28 Lib Dem MPs vote for recognition of state of Palestine, 1 against

As we trailed here, last night saw the House of Commons debate a backbench motion (which is therefore not binding on the government): ‘That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.’

By my count, 28 Lib Dem MPs backed the motion – their names are below – with just one against (Sir Alan Beith). As the BBC notes: “It is convention that ministers abstain when voting takes place on a backbench MP’s motion and those of both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties did so. It is, however, Lib Dem policy to support recognition of Palestinian statehood.”

The debate was a relatively short one, so there was time for only one speech from a Lib Dem: Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood’s contribution is reproduced below. You can catch up with the debate via Hansard here.

Lib Dem MPs backing the motion to recognise the state of Palestine:

    Birtwistle, Gordon
    Brooke, rh Annette
    Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm
    Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
    Crockart, Mike
    George, Andrew
    Hames, Duncan
    Harvey, Sir Nick
    Heath, Mr David
    Hemming, John
    Horwood, Martin
    Hunter, Mark
    Huppert, Dr Julian
    Leech, Mr John
    Moore, rh Michael
    Mulholland, Greg
    Pugh, John
    Reid, Mr Alan
    Russell, Sir Bob
    Sanders, Mr Adrian
    Smith, Sir Robert
    Stunell, rh Sir Andrew
    Swales, Ian
    Teather, Sarah
    Thornton, Mike
    Ward, Mr David
    Williams, Mr Mark
    Williams, Mr Roger

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): It is an honour to follow such an eloquent speech by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I hope to find just a fraction of the eloquence and sensitivity of my distinguished predecessor Daniel Lipson, who was MP for Cheltenham during the horrors of the second world war. He was also mayor of Cheltenham, and president of the Cheltenham synagogue. He said as long ago as 1946 that

“the solution I want to see is a just solution—a solution which shall be just to both Jews and Arabs. I do not want a one-sided solution”.—[Official Report, 21 February 1946; Vol. 419, c. 1374.]

It is in recognition of the one-sided nature of the various status quos that have prevailed ever since that our party finally voted last week to support recognition of Palestinian statehood alongside Israel. I very much sense that the House will take the historic decision to do exactly the same tonight. Of course, recent events in Gaza and the continued, determined pursuit of illegal settlement building by the Netanyahu Government must influence us, but there is a deeper reason to support the motion, especially as crises escalate across the region.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to illegal settlement building. Does he agree that the proliferation of illegal settlements is one of the biggest threats to the viability and possibility of a two-state solution?

Martin Horwood: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He makes a valid point. I will come back to the message that we need to send to the Government who are responsible for that.

The deeper point to which I was referring was that if we are to tell Arabs across the region to reject extremism, rockets, bombs and massacres that are deliberately aimed at killing defenceless civilians, we must also do more to support the moderate, democratic, pluralist leaders, such as Mahmoud Abbas, who have painstakingly pursued the diplomatic path towards peace and self-determination. In answer to the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), if the only practical outcome of passing the motion is to strengthen the hand of Mahmoud Abbas against extremism and intransigence, however imperceptibly, we should do it. If we can tell the Iraqi Government of Nouri al-Maliki that it is not enough to be elected—even
13 Oct 2014 : Column 119

to be elected and face an existential threat—but that Governments must also be inclusive and demonstrate a commitment to peace, we have to deliver the same message, loud and clear, to the Government of Binyamin Netanyahu.

To those who suggest that it is wrong to recognise a new state whose borders have not been finally determined, I say that this House did exactly that in 1950. In case Members have any doubt, I refer them to column 1138 of Hansard on 27 April 1950, when Kenneth Younger, the Minister of State in the Attlee Government, announced:

“His Majesty’s Government have also decided to accord de jure recognition to the State of Israel, subject to explanations on two points…First, that His Majesty’s Government are unable to recognise the sovereignty of Israel over that part of Jerusalem which she occupies, though, pending a final determination of the status of the area, they recognise that Israel exercises de facto authority in it. Secondly, that His Majesty’s Government cannot regard the present boundaries between Israel, and Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Lebanon as constituting the definitive frontiers of Israel, as these boundaries were laid down in the Armistice Agreements concluded severally between Israel and each of these States, and are subject to any modifications which may be agreed upon under the terms of those Agreements, or of any final settlements which may replace them.”—[Official Report, 27 April 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1138-1139.]

We have been waiting for those final settlements—indeed, the middle east has been waiting for those final settlements—for 60 years and more. We have seen occupations by Jordan and then by Israel. We have seen wars and uprisings, but the Palestinian territories are closer in practice to statehood now than they have been at any other time in that entire period. If we are to reward the diplomatic path to peace, the time has come to recognise the state of Palestine, as we did the state of Israel all those years ago.

We should join the 350 Israelis who today wrote an open letter to my noble Friend Lord Alderdice—former Members of the Knesset, former Ministers, former Government officials, former winners of the Israel prize and the Nobel prize, a former Attorney-General, artists, playwrights and soldiers—who said:

“We, Israelis who worry and care for the well-being of the state of Israel, believe that the long-term existence and security of Israel depends on the long-term existence and security of a Palestinian state.”

We should support them and we should support the motion tonight.

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  • @Caracatus

    No government ministers voted, which seems fair given that the national position is to support a two-state solution. As such, Nick implicitly supports Palestine statehood – does not mean you have vote every single time on every single issue.

  • David Blake 14th Oct '14 - 9:35am

    It’s a great shame that so many abstained. The ministers really should have felt free to vote how they felt. The limpness of abstention is not acceptable.

  • The abstentions, of course were very deliberate – Government ministers decided not to vote. Mr Clegg claims we “have more influence in Government than out”. This is a clear case where we don’t, and there are many others like them. We have as many MPs broadly speaking in Government as out. That is a key issue when demonstrating to the public where we stand (ie with the Tory Government!) This was a very important motion, and it shows clearly that the powers that be would rather respond to outside powers, rather than the will of the British people as expressed through their MPs.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Oct '14 - 9:48am

    This vote was compatible with a ‘two state solution’. To support such a solution, you have to support two states.

    The government ‘line’ was a result of pandering to a Zionist position which is against recognition of Palestine, period. They could not vote against anymore (as they would have done pre-Gaza massacre) so they abstain. The present ruling Party’s policy is a one state solution by inertia. They prefer Palestine to simply ‘disappear’ over a number of decades when it has not ‘existed’.

  • That’s 7 less than the 28 that voted for tuition fees. You’d think recognition of Palestinian statehood was more important than trebling tuition fees.

  • It seems hard to believe that we still talk about recognising a country that’s been on our tellies and in our papers for as long as we can remember. Shame about the abstentions, glad to see something happening in Parliament, even if it is a tokenistic gesture.

  • @Adam

    It is long-stand policy that the UK supports a two-state solution, so whilst yesterday’s vote was important it is, in a practical sense, symbolic as we already do support a Palestinian state and as a party have as party policy Palestinian statehood. The figures do not include Government ministers, who do not vote on backbench motions – if they could have I’m sure the figure would be much higher.

    @Tony Dawson

    Zionism is the support of a Jewish state, as such a two state solution is Zionist by definition and many Palestinians are, therefore, themselves Zionist. There is a certainly an opinion amongst those who support a Jewish state who do not support a Palestinian state, but the UK government continues to support the two-state solution.


    The UK government, by convention, does not vote on backbench MP’s motions. Talk of ‘outside powers’ is therefore nonsense, it was the House of Commons acting as it would on all such motions – whether it be the Middle East or parking charges. These motions are for the backbenches to express an opinion free of the executive’s influence and I am very pleased that the vast majority supported.

    If this was a government bill I hope all LibDem ministers would have supported Palestinian statehood.

  • The so-called convention that ministers abstain when voting takes place on a backbench MP’s motion should have been torn up along with a lot of other ridiculous so-called conventions. Parliament is there to serve the people and be seen to serve the people.

    Playing parliamentary games, calling extreme right wing Conservatives “my honourable friend”, Clegg sitting on the Conservative front bench instead of sitting with Liberal MPs etc etc all get in the way of democracy and transparency. It is this sort of Westminster Bubble flummery that make it so easy for UKIP to pose as ordinary people.

    An abbreviated version of the BBC report —

    MPs have voted in favour of recognising Palestine as a state alongside Israel.

    The result, 274 to 12, in favour of recognition of Palestine.

    In 2012 the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to that of “non-member observer state”. Some 41 nations – including the UK – abstained.

    The full motion stated: “That this House believes that the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”

    It is convention that ministers abstain when voting takes place on a backbench MP’s motion and those of both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties did so. 

    It is, however, Lib Dem policy to support recognition of Palestinian statehood.

    The vote comes amid moves elsewhere in Europe to recognise Palestinian statehood officially, more than 100 countries having done so..

    Palestinian officials say they have been forced to pursue measures including seeking greater recognition internationally because a succession of peace talks has failed.

  • @ATF:

    “Zionism is the support of a Jewish state”

    No it is not. It is the support of establishing a religiously-based state in other people’s lands regardless of consequence.

  • Whilst I accept the conventional approach is for Government Ministers to abstain, were we not promised a different type of Government – a new politics. This is, I believe, a time where breaking the convention would seem appropriate.

  • @JohnTilley

    Vast swathes of Westminster nonsense should be swept aside, on that we agree. But it does seem right that the backbenches can at times present their views free from the executive – it is a way they can actually represent their view and the people without a whipped vote (though I was sad to see Labout whipping theirs…). To my mind, yesterday the Commons spoke with a clear voice and did the job.

  • But how much more powerful that message would be if the ‘turnout’ had been higher…

  • ATF Yes, I agree with John Tilley on this, and I think your dismissal of my view as “nonsense” is cavalier, to say the least.
    I have to say I do not agree with you that Backbenchers specifically should have separate motions. All MPs represent their constituents, and therefore all should have a right to express a view independent of their position in Government.
    Sorry, ATF, your sticking with convention line will not do in this case, neither will your dismissal of the importance of countervailing forces such as “outside powers” as I expressed it. Yes, I am glad a “message” was sent, of course.

  • @Tim13

    How is it ‘cavalier’ to say your assertion about ‘outside powers’ was nonsense when there was an exsiting reason why government members don’t vote on such motions? This was not an out of the blue change to how parliament acts, it was standard practice. Whether that practice is right is a fair subject of debate, but when the commons acted in a way it does on all such motions then “outside powers” don’t even have to enter into the matter.

    Perhaps you’d like to explain what these “outside powers” are?

    Also, it is not my line – it is Parliament’s line. As a liberal, I’m happy to see it challenged. I am also not sticking to, a line just stating facts, though I do feel it fair that the backbenches can voice a view seperate from the executive – doing so gives them freedom to voice their opinion without any cause for constraint.

    Yes, all MPs represent their constituents. Nick Clegg has said many, many times he supports the two-state solution. Yesterday’s vote carried symbolic power, not actual power. That a Deputy Prime Minister and party leader has already stated he supports a Palestinian state is, to my mind, of greater note to international bodies than a backbench motion.

  • I’m confused; An eloquent speech by Martin Horwood, strongly in favour, and then he isn’t listed as backing the motion.
    Is he a Minister now ?

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Oct '14 - 3:09pm

    Given what I know, which is based on brief research during the bombings a few months ago, I would have voted for Jack Straw’s amendment. The initial bill seemed anti-Israeli and I wouldn’t have wanted to be associated with it. Smart move by Mr Straw.

  • ATF 14th Oct ’14 – 1:36pm
    Perhaps you’d like to explain what these “outside powers” are?

    Tim13 can of course answer for himself. I am not sure who he means by outside powers.

    I also fear that if he attempts to answer his attempt will disappear into the censor’s box.

    Yesterday I made a comment which quoted verbatim two lines from the original OpEd along with an article taken straight from the JC. I thought I would be safe from the automatic censor but no…… We have to skirt round this subject because the software is set up to prevent us using the English language.

  • ATF
    Tim13 originally wrote —
    This was a very important motion, and it shows clearly that the powers that be would rather respond to outside powers, rather than the will of the British people as expressed through their MPs.

    I am going to have a stab at who the “outside powers” are. The government of the state whichbalready exists spends billions of pounds every year on buying political favours all over the Western World andnparocularly in the USA and the UK. The number of MPs who are members as “The Friends of ” that state is very informative.

    I cannot think of another foreign policy question which is so dominated by the vast lobbyist powers of a group which represents not UK voters but a foreign interest.

  • https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-oborne-james-jones/pro-israel-lobby-in-britain-full-text

    This link may answer the question about “outside powers”.

    It includes pieces by Peter Oborne of The Telegraph and other respected other respected journalists.

  • Peter Oborne of The Telegraph Writing about his attempt to make a film about the most powerful political lobby in the UK —

    However, many people just don’t want to speak out about the Israel lobby. So making our film at times felt like an impossible task. Privately we would be met with great enthusiasm and support. Everyone had a story to tell, it seemed. Once the subject of doing an interview was raised the tone changed; “Anything at all I can do to help…” quickly became “Well, obviously I couldn’t.” or “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to.” 

    Many people who privately voiced concerns about the influence of the lobby simply felt they had too much to lose by confronting it. 

    One national newspaper editor told us, “that’s one lobby I’ve never dared to take on.” 

    From MPs, to senior BBC journalists and representatives of Britain’s largest charities, the pattern became depressingly familiar. Material would come flooding out on the phone or in a meeting, but then days later an email would arrive to say that they would not be able to take part. Either after consultation with colleagues or consideration of the potential consequences, people pulled out.

  • @JohnTilley

    I still don’t see John how that relates to the vote on this particular motion, given that there is a long held precedent and convention that the government does not vote on them. How can influence, of whatever kind, be exerted to stop something from happening which would not have happened regardless of that influence?

    As I said before, that does not mean that such conventions should be challenged but it remains the case that it exists as part of our unwritten constitution.

  • ATF 14th Oct ’14 – 4:11pm
    “…I still don’t see John how that relates to the vote on this particular motion, ”

    ATF — the following is just conjecture on my part. But imagine for a moment that you are a Deputy Prime Minister whose loyalty to am outside group is greater than your loyalty to your own party. You have the potential problem of a vote being taken on an important international issue. A tactic is suggested by a lobbyist from the most powerful lobby in the UK that you can get out of this by ensuring that the vote is on a motion from a backbencher. That way you can absent yourself and all your ministerial colleagues because there is a handy “convention” which was probably dreamed up in the early 19th century when MPs and their votes were bought and sold like cattle.

    Just conjecture on my part. But was it not convenient that this vote was immediately downgraded to being “only symbolic” so that the “Friends of bombing Gaza and killing children” could carry on just as before?

  • Sorry ATF and John Tilley
    I had been out and not receiving for a while. I was thinking in particular of the US and lobbyists for the Israeli Government, as John has said.

    It is clear that that convention CAN be broken, in the case of a whipped vote, as you mentioned Labour had enforced. It is, of course, a moot point whether Labour would have supported such a motion had they been in Government. Surely, the unwritten nature of the British “constitution” should give you the hint – conventions can and sometimes should be broken. Surely, also, and I am sure as a Liberal you appreciate and support this, the only way to adopt a proper constitution is by writing and ratifying one. I think you are avoiding agreeing on this, and hiding beneath the figleaf of this convention, to be honest. Had substantial numbers of Government ministers, it would have had a more powerful influence on Government policy. I imagine you can find examples of backbench motions which have been supported (or opposed!) by Govt ministers, and have later been adopted as Government (or Opposition policy). In fact IIRC, this is used as a mechanism fairly regularly to get issues “on to the agenda”. Presumably had the Government wished to recognise Palestine unconditionally, it would have ensured that happened, as the 100 or so states which have already done so did. It didn’t, so we should assume that either the Government is fully opposed, or divided, or that the Palestine supporting majority are not prepared to face down the forces John and I describe.

  • Sorry, I should have said:
    Had substantial numbers of Government ministers supported the motion…

  • @Tim13

    Labour can whip all they like, they are not the government. Doing so does not break the convention.

    I love that our constituon is not written, but breaking it opens all sorts of boxes – should the Lords feel free to start rejecting budgets as they did pre-Lloyd George? I’m sure be both think not, as Liberals we both think the state and traditional practice should be challenged – but I do feel the one concerning backbench motions is valid. Undiluted, no-executive opinon is important to recognise.

    Can assure you I’m not hiding agreement on this one! Government policy still stands, it still supports a two-solution. I’m sure there are Govt. ministers are opposed, but given Nick has made clear he isn’t I think that is important to remember without breaking what I feel is an important device of the Commons.

    Very best to John and yourself.

  • Thankyou ATF
    I am not sure we can say any more – we agree to disagree on this.

  • @Tim13

    Indeed, long live liberal tolerance and debate,

  • “ATF 14th Oct ’14 – 11:34am

    Vast swathes of Westminster nonsense should be swept aside, on that we agree. But it does seem right that the backbenches can at times present their views free from the executive – it is a way they can actually represent their view and the people without a whipped vote (though I was sad to see Labout whipping theirs…). To my mind, yesterday the Commons spoke with a clear voice and did the job.”

    I agree with this – whilst there is much fluff in Westminster which can go (much of which is disappearing everyday), backbench motions are an important part of our system whilst we retain a semi-fused executive and legislature.

    Asking Ministers to join in backbench motions would undermine of the few areas where Parliament can actually exercise its power as the superior body – rather than being a de facto subservient body of the executive. This is because backbench motions are not meant to have any executive influence over them; however, Ministers are the executive and so would – if they started attending – be directly influencing this area, thereby undermining the power of MPs to openly disagree with the executive, as they often do in backbench motions. This effect would be both psychological and practical (e.g. more votes to overcome for the non-government side and less time for backbenchers to speak as ministers (who already get much airtime ask to speak)).

  • Liberal Al

    That may be true with a one party majority government. I doubt very much if many Conservatives or Labour MPs would be hugely influence one way or the other by the junior minister for food voting in a debate on Palestine.

    My guess is that outside of his constituency and his department not many people will even know who the junior minister for food is. Sorry Dan Rogerson, I picked you at random.

  • Simon Banks 15th Oct '14 - 9:07am

    Why are some of the men Mrs and some (not Drs or Sirs) untitled? Just curious.

    Who was the one Lib Dem who voted against?

  • Richard Fagence 15th Oct '14 - 10:23am

    @Simon Banks. The MP who voted against is named in the opening lines of this piece as Sir Alan Beith. I shall check Hansard today and see if there is anything there to indicate why, although Martin Horwood is mentioned as the only Liberal Democrat called to speak.

    As to the honorifics in from of members’ names, my understanding is that it represents their personal wishes as to the way in which they are referenced (Sir, Dr, Mr, Mrs, Ms, None etc.), unless someone knows otherwise.

  • Richard Fagence 15th Oct '14 - 10:25am

    The typo fairy is very active this morning! I meant to write “..in front of members’ names..”. Apologies

  • Richard Fagence 15th Oct '14 - 10:28am

    @Sam. I think you will find that Martin Horwood IS listed as supporting the motion if you read the piece and its list again.

  • Simon Banks

    Alan Beith is president of LDFI. the following is taken from their website —

    ” It should be borne in mind that LDFI is not a Jewish organisation…..

     We remain absolutely committed to the State of Israel…

    Civilian causalities in Gaza are not just a tragedy but also give Israel’s enemies at home and abroad both political and public relations ammunition to espouse a worrying anti-Zionist and sometimes actually anti-Semitic rhetoric which LDFI finds as deplorable a consequence as the prospect of further hostilities.”

    I think they probably meant CASUALTIES rather than CAUSALITIES.
    but given my own problem with typos and predictive text who am I to criticise?

    What I think is significant about the LDFI statement, which is supposed to be about Gaza and from a non-Jewish organisation, is that they never fail to take the opportunity to play the “anti-Semitic card”.

    All my life the accusations of anti-Semitism have been a convenient shield to hide behind.
    From those days in the 1940s, when British soldiers in my father’s regiment were being bombed and shot at and killed by Jewish terrorists for doing nothing more than their job of trying to keep the peace under the mandate, right up until the present day this tactic has been used at every possible opportunity.

  • Andrew Colman 15th Oct '14 - 12:59pm

    Well done those 28 mps and shame on the government on being so whimpish due to pressure from the other side of the Atlantic.

    Recognising Palestine is one obvious way in which UK can help secure peace in the region.

    A message would be sent to Israel that it could not rely indefinitely on the military and economic support from western countries and would have to negotiate a proper peace with its neighbours. There are loads of biblical verses telling Israel not to rely on manmade strength, particularly outside powers but on God.

    This will mean sitting down and talking to Hamas like the British government talked to the IRA

  • Andrew Colman 15th Oct '14 - 1:16pm

    UK Recognition of Palestine would be good for Israel, as it would help the peacemakers in that country and weaken the extremists who are supported by religious extremists mainly in the USA.

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