[Mr. Jim Hood in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:49 am on 12th January 2010.

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I asked the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) a parliamentary question about the report and he set out the flaws in November last year: it did not adequately recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens or pay sufficient attention to Hamas's actions; it made broad assertions about detailed interpretation of international law over which we differ; and it lacked an authority of Israeli perspective, so crucial to determining the legality of the actions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) mentioned the rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, targeted at innocent civilians in southern Israel, which constituted a breach of international humanitarian law but was not addressed. As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, there have been 9,000 such attacks since October 2001.

We have heard a lot about international universal jurisdiction and the way that the Goldstone report was used to attempt the arrest in December last year of Tzipi Livni, Leader of the Opposition in Israel and former Foreign Minister. Hamas has since admitted that it worked in co-ordination with lawyers in this country on that case to try to achieve that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree said, that has led to the cessation of visits by Israeli leaders and senior officials, dangerously affecting our relations with that country and, more importantly, our influence over the middle east peace process.

I should like to say a few words in support of the commitments made by the Attorney-General in Jerusalem earlier this month, and the Foreign Secretary last month, to look at ways in which the system can be reformed, because if we are going to retain our strategic partnership with Israel and continue to have a constructive role in any middle east conflict it is vital that Israeli visitors, whether in government or not, are able to come to this country for meetings with UK politicians and the wider community. It is important to recognise that Ms Livni is a strong proponent of the two-state solution and of renewing peace negotiations, yet her visit was cancelled, so she could not discuss with our Government those specific issues that would help the peace process rather than hinder it. That is the consequence of this action.

I would like to see the law reforms. I support the principle of universal jurisdiction for international law, but I would like to see our courts protected from being used as campaign forums by politically motivated groups that are not really interested in justice, but are interested in scoring party political or other political points in this long-running conflict in the middle east, which is not going to be resolved in courts of law. Our courts have been left dangerously open to political manipulation and being brought into disrepute. There is a way forward by allowing the Attorney-General to decide whether this should happen. The Attorney-General is, in the end, responsible for deciding which prosecutions should go ahead, based on the likelihood of both a conviction and a public interest test. We may have the embarrassment of leaders being arrested but no prosecution following on from that.

Although this state of affairs has little appeal to those who have serious concerns, it is now attracting the efforts of those seeking to use our law to embarrass foreign political leaders who they dislike. We need international, universal jurisdiction to deal with people such as the genocidaires from Rwanda and war criminals from Bosnia and Serbia, and the war lord from Afghanistan who was prosecuted successfully, but this is not what it was designed or intended for.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee, Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee

If my hon. Friend is saying that a better way of operating the law of universal jurisdiction would be to involve the Attorney-General at an earlier stage in determining whether there should be arrest, not just deciding whether there should be a prosecution, does he think it was wise for that same post-holder-the Attorney-General-to go to Israel and give a guarantee in advance that, as far as the British Government are concerned, no Israeli leader would be arrested if they came to the UK? Is not that rather prejudicing her office?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I do not think that is right. I think we had a serious diplomatic problem with Israel that needed to be resolved sensibly. The approach being adopted by the Foreign Secretary, with whom I discussed this matter last night, is sensible. We need to work with the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign Office to find a sensible solution to this issue to enable us to prosecute people such as the Rwandan genocidaires, yet at the same time play a constructive role in the middle east peace process, which these efforts hinder.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

If I give way any more, nobody else is going to get in.

The Government have rightly called for Israel to conduct an independent inquiry into what happened, as did Goldstone, and this call has been echoed by international partners as well as many NGOs. I welcome the answer given by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead in the other place to a parliamentary question earlier this month, saying that the Israeli authorities have carried out, or are currently undertaking, investigations into 140 separate incidents, including but not limited to the 34 highlighted by Goldstone inquiry. Although those investigations are being carried out by the IDF and not by an independent body, which would be preferable, the fact that Israel is conducting these inquiries should not be ignored. Too often Israel is painted as a country incapable of self-scrutiny. Yet we only need to look back as far as 2006, to the Winograd investigation and to 2005, to the Sasson Report, to know that this is far from true. Winograd was in response to the Lebanon conflict in 2006 and Sasson was commissioned to look into the funding of settlement expansion.

Sasson exposed the fact that state bodies were covertly diverting funds to settlements improperly and the Winograd report was critical of the military strategy employed in the second Lebanon war, particularly the decision to respond with an immediate intensive military strike, following the kidnapping of Israeli servicemen Ehud and Goldwasser. Israel has, in the past, conducted proper inquiries into such matters, found itself wanting and acted accordingly.

Israel has established a legal system that is respected throughout the world, with a Supreme Court that is open to all, with few restrictions on its jurisdiction. On 29 December 2009, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a 14 km west bank stretch of Israel's highway 443, a main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, should not be closed to Palestinians, despite the military's fears that after six Israeli deaths on the road in terror attacks during the second intifada, opening the road could result in more deaths of Israeli citizens. Nevertheless, the Israeli Supreme Court decided that that road should be opened.

I highlight these points because they are too often overlooked. Although our Government were right to call for Israel to conduct an inquiry into possible breaches of international law during the Gaza conflict, although the Goldstone is merely an indictment not a proven fact, as my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Marshall-Andrews said-unlike my hon. Friend Martin Linton who, on introducing the debate, effectively took it as proven fact-and although Israel's current investigations may not be perfect, it is right that we give Israel the opportunity to show the international community that it is taking these allegations seriously.

We should at least wait to hear the outcome of Israel's investigation before offering premature condemnations, such as we have heard today. Israel may establish a fully independent inquiry.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

No, there is not time.

Several prominent Members of the Knesset, including Kadima party MK and chair of the Israel-United Kingdom Parliamentary Friendship League, Nachman Shai, have called for such a judicial inquiry into Operation Cast Lead in response to Goldstone.

Israel is entitled, as a liberal democracy, to time to respond to the Goldstone report fully. I do not see any sign of Hamas setting up an inquiry into the war crimes that it is alleged to have committed, with considerable evidence behind the allegations, such as rocketing Israeli civilians indiscriminately or using its own citizens as human shields effectively to maximise casualties to create the pressure on Israel that we have seen. Only last week, there were three rockets fired into and 10 mortar attacks on Israel from Gaza, endangering innocent lives as well as the efforts of the international community to get Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations restarted. The situation in Gaza is unlikely to improve while these attacks are still occurring and Hamas refuses to renounce violence.

Although I disagree with the level of restrictions imposed by Israel at the crossings into Gaza, we should not forget the threat that Israel faces. Removing these restrictions means that Hamas and other terrorist groups will have greater opportunity to smuggle in weapons and carry out terrorist attacks. Hamas has, in the past, used such building materials to fortify its military infrastructure and construct weapons. Egypt's recent blocking of crossings from Egypt into Gaza, and the fact that it deported Mr. Galloway, are signs of its changing attitude to some of the problems that it is now seeing, which Israel has seen for a long time.

Mr. Hood, I do not want to take up any more time. Our Government have the right approach to both international universal jurisdiction and the Goldstone report. I commend them on their stance so far and hope that that will continue and that there will be an early announcement on how they intend to deal with universal jurisdiction.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. I hope to start winding up round about 12 o'clock.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush 11:58 am, 12th January 2010

Mr. Hood, I take your hint.

Like my hon. Friend Martin Linton, whom I congratulate on securing this debate, I was an eye witness to the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Gaza-as were my hon. Friend Richard Burden and Mr. Davey-as part of the first parliamentary delegation into Gaza after the withdrawal of the IDF. Therefore the report has a certain poignancy, in addition to that felt by other hon. Members who have taken the trouble to read it.

Yes, we did see the destruction of entire villages, hospitals, some of the 280 schools and some of the 95 per cent. of private industry that was destroyed. We saw the destruction of civil society, including police stations. Nearly 250 police officers were killed in deliberate bombing attacks, most on the first day of the bombing. Yes, we did stand in the rubble of the legislature in Gaza and we spoke to some of its democratically elected Members. I thought that that would have some resonance for hon. Members in this House, even those who seem to have a blind spot in discussing this issue-unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea-and seeing both sides of the argument.

Yes, there were atrocities on both sides, but disproportionately and massively, more atrocities were committed by Israeli forces. If the deaths of 352 children are not a murderous act as my right hon. Friend Jane Kennedy said, I do not know what is. We saw the evidence of white phosphorous having been used; it was still reignitable three weeks after the troops had left. Yes, I have been to Ashkelon and seen the conditions that people live in and yes, that is intolerable, but it is a functioning modern city, as Sderot is. One cannot make a comparison between the suffering of people in Gaza and the suffering of people in Israel in that respect.

I shall mention two other points. The first, which is dealt with in the Goldstone report, is the suppression by the Israeli authorities of organisations such as Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem, and the bombing of UNRWA-the United Nations Relief and Works Agency-facilities. Again, the eyewitness reports that we received and the people we met, mainly through the facility of those well respected organisations, are also unable to tell their story to the outside world. Of course, the siege continues. Only 15 per cent. of the trade that was getting into Gaza before the blockade started is getting there now.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister two questions. First, please will he address what the Government's attitude to the Goldstone report is now and why, given the time that has elapsed, the Government cannot come off the fence and say that the allegations made in Goldstone ought to be investigated? Secondly, the universal jurisdiction point is not about the dark arts of diplomacy and Government-to-Government discussions; it is an important point about civil liberties for this country. Many hon. Members, as well as many of our constituents, will not stomach attempts by the British Government to remove traditions that we are very proud of in this country simply because somebody described as an international partner requests us to do so.

In the context of what is happening in the middle east, the failure to secure a settlement freeze, the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people, the effect that has on moderates and particularly President Abbas at the moment, in the west bank and the Gaza strip, the Goldstone report and universal jurisdiction are vital not just as arcane debating points here, but to our constituents and to the Palestinian people in Gaza and the west bank.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 12:02 pm, 12th January 2010

Martin Linton has done the House a great service by proposing the debate. All the contributions so far show that people are engaged and feel very strongly on both sides.

When an action such as Operation Cast Lead happens, it is right that we get to the facts. Those of us who saw the pictures on television, whether from al-Jazeera or other sources, and who heard the reports coming out of Gaza at the time said we felt that the action was disproportionate and there was a case for investigating allegations of war crimes on both sides.

I was delighted to be invited and felt strongly enough to go to Gaza to see the situation for myself, as part of the parliamentary delegation that was mentioned. The facts that we saw on the ground in a limited, restricted way, given our time and ability to verify things, only confirmed what we had seen on television-that the destruction was huge and wanton. Some of the villages we saw had been targeted not just for military targets, but for civilian targets. We talked to people who lived there, who said that first they had been fired on from the air, then the tanks had fired on their houses and, because some were still standing, the troops then came in, laid charges and blew the rest of the houses down. We went to that village, stood on the rubble and saw house after house that had been destroyed, so if anyone tells me that they think that was correct action, fair action and along the lines of international law, I cannot accept it.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

We all recognise that there have been many victims of the conflict and many horrific things happened, but will the hon. Gentleman also recognise that some of the victims are casualties of the terrorist tactic of launching attacks from close proximity to civilian centres?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

We visited Ashkelon and saw the damage that had been done by Hamas rockets, and the report is very clear, quite rightly, that firing by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups from Gaza indiscriminately on Israeli civilians is a war crime and a crime against humanity. I condemn every single one of those rockets fired indiscriminately against civilians. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is talking about where they were fired from, but I do not know how he knows where they were all fired from. Some were clearly fired from civilian centres, but if he thinks that justifies wiping out-razing to the ground-a whole village, he is coming at this from a different political perspective from mine.

We did not just visit homes and speak to people. We saw the hospitals and schools that had been destroyed. We went to an ice cream factory. The report talks about the cement factory, the flour mill and the water and sewage works, but we also saw ice cream factories. We met a Palestinian entrepreneur who had been working with Israeli businesses for 20 or 30 years, supplying ice cream to Israel, and had been one of the moderates in Gaza, trying to get free enterprise going in Gaza. He told us that he was absolutely disillusioned by the Israelis, how his business had been destroyed, how people had been thrown out of work and that it was completely unjustifiable because he had never allowed any Hamas militant anywhere near his factories.

Those are the facts about what we saw, but I readily confess that it was limited and could not be verified on every account. The question is how far Judge Goldstone's report gets to the truth. It cannot get all the way there. Israel refused to take part, so the mission did not hear from both sides, which is a limitation of the report, but Judge Goldstone can hardly be criticised for that.

Photo of Christine Russell Christine Russell Labour, City of Chester

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the fact that the Israelis refused to take part enhances the perception of bias in the whole report and that it would have been much more helpful if there had been co-operation from the Israelis?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Of course. My point is that the Goldstone report cannot be criticised because one party refused to give evidence.

There are some valid criticisms of the report. One is that the resolution tabled at the UN to create the debate on the report and the follow-through from the report was biased. It was not as balanced as the report itself. The Government did not actually abstain-they were not in the room-but I can understand why they would have abstained if they had been in the room, because of the limitations of the resolution.

However, some of the other criticisms levelled at the Goldstone report do not stand up to analysis. People talk about a biased mandate. Judge Goldstone amended the mandate to ensure that it was balanced and brought in the issue of rockets fired on civilians from Gaza.

People say that the report is politically motivated; they talk about many of the shortcomings of the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, the report was written not by the Human Rights Council, but by one of the world's greatest jurists, who is an expert at looking into war crimes as a result of his experience in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

One criticism says that the report did not adequately recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the report's mandate. The report was not set up to look into the legality of the war, but to look into the behaviour of all parties during that conflict. Therefore, I do not think that criticism can undermine the findings and thrust of the Goldstone report.

I am particularly taken by the findings of the expert meeting convened at Chatham House at the end of November last year, referred to briefly by the hon. Member for Battersea. It involved a number of experts in international and humanitarian law: Elizabeth Wilmshurst, whom people will know as the former Foreign Office legal adviser, Professor Matthew Craven, Dr. Catriona Drew, Professor Charles Garraway, Professor Steven Haines, Professor Françoise Hampson and Professor Sir Nigel Rodley. Together, they were an extremely experienced and expert group to consider issues of international law. They looked into the criticisms of the procedural aspects of Goldstone and their report concluded:

"The meeting was of the view that the Report was very far from being invalidated by the criticisms. The Report raised extremely serious issues which had to be addressed. It contained compelling evidence on some incidents."

That is the judgment of independent academics who are experts in the field, and therefore I do not think that the report can be dismissed. I hope that the Government will tell us what they intend to do at the UN and regarding their relations with Israel, to ensure that the report is answered; it cannot be shelved. We need to hear the full answers, and to ensure that people are held to account. Any moves to undermine the need for accountability on such matters should be opposed.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:10 pm, 12th January 2010

I congratulate Martin Linton on securing the debate. My hon. Friend Mr. Lidington, who would have responded to the debate on behalf of the Opposition, has asked me to express his apologies. He is visiting Tokyo at the invitation of the Japanese Government.

The contributions that we have heard this morning from both sides of the House show the strength of feeling about Gaza that exists among members of all political parties. What happened in Gaza during the Israeli military action 12 months ago was an appalling human tragedy, and today the people of Gaza-1 million or more of our fellow human beings-continue to suffer. The debate has also shown how opinions about events in Gaza have become polarised, which reflects the stark division of opinion in the middle east itself. To most Israelis, Operation Cast Lead was a necessity, a national duty even. Israel had withdrawn from the Gaza strip-dismantling its settlements and evicting settlers by force-and she hoped for peace. Instead, she saw Gaza taken over by a group dedicated to Israel's destruction and rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. When I talk to Israeli representatives, I find that they express regret about the loss of life among civilians in Gaza, but they point to the fact that in 2008 and 2009 more than 1,750 rockets and more than 1,500 mortar shells were fired into Israel. To most Israelis, including men and women passionately committed to peace and to a two-state solution, military action in Gaza was justified by the need to protect their fellow citizens.

In the Arab and the wider Muslim world, an utterly different narrative is heard. The argument there is that an imperfect but more or less effective ceasefire was wrecked by Israeli incursions into Gaza, which prompted retaliatory attacks from Hamas. Night after night, television screens showed shocking graphic images of women and children killed and maimed by Israeli bullets and shells. Not only Syria and Iran, but traditionally more moderate countries such as Turkey and Malaysia, reacted with anger.

We can understand why Israel felt compelled to take action to protect her citizens from rocket attacks, but there can be no doubt that the war in Gaza has damaged prospects for peace in the middle east and Israel's hopes for permanent security along with it, and has caused an immense and continuing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip. We shall not get an enduring peace in the middle east unless that legacy can be addressed, and both political and economic progress can be made with regard to Gaza. That includes addressing the serious and grave allegations of human rights violations that have been made against both the Israeli defence forces and Hamas. Throughout the conflict, we called for those allegations to be fully investigated, and we have supported the establishment of a UN fact-finding mission to Gaza and the work of Judge Goldstone. It is a pity that the Israeli Government decided not to engage with the commission, because the consequence is that the report lacks an authoritative Israeli perspective on the military and legal criteria that the Israeli defence force used.

Like the Government, we think that the Goldstone report has flaws. It refers to the rocket attacks on Israel, describing them in paragraph 108 as probable war crimes, and it also denounces how Gilad Shalit is being held and criticises Hamas for the murder and abuse of its political opponents inside Gaza, but those paragraphs make up only a small proportion of a report, the bulk of which deals with allegations against the Israeli forces and makes severe criticisms of them. It does not adequately recognise Israel's legal right to protect its citizens; nor does it pay sufficient attention to the actions of Hamas.

We continue to believe that the allegations listed in the Goldstone report need to be fully investigated, and addressed by both Israel and the Palestinians. It is a pity that the resolution tabled at the UN Human Rights Council was so utterly one-sided, failing even to mention Hamas by name. That is why we called on the Government to vote against the resolution. The Government's action in instructing the British delegate to leave the room rather than to vote either way, or even record a formal abstention, was an abdication of responsibility.

The Goldstone report also deals at length with the humanitarian problems in Gaza, which were made much worse by the war and continue today. We want to see the crossing points reopened as soon as possible, to allow food, medical and hospital supplies to be brought in without limit. The Israeli authorities have told us that they believe such humanitarian aid is being allowed through but that Hamas activists prevent it from reaching ordinary people. The aid agencies tell us that basic needs are still not being met. Will the Minister give us the British Government's assessment of the adequacy of food and medical supplies reaching Gaza, and what action they are taking to improve matters on the ground?

In a written answer dated 2 November 2009, the Government said that the United Kingdom had not yet been able to spend any of the £20 million of funding earmarked for reconstruction in Gaza because of restrictions imposed by Israel on the entry of building materials. The essential reconstruction of homes, schools and health facilities is not happening, and well over half of Gaza's population does not have daily access to water. That state of affairs is morally wrong, and can surely only add to the bitterness that will make political reconciliation even more difficult to achieve. What actions are the Government taking both bilaterally and through the European Union to find ways to accelerate the pace of reconstruction in Gaza? What is the status of negotiations to reopen the crossing points, and does the Minister believe that there might need to be some kind of international presence on the ground to help to overcome the political obstacles to restoring the normal flow of goods for civilian use?

One consequence of events in Gaza has been the increased risk to Israeli politicians of arrest if they visit the United Kingdom, as we have heard in today's debate. It is essential that Israeli leaders should be able to come to this country to talk about bilateral relations, and in particular about the middle east peace process. I note that the Attorney-General said recently that the Government intended to address that problem, possibly by changes to legislation, but I hope that the Minister will give us a bit more detail when he replies.

It is in the interests of the United Kingdom to see a genuine and enduring peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. In our view, that settlement has to be based upon a two-state solution in which Gaza forms an integral part of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state. Such a solution is vital to the future safety and security of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe) 12:19 pm, 12th January 2010

I wholeheartedly congratulate my hon. Friend Martin Linton on securing the debate. He has always been a courageous politician, who speaks out on the issues that matter most to him, and I hope that he has a successful year. I also congratulate him on how he has advanced his cause. Many of us saw the horrific events last year, and have responded all around the world with heartfelt concern for those affected. My hon. Friend put his case very well.

The Government's position starts firmly from the belief that, in all our responses, we should focus on the desirability of an enduring peace in the middle east. All hon. Members will know the Government's position, but I state for the record that we believe in a two-state solution, with a viable-not violable, as I believe I heard Mr. Newmark say-Palestinian state and Israel secure within her borders.

Of course, as two of my hon. Friends said, Israel has an absolute right to protect itself. However, that does not give it carte blanche to use any means that it wants, and nor does it allow it to stray beyond the bounds of what is morally right or what is legally right under international law-or, for that matter, under its own law.

Similarly, Israel has a right to build homes for its people, but it does not have the right to build homes exactly where it chooses. We have made it absolutely clear that we are critical of all plans to continue with the settlement process, particularly in East Jerusalem. We believe that Israel should stop all illegal settlements. Indeed, that is why we supported the statement made at the European Council's December meeting:

"The Council is deeply concerned about the situation in East Jerusalem. In view of recent incidents, it calls on all parties to refrain from provocative actions. The Council recalls that it has never recognised the annexation of East Jerusalem. If there is to be genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states."

That is strongly our view as well.

We also urge upon Israel the absolute seriousness of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which was mentioned by several hon. Members. It is morally indefensible to kettle the Palestinian people. The hon. Member for Braintree asked about the Government's view on enabling the reconstruction of Gaza. We do not believe that that is moving fast enough. With our colleagues in the European Union, we have urged Israel to be open to much more humanitarian aid. We are not able to provide the support that we stand ready to give, and we urge Israel to do more.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

The Minister says that we should ensure that we do not kettle the people of Gaza. Two countries border Gaza. Egypt, too, has responsibilities in that regard.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

Yes, of course. That is why we want to ensure that humanitarian aid can get through. However, aid is also needed to enable people to rebuild homes that were destroyed a year ago. To us, that seems a vital part of the ongoing peace process. That is why I am glad that the European Union came to a clear view on the matter before Christmas. The continued policy of closure was unacceptable and, we believe, politically counter-productive.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Labour, Liverpool, Wavertree

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend when he is in full flow. The EU passed a view on that point, but may I press him on the matter? Will the EU, and my hon. Friend in discussion with other Ministers, do more than take a view and come together to see whether solutions cannot be found to help Israel find ways to open the border crossing?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

Yes. There is constant discussion between our Prime Minister and others, particularly Mr. Sarkozy, the President of France, about how we might do that. However, I do not want to underestimate the difficulties. Of course, while Hamas refuses to renounce violence, it will always be more difficult. I return to the fact that, especially in winter months, there is a real humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We want to see humanitarian aid and other aid get through as fast as possible.

Several hon. Members spoke of universal jurisdiction. We wholeheartedly support that concept. That is why we have always supported the International Criminal Court. On a slightly different point, it is why we have always supported the European arrest warrant. There are crimes that need to be prosecuted, whether through the European arrest warrant or the international arrest warrant. We need people to appear before a court, and to be prosecuted. However, the direct parallel with General Pinochet drawn by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn is a slightly different matter.

I was disappointed that, for a time, it was not possible to bring Pinochet to trial for the undoubtedly criminal acts that he ordered in Chile, not least because several of my friends were killed there under his dictatorship. That case was slightly different, however; the problem was extradition. In the present case, it is vital that international war crimes are prosecuted. It seems odd and unusual that in England and Wales-but not in Scotland, which has a different legal system-arrest warrants can be sought and issued without the prior request of the police or the advice of a prosecutor. That is different from what pertains in many other countries. The key point is that we wholeheartedly support the concept of universal jurisdiction. The question is how it is prosecuted in individual countries. Discussions about how we can move forward are ongoing, and I hope that they will bear fruit in the near future.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The problem with the Minister's description is this: if the law is changed to allow the universal arrest warrant to be issued against individuals only with the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General-or the Home Secretary, the equivalent of the Minister of the Interior-one moves straight into the political field. We have already heard statements from Ministers here that Israeli Ministers and leaders, whoever they might be, must be free to travel in this country. That suggests that the ability to obtain an arrest warrant through a district judge is a powerful and important instrument for human rights and humanitarian law.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

In some aspects, my hon. Friend has a point. It is not that the Government want literally any politician, anywhere in the world, to be free to come to the UK because we want a conversation with them. However, I push it back to my hon. Friend: if we are to secure peace in the middle east it would be difficult were politicians-it is different for Ministers, as they would not be caught-not able to travel to the UK. We have an important role.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Harwich

Briefly, on the Tzipi Livni case, will we change the law? Yes or no? If so, when?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

The hon. Gentleman did not quite catch me saying that discussions are ongoing, but I am sorry to say that I shall disappoint him. I am not able to reveal what the Government intend, but I hope that we will soon be able to do so. We support the idea of universal jurisdiction, but how it is applied in the UK is a matter for us to consider. None the less, other countries would not be able to move to a prosecution without a prosecutor having made a case, and without the police having requested a warrant. It is important that we move to a system under which politicians from Israel-and, for that matter, other countries-should be able to travel to the UK, but as I said earlier, it should not be a carte blanche arrangement for all.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee, Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee

That goes to the heart of why people believe that there are double standards. The Minister refers to what the Government are looking at doing in relation to the question of international jurisdiction and its applicability in the UK. In relation to settlements, the blockade and Goldstone, he speaks not of what the Government are doing but of what they are saying. If they are going to do something about universal jurisdiction, what will they do to ensure that the Goldstone report is properly investigated and the matter tried in an internationally recognised institution?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Incidentally, I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Marshall-Andrews; it is a sadness that Parliament will not have the benefit of his counsel after the election. However, he and my hon. Friend Richard Burden both said that evidence needs to be tested. They are right.

I pay tribute to many elements of the Goldstone report. There were 188 interviews, and more than 300 reports were reviewed. However, it does not provide the whole story. The report itself acknowledges that, but it was for reasons to do with Israel's not providing evidence and not engaging with the report, which we deprecate. We wish that Israel had taken part.