HC Deb 29 July 1998 vol 317 cc357-9
3. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

What plans there are for future development aid to the Palestinian Authority. [51322]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)

We expect to maintain a substantial bilateral programme of development projects that target the poor, promote sustainable livelihoods and encourage good government. We aim to help the Palestinian Authority to build its capacity as an efficient and accountable Government. We are conscious, however, that lack of progress in the peace process is causing increased poverty in the occupied territories. That undermines much of the work.

Dr. Starkey

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I have seen for myself the obvious benefits that the Palestinian economy can gain from projects that we, and the European Union, have funded; but, as my hon. Friend mentioned, its ability to benefit is undercut by the obstructions that the Israeli Government are putting in the way of the development of trade between the different parts of the Palestinian Authority, and between the Palestinian Authority and its neighbours. I am thinking particularly of obstruction on the border between Gaza and Egypt, where spurious security concerns are being used to limit the ability to trade. What representations is my hon. Friend making to his colleagues in the Foreign Office with the aim of removing those obstructions?

Mr. Foulkes

I commend my hon. Friend for her sustained interest in this topic following her visit to the area. She has been to see me, and has pursued the matter through questions and by all other possible means. We share her concern, and I assure her that, through officials and Ministers, we are regularly in touch with our Foreign Office colleagues. All the good work that we are doing could be jeopardised—indeed, it is already being jeopardised—unless we receive full co-operation from the Israeli Government. As my hon. Friend has said, we are not receiving it now.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

Does the Minister agree that, as well as giving aid to the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Near East, the international community will in due course be required to fund the outcome of the final-status negotiations relating to Palestinian refugees, which are due to be completed by May next year? What consideration is the Department giving to the establishment of a new United Nations fund for that purpose—as proposed in the Atkinson plan, which the Council of Europe endorsed earlier this year?

Mr. Foulkes

I do not think we need ask who the Atkinson plan is named after. I am glad that the author of that plan is here to present it to us. I must add, however, that we are not enamoured of the idea of establishing new United Nations funds. We are trying to streamline and improve the efficiency of the UN and its agencies in the delivery of assistance, and I feel that such tasks might be performed better by one of the existing agencies.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Does the Minister agree that it is essential for the Palestinian Authority to develop accountable and democratic institutions to ensure that funds go to those for whom they are intended—the mass of people in its territories? Does he agree that the responsibility for doing that lies firmly with the Palestinian Authority, and not with the Government of Israel?

Mr. Foulkes

We continue to do a great deal to build up the capacity of the Palestinian Authority. We have been concerned about the financial arrangements, and have given advice in that regard. I assure my hon. Friend that all bilateral assistance given to the Palestinian Authority is used for the purpose for which it is intended: we make sure that that happens.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the Minister agree that, in view of the catastrophic failure of American policy in the middle east and the grave instability that continues to arise therefrom, a special duty now falls on the European Union to assume leadership in the region? Will he talk to his American counterpart to ensure that the Americans follow our very successful programme to help the Palestinians, and that an even-handed approach is adopted to aid in the area? That is the only way in which we can hope eventually to see peace.

Mr. Foulkes

Most of what the hon. Gentleman has said is principally a matter for the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office. I assure him, however, that the whole Government—from the Prime Minister downwards, and including the Department for International Development—are committed to making an extra effort to ensure that the peace process is enlivened, so that the money that we spend is used effectively and the Palestinian people do not continue to experience the poverty that they are suffering now.

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