HC Deb 09 April 1986 vol 95 cc151-2
5. Dr. M. S. Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what preparations he is making for a new initiative to resolve the Iran-Iraq war in the context of the forthcoming British presidency of the European Economic Community.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Iran-Iraq conflict is a prominent item on the agenda of European Community Foreign Ministers. With the other member states, we shall continue to press for the early implementation of Security Council resolution 582, and to support the mediation efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General.

Dr. Miller

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his reply, but will he go a little further than that? When he assumes the presidency of the Economic Community, will he take a very early opportunity to impress upon his counterparts the necessity to desist from supplying all weapons of war to that area, and also to make some sort of representation to the Soviet Union to do the same?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have been and will continue to be active in the Security Council itself and in the European Community in support of pressing for the acceptance of Security Council resolution 582. As the hon. Gentleman knows, our policy is not to sell defence-related equipment that could significantly enhance the capability of either side to prolong or exacerbate the conflict. That shows our own judgment on the merits of that policy.

Mr. David Howell

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the current collapse in oil prices could have a radical effect on the outcome and progress of the Iran-Iraq war? Is that not just one of the foreign policy consequences in the Gulf, following the collapse in oil prices? Is not now the time to pursue talks, for instance with the Saudis and other interested parties in the area, on the lines that I think my right hon. and learned Friend himself suggested in Riyadh a few months ago?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is possible that the change in the state of the oil market will change conditions in a fashion that will create another possible opening for activity of the sort that my right hon. Friend has in mind. I shall certainly bear his suggestion in mind. As he will recall, my hon. Friend the Minister of State recently visited the Gulf to discuss the issue with a number of Gulf states, as I had done previously with Saudi Arabia. We shall continue to press the case in that way.

Mr. Alton

Given the complaint only last week by the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister that the continued provision of aquatic craft and bridge-building kits, for instance, in the Iraq-Iran conflict is prolonging the war, how does the right hon. and learned Gentleman distinguish between what he referred to as lethal and non-lethal weapons on a previous occasion?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We distinguish in that way by making sure that every application for the export of defence-related equipment is rigorously scrutinised to ensure that all items are excluded that could contribute in the way that I have described to prolonging or exacerbating the conflict.

Mr. Latham

Is it not clear beyond any doubt that gas and chemical weapons have been used in this terrible war? Who is supplying them? What is Britain, as part of the United Nations, doing to try to stop it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no doubt, from a presidential statement at the United Nations Security Council on 20 March, that there is firm evidence that Iraq has used chemical weapons. We condemn the use of chemical weapons, wherever and whenever it occurs. We have taken action jointly with our Community partners—now more than 12 months ago—to ensure that we do not export materials that could be used for that purpose. However, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of doing everything that we possibly can to stop the use of these appalling weapons in this or any other conflict.