HC Deb 16 July 1980 vol 988 cc1473-6
5. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations he has received on the proposals on the Middle East put forward at the European Council meeting in Venice.

10. Mr. Walters

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will report on progress to follow up the initiative in the Middle East proposed at the Venice European summit.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

Representations have been made to the Government from a number of quarters. Particular concern has been expressed by representatives of the Anglo-Jewish community about the reference in the European Council statement to the Palestine Liberation Organisation. We continue to believe that the statement was balanced and positive. We are currently considering with our partners the practical aspects of the contacts with the parties concerned which the Nine have undertaken to carry out.

Mr. Sainsbury

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the extent to which there is discrimination and, in some cases, an absolute prohibition, against Christianity as well as Judaism in nearly all of the States which most strongly support the PLO and which are most strongly supported by it? Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is yet another reason why there is such widespread disquiet about an initiative which appears at least to be aimed at creating a PLO-dominated State on the West Bank?

Sir I. Gilmour

With respect to my hon. Friend, I am not certain how closely those two questions are intertwined. For one thing, the European declaration did not recommend a PLO State on the West Bank. It recommended self-determination for the Palestinians, at the same time as seeking to ensure that Israel's security was guaranteed. I think, therefore, that the statement was balanced. Although there have been some representations against it, it has been widely welcomed.

Mr. Walters

Will my right hon. Friend assure his right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary that the majority of hon. Members prefer his statesmanlike approach to the problems of the Middle East to the grotesque and abusive outpourings of Mr. Begin who, with his record, should not lecture the British Government? Will he assure the House that the follow-up to the Venice communiqué, with its initiative on the Middle East, is being pursued as vigorously as possible, bearing in mind the gravity of the situation?

Sir. I. Gilmour

The initiative is being followed up in co-operation with other countries today and this week. I hope that further progress will be announced shortly. On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, it would be surprising if the approach of my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary were not preferred to the approach of the leader of another Government, however respected a person.

Mr. Mikardo

What does the Lord Privy Seal think about the fact that Mr. Yasser Arafat has flatly and contemptuously rejected the Venice declaration by saying that the Palestine question can never be settled by any political declaration or other political action, but only by military means? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is a good reward for all the work that he has done on behalf of the Palestinians?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is regrettable that the European declaration has been rejected. It has been rejected only by the PLO, Israel and the Syrians. It was welcomed by President Sadat as balanced and constructive. Certainly any extreme claims by either side are to be regretted. We deplore the recent Fatah declaration. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that claims by Mr. Begin for sovereignity over the whole of Palestine would be equally unacceptable.

Sir Hugh Fraser

Is my right hon. Friend aware that President Sadat has said that the PLO should not be involved, under any circumstances, in the negotiations? Be that as it may, will my right hon. Friend now take some practical steps in terms of homework before the grant mission leaves for the Middle East, and ask the French Government why they are supplying nuclear fuel of weapon-making quality to the Government of Iraq? Why are the French supporting an extremely dangerous and highly sensitive position in the Middle East? Far from being a contribution to peace, it could be a contribution to the explosion of the whole of the Middle East.

Sir I. Gilmour

That is as may be, but it has nothing to do with the European initiative from Venice. I repeat that President Sadat was well aware of the terms of the European declaration, and he described it as balanced and constructive.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that many of us regard the declaration not only as well balanced but overdue? To continue with the exclusion of one of the most vitually concerned participants would mean that there would never be any hope of achieving peace in the Middle East.

Sir I. Gilmour

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. We deplore terrorism, from wherever it comes, in the Middle East. We have not recognised, and will not recognise, the PLO, but it is futile for anybody to deny that it enjoys a considerable measure of support among Palestinians. Therefore, it would be futile not to talk to the PLO.

Mr. Lawrence

What about the IRA?

Sir I. Gilmour

The IRA does not enjoy significant support in Northern Ireland.

Mr. William Shelton

I understand the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters), but does my right hon. Friend agree that the Israeli State is a bastion for the West in the Middle East?

Sir I. Gilmour

We have no doubt, and are unequivocal about the fact that we are committed to the security and continuance of Israel. The Venice declaration made that clear. It is also clear that Israel will never be fully secure until the Palestinian problem is solved. That can be solved only by giving justice to the Palestinians, while ensuring the security of the Israelis.

Mr. Shore

On the question raised by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser), does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the supply of arms and nuclear materials by European countries to the contestants in the Arab-Israeli dispute is a matter of major importance in the context of trying to achieve peace anywhere in the Middle East let alone the possibility of its repercussing, as it is bound to do, upon the so-called European initiative?

In the light of the many specific statements that have been made during the past week about the supply by the French of high grade uranium to Iraq, and in the knowledge that Iraq is pursuing an independent nuclear programme, will the right hon. Gentleman say what representations have been made to the French Government, and what response has been receieved?

Sir I. Gilmour

If it is pursuing an independent nuclear policy, Iraq is probably not the only country in the Middle East to do so. That does not arise out of this question, but if the right hon. Gentleman tables a question on the matter I shall answer it.

Sir Hugh Fraser

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. In view of that unsatisfactory reply, I propose to raise the matter on the Ajournment.