HC Deb 17 January 1984 vol 52 cc148-9
4. Mr. Proctor

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the costs of British troops in the Lebanon during 1984; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stanley

If the British contingent of the multinational force were to remain in Beirut throughout 1984, the additional cost of having our men there rather than at their normal location would be in the region of £800,000. The British contingent continues to patrol in Beirut and to provide the security force for the ceasefire committee, both of which roles are highly valued.

Mr. Proctor

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the British officers and men who carry out their work with such distinction, especially in protecting the ceasefire committee?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. I readily pay a warm tribute to the outstanding contribution that has been made by our small contingent to the multinational force, which has exercised influence to the good out of all proportion to its size.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Minister able to develop the Prime Minister's implication of her wish for an orderly transfer from a British force to a United Nations' peacekeeping force, a view which the Liberal/Social Democratic alliance supports'? Has he any thought of giving such a force a more effective mandate than UNIFIL had in the south of Lebanon?

Mr. Stanley

For some time we have felt that the development of the United Nations existing role in the Lebanon would be a practical way of providing an alternative to the multinational force, and we are continuing to discuss that possibility with all interested parties.

Mr. Stokes

Is my hon. Friend aware that everyone realises the magnificent part which our small number of troops have played in Beirut? Is their sole purpose there merely to guard a building in which from time to time peace discussions are held? What is the long-term future of these troops? Are they not every day being exposed to unnecessary dangers?

Mr. Stanley

The function of the troops in Beirut is to provide physical evidence of the presence of the multinational force by patrolling in Beirut. It is also to provide the all-important security force for the ceasefire committee. It is unlikely that the ceasefire committee would be meeting if its various members were not satisfied with the adequacy of the security arrangements, as they certainly currently are with the British presence.

Mr. Tom Clarke

In view of President Reagan's statement yesterday, does the Minister accept that we in Britain have a responsibility to ease world tension, that the Lebanon is a part of the world where that can occur if we involve the United Nations and that a large number of people who are extremely well informed doubt the wisdom of the presence of British troops?

Mr. Stanley

There is little doubt that if the four components the MNF were withdrawn the violence and bloodshed in Beirut would be far greater than it is at present.

Mr. Budgen

If it is necessary to withdraw British troops from the Lebanon, why is it thought that United Nations troops would do a better or different job?

Mr. Stanley

The United Nations, by its nature, tends to have a more permanent existence—for example, as in Cyprus—than the multinational force, which has always been envisaged as a temporary response to the particular serious situation that has arisen in Beirut.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is the Minister aware that we all agree that the British troops have done a marvellous job in the impossible, dangerous situation in which the Government have irresponsibly put them? Is it not a fact that the British troops went in on the coat tails of President Reagan and the Government are now totally out of control of the situation? The troops will come out if President Reagan wants them to come out, and they will stay there if he does not. Why can we not show some independence in British foreign policy?

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman appears to have forgotten that when the British component first went into Beirut it did so with the support of the Opposition. He can be certain that the Government continue to take an independent view of the problem. Our view is that it is in the interests of stability in Beirut that the four component members of the MNF act together and that we should stay in Beirut.