HC Deb 22 October 1973 vol 861 cc697-705
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the Middle East.

The House will know that the Security Council passed a resolution last night calling for an immediate end to the fighting in the Middle East; for the immediate implementation of Resolution 242 in all its parts; and for immediate and concurrent negotiations between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the area. Hon. Members on all sides of the House will, I am sure, welcome the news without reserve.

As I told the House last week, all our diplomatic efforts have been directed towards achieving a cease-fire and a full settlement. I have been in close touch with the parties to the conflict, with the Americans and the Russians, and with our European allies during these anxious days. I cannot be absolutely sure of the positon, as I speak now, but the indications at present are that the Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian Governments will accept the terms of the Security Council resolution, which calls for a cease-fire by 6 p.m. today London time, and I have just heard before I came into the Chamber that President Sadat has given orders for the cease-fire to be observed at the time fixed. The Israeli Government has issued a similar statement. Each party's acceptance is of course contingent on the acceptance by the others. The attitude of Syria is still obscure. Hon. Members will I am sure join with me in appealing to the parties scrupulously to observe the Security Council's call for an end to the fighting.

As the British Permanent Representative to the United Nations said in the Security Council last night, we realise that the road to a settlement will not be easy. This time the momentum towards peace must not be allowed to slacken. As I assured the House last week, we remain ready in this country to contribute in any way we can both to making the peace and to keeping it. I believe that the international community should and will have a part to play in providing guarantees. We will help in this if required to do so to the extent of providing a part of a peace-keeping force.

Dr. Kissinger's present intention is to stop briefly in London on his way back to America from Moscow and Tel Aviv. Obviously his programme is liable to change, but if he is able to stick to his plan I shall see him later tonight and will be able to discuss this and other matters with him.

We are at the beginning of a long and complicated process but the opportunity for a real peace does now exist. I shall continue to keep the House informed.

Mr. Callaghan

We join the Foreign Secretary in welcoming what seems to be the end of hostilities for the time being and we express, too, the fervent hope that this will be the beginning of a genuine peace. The immediate implementation of Resolution 242 in all its parts is as ambiguous a phrase as could be adduced at present. I recognise that it is probably the Americans and the Russians who have played the major part in getting the resolution together, but do the words immediate and concurrent negotiations between the parties concerned mean in the Foreign Secretary's understanding that there will be direct discussions between Israel and Egypt, which has always seemed to be an essential part of the negotiations?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman raise with Dr. Kissinger when he comes to London this evening whether Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Brezhnev have discussed the future of the Palestinians, because I noticed that the resolution was silent about that and I have heard nothing about that particular matter.

Thirdly, it is my preliminary estimation that there would be no difficulty in any part of the House in accepting the right hon. Gentleman's view that Britain should help to provide part of a peacekeeping force if conducted under United Nations' auspices and there is general agreement to it. If this were one of the ways of achieving a peaceful settlement, we would want to play our part.

Can the Foreign Secretary, either now or later, report to the House after his conversation with Dr. Kissinger what he understands to be the future of our oil supplies?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The implications for the United Kingdom of the decision by the Arab producers to reduce oil production are not clear. As I told the House last week, there is no indication that the restrictions which are being talked about are specifically directed against this country. Nevertheless, we could be affected, and the Government are naturally reviewing the contingency arrangements to deal with any situation in which our supplies might be significantly reduced.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will keep the House informed on this matter and on the situation as it develops. But it is not at the moment clear. In the meantime, it makes good sense for all consumers to see what they can do to economise by cutting non-essential use of fuel. I shall discuss this with Dr. Kissinger to see whether he knows more.

It is true that interpretation of Resolution 242 has been the centre of difficulty all the time. I should not like to anticipate now the discussions, but I am sure that demilitarised zones, to provide a buffer of security for all the countries, must be part of the settlement.

Will these be direct discussions between the parties? That, as the right hon. Gentleman truly says, has been the difficulty up till now. I hope there will be direct discussions, but I am sure they will have to have help.

The Palestinian problem must be part of a final settlement—otherwise, of course, the settlement would not stick.

Sir D. Dodds-Parker

Can the Foreign Secretary say whether any progress has been made in the Council of Ministers towards a European underwriting of any final settlement?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The Middle East experts of the European countries of the Nine are meeting today to discuss the matter. There has been a pretty good unanimity in the Council that the European countries would help in peacekeeping if that proved to be necessary.

Mr. Thorpe

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that there will be worldwide relief that the fighting is likely to stop. Since the cease-fire is conditional upon general acceptance by all concerned, and since Syria and Iraq have not yet expressed their view—and, indeed, Syria has never accepted Resolution 242—will the Foreign Secretary bear in mind, and put to Dr. Kissinger, that, in the event of there not being acceptance from that quarter, there might none the less be a cease-fire on the Egyptian and the Israeli front in Sinai, even in default of the other?

Since it is generally accepted that Resolution 242 was accepted because it meant different things to different people, should there be ambiguity whether talks and withdrawal are to be immediately concurrent, would the right hon. Gentleman consider what sort of machinery ought to exist, possibly under the Secretary-General's chairmanship, to try to remove ambiguities which could cause the cease-fire to be ended with one or either side claiming that it had not been honoured?

Finally, although this move for a cease-fire was clearly on the initiative of the super-Powers, would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that if anyone had any doubts of the necessity for a world forum such as United Nations, the events of the last 24 hours have proved it?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Any settlement must be under the broad umbrella of the United Nations and the Secretary-General will, I think, have to take a part, and would want to do so. On the right hon. Gentleman's first question whether, if Iraq stood out alone, let us say, she could be in a position to stop the process of the cease-fire and negotiations, one has to remember that Iraq never did, since 1948, accept any cease-fire. In the documents, although I hope to know more about this tonight, the word "reciprocity" is used about relations between the Israelis and Egyptians, for example, and the Israelis and the Jordanians, and so it is possible that we might have a cease-fire on one or two fronts even if Iraq stood out.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Would it be true to say that this conflict may have brought nearer the achievement of a common foreign policy between the nine members of the EEC?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I hope that that would be so. They are completely agreed now on the arms policy which they are pursuing and which will have to be reviewed, just as we review ours. We are completely united on that. I think they are united, too, that, when it appears how Europe could help in the Middle East, it would be willing to do so.

Mr. Mayhew

The Foreign Secretary will recall that the needs of the Palestinians form part of Resolution 242. Will he assure us that he recognises that in the weeks ahead, if a settlement is to be lasting, some generous restitution needs to be made to the Palestinians, not only by the Israelis but with the help of other countries, including Britain?

May I suggest also that recent events present a considerable justification of the policy which the right hon. Gentleman laid down in Harrogate and the decisions that he has taken since?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

One can only hope that in this situation any contribution one makes is helpful to somebody. It is not an easy job to find the right policy in this kind of situation. I hope that Harrogate was one contribution that may be useful.

The question of the Palestinians must clearly form part of a complete and long-term settlement. I hope that we shall not become too euphoric at this moment because there are many difficulties in the way. One step at a time is perhaps enough.

Mr. Finsberg

At the end of his statement, my right hon. Friend said that Britain would be prepared, if necessary, to contribute to any international peace force. Would he make it clear to the House that, if we are prepared to contribute to such a force, that force may not be withdrawn at the whim of one side or the other?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

After the performance of the last Secretary-General of the United Nations, that would have to be a condition.

Mr. Frank Allaun

In reaching a settlement, will the British Government take the initiative among the Big Four to stop all future arms supplies to both sides? Secondly, would the Foreign Secretary agree that, although a few days ago it looked as if this were going to be a fatal blow to the détente, if a cease-fire takes place it may well be that we are much nearer a détente and world peace than we were before the whole business started?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I echo profoundly the hope expressed by the hon. Gentleman in the last part of his question. As to stopping all arms to the area, if there is to be peace arms will have to be strictly rationed or stopped. This is a matter about which I shall be talking to Dr. Kissinger. I do not know as yet how far the Russians and the Americans have taken this question of limitation of arms into the area.

Mr. Crouch

The whole House will want to congratulate my right hon. Friend on having kept his cool in the last few days, whether or not there has been agreement with the decision that he made and recommended to the Government. However, it is one thing for the super-Powers to take decisions to help to bring about a cease-fire, but will he see that the recent decision that the Government made to apply an arms embargo is equally used to influence an effective peace settlement?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

If we are realistic, this had to start with the two super-Powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The process of peacemaking has just begun, and no more than that. I must underline that. As I have said, arms limitations or an embargo will have to be part of a permanent settlement.

Mr. Tinn

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the interests of the Palestinian Arabs cannot be adequately protected without their participation in any discussions leading to a peace settlement? Would it not be the height of hypocrisy for the world, which has often condemned the actions of the Palestinian Arabs in seeking to draw attention to their grievances, if the negotiations were allowed to take place over their heads?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman said and recognise the importance of this question. I think we ought not to try to define too closely today how much will be settled and how soon.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

While accepting that an international arms embargo is obviously an important and contributory factor to world peace, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend can say in what respect the influence of the United States and of Russia in the peace negotiations has been diminished by the fact that they have supplied arms, and what key role do we expect to play as a result of not supplying arms?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

In response to my hon. Friend, I would say that the Russians and the Americans have been the main suppliers in the area, but the situation gradually built up into a war. The situation which we want to create is one in which arms will play a smaller and smaller part, and in which we can move towards peace. This limitation or embargo may help, and we certainly hope that it will do so.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

If the Foreign Secretary agrees that the peace-makers in Moscow have done a great job, will he make sure that Dr. Kissinger is tonight congratulated on his award of the Nobel Peace Prize? There is a report—I hope a scurrilous report and quite unfounded—that the British Government have so far failed to congratulate him.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I have already congratulated him, but I have no objection to congratulating him twice.

Mr. Fidler

Will my right hon. Friend accept the great feeling of relief on all sides of the House, and throughout the country, at the prospect of a cease-fire at 6 p.m. this evening with no further loss of life, and the prospect of both sides—Israel and her Arab neighbours—coming into direct negotiation? In addition, may I ask my right hon. Friend, in line with his non-intervention policy announced last week, which inter alia denied spare parts and arms to Israel, the victims of aggression, what steps he proposes to take, either in conjunction with his own friends or with his European partners, to ensure that no special loans are raised in the City of London directly to assist Egypt and Syria in the purchase of arms, as might be indicated by the proposed loan through Morgan Grenfell for Abu Dhabi, which is supplying such money to them?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

As I understand it, commercial transactions by banks or companies of any kind are carried out within the rules laid down by the Bank of England or by the Economic Departments or the Treasury, and are not the concern of the Foreign Office.

Mr. Harold Wilson

While joining in the warm welcome which my right hon. Friend and other right hon. Members have given—above all, because of the terrible casualties between Arab and Jew until the cease-fire could be achieved—may I put these questions to the right hon. Gentleman? First, on my right hon. Friend's point about negotiations, will the right hon. Gentleman share our pleasure that while, as all of us agreed last week, Resolution No. 242 was capable of different interpretations, there are now to be negotiations, which I hope, speaking for myself, will be direct negotiations at the appropriate time? Will he confirm that the Israel Government have for years pressed for direct negotiations which, indeed, I called for at the end of my speech last week? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the question of the Palestinians, we on this side of the House—and I think it is true of the right hon. Gentleman—have always emphasised that no settlement, whether a comprehensive settlement or even just a local and limited one, as was proposed by the Americans for the Suez Canal, is possible or lasting without a generous provision for the Palestinians, which I myself have reason to believe was available if direct negotiations could have occurred before this tragic fight?

Thirdly, since one of the requirements of Resolution No. 242 is secure and defensible frontiers, and since these can be assisted by internationally effective guarantees, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in what he said last week and again today he will have our full support for international forces, with indeed the participation of British forces, if this is considered necessary and helpful, provided, as my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman said, and as I said last week, that they cannot be withdrawn at the moment of danger on the initiative of any of the parties? Finally, will he confirm that if peace has been secured and this ghastly murderous duel has been ended, it has been ended, as we forecast last week, by the wisdom of the duellists' seconds and by nobody else?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The duellists' seconds, as the right hon. Gentleman put it in that way, have been supplying each side with arms and the situation was gradually aggravated to a point where there was a war. I hope, with him, that we are indeed approaching the organisation of a lasting peace.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about direct negotiations. I cannot, of course, reply on behalf of Israel or the Arab nations. Direct negotiations after the war are best, but if they cannot come to direct negotiations, then others must put themselves in a position to help. I am quite sure that the question of the Palestinians must be part of a final settlement and that, as I said just now, such a settlement will not stick unless it is. On secure and defensible frontiers, I am pretty certain, as I said just now, that there will have to be buffer zones, demilitarised zones. How they will be policed is a matter for discussion. What is quite certain is that if there is an international force involved it must not be withdrawn by one side or the other.