HC Deb 07 December 1977 vol 940 cc1372-5
10. Mr. Walters

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's attitude on progress towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

12. Mr. Aitken

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the Middle East.

17. Mr. Goodhart

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

Dr. Owen

The Government have welcomed President Sadat's bold initiative in visiting Jerusalem. We hope that the meeting summoned by President Sadat in Cairo will carry forward preparations for a peace conference involving all the parties. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I discussed the full range of Middle East problems with Mr. Begin during his recent visit.

Mr. Walters

Since it is impossible to achieve peace in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian issue, did the Foreign Secretary obtain from Mr. Begin, during his visit, assurances that he will respond to President Sadat's initiative and make the necessary territorial concessions on the West Bank?

Dr. Owen

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the speech made by Mr. Begin on Sunday evening, which referred to some of these issues.

Mr. Aitken

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the only territorial response from Israel since President Sadat's visit has been the creation of six new settlements on the West Bank? Will Her Majesty's Government use their influence to encourage from Israel a far more constructive approach to the process of peace-making?

Dr. Owen

I do not think that anyone who followed the progress of the talks that took place on Saturday and Sunday in London between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Mr. Begin can have any doubt of the constructive contribution that we are attempting to make to a solution of this complex and difficult problem.

Mr. Goodhart

As the right hon. Gentleman seems so content with Soviet policy in southern Africa, what has he to say about the fact that the efficient Soviet propaganda machine seems intent on attempting to sabotage President Sadat's courageous and inspiring initiative in the Middle East?

Dr. Owen

I am not certain that I agree with the preamble to that supplementary question. As far as the Middle East is concerned, I believe that there is advantage in getting back to Geneva. I think that that should still be our objective as part of comprehensive negotiations. I believe that there are advantages in the two co-chairmen playing a responsive and responsible rôle in the negotiations.

Mr. Corbett

While my right hon. Friend is involved in helping towards a settlement of the wider issues in the Middle East, will he give an undertaking that he will not forget—I am sure that he will not want to do so—the bitter problem of Cyprus? What are the prospects of a resumption of the inter-communal talks there?

Dr. Owen

I share my hon. Friend's concern about that troubled island, but until the presidential election takes place in February it will be difficult to take any new step forward in intercommunal talks. I am studying the issue very closely.

Mr. Dykes

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, as he himself implied, Mr. Begin has already clearly referred to the Palestinian cause and suggested that there can be negotiations along those lines? Does not that contrast with the deplorable and negative attitude of the other Arab States towards President Sadat's initiative? Will the right hon. Gentleman say something further about that?

Dr. Owen

I would prefer the Arab world to remain united and to negotiate from a united front. There would be advantage in that. But those who are genuinely seeking peace in the Middle East cannot constantly be held down by the inability of one section to agree. We must surely all work for unity in the moderate Arab approach which has been amply demonstrated in the last few months during the period of the various initiatives taken by the United States Government.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is it correct that a vast new supply of arms to Egypt from Britain is under consideration? Secondly, in order to protect the fragile peace in the Middle East, will my right hon. Friend prevent the supply of all British arms to either side in order to avoid the Middle East becoming a tinder box?

Dr. Owen

The cardinal principle, which is difficult to apply, in deciding on arms shipments to the Middle East is that one should not, by a particular shipment, upset the balance of power and alter the ratios. The United Kingdom has tried to avoid doing that under successive Governments. I know of no massive shipment of arms, but we have traditionally, for many years, been arms suppliers to Egypt.

Mr. John Davies

May I revert to the speech made by Mr. Begin on Sunday? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that Mr. Begin's allusion to his preparedness to negotiate with true representatives of the Palestinian Arab people represented a very important statement? As, unfortunately, owing to Mr. Begin's illness, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. White-law) and I were unable to see him yesterday, can the Foreign Secretary tell us anything further as a result of the discussions that he himself had on this very salient issue for the future?

Dr. Owen

I think that the fact that in his speech Mr. Begin made reference to the Palestinian Arabs owes a lot to the discussions that took place between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and him. It was, of course, on that issue that a lot of the discussion was bound to concentrate. The fact that Mr. Begin came out of the meetings and made his statement is testimony to the progress made during the discussions.

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