HC Deb 07 November 1973 vol 863 cc976-82
8. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Middle East.

21. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the current situation in the Middle East.

24. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the situation in the Middle East.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Intensive diplomatic consultations are taking place in order to resolve immediate problems and to get negotiations started. I think it essential that negotiations should start very soon if the cease-fire is not to be undermined. I am in close touch with other Governments concerned.

Mr. Molloy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, acording to the BBC news on "The World at One" today, there appears to have been a dramatic joint announcement by Dr. Kissinger and President Sadat, indicating that the path is now being broadened towards a just and proper peace settlement in the Middle East? Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House how far he was apprised of those discussions and whether we are going to be invited to participate in future?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

No, Sir. I cannot say what form the peacekeeping machinery or the peacemaking force will take. It could take a number of forms. As I said in my answer just now, we have been in the closest possible diplomatic contact with all the parties, including the United States Government and the Soviet Union, and all the time we have been injecting ideas as to how these matters might be handled. There are many matters to be handled and they must be got out of the way. It is too early to say what will be the form of the permanent peacemaking machinery.

Mr. Gorst

Would it not be more sensible and realistic to base our policy in the Middle East upon a recognition of the fact that the Middle Eastern oilfields are really Middle Eastern volcanoes? Consequently, instead of concentrating our activities on the situation in Israel, and where its borders should be, would it not be more realistic to fight for international control and regulation of the price, supply and production of oil?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I do not think that anybody can afford to take a detached position on oil, and I could not answer a question about the way in which international organisations might be formed, or pricing arrangements might be made. All I would say is that oil is tremendously important to all of us in this country. But even more important than that is the fact, as I mentioned just now, that unless we can find an alternative system of security for Israel—and this is why we concentrate upon Israel—we shall not keep the peace and war will break out again.

Mr. Cronin

In view of the present weakness and moral bankruptcy of the United States Government, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, so far as possible, a European initiative is maintained in the Middle East, and, in particular, a Franco-British initiative in the Security Council?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We are permanent members of the Security Council. The reason why we stood down in the early stages from playing an active part in the peace keeping is obvious—neither the Russians nor the Americans could be there. That seems to be a practical way of handling this matter, and I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures on the United States.

Mr. Woodhouse

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Saudi Arabia is still excluded from the scope of our arms embargo, and in that case can he deny reports that the Saudi Arabians have been passing on equipment to Egypt, including, in particular, British helicopters?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

There is a ban on the transfer of British equipment from any country.

Mr. Janner

With regard to the diplomatic consultations which the right hon. Gentleman says have taken place with the parties, has he raised with the Syrians the question of their continued refusal to abide by the convention on prisoners of war and their refusal to provide the names of prisoners who have been in their hands for many weeks? If he has raised the matter, will he say what response he has received?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We want the convention about the prisoners to be observed. We are coming to the point where lists are being exchanged between Israel and Egypt. I shall have to get more information before I can reply to the hon. Gentleman's question about Syria. We want to see the prisoners' convention observed by all countries concerned.

Mr. Walters

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the speech he made at Harrogate three years ago is exactly in line with the statement made yesterday by the EEC and that, therefore, all this talk about our policy changing under oil blackmail should be dismissed as a lot of propaganda?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

As I said in response to one of my hon. Friends just now, one cannot in this country, or in Europe—or indeed anywhere in the developed world—dismiss the question of oil. It is immensely important for all of us that we should get the maximum supplies, or we shall all find ourselves with many unemployed. But this is not the prime motive. The prime motive all the time as my hon. Friend says—and certainly so far as I have been concerned for the last three years—has been to find a different system of security for Israel and Israel's neighbours.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that everyone will support the Government in attempting to secure our supplies of oil? On reading this EEC resolution as an outsider, however, may I ask whether he is aware that most people who have studied it carefully will conclude that it departs from the even-handed approach that he told us he was adopting at the beginning of this dispute? I say this with regret, but it seems to be the case. Will he make clear, therefore, that there will be considerable support if we have to go through a short-term dislocation of oil supplies in order to secure a firm peace because, as this House should know very well, the only possibility of securing it will be by not yielding to blackmail in the future? Yielding to blackmail now will mean that we shall have to pay a higher price later. This statement means more to one side than to the other, and we can only assume that that is the case because of the oil situation, and it is not a very glorious posture.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not make that assumption. He is assuming that eight countries, apart from ourselves, have this as their prime motive. If the right hon. Gentleman will look carefully at the statement again, as I have no doubt he will, he will see that several sentiments are expressed. Whatever is done must be done under the authority of the Security Council. Resolution No. 242 must be fulfilled in all its parts. I think the only sentiments which conceivably could have led to misgivings are those under Article 3. But they are all linked together. In other words, one must join up the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force to Resolution No. 242 in all its parts. On re-reading it, I think the right hon. Gentleman will not find any grounds for his fears.

13. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations Her Majesty's Government have made to combatant Governments about the treatment of prisoners in the Middle East war.

28. Mr. Hamling

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Egyptian and Syrian Governments about the exchange of prisoners; and whether he will make a statement.

33. Mr. Heffer

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, following his undertaking to look into the matter, what representations Her Majesty's Government have made to Egypt, Syria and Israel concerning the treatment of prisoners of war in the Middle East.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We have urged all parties to the conflict to honour the Geneva Conventions and other inter-nationally accepted rules of war and I hope there will be an early exchange of prisoners. As I indicated to the House on 31st October, we are in touch with the Governments concerned and with the International Committee of the Red Cross.—[Vol. 861, c. 182–3.]

Mr. Lamont

Does that reply mean that the Government do or do not deplore the attitude of the Syrian Government in not observing the Geneva Convention, as was publicly admitted by the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdul Ghani, on 31st October?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We believe that the convention should be observed.

Mr. Hamling

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he has told the Egyptian and Syrian Governments directly that they should exchange prisoners as quickly as possible?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, we have made our view clear. I agree that prisoners should be exchanged as quickly as possible. In the war situation involving Bangladesh, Pakistan and India it did not happen. I hope that it will happen soon this time.

Mr. Heffer

Have the Government made any investigation into the allegations that Israeli prisoners of war have been tortured and killed in a most gruesome manner? If they have not, do they intend to do so? If it should prove that these things have happened, as it clearly seems, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to the Syrians about this frightful business?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I have nothing to corroborate these allegations. If I get corroborative information I shall make representations.

Mr. Woodhouse

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the requirements of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war are unqualified and unconditional and that therefore it is inexcusable of the Syrian Government to make its conformity with these conventions conditional upon any particular action by the Israeli Government—as was implied in the letter in The Times yesterday from the Syrian chargé d'affaires—just as it would be inexcusable for the Israeli Government to do the same?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, my hon. Friend has stated the situation correctly and I agree with him. We live in a real world, unfortunately. We well remember what happened in the case of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan and I hope that that situation will not be repeated this time.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

In addition to making the strongest possible representations directly to the recently combatant countries concerned, will the Foreign Secretary undertake to raise the matter in the appropriate meeting of the United Nations, and bring in the International Red Cross, possibly with a view to having an inquiry into the exact position.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

14. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations there have been amongst the Foreign Ministers of the European Community regarding the consequences of the Middle East conflict.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The nine members of the Community have kept in close touch throughout the Middle East crisis, in New York, in Middle East capitals and through meetings at various levels of the political co-operation machinery. A statement of the European position was agreed at the political directors' meeting on 11th and 12th October in Copenhagen. The Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on 5th November to discuss the situation and afterwards released a further statement on the position of the community. The text of this is in the Library.

Mr. Haselhurst

It is my right hon. Friend's duty to protect the vital interests of this country, which must mean safeguarding the economy from dislocation and breakdown, but will he, nevertheless, take note of the deepening public unease over the fact that events seem to be leading European countries, including ourselves, into uncomfortable relations with each other and with some of our other friends in the world?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

There was no sign of any uncomfortable relations between each other yesterday. In the Council of Ministers we were unanimous about the way in which to handle this matter.

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