Skip to main content

Middle East: Special Representative

Volume 696: debated on Monday 12 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is the cost to United Kingdom public funds of the work being carried out for the quartet by their special representative on the Middle East, the right honourable Tony Blair, and how it is proposed that he will report on his work to Parliament.

My Lords, the UK strongly supports the work of Tony Blair as quartet representative. The UK has provided £400,000 to the United Nations development programme trust fund, which provides operational and technical support to Mr Blair’s office in Jerusalem and has seconded four members of staff to his team. Other international donors are supporting the work. Mr Blair has been appointed by, and reports to, the four members of the quartet—namely, the US, the EU, the UN and Russia. Mr Blair receives no salary in his role as quartet representative.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. She said that the right honourable gentleman receives no salary. However, the expenses seem pretty substantial. Can she confirm that, in the view of the Government at least, all this represents much better value for money than the right honourable gentleman’s recent visit to China, where I am told he made a speech lasting only 20 minutes, which was rather boring and for which he was paid £200,000?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should all be very proud that our former Prime Minister has been entrusted by the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States to be their envoy in the Middle East, which is one of the most intractable problems in the world at the moment and in our time? Does she also agree that this Question betrays a mean-minded party-political spirit that does nobody any credit?

Yes, my Lords, and I would further add that, as Prime Minister, Mr Blair demonstrated his commitment to advancing the peace process, and that is what he is continuing to do. I, too, am very proud of that. I also note the new interest of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in these issues because, when the matter was raised in the debate on the Middle East in the House last week, he was sadly not present.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that all parties to the problems in the Middle East need to be brought into discussions on the way forward? Will she therefore convey to her noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown the fact that his apparent acceptance of this principle is very welcome and that he should not be pressured into thinking or saying otherwise?

My Lords, of course, all parties should be brought into the process. That is extremely important. I know to what the noble Baroness refers and I think that in his Statement the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, was merely reiterating the position of the UK Government.

My Lords, has Mr Blair been given a timescale on when he should report to Parliament on his progress with the quartet?

My Lords, Mr Blair will report to the quartet and not to Parliament because the quartet appointed him. I do not know the definitive timescale but I know that he is working very hard to prepare the donors conference, which will take place in December.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, underneath this and contrary to the initial Question, there is an important matter, which needs to be examined from time to time in both Houses and elsewhere? Tony Blair has a better understanding of the need to create a process, just as a process was created in Northern Ireland. That political process takes time and involves people who need to be brought in from time to time. It is that process that is important and we would be very foolish if we did not treat this matter much more seriously than we have done so far.

My Lords, it is indeed the process that is extremely important, and the Prime Minister has exemplary credentials in respect of Northern Ireland. We should look to the Annapolis meeting later this month as a very important part of this process.

My Lords, can the Minister explain whether Mr Blair is the British representative or the European representative of the quartet? It consists of the United States, the UN, Russia and the EU. The United States has rather dominated the quartet so far and we clearly need a stronger European voice. I am sure that the Conservative Benches would support that as strongly as I do.

My Lords, Mr Blair was appointed by the quartet itself—the four members of the quartet. He represents not one part but the quartet as a whole.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Mr Blair was appointed by the quartet as its representative of economic development in the area and that he has no function with regard to a talks process?

My Lords, I have the mandate in front of me and the noble Lord is absolutely right that the first part refers to mobilising international assistance to the Palestinians. I could go on but, having recently been in the region, I should say that there are great expectations on him. While that is his very narrow mandate, both Arabs and Israelis in the region want to use his expertise and experience for their own advancement.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that unless there is economic development, particularly for a Palestinian state, there is no hope of peace in the Middle East? Does she also agree that for one politician from any part of the world to command the confidence of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia is remarkable and something of which this country as a whole should be very proud?

I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend. Economics must underpin the peace process, and that has been missing to date. For that reason, we are very proud that the former Prime Minister is able to do this.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the Annapolis conference. We should bear in mind that during their book launch visit last week, Messrs Mearsheimer and Walt said that they feel it might not even take place, let alone be anywhere remotely near a possible success. Bearing in mind so many examples of previous disappointments, what extra component can Mr Tony Blair bring to the peace conference that is planned in America that was not present on previous occasions, in view of the fact that his credentials have been dented by what happened over the Lebanon war?

My Lords, as my noble friend said earlier, economics must underpin the peace process. If Palestine cannot be an economically viable state, the Palestinians cannot be active participants in this great quest for peace in the region. That is precisely what the right honourable gentleman is bringing to the peace process.