HL Deb 06 October 2003 vol 653 cc18-9

3.34 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the activities of the Palestine Relief and Development Fund—Interpal—are consistent with its charitable status.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, this is an operational matter for the Charity Commission as the regulator of charities in England and Wales. However, I understand that the commission has recently concluded a formal inquiry into Interpal which established that there was no evidence to substantiate allegations that it has links to Hamas's political and militant activities. The commission removed restrictions on Interpal's accounts and closed its inquiry on 24th September and published a report on its inquiry which is publicly available.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is it not a shame that the legitimate activities of this organisation should have been disrupted by what appear to have been false allegations? On the other hand, will she confirm that the European Union has now prescribed or blacklisted both the political wing of Hamas and its military wing? In the light of that, can we be assured that no charitable funds from this country will go to the Hamas organisation?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can confirm that that has occurred and that the EU has frozen the assets of Hamas as the noble Lord describes. I should also say that it is a matter for the Charity Commissioners, who behave perfectly properly by investigating any serious allegations, as they have in this case, and putting those issues to rest.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should not let allegations against Palestinian charities prejudice the work of other charities such as Medical Aid for Palestinians which are doing quite outstanding work to relieve the suffering and deprivation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, that is absolutely right. I understand that my noble friend Lady Symons discussed those very issues last week and that this matter was being pursued. I should also say that the matter is properly within the province of the Charity Commissioners, who have demonstrated on each occasion that they are able to act with total propriety.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the Charity Commission, as she has just done, for the valuable regulatory work that it does, particularly in cases such as this where there are very sensitive international and political implications?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have great pleasure in doing so. The noble Lord is absolutely right.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, bearing in mind that this is the third occasion, I think, on which the Charity Commission has investigated false allegations against Interpal, is the Minister satisfied that the Charity Commission has the necessary resources to conduct investigations into such allegations whether they are substantiated or not? If she is not so satisfied, what steps will the Government take to improve the resources available for this purpose?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it is right to say that the Charity Commissioners have been able to discharge their duty speedily and well on each occasion without any apparent difficulty. We would expect that they will continue so to do.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, referring to my noble friend's earlier answers, I think that she would recognise that, as recently as two weeks ago, the IMF reported that £560 million had gone from President Arafat into various other investments such as terrorism and casinos. Does she agree that, at a time when the Palestinian people are suffering, that is a wrong way of using that money? What are the Government doing to ensure that the Palestinian leadership is correcting such financial mismanagement? Can we be assured that British aid is being invested in valuable projects? Furthermore, what are the Government doing to push the Palestinian leadership to challenge Hamas and to dismantle the infrastructure that supports them?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as tempted as I am to answer that question—and my noble friend will know how tempted I am—I think that it is very wide of the Question on the Order Paper. However, I shall ask my colleagues to write to him with an answer.