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Last Friday I opened the new Assisted Living in Leeds Centre at Clarence Dock with Councillor Adam Ogilvie.

This is a great partnership between the city council, local GPs, the community health trust and the city's voluntary organisations to bring together in one place a lot of the services that older people need in order to live independently in their own homes. It includes a vast store of all types of equipment – beds, chairs, commodes and hoists - and it will also be home to the Leeds Telecare Service which keeps an eye on people with alarm buttons and other specialised equipment to help them to live at home.

We know that we have a growing elderly population who will need this kind of support. First it will be our Mums and Dads and then it will be our turn. So this is a service for everyone and it's great to see how the city is thinking ahead in this way. And above all, as ever, I was so impressed by the enthusiasm, commitment and dedication of all the staff involved.

Well done.

 

Assisted Living Leeds

Last Friday I opened the new Assisted Living in Leeds Centre at Clarence Dock with Councillor Adam Ogilvie.

Thank you to all of you who have contacted me recently about Palestinian human rights.

I share your concern at the lack of progress on the Middle East peace process and, therefore, on Palestinian human rights. Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal, unjustifiable and immoral and their continued expansion remains a major obstacle to resolving the conflict.

On the recognition of Palestine, we recently had a debate in the House of Commons and I voted in favour of recognition of Palestinian statehood. The motion was overwhelmingly carried. Palestinian statehood is not a gift to be given by someone else but a right to be recognised and that is why, in both 2011 and in 2012, Labour urged the UK Government to support the Palestinian bid for recognition at the UN as a bridge for restarting talks.

We all want to see two states living side by side in peace, and recognised by all of their neighbours, but after decades of diplomatic failure there are those who question whether a two state solution is any longer possible. What is clear is that only a negotiated peace deal will bring this about.

The citizens of Gaza, the West Bank and Israel want to live in peace and security, but there can be no military solution. Past military action has failed to bring a durable peace as shown by the appalling events of last summer. The ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli troops was wrong and only led to even more suffering. 1,800 people were killed and 450,000 people were forced to leave their homes. The citizens of Gaza did not know where it was safe to go, and the shelling of the UN-run schools, where people were sheltering, was an outrage. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called these attacks reprehensible, unjustifiable and criminal. I agree.

What happened did not help bring peace either. As the Labour leader Ed Miliband said “The escalation of violence engulfing Gaza has led, and continues to lead, to suffering and destruction on an appalling scale, and is losing Israel friends in the international community day by day.....the Prime Minister is wrong not to have opposed Israel’s incursion into Gaza. And his silence on the killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians will be inexplicable to people across Britain and internationally.“

The UN Security Council rightly demanded an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, with a complete cessation of violence so as to bring an end to the unacceptable killing of large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including children, and to the rocket attacks into Israel which have targeted and killed civilians.

On UK arms exports to Israel, I raised this with the Foreign Secretary at the time of the invasion of Gaza. It is clear that no new licences should be granted where there is any doubt about the end use of military equipment. We must be sure that the UK rules on arms exports, which prevent the export of military and dual use equipment which could be used for internal repression, the abuse of human rights or to provoke or prolong armed conflicts, are being applied fully.

On the issue of goods from Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, when I was the Secretary of State for the Environment in the last government I drew up new labelling regulations so that individual consumers can make a decision for themselves on whether to buy such products or not. Labour will maintain domestic action on labelling transparency, and will seek a Europe-wide approach to settlements.

Turning to the longer term, the immediate problems are the blockade of Gaza, the continued building of illegal settlements by Israel on occupied land, and no progress at all on the peace process. I have seen for myself how the restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza affect the lives of the people there. All sides must avoid taking action that would avoid making peace harder to achieve, and that is why we need an end to the blockade of Gaza and an end to rocket attacks.

Over the last 40 years in the Middle East, the immediate has become enduring. Short term conflict has become long-term division, but security and justice for the Palestinian state – which I strongly support – depends on a political settlement that defends is existence and cherishes its rights. The same is true for Israel. Only two democratic sates, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, with secure and recognised borders, can achieve this. The parties to the conflict - Israel and all the Palestinians (Hamas and Fatah) – must now show the courage needed and the willingness necessary to compromise for peace. Only in this way will we see a stop to the suffering and a peaceful future.

Palestinian Human Rights

Thank you to all of you who have contacted me recently about Palestinian human rights. I share your concern at the lack of progress on the Middle East peace process...

Thanks all of you who have written to me about animal welfare. As a vegetarian of over 40 years, I'm a very strong supporter of action to protect our creatures great and small, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the hunting ban which I voted for.

Today my shadow cabinet colleague, Maria Eagle, set out a series of commitments on animal welfare which we will implement if we are successful at the general election. This is what Maria said:

"The last Labour government achieved much to end the cruel and unnecessary suffering of animals: the banning of hunting with dogs, securing an end to cosmetic testing on animals, banning fur farming and introducing the Animal Welfare Act. The next Labour government will continue to lead the way on animal welfare, starting with six key commitments that build on our previous achievements at home and abroad."

She has pledged that Labour will:

■   review the rules on breeding and selling dogs and cats
■   ban wild animals in circuses
■   end the badger cull, which has been taking place in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset for the last two years in an effort to stop the spread of bovine TB
■   defend the Hunting Act
■   reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates
■   lead the fight against global animal cruelty

Please let me know what you think.

Animal Welfare

Thanks all of you who have written to me about animal welfare. As a vegetarian of over 40 years, I'm a very strong supporter of action to protect our creatures...

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