, on page 8 of their response to the Select Committee report, in response to conclusion 12:
"This is not the same as operating a general policy of use of information extracted under torture. The UK unreservedly condemns the use of torture and has worked hard with our international partners to eradicate this."
I have great sympathy with the position set out by Condoleezza Rice on behalf of the United States on their policy of rendition, being one of transport and not related to torture in any shape or form. Equally, however, I have sympathy with some of the excellent points that were made this afternoon. There is a greater need for transparency on what form such transport is taken, what category of prisoner has been transported, and for what specific purpose.
It has been a rewarding debate, in which I am delighted to have taken part. I look forward to the next Select Committee report on this issue.
As ever, Sir Nicholas, it is a great pleasure to speak under your chairmanship. I am pleased that the Foreign Affairs Committee has chosen to hold this debate, which has been of a high quality, into the sixth report of its inquiry into the foreign policy aspects of what it calls the war against terrorism.
Before I reply to the many important and insightful points raised by hon. Members, I welcome the new members of the Committee, including the recently arrived Chairman. The primary role of the Committee is, of course, to scrutinise the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but in performing that task, its members serve—I am sure that you will agree, Sir Nicholas—as unpaid ambassadors for the UK in their many contacts with foreign Governments. Those contacts not only help, I hope, to deepen the Committee's understanding of the challenges facing us in countering terrorism, but build powerful bridges of understanding with the many countries with which we co-operate to reduce the terrorist threat.
I was glad to hear comments such as those made by my hon. Friend Mr. Hamilton, who has left the Chamber for the moment, about the sterling work done by many of our diplomats abroad under difficult circumstances.
As many hon. Members have said, the threat that we currently face from terrorism is different in many respects from the appalling Irish republican terrorism that we experienced in this country after 1969. Dr. Lewis drew our attention to the terrible atrocity at Enniskillen, which was as bad as anything that we could ever imagine being perpetrated in this country. The ferocious and indiscriminate suicide bombing by terrorists in London in July illustrated graphically and tragically that we face a new terrorism.
The geographical spread of the terrorist threat is very wide. There were bombings in Sharm al-Sheikh and Bali. I went to look at the monument in Bali. No one could fail to be moved by such an appalling waste of human life, especially young life. There have also been bomb attacks in Bangladesh. That country was not mentioned in today's debate, but I was there about three weeks ago and am probably more worried about it than any other country that I have visited. It is prone to terrorism and gangsters—currently the judiciary are being targeted. Bangladesh could easily become a substitute for Afghanistan, in that it could be open season for all kinds of fundamentalist terrorist organisations. Indeed, it is rapidly heading that way. We need to pay a great deal of attention to that country.
In addition, there have been kidnappings in Iraq and Afghanistan. I fervently hope that Mr. Kember and his colleagues will be released. There has been unprecedented and wide-ranging demand that they should be, and I hope that the people who have kidnapped them will see reason and release them.
Those attacks, and others that I do not have time to list, do not weaken our resolve or stem our determination. We will not place our enemies on a pedestal. On the contrary, their murderous activities have served to reinforce our commitment to protect our people and prevent the terrorists from achieving their aims. The terrorists who now seek to bring death to our streets have no positive vision of the future. They trade in human misery, but our values, including the strength of our diverse society, are stronger than the values of those who glory in destruction. We heard something about those values in our debate this afternoon.
My hon. Friend Mr. Pope rightly talked about the absolute centrality of not taking our eye off the ball for one moment, and other hon. Members have rightly said that we cannot win the war by military means. I am old enough to remember many, many guerrilla wars. It was fascinating to listen to the hon. Member for New Forest, East talking about the war in Malaysia. I join him in saying that I am not sure what we in this country would have made of that war if it had been transmitted live 24 hours a day. Every British soldier who died and every atrocity that was committed, and it was a war that was marked by atrocities, would have been headline news. We must think about that. My hon. Friend Mike Gapes remarked that perhaps this is a very different time and that comparisons are difficult to make, but I was very glad that the hon. Gentleman made that comparison.
I heard in Afghanistan a few days ago that there is great respect for British troops, for Customs and Excise officials and for all the other people in Afghanistan who are working to train the Afghanis to build capacity in their departments so that they can take on roles in security and elsewhere. The biggest fight of all, to which the Liberal spokesman Mr. Clegg drew attention, is to inculcate a sense that one cannot have democracy without respect for human rights. That is sometimes difficult to understand.
We have heard about some of the fears hon. Members have about southern Iraq, the politicisation of the police, and the factions that are using parts of the police force to carry out their vendettas and some very cruel acts. We must, without question, challenge that every step of the way. We will have real problems if we do not adhere to those values and basic human rights.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn must catch a plane, but I hope that I shall be able to address some of the points that he made about Guantanamo Bay and other places before he leaves. I know that he feels strongly about it and he is right to use the term "double standards". We cannot be seen to be committing troops and our brave young people who work for the Department for International Development in difficult circumstances if at the same time we are seen to be complicit in denying people their basic human rights. That is crucial.
The argument is complex. I am not saying that there are not people in Guantanamo Bay and other places who are extremely dangerous. We have them in this country. I worry a great deal, as the hon. Member for New Forest, East does, about where we go in this debate. I have been trying to negotiate my way around the problem of the Maghreb and thinking about how we may return some of those people. Not all of them are terrorists, by the way; some of them are simply gangsters. We know of one man from Morocco who has political asylum in this country and has swindled thousands of Moroccan families out of their life savings. The Moroccans cannot understand why we cannot return this guy. We have to say that we must satisfy our courts that Morocco is not going to abuse his human rights if he is sent back. That is a key question.
Libya is one of the most remarkable stories about which I have heard. It appears to want to rejoin the family of nations, but it is difficult to find a monitoring group, such as a non-governmental organisation or a human rights organisation, in Libya, which is emerging from a very different period of its history, that could check on and be seen to be checking properly on prisoners whom we might return there, to ensure that their human rights are not abused.
That is a difficult issue and there is no question that it will consume court time and make a lot of lawyers rich in the next few months. Perhaps the Foreign Affairs Committee can consider that subject in the near future.
The Minister says that lawyers will be making money out of accusations of abuse. Is there anything that the Government can do about lawyers going to Iraq, ambulance chasing and touting for business in order to enable criminal cases to brought against our servicemen and women?
I am not aware of such ambulance chasing. If it is going on, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to let me know who the individuals are and where they are touting for business. It is not the easiest environment to tout for business—at least not the parts of Iraq that I have visited—although I have no doubt that the profession is a proud and a resourceful one, let me put it like that.
I turn to the great wodge of notes that I have made during this fascinating debate. I shall start by answering the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South. He asked what the Government have been doing to counter the internet propaganda of al-Qaeda and others. In 2005 the Foreign Office created a new resource to monitor radical websites, which has improved our understanding of the size and the nature of the problem. During our G8 and EU presidencies this year, we made tackling the terrorist use of the internet a priority. The G8 interior Ministers' meeting in June acknowledged the importance of the problem and called for an update on progress to counter such use at its meeting under the Russian presidency. On
The issue is not an easy one to tackle. I spoke to the intelligence services of one EU member state—I shall say no more than that—who spoke about what they call self-combusters. I was told that a week before, they had arrested a 17-year-old man. He was from a respectable family of Algerian descent, with a hard-working mother and father. The intelligence services had been picking up things on the internet but they could not understand what they were. They managed to track down the source and went to the house in question. The parents said, "We don't know anything about this." When asked if they had any children, they said, "Yes, we have a son." They went to the boy's room and found that he had already made his bomb—he got the recipe from the internet—and that he was about to make his valedictory statement before going out to find a target. He was going to blow himself up. That 17-year-old—that child—had images on his bedroom walls of martyrs with bandanas and Kalashnikovs and the rest of the paraphernalia. We should never discount that romantic image, nor the terrible promises of what such people will receive when they go to heaven.
I think—and hon. Members have hinted at this—that something has to be said. I cannot answer the question about how many imams will be trained and so on. I sense strongly that it is something that the Muslim community in Britain has to do, but I would very much like to see some of the leading clerics say, "If you commit suicide and kill people around you, you will go straight to hell." However it is interpreted, I do not believe that the Koran offers a passage to heaven and virgins—I cannot remember how many. Leading Muslim clerics are important to young Muslims in this country. That relationship is important, and those clerics must tell them that terrorists will go to hell for their actions. They are killing other Muslims, such as those who were killed in the London bombings. I met two uncles of one of those victims in Sylhet in Bangladesh just a few weeks ago. They were brave dignified men who were appalled that another Muslim could have slaughtered that beautiful young girl who had come to this country to find a good life. She was making a good life for herself. That tells us everything.
I enjoyed the contribution of Sir John Stanley. He asked what we were doing to protect the United Kingdom and its citizens against the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and chemical attacks by terrorists. I am glad that he mentioned the importance of understanding the significance of the coming together of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. The right hon. Gentleman drew our attention—as does the report—to the dangers of old stockpiles of weapons. I represented the presidency of the EU at a conference on how best to deal with dismantling chemical weapons. He will know that that is a vital, but enormously expensive process. I cannot remember the exact figure, but I believe that the Americans have set aside $32 billion for their programme to dismantle chemical weapons. They have already given the Russians $1 billion to facilitate their dismantling programme. The right hon. Gentleman vividly described the immediate dangers of those old stockpiles and how they must be guarded. That is the first line of defence. We are devoting considerable resources to that matter.
New measures are being adopted—for example, the control, safety and security of radioactive materials in the UK and those being imported into the country. The Government are implementing a range of other initiatives—for example, work at our border points on detecting chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological material. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that preparedness is the key. The UK has held a number of exercises in responding to a chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological attack—for example, the exercise at Bank underground station in 2004. The Government are investing considerable resources to bolster the capability of our front-line emergency services to deal with such attacks. Internationally, the UK is a leading player in promoting the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1540 of 2004, which aims to stop terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. While one appreciates the importance of contingency planning after the event, would he not agree that the central requirement is to prevent the horrendous event from happening in the first place? Can he give us any assurance that the Government will give a higher priority to the pre-emption and prior detection of one of those appalling weapons of mass destruction being constructed in this country or being brought in from overseas?
I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. Our security and intelligence services are alert to that matter. He would not wish me to talk about how that is being approached, but I know from speaking to those agencies and other Ministers that it is a high priority, and he is right to raise the matter.
I am sorry, Sir Nicholas, that there is so much to address that I have not yet got around to rendition. However, I would like to speak about the middle east for a few moments because that matter has been addressed at some length in hon. Members' speeches. Like members of the Committee, I was in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah recently—just a few weeks ago—and I am torn about what to read into current events. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South described them as an earthquake in middle eastern politics. This has been an extraordinary time. In Tel Aviv, I met Mr. Golali, who is possibly the architect of the unilateralist approach, and I am sure the Committee met him too.
I do not feel as gloomy as the Committee does about the possibility of Gaza and the west bank—if we can make progress—reviving their economies and giving their young people the dignity of an opportunity to tap their own potential. That, of course, is what we have to do. As the Committee clearly and vividly discussed, the unilateralist acts have meant a lot of pain for a lot of people, most of whom are Palestinians. I went to see the building of the wall and I saw the wall itself just a few weeks ago. I was amazed by its intrusiveness and by the effect that it is having on people's lives, particularly in Jerusalem.
Let me say one thing, however. We have heard pleas. We have been told that we are not being hard enough on the Israelis and that we are not doing enough. However, when I met Mr. John Jenkins, our consul-general in Jerusalem, he told me that we are the only country that is bothering to follow up consular cases of passport holders who might be married to a Palestinian or living in Jerusalem and who have found themselves indisposed or whose quality of life has deteriorated as a consequence of the wall being built. We are actually the most active country by far in trying to persuade the Israelis that they should not be doing what they are.
I have heard nothing today with which I disagree. What amazes me is that there is not a much fiercer debate in Israel about whether it wants a failing state—a basket case—on its doorstep. That is the real question. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn talked about the child playing in the dirt beneath the posters lionising suicide bombers. He is absolutely right: there can be no clearer illustration of the problem.
Having said that—this is the point raised by the hon. Member for New Forest, East—I also made sure that I spoke to some of the old kibbutzniks. I went to a kibbutz on the old Jerusalem road and after a while, very reluctantly and grudgingly, the people there said, "Yes, life is easier since the barrier was built. We don't worry as much." One has to try to understand the politics of the issue and to balance what is going on inside Israel. There has been a fierce debate.
We know that the situation is having an extraordinarily detrimental effect on the west bank and the fledgling Palestinian state. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling told us of the crazy idea of building a tunnel. We can barely make Eurostar pay, because of the cost of the channel tunnel. In fact, we cannot make it pay, which is the subject of endless financial proposals and schemes. Imagine trying to build a tunnel across to the west bank for 1.5 million people in Gaza. It is absolute madness. I would like a road and a railway to be built. Indeed, I would like the British to build it. I probably should not say that, but we are good at building such things. I am not sure that they should necessarily be handed over to a mighty company from another mighty nation. I suspect that the Palestinians would very much like to see us involved in such a project, which would make life there so much easier. It would be the start of creating a viable economy for their state.
As hon. Members have said, we must get rid of these barriers and the blockades on roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn explained that there were very few cars on a particular road because it was an Israeli-only road. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South said, those are not the dreams on which Israel was set up. We know what has happened to those dreams. We know about terrorism and its effects on Israel and the Israeli psyche. There must be a better way.
We urge the Israeli Government constantly on the issue. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam asked whether we were being energetic enough; I think we are. Our ambassador in Tel Aviv and our consul general in Jerusalem are as assiduous as any diplomats anywhere in the middle east in putting pressure on the Israelis to reconsider. It is ironic that the greatest ally to have emerged for the Palestinians is the Israeli high court, which has challenged the route of the barrier and the way in which it has reduced to penury so many people and made their lives a misery. The Israeli high court has found in their favour on a number of occasions, and that is an interesting development. It has been said, however, that it is possible that things will go backwards, not forwards, and we have to take that seriously.
Many important points have been raised, but in the few minutes left I want to deal with the question of rendition. It is a great story, of course; newspapers love it. It is a wonderful cosh to smash the Government over the head with. However, as the Committee's report tells us, the threat of terrorism is a huge challenge that affects us all. The Government, like our allies—including the US Administration—have constantly tried to strike a balance between liberty and security. We should never forget that.
I do not know about other Members, but I get few letters about the victims of terrorism. I get a lot of letters from lobbyists for various organisations about the civil rights of suspects. That is quite right; we should be concerned about that. That is what defines us as a civilised country. But we should not forget the victims. The balance is never easy to strike, I do not care what anyone says. We can hear all kinds of facile analyses, but it is never easy to strike the balance, as we have been trying to. We have to preserve our citizens' freedom while preserving them from the terrorists' indiscriminate violence. We need to work together within the rule of law to use every tool at our disposal to deal with the threat of terrorism.
We do not deport or extradite any person to another state where there are substantive grounds to believe that they will face a risk of torture or where the death penalty will be applied. That is difficult in many countries where we have troops on the ground who are trying to defeat terrorism and create better societies. It is not easy.
Condoleezza Rice set out in her statement of
"We, the EU and the wider international community must be clear on the terrorism threat we face. Modern terrorism means mass casualties as we saw on
My right hon. Friend added:
"the US has 'fully respected the sovereignty' of other countries that co-operate in these matters".
Finally, I remind the Committee of what the Prime Minister said on
"First, let me draw a very clear distinction indeed between the idea of suspects being taken from one country to another and any sense whatever that ourselves, the United States or anyone condones the use of torture. Torture cannot be justified in any set of circumstances at all. The practice of rendition as described by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been American policy for many years. We have not had such a situation here, but that has been American policy for many, many years. However, it must be applied in accordance with international conventions, and I accept entirely Secretary of State Rice's assurance that it has been."—[Hansard, 7 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 862–3.]
I have used my discretion in allowing the Minister to finish, as the quote was valuable to the debate. I congratulate the Chamber on an interesting and informed debate.
It being half-past Five o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.