Israel and Gaza

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I have answered your question.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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While fully supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and fully supporting its desire to degrade Hamas’ military capacity, would the Foreign Secretary not agree that there is a legitimate worry about the use from the very beginning of the campaign of these 2,000-pound bombs, which, in a very densely populated area, are so difficult to use in a way that is both discriminate and proportionate?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I agree that, while Israel has the right to defend itself, to try to deal with Hamas and to prevent 7 October happening again, it is important, as we have said throughout, that Israel complies with international humanitarian law as it does so.

Artificial Light and Noise: Effects on Human Health (Science and Technology Committee Report)

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Government on setting up a committee on this important but neglected subject, and the committee itself on an excellent report. I have listened with great interest to the valuable speeches from its members today.

The report rightly concentrates on the effect of light and noise on human health, but that assumes that there is a positive good in the first place. If too much noise is harmful, then the assumption is that lack of noise, silence, is of value in itself, so I want to begin by emphasising this simple point. In March and April 2010, a volcano in Iceland erupted, sending billions of tonnes of ash into the air and resulting in the cancellation of some 100,000 flights over an eight-day period. The effect on the ground literally felt miraculous. It was as though we lived in a world born anew, one characterised by a deep quiet. We may remember that there was something of the same healing silence in the worst days of Covid, when movement of traffic by air and road was at a minimum. Those experiences remind us that, for most people, silence, or at least a minimum noise level, is a positive good and that if we are deprived of it there are inevitable implications for mental, physical and spiritual health. It is not surprising that within at least most religions of the world silence has been of so much value and people have gone to such lengths to find it in deserts and monasteries. Let me quote just one example, from Gerard Manley Hopkins:

“Elected Silence, sing to me

And beat upon my whorlèd ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be

The music that I care to hear”.

A great deal could be said about traffic noise—I would have liked to hear more about that—but, against that background, I will focus on aircraft noise. I was surprised that it was not mentioned in the report, although the Government refer in their response to two Department for Transport-funded domestic cross-sectional studies, one on aviation night noise and one on attitudes to aviation noise. I do not criticise the committee; I will later come on to the fact that, at the moment, strangely, aircraft noise does not seem to be covered by the statutory definition of noise or a pollutant.

I declare an interest as someone who lives in west London, one of the many millions along the Thames, from Fulham and Putney through Barnes, Richmond, Kew, Windsor and Hounslow, who suffer—I use the word deliberately—aircraft noise. If you look up “aircraft noise” on the internet, you find adverts for soundproof windows. That is fine when you are in the house, but being outside on a summer’s day can be destroyed by the regular deafening noise coming from overhead every minute or so, and you are forced indoors again.

Paragraph 10 of the Government’s response refers to the benefits of green spaces and claims that £2 billion of treatment costs could be saved if everyone in England had access to green space. However, if you go to some of the best green spaces in Britain today—Richmond Park, Kew Gardens, Windsor park and the smaller parks in the Hounslow area—the day’s outing can be totally blighted and destroyed. More widely, children’s learning at school gets disrupted and health suffers in all sorts of ways, as the report emphasises. A large-scale study of people living under the flight path in the Heathrow area found that they were 10% to 20% more at risk of stroke and heart disease.

As I suggested, I imagine aircraft noise did not feature in the report in the way it might have done because it seems to be legally exempt from the charge that it could be polluting. The Civil Aviation Authority guidance notes that aviation noise does not constitute a statutory nuisance, unlike other forms of noise pollution, and nor is it covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Noise Act 1996. This means that local authorities do not have the legal power to take action on matters of aircraft noise, and nor does the Civil Aviation Authority have the legal power to prevent aircraft flying over a particular location or at a particular time for environmental reasons.

This is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. It is as though aircraft noise occupies its own space, legally exempt from the kind of challenges you would normally get from the public in so many other spheres of life. The public can make complaints—as we have heard, they do so regularly—but aircraft noise is exempt from any kind of legal challenge. Surveys show a great deal of public dissatisfaction at this. Although it is claimed that engines are now much quieter than they were, as somebody who has lived under a flight path for three or four decades I can say that there is no sign of that in my hearing. The level of public annoyance remains extremely high and the ability of Governments to pressure the aircraft industry seems very limited.

Although in modern life we have to accept much noise, as we have to accept the weather, we should not just continue to accept the present level of aircraft noise as though nothing can be done about it. Present levels are totally unacceptable for so many people. What steps are the Government taking to address this situation? I suggest that it would be worth having a special committee or group of some kind on aircraft noise. There are due to be 40.1 million flights this year, a number which is due to increase by 4.3% a year up to 2042. A committee on this subject, set up by the Government and with a brief to look at this seriously from all sides and make recommendations about what might be done to reduce and minimise aircraft noise, would be widely welcomed.

Pakistan: UK Aid

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I would like to see UK aid support in Pakistan focus sharply and almost entirely on identifying and supporting minority communities, of which there are of course a number of different kinds; they include the religious—such as the Ahmadi, who suffer viciously—as well as Hindu and Christian minorities.

A high percentage of those who suffer most among the minority groups are Dalits. I want to speak mainly about the Dalits, who suffer disproportionately in every area of life because of the terrible stigma of untouchability. According to the 2017 census figures for minorities, the number of registered scheduled castes in Pakistan is 849,614, but, according to researchers and Dalit activists, their number is more likely to be in the millions. They have no representation in political life. All 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims and political parties are occupied by dominant caste Hindus and Christians. The National Assembly has never had a Dalit woman parliamentarian. Despite the fact that 33% of all women have seats in the national Parliament due to temporary special measures, few political parties nominate a Dalit woman for the reserved seats. This means that they have no voice to make their plight known.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, minority communities suffer particularly in the areas of poverty, slavery and forced labour; as I suggested, a very high percentage of those who suffer in these areas will be Dalits. They are excluded from union representation and are in widespread employment in the brick kiln and agricultural sectors. As has been mentioned, Dalits—in particular children and not least women—are working in hazardous and slave-like conditions. One aspect of this is that Dalits, particularly women, are most likely to be assigned to manual scavenging. This undignified work, without any safety equipment, exposes them to death, accidents and poor health, while 80% of sanitation work in Pakistan is carried out by minority communities—mostly Dalits—through hereditary schemes.

There is another factor: water and sanitation issues are intimately linked to the mistaken notion of purity, leading to the untouchability stigma. Sanitation workers face a risk of fatality that is 10 times higher than for workers in other sectors, while Christians, a minority in the country, are the largest community represented in the sanitation workforce.

Forced marriages and conversions are widespread, as the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, emphasised. I will not add further to that except to point out the figures showing that, since 2017, no official data on forced marriages and conversions was produced, though estimates vary between 300 to 1,000 per year with only 16.67% of victims aged over 18.

Since 2006, the Pakistan Parliament has provided about 6,000 projects in a national poverty reduction scheme. This progress is welcome but none of these projects target issues specifically facing Dalits, who are floundering in a vicious cycle of poverty and lack of land, which forces them into that poorly paid employment where they can be exploited. Many take on loans from their employers and are unable to pay them back. There is a high level of suicides among this community due to this distressing economic situation. Nearly 74% of Pakistan’s Dalits are illiterate, among which 90% are Dalit women, leaving no prospects for Dalit children and thus perpetuating the problem. At the heart of it all, this is reinforced by the education programme itself as school textbooks portray Dalits as inferior, which is absolutely intolerable.

I will briefly mention in addition one point already raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. One of the most distressing features of Pakistan is the law on blasphemy, which carries a sentence of death and can be used in village or family disputes to target perfectly innocent victims. Among them are Mariyum Lal and Newsh Arooj, two Christian nurses recently charged with allegedly removing a sticker with Koranic verses from a hospital wall. Also unjustly imprisoned with the threat of death are Zafar Bhatti, Asif Pervaiz, Ashfaq Masih, Shagufta Kiran and Ishtiaq Masih, to mention just a few. My plea to our Government is that our aid should be directed almost entirely to these minority communities, and that real efforts be made to identify them, especially the Dalits among them.

Israel/Gaza

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 24th October 2023

(8 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I listened with deep appreciation and gratitude to the most reverend Primate speaking out of his immediate experience in the area.

When I first heard about the horrific massacre on 7 October, in which more than 1,400 women, men, children and babies were shot to pieces—the worst day in Israel’s history—a verse from the book of Jeremiah came to mind, one quoted in the New Testament in relation to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents:

“In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not”.


Now, with perhaps 5,000 killed in Gaza, many of them women and children, there are more who are weeping, who will not be comforted, because they are not.

As someone who is conscious of the horrific history of Christian anti-Judaism, which morphed into anti-Semitism in the 19th century, I believe that the Christian churches have a special responsibility to care about the safety of |Israel, where the Jewish people, after centuries of persecution might at last be safe. Their safety should be our concern. It was good to hear from His Majesty’s Government and all the speakers on the importance of the safety and security of Israel at this time.

At the same time, we feel close to our Christian sisters and brothers in Gaza and the West Bank, where in this year in the West Bank so far 200 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed. The prayer of an Arab Christian resonates with many of us:

“Pray not for Arab or Jew,

for Palestinian or Israeli,

but pray rather for ourselves,

that we might not divide them in our prayers

but keep them both together in our hearts”.

In 1962, I had the privilege of spending a term studying in Jerusalem. 1962 was the time of the Cold War, which I could not see ending in my lifetime, but in 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. It was the time of apartheid, which I did not see ending without massive bloodshed, but in 1994 Nelson Mandela was peacefully elected President. However, in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza things are much worse now than they were in 1962. Where has the will for peace gone? Since 2014, people have talked so often of a two-state solution being dead, but what is the alternative? It was good to hear from the Minister, once again, a vision of that two-state solution.

One group of people in whom the will to peace strongly resides are members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, who I am sure the most reverend Primate will have met. This is made up of family members of those killed in recent conflicts: mothers of Israeli soldiers and mothers of Palestinians teenagers. Created in 1995, it now has more than 600 bereaved members joined together in their shared grief and shared commitment to reconciliation. When will their will for peace be translated into political terms?

Our hope must be not only that the present conflict can be contained and stopped but that a new stronger will for peace will emerge in the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. In the civil war in this country in the 17th century, Sir Robert Shirley erected a church at Staunton Harold. A monument to him on that church reads:

“whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in ye worst times and hoped them in the most callamitous”.

In these worst and most calamitous times, the best thing we can hope for and work for is the recovery of a serious will for peace in the leadership on all sides, with pressure from the international community to bring it about. I very much hope that even now, as Hamas —rightly labelled a terrorist organisation—is rendered incapable of carrying out further attacks, His Majesty’s Government are giving thought to what lies beyond—the endgame not only about the governance of Gaza after Hamas has been rendered incapable of carrying out further attacks. It was good to hear that there is still a vision there, but are we going to get new leadership among the Palestinians and in Israel, and pressure from the international community to bring it about?

Nova Kakhovka Dam

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 13th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and the international response.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, at least 80 communities and 40,000 people are affected by flood water. Damage to homes, infra- structure and agriculture will affect thousands more. Our partners are working hand in hand with the emergency services to evacuate people and provide vital relief. We have also provided an additional £16 million to the United Nations and the Red Cross to help civilians, including those affected by flooding and others elsewhere in Ukraine in humanitarian need. To bolster efforts, we are also sending boats, water filters, pumps and waders to Ukraine.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his reply; it is particularly good to hear of the support the British Government are giving to those affected by the floods. My Question concerns a different aspect of the matter: adherence to the Geneva conventions. Article 56 of the 1977 Protocol 1, additional to the 1949 Geneva conventions, says that dams and nuclear sites must not be the object of attack if civilians are going to suffer. Over 170 nations have signed up to this, including Ukraine; Russia originally signed up and then withdrew ratification. Will His Majesty’s Government reaffirm the importance of adhering to that in a world where there are now so many dams and nuclear power stations?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord. The essence of all the Geneva conventions was to ensure that these important elements are protected during conflicts, so I very much support his sentiments. However, I remind the House that, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, our intelligence communities are still looking at the incident, and it remains too soon to make a definitive judgment as to the cause.

West Papua: UN Access

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Monday 17th April 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in obtaining access to West Papua for the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomes recent engagement between Indonesia and the UN, as part of Indonesia’s universal periodic review in November 2022. We continue to support a visit by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the region of Papua. We recognise that a significant amount of time has passed since the visit was first proposed, but we hope that both parties can come together to agree dates very soon.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his Answer. He mentioned the universal periodic review of Indonesia. He will know that, at that review, a number of major countries, including the United States, Australia and Canada, called for an intervention from the UN in Indonesia and an immediate visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is not at all clear that the United Kingdom was among those supporting that call. Perhaps the Minister will be able to enlighten us.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I hope the Answer I have given in the House today reassures the noble and right reverend Lord that we support an early visit. I am cognisant that this visit was first proposed under High Commissioner Zeid, who has since been succeeded by High Commissioner Bachelet and subsequently by High Commissioner Türk. The visit has been pending for a long time, and it is important that it takes place at the earliest opportunity.

Occupied Palestinian Territories

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Monday 27th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, the UK’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process is clear and remains clear. We support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, with equal land swaps to reflect the national security and religious interests of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. That is our position and always has been our position.

Regarding the settlements, there too our position remains unchanged. We want to see a contiguous West Bank, including east Jerusalem, as part of a viable sovereign Palestinian state, based on those same 1967 lines. We recognise that many such settlements are contrary to international law.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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In his Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, the Minister said that the occupation should be governed by the Geneva convention and that the question of whether the transfer from military to civilian rule contravened or agreed with the convention was still being examined. When that examination has taken place, will the Minister kindly put the result in the Library?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I will convey that perfectly reasonable request to my colleague who normally handles this brief.

Israel and Palestine

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 7th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, with international partners, to calm the violence and build a lasting peace between the government of Israel and the Palestinian people.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, in 1962 I had the great privilege of spending a term studying in Jerusalem. Signs of conflict were everywhere; there was barbed wire across the streets and pockmarks in the walls made by bullets from recent fighting. The time was tense and difficult. But now, more than 60 years later, the situation is even worse—the tension greater, the violence more bitter. Some of us will remember that the two great political issues in 1962 were the Cold War and apartheid. We could see no end to the Cold War, but in 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down. We did not expect apartheid to come to an end without massive bloodshed, but in 1994 Nelson Mandela was elected peacefully president of South Africa. Is it not a terrible indictment of leadership on all sides and the whole international community that still nothing very much has happened, and that the situation is in fact much worse now than it was in 1962? The hopes of Oslo in 1993 and the hopes of so many since then have come to absolutely nothing.

It is understandable that the eyes of the world have been elsewhere this year—on Ukraine, the women of Afghanistan and Iran, and the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey—but during this time tension in Israel has risen and violence has increased. In January, a Palestinian boy throwing stones in the West Bank was killed. Then in a raid by security forces, nine Palestinians were killed in Jenin. On the same day, a 13 year-old boy shot seven Israelis outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem. The following day, rockets were fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip and there was a further exchange of fire. A few days later, there was a major raid in Nablus, in which 10 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 injured. A few days after that, a Palestinian killed two Israeli settlers. This was followed by settlers running amok, torching homes and cars, with the IDF apparently unwilling or unable to stop it. Once again, families are left bereaved, young Palestinians are left even more desperate, and more Israeli peace-lovers are left in despair at the present Government.

After that outbreak of violence, Israeli and Palestinian delegates made a joint commitment to take immediate steps to end it. This followed talks in Aqaba between the parties, alongside the United States and Egyptian officials. The announcement said that Palestinian and Israeli sides

“affirmed their commitment to all previous agreements between them, and to work towards just and lasting peace”.

Both sides also committed to immediately working to end unilateral measures for a period of three to six months, which included an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop the authorisation of any outposts for six months. The parties agreed to reconvene in Egypt in March this year—this month—to determine progress made towards these goals. However, this statement was immediately called into question by some members of the Israeli Government, including Mr Netanyahu himself, who denied that there would be a settlement freeze or any kind of pause.

My first question for the Minister is: what role are our own Government playing in this process? Is he in a position to clarify what has been agreed and what progress, if any, has been made with a view to the reconvened meeting later this month?

The reason I asked for this debate is not just the recent level of violence, severe though it has been, but because there will continue to be violence unless there is hope. At the moment, there is no hope. Where is the hope in the situation? What sign of hope can be given to young Palestinians, or to those Israelis who have lost their family or friends and who have sincerely wanted and worked for a solution? Studies of those who survived harsh imprisonment during World War Two showed that the people most likely to survive were those who had something to live for—for example, a hope of seeing a loved one again. Without hope, people become desperate. Since Oslo in 1993, the hope has been held out of a two-state solution. Recently, our Government have once again committed themselves to that solution, as have various other international bodies, the UN and the EU. However, at the same time, I have read—as I am sure your Lordships have—commentators saying that the two-state solution is dead and that nothing will now revive the peace process. Is it really dead? If it is, what hope can be given?

The idea of a single state, once dismissed by most people, has surfaced again. Is this a serious idea—a single state with equality for all its citizens? In a recent article, Jonathan Freedland, while not arguing for this, nevertheless pointed out that overall turnout in the November election topped 70% but among Israeli Arabs it was just 53.2%. He argued that if Arabs had voted in the same numbers as Jews, Netanyahu would not be Prime Minister. He suggested that to remedy this will require,

“first, a wholesale change in mindset on the part of the mainstream Israeli left, one that at last listens to Palestinian demands for equality inside the green line and an end to occupation beyond it. That could, in turn, prompt a sea change among Palestinian-Israelis, a recognition that a de facto boycott of Israel’s political institutions might have made sense when a separate Palestinian state seemed on the horizon, but makes no sense now. It only strengthens those bent on making their lives worse.”

I am, of course, aware of the arguments on this issue, but I will not enter into them now. My point is about the total lack of hope in anything at the moment. I believe it would be quite wrong simply for the international community to shrug its shoulders and assume that nothing can be done. While the recent meeting in Jordan to see what might be done in the immediate term to reduce the level of violence is to be welcomed, it is not enough.

I recently asked a friend living in Jerusalem if he could find any hope in the present situation. He wrote that he looked to the individuals committed to peace and reconciliation, “the mother of an Israeli soldier killed at a checkpoint in the Second Intifada joining a group of bereaved from both sides of conflict and becoming best friends with a Palestinian man whose daughter was killed at a checkpoint by an Israeli soldier, or the man at the Tent of Nations who is in the longest-running legal dispute to keep the family olive farm despite beatings, intimidation and Kafkaesque legal dealings”. His mantra was: “We refuse to be enemies”. These are people who belong to the Parents Circle-Families Forum—PCFF—a body that I have long admired. This group is made up of parents, Jewish and Palestinian, who have all lost family members in the conflict. However, apparently even the PCFF is being threatened with tough new restrictions on its activities by Israel’s recently elected coalition Government. They are planning to curtail the organisation’s access to high schools where, for years, bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families have been allowed to meet groups of teenagers before they are called up for any service. If this is the case, I hope that our own Government will vigorously protest.

So, in the name of those Israeli and Palestinian parents, we cannot allow the present situation to continue fluctuating between simmering violence and its inevitable explosion forever. Meanwhile, as we are all aware, we have to face the fact that, as settlements continue to grow in number and size, the viability of a Palestinian state gets more and more called into question; the Palestinian position, already weak, becomes even weaker; and young people on both sides become even more desperate.

Let us have some honesty in the international community. Is the two-state solution dead? If not, let us have some real initiatives for reviving it. In 1978, that good man President Carter, who is now in his last days in a hospice, called together Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat to agree a framework for peace in the Middle East. Where is the Jimmy Carter for our time? We cannot simply shrug and resign ourselves to the fact that this will go on forever. A new initiative is needed. I beg to move.

Georgia: Imprisonment of Mikhail Saakashvili

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Monday 27th February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Georgia about the condition of Mikhail Saakashvili, the imprisoned former president of that country.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)
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My Lords, we are closely following events connected to the detention of former President Saakashvili. The Foreign Secretary raised Mr Saakashvili’s detention, highlighting concerning reports about his health and treatment, with the Georgian Foreign Minister Darchiashvili on 26 January during the Wardrop strategic dialogue. Our ambassador and other officials also raised Mr Saakashvili’s case with the Deputy Foreign Minister during the bilateral segment of that dialogue. We will continue to monitor developments regarding the case.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. I ask that the Government continue and redouble their efforts to get Mr Saakashvili appropriate medical treatment. Can the Minister bear in mind that his situation is part of a wider, very serious development in Georgia, which has been hijacked by a multi-billionaire businessman who controls its economic and political life, as well as its media, to keep it within the orbit and surround of Russia? This is a question not just of his human rights but of the whole future of Georgia as a European-looking nation.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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The noble and right reverend Lord is right that the treatment of the former president has wider ramifications. While humanitarian concerns are clearly uppermost in our representations on the matter, we have also highlighted the relevance of the Government’s treatment of Mr Saakashvili to Georgia’s domestic political climate, international reputation and broader Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Afghanistan: Women

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Thursday 26th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to work with the governments of Islamic countries to persuade the Taliban to allow women in Afghanistan to work with non-governmental organisations.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the ban on Afghan women working for NGOs is totally unacceptable. I have spoken to my counterparts from across the Islamic world to agree that we must convince the Taliban that these edicts are un-Islamic and contravene all global norms and values. I am encouraged that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is considering initiatives to address this very problem. I shall of course continue to seek practical solutions and work with Muslim-country partners to ensure that Afghan women can continue to work and, importantly, benefit from lifesaving aid.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for that Answer. When this issue was raised last week by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, the Minister suggested that there might be a way of bending the present rules to allow this to happen. Does he agree that it is essential that some long-term solution for this is found? Could he indicate what work is going on in relation to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—all countries that have, in the past, had good relationships with the Taliban? Would he use all his much-respected powers of persuasion in relation to these countries to get a long-term solution to this?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord is right to raise this issue. As I alluded to, I find it unimaginable—I put it that way—that the Taliban, with their rigidity and coercion, will back-track on the edicts that they have issued. However, as reported by the Deputy Secretary-General to the UN, we have seen workarounds on ensuring that support on key issues such as health and education is being provided. The noble and right reverend Lord is correct that we are working on that. I assure him of my good offices and those of others. We are working closely with the Islamic countries. I was in Pakistan in October 2022 and I raised this issue directly when I met the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, in December. My colleague and right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell met the Pakistani Prime Minister recently at a conference in Geneva. I have recently engaged with Oman, Qatar, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan.