12.27 pm Lord Stone of Blackheath: My Lords, in such a region of turmoil, where horrible events have occurred and people are suppressed, maimed and killed in countries as widespread as Syria, Egypt and Iran, people often tend, as my noble friend Lord Haskel said, to ignore any positives but take sides and lay blame on one side or another. Perhaps it is useful to condemn but this should not be one-sided vilification. If one chooses to lay blame, it should be on Governments and organisations making wrong policies and decisions, not the peoples of any of these countries. Most Iranians, Egyptians, Syrians want to be free to live a normal family life. The dispute I know most about in the region is the Palestinian/Israeli arena. Survey after survey has shown that 70% of the populations on both sides would like to be in two separate states, living side by side with mutual recognition. It is the extremists with the loudest voices and insidious actions who prevent the majority getting on with living the way they would prefer-in peace.
As we have heard from the Minister today and from Tripoli, there are individuals and organisations working in the region to heal these rifts. When, in freedom, individuals are able to experience something greater than their habitual selves and escape insular dogma, they tend to live more fulfilling lives and choose to follow the path of service. From what I understand, in Jewish thought and Christian belief, as a Muslim tenet and also in Buddhism, it is said that moral responsibility lies entirely with the individual. I just want to mention some of the things that I have witnessed that responsible individuals are doing within the communities in the region. I mention them because I believe that if we, as individuals, and our own Government were to recognise, support and involve ourselves in this way, rather than just blame others, we could all help to heal the region.
For example, in education, last week we held the board of trustees meeting here in London for the British University of Egypt. Five years ago, Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall opened that university in Cairo and, in partnership with Loughborough University, BUE is thriving. In fact, in three years' time, we plan to have 6,000 young students from the region studying and researching in Cairo to UK standard in nursing and dentistry, renewable energy and engineering, advanced materials and business and entrepreneurialism-in fact, seven faculties
In Jordan, where we were last month, in agriculture and commerce Moon Valley is arranging to build and operate an olive processing plant with the help, advice and partnership of a Palestinian construction company, CCC, and Olives Et Al, an innovative private company based in Dorset which supplies UK food stores with the most delicious olives and tapenades. The Jordanian plant will work with olive farmers in Jordan and West Bank Palestinians to improve their methodologies and standards to produce delicacies that can be sold locally and in stores in the UK, Europe and the Gulf.
In textiles and clothing, I have spoken before in this House about Moon Valley helping Palestinian farmers to sell their goods to Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and the Co-op. Waitrose has now expressed an interest. With reference to the point made by my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Watson, with the help of my noble friend Lady Ashton and the EU, we have now negotiated that all agricultural goods from the West Bank and Gaza enter the West Bank tariff-free. Just last week, after a year's work, the same team has helped a knitwear manufacturer in Gaza produce and export 4,000 men's pullovers and cardigans to UK online retailer, JD Williams-were again I must declare an interest-for sale in this country with "Made in Palestine" on the label. In fact, if Erskine May did not prevent it, I would have brought one here to show you and try to sell it. DfID, the office of the quartet, our British consul general in East Jerusalem, together with the authorities in Israel, have all played an important part in making that possible.
In the field of high-tech, this week, here in your Lordships' House, a UK task force funded by the Pears Foundation and led by Alice Wood hosted some enlightened Israeli Arabs and Jews from the Nazareth region who have formed an organisation called Tsofen, which means code, with whom we are working to enable Arab citizens of Israel to use their entrepreneurialism in the high-tech field to break the code, to integrate their people better into Israeli society and business networks to create wealth for their community.
Last month, I mentioned in a debate about the voluntary sector how UK charities can spread their good work by internationalising themselves. I know through the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that our Government are considering developing that is a forward strategy for the sector. Here is an example from the region: www.healthtalkonline.org, an Oxford-based charity which I chair, is now working with both An-Najah University in Nablus and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in the desert, together with eight other countries, to help patients with health conditions to understand better from other patients what are the options and how to make choices about their lives.
Those are examples in commerce, education, technology and health where, instead of vilifying others and laying blame, those involved will help individuals to see positive opportunities and work to inspire others to try to heal rifts. I realise that those projects alone will not resolve the issues, but neither will politics alone. Of course there is a place for politics.
There are those on all sides who thrive on conflict and the misery of others. They work ceaselessly to engender hate, vilification and division, and to blame the other. Their actions result in death and destruction. Here, perhaps, the rifts can be healed by politics. Here, we must be willing to talk to everyone. This is where non-governmental organisations, such as the Next Century Foundation, a UK organisation in which, again, I must declare an interest, can lead and Governments can follow. We currently have the odd irony where we engage willingly with the radical Muslim Brotherhood elements in the Syrian opposition, whereas in Gaza, Her Majesty's Government are unwilling to talk to Hamas. If the Government's experience in Northern Ireland proves anything, it is that talking to all sides matters. Talking to your enemies does not mean legitimising them.
In conclusion, by supporting and involving ourselves in the type of constructive projects I mentioned, and with the help of the Government, we enable them to touch thousands of people. Then, the destructive elements on all sides can be exposed and weakened. That should be done by those with open hearts and peaceful intention working together just as forcefully as those who peddle hate. In that way, we can enable the peoples of those countries to be in control of their lives.
The Government Minister Lord Howell responded:
When the noble Lord, Lord Stone, rises, my spirits tend to rise as well on these occasions when we look around the generally extremely gloomy outlook because he always brings news of practical, sensible developments that are raising living standards, easing poverty and meeting, overcoming or bypassing the political difficulties, particularly on the Arab/Israeli front, but in other areas as well. I congratulate him on all that he is doing.