HL Deb 17 June 1992 vol 538 cc225-48

5.48 p.m.

Lord Hylton rose to call attention to the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope that this debate is well timed in view of the informal meeting of governments shortly to take place in Amman, Jordan, on 23rd and 24th June. I look forward to listening to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich, all the more so because of his connection with the Third Order of St. Francis, who was in his day a peace-maker in the Middle East.

In January of this year I spent three weeks visiting Syria, Jordan, the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Jerusalem. I had the privilege of meeting the international and locally-recruited staff of UNRWA and of seeing much of their work. The quality and calibre of the staff is most impressive, and I am grateful to them for their hospitality and welcome. Their dedication and commitment, despite many difficulties, deserve high praise.

I became convinced that the humanitarian work of this United Nations agency is quite indispensable. It is likely to be needed for many years, even after the successful establishment of Palestinian self-government. At present, the existence of UNRWA is the one thing that assures displaced and exiled Palestinians that they have not been totally forgotten by the international community. The fruit of its very good educational work over many years is a pool of talent and brain power among the Palestinian people which is second to none in the Middle East. It will be a precious asset for the future peace and prosperity of the whole region.

As your Lordships will know, the agency began its work in the chaos and confusion of 1950. It defined precisely who counts as a refugee: a person qualifies who was a resident of mandated Palestine before 1948, and who lost both his home and his livelihood because of Arab-Israeli hostilities. The children and further descendants of the original refugees are also so entitled.

A year ago, there were over 2.5 million refugees; that is to say, about half the total Palestinian population of the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and also those who live in Jordan, Syria and the Lebanon. Of that 2.5 million, about 35 per cent. live in camps. Such camps were originally tented or hutted. They have long since been transformed into permanent towns and villages. The fact that some two-thirds of the registered refugees live outside camps, integrated into the general population, is a tribute to the work of UNRWA and to the capacity for self-help and mutual help of the Palestinians.

The agency has worked through difficult times: the 1967 war, 1970 in Jordan, the Lebanese civil war, the invasion of the Lebanon in 1982 and the intifada since 1987, combined with the severe impact of the Gulf War. For example, UNRWA's schools in the occupied territories were completely closed for about 10 months in 1988 and 1989. Even today, a few schools are probably still closed in Gaza, while youth centres are not functioning on the West Bank, as I saw with my own eyes. Curfews are still hampering normal work in many parts of the occupied territories.

The three main functions of the agency are primary health care, welfare and relief, together with education and vocational training. Those functions absorb about 80 per cent. of the annual regular budget exceeding 500 million dollars. Public health measures and the immunisation of all children have been so successful that there has been no major outbreak of any communicable disease among the refugees since 1949. Perinatal mortality is commendably low, because of good pre- and post-natal care. Relief food programmes are now normally restricted to some 162,000 special welfare cases.

With the help of voluntary bodies, impressive work is being done for handicapped children and adults. Primary and secondary schools cater for about 370,000 children, while there are over 5,000 places in teacher training and vocational centres. Such is the pressure on the available school buildings that they nearly all operate on a two-shift system, with different children and teachers coming in the morning and the afternoon. That is a major feat of organisation and self-discipline. Indeed, it is quite a sight to see the change-over taking place, with one group of children arriving while the other returns home.

"Works" is the fourth word in UNRWA's title. That aspect is likely to grow in importance. Already a much needed new hospital is planned for the Gaza Strip. High unemployment in each of the agency's operating areas makes job creation necessary and urgent. The agency already has a modest revolving fund for starter loans to small businesses. In future, I should like to see the agency developing major public works, in ways reminiscent of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States or the various development agencies in Britain and Europe. New sewers are greatly needed in Gaza, and elsewhere many of the older and more overcrowded camps would benefit from redevelopment.

I turn now to the role of the United Kingdom in these matters. This country has been a member of UNRWA's Advisory Commission since the start. We have been major contributors to the agency's budget which is virtually all provided by voluntary governmental contributions. In 1991, we gave about 10.7 million dollars. We thus come eighth in the list of contributing governments—a reasonable enough position but one, nevertheless, that left us behind smaller countries such as Canada, Sweden and Norway.

I am therefore asking Her Majesty's government to use their utmost efforts to be more generous. In particular, I should like to see specific British donations to UNRWA's capital and special projects, to the emergency measures for the Lebanon and the occupied territories and also, if needed, for the planned Gaza General Hospital. So far as I know, there were no British contributions to those earmarked funds in 1991. Will there be special contributions to those funds in this and in subsequent years?

Such help is very much needed because UNRWA has no regular source of funds for capital work. It is obliged to proceed ad hoc and from hand to mouth. The kind of projects that it is undertaking are not ones for which normal borrowing is likely to be possible. Conceivably, very soft loans might be usable for a part of the necessary capital investment. It may be helpful to your Lordships if I explain why the agency has been faced with an exceptionally unfavourable operating climate in recent years.

The combined effect of the intifada, the immigration of Soviet Jews into Israel and the Gulf war have all severely prejudiced the Palestinians generally, but especially the refugees. The intifada drew down severe Israeli repression, with curfews, pass laws and all kinds of restrictions. The arrival of large numbers of Jews from Russia meant reduced work opportunities for Palestinians within the state of Israel. The Gulf crisis slashed the remittances of expatriate Palestinians, almost at a stroke.

Over 300,000 Palestinians were obliged to return from the Gulf and from Saudi Arabia. Most of them went to Jordan, but some moved on into the occupied territories. As a result, unemployment rose to about 30 per cent. in Jordan and up to 40 per cent. in the West Bank and Gaza. It has been estimated that there was a loss of remittances of some 310 million dollars per annum. On top of that, the abnormally severe winter of 1991–92 caused losses to Palestinian agriculture of about 20 million dollars, without counting storm damage to houses and other property.

I am not asking Her Majesty's Government to make good all the massive losses that have fallen on the Palestinian economy. Nevertheless, strategic help, over a few years, to UNRWA's capital projects would, I think, provide excellent value for money. For example, the agency considers that it must produce a minimum of 4,000 new houses in the Lebanon and 5,000 in the West Bank and Gaza. That will be social housing for families in urgent need. The cost will be about 9.4 million dollars and it is estimated that the programme would create 450 jobs for one year. Similarly, British contributions to the revolving loan fund would create employment and remove people from the lists for welfare food and relief.

Those are only instances of the ways in which quite modest aid would enable UNRWA to plan its capital works with some confidence over the medium term. In a similar way, modest help to British voluntary bodies working with the Palestinians would make it possible for them to bring forward useful projects. I am thinking of such bodies as Medical Aid for Palestinians, Save the Children Fund and ABCD—an organisation working with handicapped people, especially the many young people who suffered serious injury arising out of the intifada.

I am not simply making a plea for more funding for UNRWA—desirable as that no doubt is—or for the related British voluntary organisations. There is a wider front on which the Government can be helpful, and I am sure that they will. As I have mentioned, we are members of the agency's advisory commission, which I understand functions as its governing body. Political support there, and also in the European Community, in the Commonwealth and in the wider circles of the United Nations, could produce invaluable results. I trust that such action will be an important item during the forthcoming British presidency of the European Community. Wider support for UNRWA can be considered a confidence-building measure in the current Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I say that because the activities of the agency overlap both major strands of the current peace negotiations. I am convinced that it is greatly in the interests of the whole of the rest of the world that the peace negotiations should reach successful conclusions. UNRWA has a part to play in the resolution of the Palestinian question.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for raising this matter and for introducing it in a speech which gave us a recent first-hand feel for the problems facing UNRWA at the moment. I am very glad to join him in paying tribute to an organisation which 43 years ago I played a very minor part in founding. The truth is that few of us at that time would have thought it conceivable that UNRWA could still be in existence in the 1990s. It is a measure of the failure of the United Nations to get a political settlement of this problem which would allow the refugees to live in freedom and in decent conditions.

As the noble Lord said, UNRWA now faces much bigger and more difficult responsibilities than it did in the old days. At the beginning, there were only 750,000 refugees. Today, as he said, there are more than 2.5 million, and the number is growing by 3 per cent. a year owing to one of the highest birth rates in the world. In addition, there are at least 250,000 refugees from Kuwait and other Arab countries.

There has also been a great increase in the harassment of UNRWA by the Israeli authorities. I quote from the Commissioner-General's last report: Area staff members were frequently arrested and detained, often without charge or trial, and two were deported from the Gaza Strip to south Lebanon. Violation of UN RWA premises by the Israeli security forces and misuse of those premises by certain local elements both remained serious problems. The report continues, The treatment of staff members in detention continued to cause concern to the Agency. Staff members were subjected to beatings and various other forms of physical abuse, in particular during interrogation". In these circumstances, I consider that the achievements of UNRWA have been remarkable and should be warmly praised. UNRWA has provided in fair measure, education, health services, social services and general assistance to the Palestinians in more than 600 schools, in more than 100 health centres and in many other establishments. UNRWA has not only saved Palestinian lives, it has done much to save Palestinian nationhood and Palestinian culture.

However, the organisation now faces a very critical situation. There is a huge birthrate and the casualties of the intifada have placed a tremendous strain on its health services. Its provision of education is subject to the traumatic upsets when the Israelis from time to time close 'schools and universities. Those who have ever visited an UNRWA school will have seen immediately the desperate desire of Palestinian children for education. It is heartbreaking to think of the permanent damage done to their education and their careers by the closure of the schools and universities.

Perhaps the most critical problem facing UNRWA at the moment is the provision of food, especially in Gaza. Many scores of thousands of heads of Palestinian families have been deprived of any chance of earning a living. In spite of the job creation efforts of UNRWA, there is no work for them in Gaza; they are denied travel permits; they are denied work permits; they are often confined to their homes by long and strict curfews; and they simply cannot buy food for their families and for themselves. That applies not only to refugees but to other Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA is thus compelled to step in.

The Israelis still tax Palestinians in Gaza but they do not provide either the food, the health services, the education or the social services which taxpayers are normally entitled to expect. It is a strange situation when an occupying power takes measures which deprive the occupied people of food and then leaves it to the charity of the outside world, through UNRWA, to save them from starvation.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I should like the Minister to tell us more about the contribution that Britain makes. We are, after all, especially responsible here not only because we failed to safeguard the rights of the Palestinians as we promised in the Balfour Declaration, but because we took the initiative in starting the organisation; and because we have provided, in John Reddaway and Bernard Mills and others, some of the best administrators that UNRWA has had.

The noble Lord said that he thought that we were eighth in the world in the table of contributions. I make it seventh, after reading the latest UNRWA report. But I agree with him, that that is not very grand. In the old days we were second—second to the Americans. I ask the noble Baroness when she comes to reply to explain whether perhaps we have made further contributions, not recorded; and if not, what future contributions are we going to make to assist UNRWA in its very heavy new tasks and responsibilities, and to contribute to the capital works about which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, spoke. Perhaps more important: what more are the Government doing to obtain the implementation of the Security Council resolutions on Palestine and the implementation of the Geneva Conventions? What more are the Government doing so that this illegal and brutal occupation can be brought to an end?

Personally, I was not greatly reassured by the answers we heard in the House this afternoon. The fact is that Israel, like other countries should not merely be encouraged to observe Security Council resolutions, in the last resort it must be required to observe Security Council resolutions. I hope that when the noble Baroness comes to reply she can reassure the House that that is also the view of the British Government.

6.10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich

My Lords, first, perhaps I may express my gratitude to Members of the House for the warmth of their welcome when I was introduced at the beginning of the year. I am deeply conscious of the honour of being a Member of the House, and, in so far as my diary and other commitments allow, I hope to take a full and proper part in its affairs.

I was initially hesitant in proposing to make my maiden speech during this debate, but it is a subject which is close to my heart and one in which I have a certain amount of experience. I am, among other things, co-chairman of the dialogue that is continuing between the Anglican Communion worldwide and the members of the Oriental orthodox churches —the Copts, the Ethiopians, Syrians and Armenians who form some of the indigenous churches in the region.

I am the Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich which is in the county of Suffolk. I am responsible for almost the whole of the county apart from one small corner which is the responsibility of my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. The county of Suffolk and the refugee problem would appear to be far away from each other, although Suffolk's coastline has been crossed on a number of occasions in the past. The Vikings caused a major refugee problem, and the Huguenots arrived as refugees from religious persecution. Conversely of course the Pilgrim Fathers later left us.

The difference between those earlier movements of people and those to which we give our attention this afternoon, and other more recent refugee crises, is that in the earlier cases the people were, on the whole, rapidly absorbed into the culture into which they moved. They quickly lost their identity. That is not true of the Palestinians who, 40 years and more after the camps were set up, remain there and in far greater numbers. That is a political matter, and the solution must be a political one. My prayers, thoughts and good wishes are with the Israeli Government—the present one and whoever will be in power after next week's Israeli elections—and all those involved in the peace process.

My emphasis this afternoon will be on the human element of the problem. In my album at home I have a photograph of a scene which, on the face of it, looks beautiful. It is a picture of a large lake, at the far end of which is a collection of dwellings which look romantic. They are reflected, as is the sun, in the surface of the water. That photograph was taken in the Gaza refugee camp of Jabalia. Its peace and tranquillity are an illusion. The houses at the far end of the lake are a hugger-mugger of small dwellings crowded closely together. They are made of breeze block, corrugated iron and whatever else is available. There are alleyways between the houses and water supplies and sewage are a permanent problem. The lake is not a lake. It is a cesspool with all the incipient and permanent dangers of an epidemic.

That there has been no major epidemic in the 40 years of the Palestinian refugee camps is due to two things. First, it is due to UNRWA's massive policy of immunisation and healthcare for which it deserves a great deal of praise. The second reason lies with the Palestinian people themselves—their care, cooperation, dignity and personality. If we were to enter one of the houses, we should find ourselves in a house with one or two rooms with three or four generations living together. We should be welcomed with dignity, courtesy and pride. We would notice that the floor was swept and clean; that the beds were piled in a corner during the day, with perhaps a picture on the wall and a stick or two of furniture for daytime use.

If we were to see the children going to school we should see them in crisp clean uniforms. If we were to visit one of the work centres in the settlement, we should see the Palestinian women working diligently at their sewing machines, and producing excellent craftsmanship. I have some stoles in my Bishop's chapel which I use for celebration of the Holy Communion. They were made by Palestinian women. They are beautifully executed by caring women of intelligence. I confess to my own prejudice the surprise I felt when I first met Palestinian women and men who were graduates with better degrees than I have ever been able to acquire and who were far removed from that straight-out-of-the-desert image that Yasser Arafat manages to present to us.

I am sure that your Lordships will allow me to mention the presence of the Christian Church in that area. I do not suggest that relief should go to Christians rather than to Moslems or members of any other faith, community or none; but their presence is significant although it be I per cent. only. They are members of the churches that I have already mentioned plus the orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and others. They are most obvious at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where their cooperation is rather forced. Out in the fields, as members of the Middle Eastern Council of Churches, their co-operation is evident. They are working with UNRWA in the relief work.

We are talking about people of diligence and dignity. They are in need. UNRWA's work is important to them. I am delighted to know that the British Government are among the major contributors to that work. Long may that continue until that illusive but inevitable result is discovered: peace and security for all in the region.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his moving maiden speech. I am sure that the House looks forward to hearing from him again. I am pleased that he is joining those of us who take an interest in affairs outside this country. I do not have a first-hand knowledge of his diocese, but I believe that it is beautiful. I have a second-hand knowledge of it which was acquired from sitting in committee upstairs on the Felixstowe Docks and Harbour Bill. That was the parliamentary equivalent of "The Mousetrap". At least I have a fairly good working knowledge of the communications, trade, and so forth, of his area. We welcome him to our counsels and look forward to hearing from him again.

On these occasions, it is customary to thank the mover of the Motion; but on this occasion, my thanks will be best described as tepid, because I have mentioned previously in your Lordships' House what seems to me to be an almost obsessional interest in Arab/Israeli affairs. Indeed, if we spent as much time on other world problems as we do on this small part of the world, the House would have to sit 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, to clear the backlog of debates. At this time when peace negotiations are in progress and we have the unprecedented situation of the two sides talking to each other and meeting, I feel that if we do not say too much about it. that would probably be helpful.

The problem of refugees in the world is quite appalling for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, I believe we do a disservice if we concentrate too much on one particular aspect. In replying to the previous debate, the Minister mentioned Mrs. Ogata who recently took up her duties. She is faced with about 17 million refugees on her books, and it is disappointing to realise that with the end of the Cold War we have situations creating conflict and refugee problems on a scale we have not been used to for a long time. There is also friction: the developed nations are at odds with the third world. Some of the speeches at Rio accused us of entering a neo-colonialist phase and patronising them.

We face many problems, and your Lordships' House should concentrate on them rather than returning again and again to the comparatively small part of the world under discussion today.

The position is serious with this growth in the number of refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned the severe impact of the Gulf war. I obtained from the Library the UN Chronicle, dated September 1991. The headline of an article in it states: The Gulf: 5 million and counting. It has been termed the 'fastest growing refugee situation in modern history' … it does not take a historian to see that the present crisis in the Gulf region has produced an unprecedented human exodus". We are familiar with the situation, but it was not caused by the Israelis. Iraq attacked and entered Kuwait, generating an enormous problem. I do not recall any recent debates in this House on the plight of millions of people who, almost overnight, became refugees, living in appalling conditions. I very much fear that some Palestinian refugees in the camps are kept there for cosmetic reasons, as visual aids, in order to try to impress the world with the alleged intransigence of Israel in doing nothing about them. I am sure that it would have been possible for conditions to have been improved. The Arab states, with their enormous oil revenues, need not have stood aside. One cannot help feeling that the refugees have been kept in these conditions for a purpose: to blacken the Israeli Government.

I have spoken previously in the House about conditions in the Sudan. Repression is appalling in southern Sudan where the population is largely Christian or Animist. I invite the right reverend Prelate who spoke earlier to join me on future occasions in pressing the case for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Sudan who are suffering oppression by the Moslem north. Reinforcing the point I make about the cosmetic nature of some of the actions, I see an article in the publication, the Mideast Mirror for 20th May 1992. It states: Sudanese donation for Gaza. Sudan is donating 5,000 tons of foodstuffs to inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, Sudanese military ruler … al-Bashir [announced]. He called on all Arabs and Moslems to help their 'Palestinian brethren,' and said Khartoum sought to set an example despite its own economic hardships". "Economic hardships" is an understatement for conditions in the southern part of Sudan among the Christian population who suffer the most extreme privations of famine and disease. Yet this gesture was made. The food should go to people in al-Bashir's own country who are literally starving to death because of conditions there.

The whole subject of refugees should be considered by your Lordships in a wider context. We should realise that the world is moving on, and we are now presented with problems in countries where we never thought they would arise. We know of the problems in eastern Europe, the disgraceful fighting in Yugoslavia where again there is repression on a religious basis. All this requires urgent attention.

I do not believe that we should flatter ourselves that the world is hanging on every word that is said in your Lordships' House; but we have some influence. People in eminent positions read our debates, particularly when they are germane to their own countries. Thus we must widen our perspective, allow the Arab/Israeli peace talks to continue with as little interference from elsewhere as possible. We must hope that they reach a successful conclusion. We should widen our vision and move away from the narrow, almost tunnel vision about a small area of the Middle East and consider the enormous problems. If they are not resolved, they will soon lead to insupportable conditions for virtually the whole human race.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Weidenfeld

My Lords, I congratulate the maiden speaker and hope that, with his breadth of vision and experience in the Middle East, he will contribute not only to regional debates but to debates on world affairs. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his positive and upbeat contribution earlier when he asked for confidence-building measures in the Middle East.

Naturally, this debate is set in a more minor key. In some ways, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, that it is perhaps untimely because we shall soon know the result of the general election in Israel. That will seriously affect the pace and depth of the autonomy talks which are at the centre of the Arab-Israeli negotiations.

In another way, it is appropriate to appraise not only the working record of UNRWA, but its whole ethos and philosophy. Its operations in the Middle East are as old as the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is more than ever appropriate because it can be seen against the sombre backcloth of the escalating ethnic hatreds, not only in the Middle East but also in areas which lie within two hours' flying time of London and less than an hour from Athens and Trieste.

The reason I can only give one or two cheers for the United Nations relief organisation in the Middle East —and I have seen the selfless work of many of its officials at first hand during at least 20 visits to camps in Gaza and the West Bank in over 40 years—is that the whole message, purpose and ethos of the organisation is to cater for a displaced people in transit. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that we want to see the Palestinian Arabs settled. I agree that it must happen as soon as possible and that 42 years is a very long time. I do not agree with him on his one-sided recital of grievances against Israel or on the chronology of who did what, when it happened and how peace might have been restored or a settlement arrived at. I go beyond what he said. I believe that the Palestinian people are not only the most advanced, best educated and potentially the most effective component of the Arab family of nations but, second to none, they have been misled, badly deceived and betrayed by irresponsible leaders and callous neighbours.

The enormity of the injustice to the Palestinians —I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, will agree at least with this formula—is at least partly the fault of the mighty Arab world which in the course of two world wars has graduated from Turkish vassalage to a family of 23 sovereign nations. It has not offered to settle at least a portion of the total number of Palestinian refugees within its borders. If the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked Her Majesty's Government what action they and the European Community are taking to help build confidence among the parties, the most important and the most convincing decision could be for a number of Arab countries to turn at least one part of the refugee population into citizens.

Of course it is to be hoped that the current negotiations will lead to a self-governing Arab polity in the West Bank and will one day eventually lead to an Arab independent country that would combine the present Hashemite Kingdom and those parts of the West Bank and Gaza that would be conceded by Israel as part of a territorial compromise. But it is a myth to think that those territories will absorb the entire Arab/Palestinian diaspora. A great and mighty nation like Germany has solemnly renounced its claims to the lands beyond the River Oder or the Sudetenland as a result of its defeat in war. Is it really illogical and not understandable that a state in Israel's position that has been four times attacked by its neighbours—and has thrown them back—should wish to secure its borders not only by contractual arrangements but also by defence motivated territorial adjustments?

UNRWA has always stood out against anything that smacks of permanence. Time and again successive Israeli governments have offered to rehouse refugees in permanent homes in Gaza but those governments have been rejected. The other day a distinguished Jordanian politician said, not without a tone of dignity and pride, that refugee encampments in Jordan were not as a matter of principle allowed permanent roofing in order to demonstrate that the encampments were not permanent.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the school system. I concede that that system has involved an enormous task undertaken by some wonderful people. However, I must say in the same breath that there have been many incidents which indicate that the schooling, supervised by UNRWA, does not discourage militancy or the advocacy of violence and terror.

The overwhelming majority of Israelis and Jews abroad stand for a lasting peace and at least one-half of the Israeli electorate and possibly more also stand for a lasting peace. At least one-half of world Jewry and possibly more would opt for a generous compromise. However, there must be a sense of proportion and an active will on the part of the Arab world—one would hope that it would be massively supported by the international community—to make it clear that if such a compromise is to be reached the permanent settlement of a large number of homeless Palestinians, not only in Jordan and the West Bank but elsewhere in the Arab world, must be an instant high priority. If this cannot be done, the danger to peace is great indeed and the current peace conference between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and the Arab world will be just one more frame in the endless slide show of false dawns.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to follow the tone of either of the previous two speeches. I prefer to follow the tone of the right reverend Prelate whom I congratulate on his maiden speech although it is not proper for subsequent speakers so to do. Nevertheless I shall do so. That is perhaps a Whip's privilege although I am not certain about that. I was interested to hear the right reverend Prelate's remarks about Vikings because I believe that somewhere inside me there is a Viking gene or two. It is possible that my ancestors passed through part of the right reverend Prelate's diocese on the way to the better parts of the country in the North-West of England.

We are pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, is in her place today. She has had an immensely tiring week. The other day she was in Rio and then in New York. She was in Hong Kong earlier this afternoon and now she is in the Middle East. She deserves congratulations on being present to listen to our debate today.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who is to be congratulated on placing this Motion on the Order Paper, I support the excellent work of UNRWA. believe that pretty well everyone who has visited the West Bank and Gaza will have seen the enormous courage and patience of the UNRWA workers and the strain which they have to put up with when doing their remarkably good work. As has been indicated already, the scale of the problems is huge. At the moment UNRWA's special hardship programme for the West Bank and Gaza is assisting something like 18,000 families who do not have a male adult who is medically fit to work. One-quarter of those people are living in dilapidated, unhygienic housing and many other houses are badly in need of repair. It is estimated that something like 5,000 homes need replacement or innovation in the next few years.

A housing rehabilitation programme has been started thanks to the work of UNRWA and basic decisions on the scale and nature of the rebuilding are being determined by local Palestinian architects and engineers. That is a further indication of the skills which exist in that area. This aid is not patronising aid. It is intended to bring forth the skills of the people and to enable them to assist themselves in improving their standard of living.

Small-scale contractors are engaged by the agency, and such a course offers a considerable alleviation of the unemployment situation. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to that situation. The families themselves are expected to carry out minor repairs and to get help from their neighbours and the local community, but with technical assistance from UNRWA. That again is a valuable use of the funds which pass through that admirable organisation.

A similar programme is required for the Lebanon. As we know, the political situation there is stabilising but nevertheless there is an enormous amount of dereliction left behind. Large numbers of refugees are returning to homes that have been destroyed both by Arabs and by Israelis. Here the organisation offers cement and cash to the level of something like 50 per cent. of the cost of restoration. This is assisted do-it-yourself and that is by far the most admirable way of producing the right results. As has been said, there is always a lack of cash. Donations to the West Bank and Gaza have been received since 1989 totalling 2 million dollars from Kuwait, Italy, the European Community and the US. However, when all that money is spent, less than 13 per cent. of the needs will have been dealt with.

The Commissioner-General of UNRWA wrote to governments at the back end of last year seeking extra financial support for the project in the Lebanon. He asked for 3 million dollars in 1992. I understand that so far no money has been forthcoming. In the same letter Mr. Turkmen drew attention to the 7,000 additional pupils who are registered in UNRWA schools in Jordan. Those additional pupils have arisen directly as a result of the Gulf war. A further 1,300 extra children are registered in Gaza. We have discussed the Gulf war and its results before. I have described the real hardships that are being felt in spite of our supposed great victory over Saddam Hussein. I refer to the people who are washed up on the beach as a result of the steamroller having gone through—now there is a wonderful mixed metaphor!

Is there no way in which the Government can contribute more money for those special requirements? No one denies that the Government are paying their fair share, and they are to be congratulated on doing so. We all know that the ODA has an enormous number of commitments. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, is right to point to places such as the Sudan and to recognise that there are many demands on our foreign aid which are perhaps greater and more pressing than those of Gaza and the West Bank. However, there is a specific and well-organised scheme which will help a significant number of people and I beg the Government to consider emergency funding and to see whether there is some way of meeting that demand.

The situation is not improving. We have considerable sympathy when we read of Israeli citizens being murdered in the Gaza Strip. We also have sympathy with the people in the refugee camps when they are attacked by settlers. An unfortunate incident occurred recently when one of the UNRWA food distribution centres was attacked by 15 young vandals who broke into the refrigerators, knocked holes in the tins of oil and mixed the oil with the flour which was in store. It is sad that money which has been donated by governments, agencies and ordinary people to provide help and food should be treated in that way, but I suppose that that is one of the natural consequences of the lack of success in the peace process so far. Again, I echo what the last few speakers have said. At the end of the day it is important to ensure that the peace process continues to a successful conclusion.

I should like to say a word or two about the situation in Kuwait. The position of Palestinians in Kuwait is particularly serious because many of them are virtually stateless. Prior to the Iraqi invasions there were something like 400,000 Palestinians in Kuwait and it is thought that about 200,000 left during the occupation. By the end of 1991 between 50,000 and 60,000 were thought to remain. Those who remain are having a particularly difficult time. Many are people whose families came from Gaza in the days of the old mandate many years ago. They do not have Israeli documents. In fact, they do not have any documents. There are also some people with Egyptian documents which they received when they lived in the Gaza Strip but which are no longer acceptable and on which they are no longer permitted to return to Israel.

I have written to Mr. Turkmen, the Commissioner-General today, in my role of Chairman of the Middle East Committee of the Refugee Council saying that we are particularly concerned about the impact of the deadline which expired on 31st May for Palestinians and other non-Kuwaitis to obtain residents' permits, although we understand that that has been extended to 31st July for families with children and for teachers. However, the position of Palestinians who do not receive permits is still unclear, particularly in the case of those who hold only Egyptian travel documents. We understand that the Government of Kuwait have given an undertaking that they will not deport stateless persons to any country where they would be at risk. However, there have been persistent reports that pressure has been brought on some Palestinians to leave even though they have not been formally issued with deportation orders. I should like to ask the Government what they know of the position at the moment and what steps they are taking to put pressure on the Kuwaiti Government to ease the situation of those poor people.

We are aware that UNRWA's mandate is limited to registered refugees although it does, both in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories, extend those services to non-registered Palestinians and therefore plays a role in protecting Palestinians as a whole.

We hope that UNRWA is able to send a further mission to Kuwait to discuss those urgent issues. I hope that the Government, both directly and through their presidency of the European Community in the coming six months, will be able to use their influence to assist in resolving some of the difficulties which exist in Kuwait and which in due time will flow back into Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

This is a matter of considerable concern. It may concern a small area but, as the right reverend Prelate properly said, we are talking about people and in particular about people who are in great need. I know that the Government are sympathetic and I hope that when she replies the noble Baroness will be able to give some help and some answers to some of the questions that have been raised this afternoon.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I believe that a tribute is due to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for putting the Motion to the House today. In my first year in this House I have come to recognise his very distinguished contribution to humanitarian concerns across the world and in the United Kingdom itself. We know that that is no passing interest but something which is very deep in his commitment to politics. The value of the debate this evening, although brief, has spoken for itself. I am sure that all of us, in thinking about the work of UNRWA, would also want to remember the work of the other voluntary agencies operating in that area.

My noble friend Lord Cocks made the point, which he has made before, about not overdoing our interest in the Middle East at the expense of other parts of the world. I have a great deal of sympathy with that point because the refugee crisis internationally, as the noble Baroness knows better than most, is appalling. In considering this issue and the courageous and committed work of those involved we would do well to spare some time remembering those grappling with challenges which are at least as great in other parts of the world.

In addition, we should all like to join in congratulating the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. I, too, have had the privilege of visiting the places he described. Listening to his graphic account, and the simple way in which he put it, certainly brought home to me vividly the experiences I have had in the past. People in his diocese are very fortunate to have a leader who can speak to them in those terms.

Estimating the size of the Palestinian population outside Palestine is difficult as those in the diaspora travel on documents issued by their host countries. In 1989, as has been suggested, it was estimated that just under 5 million Palestinians were living in different countries around the world and that too many had been refugees for 40 years.

UNRWA is responsible for providing education, health and relief services to Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Not all Palestinians who live in those areas are registered with UNRWA, but in the Near East, as has been suggested, some 2.2 million Palestinian refugees are so registered. I believe that to obtain a sense of the measure of the work which confronts UNRWA it is necessary to look at the geo-political context.

The 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are probably in by far the worst conditions. Two-thirds are considered by the Lebanese Government to be refugees who lost their homes in 1948. They are allowed minimum rights such as identity cards and travel documents which declare them to be stateless. The other one-third have no rights at all. In a country where the economy is in ruins Palestinian refugees have no rights to work outside the camps and are effectively cooped up in squalid ghettos on the edges of the main cities. The drastic drop in remittances from relatives in the Gulf, formerly an important means of survival, has meant increasing destitution for those people. That is a matter to which, in effect, my noble friend Lord Cocks referred.

By comparison, Syria has allowed its 300,000 Palestinians comparative freedom. They have identity cards, which give them the right of residence, and travel documents. They have been allowed to form their own regimen and are able to work outside their camps including work in posts in the Civil Service.

More than half of Jordan's population is made up of Palestinians from Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Jordanian Government are understandably ambivalent about the Palestinian population. UNRWA estimates that there are 1 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, but the Jordanian Government give an estimate of half that number. That government allow all Palestinians, except those who come from Gaza, Jordanian passports identifying them as Palestinians. However, the situation of Palestinians of Gaza origin in Jordan remains an unsolved problem which means that they cannot travel. Legally, Gaza falls under Egyptian jurisdiction which is why Jordan takes that position. There is a high degree of integration of Palestinians within the Jordanian state but also a high level of control. The 11 camps remain extremely unattractive places in which to live with poor standards of housing, sewage and other basic services.

That then is just a glimpse of the magnitude of the ongoing humanitarian challenge facing UNRWA. On top of what I have described there is, in addition, the exposed position of the Palestinians under acute pressure in Kuwait, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred. UNRWA is anxious to shoulder its protection responsibility for them as rapidly as possible and deserves all the support that can be mustered to enable it to do so—not least the dispatch of a monitoring delegation at the earliest possible date. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell us today what the United Kingdom Government plan to do to help in that respect.

Funding for UNRWA's regular programme is relatively secure. But funding is badly needed for three special aspects of its work. The first is the emergency budget which covers the refugee affairs programme the only UN international mechanism to monitor Israeli practice and to watch over the well-being of the Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Territories. The second is the special development projects which are important as assistance to Palestinians in building up their own structures in preparation for autonomy and statehood. The third special need is in the Occupied Territories where there is the additional burden for UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees brought about by the elimination of remittances from Palestinians working in Kuwait, the imposed reduction of job opportunities in Israel and, most recently, the partial closing of Gaza.

I understand that the United Kingdom Government do not support the first two special needs. That seems to me very sad. I hope that the noble Baroness will indicate a change of policy in that respect. It would be good to hear exactly what support has been provided for the third special need.

Perhaps may be more specific. In November last UNRWA made a special appeal for support for work beyond its normal responsibilities and budget in 1992. That was for some 14 million dollars for refugee affairs officers, expanded health services and food distribution in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories, a situation aggravated by the intifada and the Israeli counter measures; for about 2 million dollars for additional school facilities in Gaza for 1,300 pupils who returned with their families from the Gulf; and for about 4 million dollars for additional schools, classrooms, teachers, health facilities, relief and social services in Jordan where the economy, stretched to the limit by the Gulf war, could not cope with the influx of 300,000 people from Kuwait and other Gulf countries—that point was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Cocks; by last November 7,000 additional pupils had been registered in UNRWA schools.

UNRWA also appealed for about 3 million dollars in 1992 towards an eventual total of 11.7 million dollars for housing, schools, and other infrastructure to alleviate the acute hardship of the poorest displaced Palestinian refugees within the boundaries of existing refugee camps in Lebanon, which had been severely damaged during 15 years of civil war.

I am disturbed to learn that in April of this year UNRWA had to renew its requests of last November. In response to that 23 million dollars special appeal last November, only 6.4 million dollars had been received or pledged. In fact, only the additional measures for Gaza had been fully funded. In the meantime, an already bad situation had deteriorated. The unusually harsh winter throughout the region had caused damage to UNRWA schools, clinics and other facilities. Many homes in the refugee camps had become uninhabitable. The general socio-economic conditions in the West Bank had become worse, the economy of Jordan had yet to recover, and Lebanon had yet to see a measurable improvement in its economic situation.

I suggest that those factors amount to a major human catastrophe and that there is no room for complacency. The Government will be guaranteed full-hearted support from this side of the House if they respond on the scale required.

Funding for UNRWA is a serious issue, but so too is its role in protection. On 20th December 1991 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 681 calling on Israel to recognise the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Territories. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, raised that point. I believe that it is important for us to hear what the Government have done to further that resolution and to know the latest situation.

To be realistic, the likelihood of an independent Palestinian state within the foreseeable future, despite the peace process, is very low. Most Palestinians in the Occupied Territories would probably settle for a federation between Israel, Jordan and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But I suspect that the most they can hope for out of the present negotiations is some form of control over health, education and welfare, the precise sectors within UNRWA's mandate. If there were a peace agreement with Israel, large sections of Palestinian refugees in Syria and Jordan would probably nevertheless wish to stay where they are. Should they remain it seems probable that UNRWA will hand over responsibility for their health, education and welfare to the host governments as an interim measure pending their full integration into those two countries. However, the situation in Lebanon will be problematic because of the reluctance of the Lebanese to integrate any Palestinians.

In that respect, we must remember that UN Resolution 194 of 1949 recognises the right of all Palestinians who left in 1948—not just refugees in camps—to return to their homes. UNRWA's task was to minister to those who lost their homes until they could return or receive compensation.

The issue for UNRWA in the Occupied Territories is how to prepare for increasing Palestinian control by moving from being just a service provider to a development role in which the refugees have increasing control over their own affairs. That is a task in which both local and foreign NGOs are co-operating, especially in the fields of income generation and disability.

For Palestinian refugees UNRWA remains a symbol of the unsolved problem of Palestine: the right of return and the temporary nature of the camps. Any suggestion that it should wind down its role or even become less relief oriented and more development oriented has always been greeted with dismay by many refugees who fear some deal behind their backs. It is not an easy situation for UNRWA. However, if there is a demonstrable and clear international spirit of intent to reach a solution to the problem of Palestine, the task of UNRWA to hand over its responsibilities will be very much easier. What is clear is that as long as that spirit of intent is not evident the camps will remain a source of major social and political discontent. Without UNRWA the Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and Israeli Governments would have a much bigger problem on their hands.

I therefore suggest that for the time being the UK should throw its weight fully behind UNRWA, perhaps even considering a support role for it in the peace negotiations. The Government should at the same time keep at the head of their foreign policy action list a just solution to the problem of Palestine. With the end of the bipolar age they should consider advocating an enhanced role for the European Community in the peace process. That is a matter to which Ministers might turn their attention during the forthcoming United Kingdom presidency.

7 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for initiating the debate. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich on an outstanding maiden speech which I heard while standing in the margins. I must apologise to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for not being in my place during their speeches. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, kindly said in some personal remarks addressed to me, the last few days have been a little hectic. My absence from the Chamber for some nine minutes was therefore necessary.

The debate is most important. UNRWA is not widely and well known yet it is vital and critical to the Palestinians. It is awkward to talk about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees by its initials but it is a good deal shorter. I am indeed impressed and pleased to find the depth of your Lordships' knowledge on this vital issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has pursued with considerable dedication his interests in this part of the world and in many others, in particular his concern for refugees. The enormous humanitarian problems go back over many generations. The size and nature of the problem of refugees in the Middle East and our involvement with the region during many years has meant that we are full supporters of the vital work which UNRWA has undertaken since its inception some 42 years ago.

There have been many comments about our contributions to UNRWA. During the past five years they have exceeded £30 million, which is a substantial sum for an organisation dealing with a relatively small but nevertheless vitally important part of the world. We are consistently in the top six donor countries. Indeed, we have recently been fifth and not seventh or eighth as we have heard tonight. That does not mean that we should not be looking at the future needs of UNRWA, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said.

The British Government support UNRWA politically as well as financially. That is an important point, in particular when one considers the complexity of the refugee problems and the fact that there are 60 million refugees worldwide, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. We are also extremely well aware of the difficult conditions under which UNRWA must work. There are many unwarranted intrusions into its legitimate efforts to assist refugees. It is to UNRWA's great credit that it has been able to do so much. However, so much more needs to be done because today there are many more Palestinians in need.

I pay great tribute to the dedicated staff of UNRWA, to their hard work and to their inventiveness in dealing with the many different problems which beset them. The organisation has achieved good results in education, which is taking some 46.5 per cent. of its overall budget; in health, which takes between 18 and 20 per cent. of its regular budget; and in its relief work, which takes some 12 per cent. more. The organisation provides many emergency services. It gives a service operationally to many of the smaller enterprises within its scope. It is interesting to note how well UNRWA has helped local people to develop during the years. In other words, it has helped people to help themselves, and in that it is most certainly to be further encouraged, as in so much of its other work.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked me some specific questions of which he kindly gave advance notice. He asked in particular about UNRWA's capital budget and its spending on special projects. We have indicated to UNRWA that we shall consider modest project requests, although we have given our main support to the general fund and to funding ongoing activities. We have done that because without such assurance UNRWA would have been unable to plan ahead. I am always prepared, as I hope your Lordships know, to look at the applicability of our funds to see whether they can be even better targeted and used.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about the extraordinary measures for Lebanon and the occupied territories and about the expanded programme of assistance. Several noble Lords asked similar questions. It is true that we have not contributed to those items. They have been funded by extra-budgetary contributions. It is because we felt that it was wise to keep UNRWA's general fund topped up that we have not so far contributed to them. I shall return to that issue later.

I was asked about the Gaza General Hospital. Britain has not contributed directly to that hospital. However, the Government have made a contribution via our share of the European Community support for the hospital. The EC is the major donor to the project. If time allows I shall return to that matter later. Through the European Community we have supported all the programmes that I have mentioned: the capital and special projects, the EM LOT, the expanded programme of assistance and the Gaza General Hospital.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, further asked whether we would give political support to UNRWA in its advisory committee, in the EC forum and in the UN forum. The answer is that we already do so and we certainly intend to continue to do so in order to help UNRWA to fulfil its mandate. We view that as a most important role in helping the people in the area not only now but until peace is truly established. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that that support will continue.

The substantial contributions which we have made via the European Community were some 44 million ecu during the previous calendar year, 1991. The UK's share of that amounted to about £6 million. Of that, £3 million was given particularly to assist those returning from Iraq and Kuwait as a result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Our normal contribution to the EC programme is about £3 million. In addition we contributed some £6 million directly to UNRWA during the previous financial year. We expect to match that figure this year.

During the debate many issues have arisen on which I should love to spend considerable time. However, it would be wrong to prevent others speaking in a later debate. I wish to mention the fact that UNRWA is funded almost entirely from voluntary contributions. That matter is much forgotten and underlines again the reason why we contribute to the core fund. There is no automatic UN funding of UNRWA: it is funded on a voluntary basis. It has been able to do work in areas where it would have been very difficult for non-governmental organisations to be active without its support. Therefore, it is an enabler for other forms of assistance. That is one of the other reasons why I am so supportive of it.

Although UNRWA is frequently harassed—it sometimes has violence committed against it—it goes on. It is interesting that UNRWA scarcely merits a line in the international press when similar behaviour in other places often merits a large headline. We are dealing with a group of people who are trying to help not only as regards education and health but also in many other ways. They seek to give some training and an institutional base—although not of a permanent kind because it is in refugee camps—to people who are extremely badly affected.

We gather that there are now more than 2.5 million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA, which is a few more than the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. However, there are major implications of the refugee numbers in those camps for they have a population growth rate of just over 3 per cent. per annum. The implications of that are clearly well known to this House from the debates and questions which I have sought to answer over recent weeks.

We know too that UNRWA would like to see more self-help within the area. I hope very much that the peace process on which we are engaged will be successful. I support fully the view expressed by a number of noble Lords in this debate that the key to resolving the difficult problems which UNRWA faces day to day is to tackle the political dispute. That is why we give our full backing to the present peace process. We believe that it offers a unique opportunity for achieving a comprehensive and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

I believe that it is not for those outside the region to dictate the terms of such a settlement, which to be effective must be freely negotiated and accepted among the parties involved. That is why we urge the leaders of all the parties to seize that opportunity for peace. It will only be with the competion of that peace process that UNRWA will be able to have formed a basis for the self-governing Palestinian authorities which will be created as a result of it. Certainly, we shall look to the future to discuss with UNRWA and with what we hope will be the incipient nongovernmental organisations among the Palestinians as to how donors can best aid in the future. There is no doubt that there are problems for those who wish to work in those areas because the instability of the political situation has made it extremely difficult for non-governmental organisations to implement the projects.

I refer here to the recent closure of the Gaza Strip, the imposition of the curfew and the closing of Bir Zeit University. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred to the impact of the Israeli actions on the economy of the Gaza Strip. We have been extremely conscious of that and our Consul-General from Jerusalem visited the Gaza Strip yesterday. He was able to confirm at first hand that the Israeli restrictions on movement have drastically reduced the number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who are still able to work in Israel. Of the 30,000 or so who normally work in Israel, there are now only 2,000 to 3,000 at most who are able to do so.

With that information, we have taken up that matter with the Israeli authorities, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked me to do. We have asked them to abide by their responsibilities under the 4th Geneva Convention to remove those restrictions, which will add in ruinous terms to the falling economy of the Gaza Strip, on its inhabitants. As one who travelled to Jordan in September 1990 as refugees fled from Iraq and Kuwait back to Palestine, I can tell the House that those people in the Gaza Strip need no more hazards. They have been bashed once, twice and more times over. Therefore, we must put considerable emphasis on the peace process and a resolution of the problems of those in the camps in the area.

Many of those people returned to Palestine, having lost their homes and savings overnight as a result of the invasion by Saddam Hussein into Kuwait. By their work in Israel they had just started to rebuild their lives in a small way. If they are now denied the opportunity to work, their hopes will be dashed for a second time in a drastic way. I believe too that it will give UNRWA a bigger problem than ever before in seeking to help those people to help themselves, because once their confidence is destroyed it is very difficult to build it up again.

We have heard from your Lordships this evening the effect of the numbers on schools that UNRWA has run for so long. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, that those schools have been run with relatively few problems. We must consider that 7,000 returning children were added to the UNRWA schools in Jordan last year and 1,300 in Gaza. We know what the pressures are and we know all about the double banking in those schools; indeed sometimes it is triple banking, with three shifts per day being used in some schools, just as there are in Ethiopia. The children sit in overcrowded classrooms and are handicapped by insufficient resources. That in itself breeds the kind of instability about which the noble Lord was worried. Therefore, we must keep a balance between what it is possible for UNRWA to do with the resources it has and the lack of total freedom of activity from which it suffers in trying to do its work.

As the House will have realised, I keep in fairly close contact with what is going on in that region. Indeed, I was pleased to meet the new Commissioner General for a wide-ranging discussion in March when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sponsored him on a visit to the UK. My officials have even more contact than I have, but I am delighted with the way in which Mr. Ilker Türkmen has taken up his post. As a former Turkish Foreign Minister and Turkish Ambassador to France, he is a very wise and worldly person. I think that UNRWA is extremely fortunate to have him.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships for long but I believe that any further support that we can give to UNRWA is important. That is why we support a programme which UNICEF is seeking to carry out in support of UNRWA. It is a programme covering the period 1992 to 1994 for Palestinian women and children in the Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. I mention that because much anxiety has been expressed this evening about the Lebanon. The programme is estimated to cost more than 6,450,000 dollars over three years. It will cover many aspects of health care, including immunisation, nutrition, maternal health care, the rational use of drugs, water supply and sanitation, with an emphasis on training and institutional development. We expect that the programme will be discussed and agreed by the executive board of UNICEF meeting now in New York.

There are other programmes. For instance, UNDP is providing further assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza areas. That is augmented by cost sharing from other donors. In 1991 the total expenditure was estimated at some 11 million dollars. It concentrates on income generation and on social sectors such as health and education, as well as on infrastructure work on water supplies, sewage disposal and energy. Your Lordships can therefore see that a great deal is happening. European Community aid to the Occupied Territories goes in two ways—through UNRWA and through the financing of development projects, particularly through the co-financing of the non-governmental organisations, which do such superb work.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will see from my remarks that we give support in many different ways. SPOT funds and DRU funds have gone to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), Save the Children and Action Around Bethlehem for Children with Disabilities, which is the ABCD mentioned by the noble Lord. All those and many others—Oxfam, the Order of St. John and Co-operation for Development have received help from us to help those people who are in such difficulty.

We shall continue to do our best to help, but the best help will he a successful conclusion of the peace process. That is why, having accepted Security Council Resolutions Nos. 242 and 338 as the basis for negotiations, we hope that the efforts, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to bring about a peace will succeed. There have been five rounds so far of bilaterals, and the five multilateral working groups met last in May. We believe that they should all meet again in the autumn, and the United Kingdom Government will be doing their best to support the peace efforts and bring them to a successful conclusion.

I have sought to answer most of the points raised during this interesting debate. I look forward to the day when UNRWA as an organisation no longer needs to exist—when the peoples of the Middle East can co-exist in peace and harmony. The events of the past year have given some grounds for hope that the goal may be achievable, but there is a long way to go. A great deal of patience is needed. Until then, UNRWA's important work must and will go on and the United Kingdom Government intend for our part to go on encouraging and supporting its vital tasks.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank most warmly all those who have taken part in this short debate. It is typical of your Lordships' House that one raises a subject and the next speaker turns out to have been partially responsible for the creation of the organisation that we are discussing. I was delighted when the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich drew our attention to the fact that Palestinian culture is alive and well, despite all the difficulties it has had to cope with. They both quite rightly mentioned the continuance of traditional Palestinian welcome and hospitality to strangers. I thought that was well put.

The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, seemed to be slightly inclined to say that it may have been better not to have had the debate. Perhaps I can remind him that on several occasions your Lordships House has successfully debated the Kurdish situation —a little further north in the Middle East. With that thought in mind, perhaps I can express my own admiration for what the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister managed to bring about in creating the safe havens in Kurdistan which have now been confirmed, and their value proved by the holding of democratic elections in that part of the world.

The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, regarding Palestinians becoming citizens of other countries was well answered by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Great honour is due to Jordan in that respect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, gave us (as I was confident that she would) a most helpful and sympathetic response. I was encouraged to hear what she said about not only the Government's political support for UNRWA but also the fact that they are considering helping with current and future capital budgets.

I was glad to hear also about our contributions via the European Community and welcome what the noble Baroness said regarding our part in backing up the total Middle East peace process. I was delighted to note what she said about UNICEF, UNDP and British Aid to NGOs. On that note, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.