HC Deb 27 June 1984 vol 62 cc981-3
6. Mr. Bell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has held with the Gulf states.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Richard Luce)

Since his visit to Saudi Arabia in January, when he had valuable discussions with the King and other Ministers, my right hon. and learned Friend has met the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister on 3 April, the Bahraini Foreign Minister on 13 April and the Omani Foreign Minister on 10 May.

I visited Qatar in April for talks, and on 23 May I met the Qatar Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in London.

In addition, we are in constant touch with the Governments of the Gulf states through Her Majesty's ambassadors.

Mr. Bell

I welcome the Minister's statement. Is he aware that the Iraqi high command announced today that it had struck at two naval targets in the Gulf? Does that not emphasise the serious risks and dangers to British national interests in the Gulf? What assurances can the Minister give that the contacts to which he has referred will continue in the British national interest?

Mr. Luce

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we continue actively to have contact with all those interested in keeping the peace in the Gulf, as well as helping in mediation between the two countries concerned. We are deeply concerned about the events of the past few weeks in that part of the world and are co-operating closely with those states to see whether the atmosphere can be calmed.

Mr. Walters

Bearing in mind that a comprehensive peace settlement in the area remains our prime foreign policy objective, what steps do the Government intend to take to support King Hussein in his peace-making efforts, especially in a period when American foreign policy is completely paralysed?

Mr. Luce

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, that goes rather wider than a question about the Gulf, but I assure him that we and, indeed, the whole European Community remain actively concerned to see progress in the Arab-Israeli dispute. We have a very close relationship with Jordan. If King Hussein puts forward constructive proposals as a basis for a dialogue, we shall certainly encourage and support them.

Mr. Douglas

Can the Minister give some indication of the discussions that we have had with the United States and the Gulf states in relation to freedom of passage through the Gulf and, in particular, the Straits of Hormuz? Will the Minister further say what instructions are given to our vessels there about terms of engagement, and what assurance we can have of the safety of the British flag fleet operating in the Gulf?

Mr. Luce

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Security Council has passed two resolutions, both of which have advocated freedom of navigation in the international waterways of the Gulf. We, with our friends the United States and the European Community, actively supported those resolutions. We want the problem to be resolved in diplomatic terms, and we are putting all our diplomatic efforts in that direction.

The Secretary of State for Transport has put out at least two warnings to shipping about the dangers in the past two months, and the General Council of British Shipping has done the same. We have drawn attention to the heightened risks and tensions in that part of the world, but at the end of the day the matter is for the shipowners themselves.

Mr. Holt

Did my hon. Friend, while holding discussions with the Gulf states, raise with them the question of the six British subjects who are incarcerated without charge or trial in Libyan gaols by Colonel Gadaffi's regime?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member's question goes rather wide of the Gulf.

Mr. Faulds

Does the hon. Gentleman, and does the Foreign Secretary, accept that nothing will radicalise opinion more effectively in the whole of the Gulf area than American intervention there?

Mr. Luce

I can say clearly that all of us who supported the Security Council resolutions are concerned that there should be freedom of navigation in the international waterways, but that all efforts and priorities should go towards settling this by diplomatic means. That remains our priority.

Mr. George Robertson

As events in the Gulf today as well as in the past few days show that the area could easily become one of maximum sensitivity very quickly, are the Government showing sufficient urgency in bringing together the Soviet Union and the United States of America and to convey to them that they have a joint interest in the crisis? Secondly, are the Government trying some initiative to stop the flow of arms to Iran and Iraq, including spare parts from this country?

Mr. Luce

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will be going to Moscow next week. I can say without any doubt that he will raise the problem of the Gulf with the Soviet Union and discuss it with them. We remain in very close touch with the United States on the issue.

Our position on the sale of arms is the same as it has always been. We remain neutral and we do not sell any lethal items. We only wish that other countries would follow our example.

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