Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I will not discuss the rights and wrongs of the Palestinian and Israeli causes, about which hon. Members have spoken with such passion and eloquence, because I want to focus on the narrow issue of recognition: when it is appropriate and what its consequences are.


    Some countries grant recognition as a mark of approval of a regime and withhold it as a mark of disapproval. Others grant recognition only on condition of receiving reciprocal favours from the country concerned. Neither approach has traditionally been that of the British Government. We have always granted recognition to a regime, however abhorrent, once it has established effective control of the state apparatus on the bulk of its territory. Likewise, we withhold or withdraw recognition from any regime, however congenial, if it lacks, or loses, control over the bulk of the state apparatus in its territory. Thus, whereas the United States refused to recognise the communist regime in China for many years and continued to recognise Taiwan as the legitimate Government, Britain speedily recognised the People’s Republic of China once its power was clearly established. I believe that we should stick to that pragmatic approach, subject to qualifications. We should recognise the Palestinian state, not as a mark of approval of its policies or disapproval of Israeli policies, but simply as a recognition of the reality, just as we would do anywhere else in the world.


    There are two possible objections to our doing this. The first is that this is a question of recognising a state as well as a regime. Normally, we recognise a state as any duly constituted territory established as a state with a long history or more recently by agreement with the previous authorities exercising sovereignty in that territory. We did not recognise Katanga or Biafra even though the breakaway regime had established control, but Palestine is not a breakaway regime. It was recognised as a separate entity by the inheritor of the previous sovereign authority, the League of Nations and then the General Assembly of the United Nations.


    Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman is drawing a conclusion in favour of recognition. Does he think it significant that he and the right hon. Members for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) and for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway)—distinguished senior Conservative Back Benchers and former Ministers—have arrived at the conclusion that recognition is the way forward? Is not this a significant step?


    Mr Lilley: I am sure that it is extremely significant, as is any contribution that I make. [Laughter.]


    The second objection is the one that has been raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)—namely, that the Palestinian state is not in de facto control of its territory because of Israeli occupation. However, Britain has never accepted that military occupation extinguishes a country’s statehood. We did not do so during the second world war, when we continued to recognise the occupied countries in western Europe. For that reason, we should go ahead with recognition.


    What effect would recognition have? Here, I fear that I must disappoint Members on both sides of the debate: it would have very little impact indeed. The proponents and opponents of recognition exaggerate the impact that it would have. Already, 134 countries have recognised Palestine and it has had no discernible effect on either advancing or hindering the peace process. Sadly, we in this House cling to the delusion that the world hangs on our every word, but it is absurd to imagine that the people who are prepared to fire rockets at civilian areas from Palestine, or the people in Israel who are prepared to incur international odium by the brutal way in which they respond, will be moved one way or the other by what we in this House say today. It is time we as a Parliament grew up and recognised that we have very little control over what happens there. Ultimately, it will be the people on both sides who will recognise the need to reach an accommodation. In that important programme the other night, we saw six former heads of Shin Bet—Israel’s state security apparatus—acknowledging the need to reach such an accommodation.


    In line with our traditional policy, we should recognise the Palestinian state as a reality. We would not be granting it anything; we would simply be recognising a fact. We should make it clear that, in doing so, we were not expressing support for its policies or repudiating the right of Israel to exist. We must also accept that change will come about only as a result of those on the ground in Israel and Palestine realising that they need—


    Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order.


    Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing this important debate.


    My father served with the Army in Palestine from 1945 to 1948 during the currency of the British mandate. He did not say much about it, but he did tell me that, at the end of his tour of duty, he had a chit for leave to spend a last night in Jerusalem. However, his comrade pleaded with him to let him have the chit as he wanted to see a girl in town. He had fallen in love with her and did not know when he might see her again, so he was desperate. My dad let him have his chit, but sadly the vehicle that took the soldiers into town that night was attacked by terrorists and the seat that the love-struck soldier sat in bore the brunt of the attack and he was killed outright. That could have been my dad’s seat.