My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness about the phenomenal role that aid workers, agencies and doctors are playing on the ground. I know that some British doctors are still serving in the hospitals under such intense pressures; I pay tribute to them. There are doctors lining up to go into Gaza to provide support.
I also agree with the noble Baroness that we need to take stock of the human tragedy unfolding in Gaza. It is for us all not just to contemplate but to act upon. That is why the nature of the cessation required needs to ensure that support can get in, but it must also be done in a safe and secure manner. If we look at the example of the field facilities we are discussing with partners, including field hospitals within Gaza, they must satisfy the issues of security for Israel and for those working there. The access and supply routes should be equally secured. Those are some of the key priorities we are currently working on.
My Lords, I call on the Minister to make his first port of call the international Red Cross, whose job it is to take care of hostages. If it gets out the hostages and Hamas comes out from hiding behind civilians, the temperature will cool. It is also the job of the surrounding Middle East countries—among the richest countries in the world—to come to the aid of the Palestinians, not least through Egypt opening the border. But first, the hostages.
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness—I have said this before about the hostages—that we are working with many of the countries she highlights. Qatar, for example, as the noble Baroness will know, is playing a key role in this respect. That is a key focus for us in our priorities. There are three areas. We want those who need to leave Gaza to leave, the hostages to be released and the aid to go in. Those three things require that we work towards ensuring that the conditions on the ground sustain that. Let me reassure the noble Baroness, in terms of not just the hostage release but the future, that the near neighbours to Israel need to play a role as partners in peace. I can assure the noble Baroness that, from our conversations and the discussions and diplomatic engagement we are having, they are very seized of that priority.
To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of progress made at the International Terezin Declaration Conference in November 2022 towards securing from the government of Poland (1) restitution, (2) compensation, or (3) commemoration, of property stolen from Polish Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
My Lords, it is this Government’s assessment that there has been no progress on these important issues in Poland itself following legislation passed in 2020 which closed the door to any restitution or compensation claims. However, we continue to urge the Polish Government to take steps to ensure that claims are addressed. My noble friend Lord Pickles, the UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, raised this in a meeting with the Polish ambassador on 3 August. He will raise it again during his visit to Poland this week.
Continuing the theme of breaches of human rights, Poland is the only modern European country not to fulfil its moral and legal duty in relation to property. I have been asking this question for 14 years: asking the Government to take action on behalf of thousands of dispossessed victims, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and Poland has responded by putting more and more obstacles in the way of claims by legislating against them and even making it an offence to discuss Poland’s involvement—if it was—in the Holocaust. New Prime Minister Tusk promises to restore the rule of law and take Poland forward to liberal democracy, so, rather than just attending conferences with supporters, will the Government reopen direct negotiations with Prime Minister Tusk and raise at the Council of Europe Poland’s human rights failure to honour the obligation to restore property? It is a stain on Poland’s record.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will also recognise, as I did when I was preparing for this particular Question, exactly how her sentiments were similar to my sentiments, in that I have had to respond on a number of occasions in different ministerial portfolios on this question. The new Government are being formed. Obviously, the results are still being taken forward and different parties and alliances are coming together. The clear indication is very much that Mr Tusk may well emerge in forming the new Government. We will of course continue to prioritise it.
I would say to the noble Baroness that it is not just about attending meetings or conferences. The noble Baroness will know of the direct leadership of my noble friend on this issue. We take a strong stand on the issue of property restitution, in line with our unwavering commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors and families, and we will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.
My Lords, does the Minister feel at all inhibited in calls for his international leadership by the fact that our own health system is failing in so many ways? In particular, we are drawing in nurses and doctors from countries that need them much more than we do.
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a point about health recruitment. We are committed to working with the likes of the World Health Organization, which is governed by a strict UK practice for international recruitment, including a ban on direct recruitment for countries that the World Health Organization deems to have the weakest health systems. I agree with the noble Baroness, notwithstanding what I have just said, We work with particular countries to ensure that those who are recruited from those countries have an opportunity to return. For example, in India, we are looking at the opportunity to take advantage of studying medicine in the UK and working within the NHS in the UK; but within the scope of that, after the practical and academic experience, the individuals can return to healthcare in India. These are the innovative ways in which we need to work with other countries to ensure that we get the kind of universal healthcare coverage that is required.
My Lords, in joining my noble friend in prayers for the family of Shireen Abu Aqla, I am sure that I speak for all Members of your Lordships’ House, irrespective of what our positions are or where the Government or anyone else may stand, when I say that while we ultimately seek and hope for peace and security for all, I condemn any shocking or tragic death and express our solidarity with those who suffer the tragedy of such actions. This underlines the importance of achieving a resolution to the conflict. It is important that we strive to find peace in the Holy Land.
My Lords, it is sad but not surprising that the general opinion piles in to find that Israel is guilty before any investigation is carried out. Will the Minister encourage the Palestinians to hand over the relevant evidence—I believe it is a bullet, and we hope that it will be the right one—for investigation? Will he also encourage the Palestinians to stop their “pay for slay” policy whereby the families of assassins who are in prison are given salaries? That would be one way to cut down the amount of tragic bloodshed in that area.
My Lords, on the tragic killing of Shireen Abu Aqla, it is important that we have made the UK’s position clear. Indeed, on 13 May, with other members of the UN Security Council, we not only condemned the killing but stressed the importance of an
“immediate, thorough, transparent, fair and impartial investigation”
and the need to ensure accountability. In this respect, anyone who has evidence in support of such an investigation needs to bring that forward. It is also important to say that no one who commits these acts achieves any goal towards the important path of peace. What we need at this time is reflection on the tragedy that continues to engulf all communities across Israel and the Palestinian territories but, equally, to ensure that the structures and justice systems act to bring justice for those who suffer as a consequence of these tragic acts.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. I share the point that he raises: as I said in an earlier answer, this has gone on for far too long; from both an Israeli and a Palestinian perspective, this needs resolution. I have been to Israel and the Palestinian territories. I have seen for myself the impact the conflict has on both communities. It requires peace negotiations to start again. We are encouraged by recent steps that the US has taken. The position has not changed on recognition of a Palestinian state: we will do so at a time when it serves the peace process in the best way. At the same time, we continue to support and work with the Palestinian Authority. For example, it was invited to, and attended, COP 26 recently.
My Lords, the West has supported UNRWA financially for more than 70 years, contributing tens of billions of dollars towards not solving the refugee problem but perpetuating it. Is it not time that UNRWA’s functions were transferred to the United Nations refugee council and the Palestinian Authority for the proper treatment of refugees and their resettlement and advancement? UNRWA is a failure.
My Lords, we continue to work with key partners, including the US, which is of course very important for progress. We continue to engage with both sides, as I have articulated, but, equally, we are supporting efforts such as the work being done with UNRWA in supporting education and skills in the Palestinian Territories. It is important that we continue in that respect to provide hope for the future and the basis of a future independent and viable Palestinian state.
Does the Minister agree with the opinion of our two most distinguished international lawyers, the late James Crawford and Professor Malcolm Shaw, in whose opinion Palestine is not a state under international law because it does not begin to conform to the criteria set out in the Montevideo convention? It does not have the right requirements to be a functioning lawful state.
The Government’s position is very clear. We believe that the best and the only way to ensure peace in the region is to have two states side by side, and a Palestinian state must be viable. We continue to invest our efforts in making that issue a reality but, ultimately, it needs both sides to sit down and begin the negotiations so that we can see those two states living side by side in peace.
On 1 June more than 60 parliamentarians signed a letter calling on the Government to support coexistence in the Middle East by committing to the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Given last month’s violence, surely this is the time to invest in peace and coexistence in the Middle East. Can my noble friend—the Minister—tell me whether the Government intend to support this fund and whether they will raise the issue at the G7?
I think the noble Baroness referred to me as her noble friend, and of course we are friends outside the Chamber, beyond the formalities. I can reassure her that the Middle East will be among the key areas of discussion, both bilaterally and collectively within the G7. I will write directly to the noble Baroness on the issue of the fund.
My Lords, Iran has incrementally violated the JCPOA. It would be delusional to return to it and to drop sanctions. Iran has achieved uranium enrichment levels of 20%. What are the Government doing to ensure that Iran halts this dangerous escalation?
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that Iran’s continued non-compliance with its nuclear commitments is deeply concerning and seriously undermines the non-proliferation benefits of the agreement. Iran faces a stark choice—to continue on its current path and face growing isolation or to come back to the negotiating table. We hope it will choose the latter course.
My Lords, my noble friend speaks from insight and experience and I listen carefully to his suggestions. Let me assure him that we are already working closely with EU colleagues. As the new relationship evolves, I am sure that we will look at how we can further strengthen co-operation on the very issues that he has outlined for reasons of proximity. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, we want to be the best ally and the closest friend of the EU.
My Lords, of course co-operation is a good thing, but now that we are free, we can diverge for the better and hope to persuade the EU to take a better path; for example, in relation to China. Only yesterday, we heard of the atrocities taking place there from the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, but the EU has signed an investment agreement with China disregarding its crimes. Does the Minister agree that we must form an Anglo-American alliance and other alliances against Chinese atrocities and against buying Chinese-tainted goods and technology?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness’s point about creating alliances against the human rights abuses that we have seen in places such as Xinjiang and the continued suppression of democratic movements within Hong Kong, but it is not just about further strengthening our alliances with the US; it is about building international alliances and co-operation. Let me assure the noble Baroness that we are doing just that.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend, and I have said repeatedly that our challenge and our opposition are not directed at the Iranian people. It is a rich culture, whether it is Persian, Arab, Turk, Baluch or Kurd—the list goes on. On his wider point about exports of arms to the region, when making any arms sales we engage one of the most rigid processes, and we ask other countries to adopt similar measures.
My Lords, I refer to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. There is no doubt that Iran has not observed it, and the United States has called for snapback sanctions. Will the Government comply with these, and how, otherwise, will they ensure that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are blocked?
My Lords, I agree with the point made by the noble Baroness about ensuring that we curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That is why it is important that we keep the JCPOA—an imperfect agreement, I accept, but the only one on the table—and work to ensure that Iran adheres to it.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. She will also be aware that it was through our support and initiation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and our support for the evidence taken by a particular inquiry in Australia that we saw many companies changing their approach to trade initiatives, particularly in Xinjiang. We are looking at the US legislation carefully, and whatever the outcome of those discussions, I will write to my noble friend.
My Lords, the tragedy of this is that we have seen it before—these steps towards genocide. It is even more tragic that the United Nations is impotent due to the position of China. The only thing I believe the Government can do is publish a list of those brands to which it is thought forced labour by the Uighurs is contributing and call on the population to boycott those brands and hopefully prevent their import.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards fulfilling their commitments as a party to the Terezin Declaration of 30 June 2009; and what discussions they have had with the government of Poland about the restitution of property seized from Polish Jewish citizens during the period of Nazi occupation.
My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to meet its commitments to the Terezin declaration, particularly in Holocaust education and remembrance. We are in regular conversation with the Polish Government on the restitution of property seized during the Nazi occupation. The UK post-Holocaust issues envoy, my noble friend Lord Pickles, is working with the US and other parties to call on Poland to pass legislation to provide restitution of or compensation for private property.
My Lords, I have been asking the same Question here for 11 years and getting the same response of no progress or promises. Poland is the only country in the EU that has not passed legislation to deal with one of the greatest thefts in history. Bills have been repeatedly introduced and withdrawn there, Bills that contained conditions that would have excluded the vast majority of Holocaust survivors. Will the Minister accept my proposal to follow the example of the American legislation called the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act, and secure an annual report to Parliament about the return of Jewish and non-Jewish property? Will he raise it at the Belvedere Forum every year? Will the UK use its position in the Council of Europe to press for a human rights agenda focusing on Poland and restitution, as required under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Baroness’s question; I remember answering the first Question on this issue back in 2014. As the Human Rights Minister, I remain committed, along with my noble friend Lord Pickles and others, and I assure her that we continue to raise the issue regularly with Poland, bilaterally through our ambassador most recently, and in international for a—and I take on board the suggestion of the Council of Europe.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on the vision and the courage of the sadly passed-away Prime Minister Rabin. He brought peace to the region and his vision is what is needed now. Of course, I support all negotiated settlements, and we call upon both sides to sit down together and reach an agreement that works for Israel and for the Palestinians.
This proposal—so far it is only a proposal—over long-disputed territory has been taken out of context. I hope the Minister appreciates that. It relates to the Jordan valley, which has always been part of likely land swaps. It forms part of an overall vision to have a Palestinian state in the remainder of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The outright rejection of the entire US plan and adherence to past, failed plans are certain to condemn all sides to continued conflict. The Saudis have called on the Palestinian leadership to engage in direct negotiations with Israel on the merits of the US proposals. Can the Minister tell the House whether the UK Government have made representations to the Palestinian National Authority to do the same and get on with negotiations?