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Volume 471: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2008

3. What steps he has taken to ensure that aid allocated to Palestinians is spent on the purposes for which it is intended. (182971)

Aid to the occupied Palestinian territories is subject to the highest possible level of scrutiny. Projects are run by internationally respected organisations, with rigorous checks on each payment and independent auditing. UK aid is spent on helping Palestinians pay for their doctors and teachers, maintain water and electricity supplies and support refugees. In addition, the Department for International Development is supporting programmes to tackle corruption and improve the management of public funds.

But on 29 December a lorry was found to be taking 6.5 tonnes of bomb-making potassium nitrate into Gaza, disguised in a bag labelled “EU sugar”. Again on 14 January a lorry was found to be taking bomb-making equipment into Gaza disguised as aid. In view of that, does my hon. Friend not think that more urgent attention should be given to ensuring that only humanitarian aid goes into Gaza, so that the very genuine needs of the people are met?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the need for constant vigilance where aid is concerned, but it is important to put the matter in context and in perspective. The Israeli authorities accept that the bags had nothing to do with EU projects and were fraudulent. EU aid was thus not misused. Such opportunistic frauds are an attempt to undermine the peace process. There is also the problem of weapons smuggled through tunnels, and I take her point about vigilance. We are clear that the Palestinian Authority are committed to the middle east peace process and to tackling extremism and terrorism.

What assurances can the Minister give that, contrary to recent reports, no British aid whatever is being used to fund extremist educational materials in the Palestinian territories that indoctrinate children and young people in Palestine with the belief that martyrdom or the murder of apostates is a legitimate political or religious aim?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue, which has been raised a number of times over the past 10 years or so. I can categorically say that UK aid does not fund textbooks or the Education Ministry. The allegations relate to textbooks that were used pre-1994. Since 2002 the Palestinian Authority have had a new national curriculum that is hatred and violence free. Importantly, that has been confirmed by both the European Commission and an Israeli civil society organisation that was commissioned by the US. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which we support, supports education in the occupied Palestinian territories and produces textbooks, but they are UN approved and endorsed and are free from extremism and violence.

My hon. Friend mentioned UNRWA. Is he aware that John Ging, the UNRWA director of operations in Gaza, came to Parliament in the autumn? Was he not right when he said that the problem with Israel’s action is that it

“presupposes that the civilian population in Gaza are either themselves responsible for, or somehow more capable of, stopping the rocket fire than the powerful military of the occupying power”?

Is not the collective punishment being imposed by Israel unjustified? What are the Government doing to ensure that the United Nations passes an appropriate resolution to bring the situation in Gaza to an end, or at least to express much firmer international disapproval of it?

We constantly call on all sides in the dispute and conflict to adhere to international law and to respect human rights. Israeli security and justice for the Palestinians will not be achieved by cutting off fuel, closing crossings, or firing rockets. That is a recipe for continued misery on all sides.

Given the nature of the Hamas regime in Gaza, can the Minister explain to the House whether the controls on aid going to Gaza are tighter than the controls on British aid going to the west bank?

The hon. Gentleman will know that aid to the Palestinian Authority was suspended following the establishment of the Hamas Government in March 2006. All aid to Gaza goes via the temporary international mechanism and is checked and audited by the World Bank or the European Community. Payments for salary allowances are checked against five different internationally recognised terrorist lists. UNRWA also works in Gaza and the budget is approved by the United Nations General Assembly, which has a strong audit unit. Donors such as the UK receive regular financial reports. We are as assured as we can be under the circumstances that aid is going to the areas where it needs to go.