HC Deb 01 April 1968 vol 762 cc27-9
33. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will call a conference of all interested parties with a view to an agreement securing access for members of all faiths to the sacred places in the Holy Land.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

Her Majesty's Government sympathise with the sentiment behind the hon. Gentleman's Question, but do not think that any initiative on their part would be helpful whilst the United Nations Special Representative is pursuing his efforts to promote a settlement in the Middle East.

Since the problems relating to access to the sacred places in the Holy Land arise from the political tensions and divisions in the area, progress towards a lasting political settlement is a precondition for full freedom of access.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does not the Minister agree that the only chance of getting agreement is to keep this question separate from the general political issue, and particularly the issue of internationalising Jerusalem?

Mr. Roberts

This is, at least, doubtful. Constantly in touch, as we are, with both sides to this problem, it is clear to us that the quickest way to solve this point, like other elements of the general problem, is to secure a general settlement, and we think that the best way to do that is to support Dr. Jarring's Mission.

Mr. Edelman

Is it not the case that there is already complete freedom of access to the holy places, as was observed recently by a number of hon. Members on both sides who visited the holy places in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth?

Mr. Roberts

There is access to citizens from certain countries, but not access—[Interruption.] My information is that citizens of countries declaring themselves to be in a state of war with Israel are subject to certain restrictions not applied to visitors from other countries.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

In view of the great significance which Zion has to all those who live in Israel, will the hon. Gentleman now be prepared to reconsider the attitude about this matter as expressed by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) when he was Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Roberts

There is complete continuity in Her Majesty's Government's policy in this matter from the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) was in charge of Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Henig

In view of the fact that, for the first time in 2,000 years, there is a Government in control of the holy places which is allowing freedom of access to persons of all religions, does not my hon. Friend think it would be most inappropriate if the British Government, which did nothing for many years to bring about this state of affairs, were now to interfere?

Mr. Roberts

I have said that there are certain restrictions on citizens of certain countries. We would very strongly support any action by the Israeli Government to remove any remaining restrictions and we would support, preferably through the Jarring Mission which is in the field, a general settlement which would bring this matter within the general context of a lasting settlement.

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