§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tim Renton)
With permission, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make a statement on British interests in the Lebanon and terrorism.
The British ambassador to Lebanon, Mr. John Gray, has reported that three bodies were found near Beirut earlier this morning. Pinned to one of the bodies was a notice claiming that they had been excuted as "CIA spies" by an organisation calling itself the Arab Fedayeen. Mr. Gray is urgently trying to arrange positive identification of the bodies. As the House will know, Mr. Alec Collett, a British employee of UNRWA, was kidnapped in Lebanon on 25 March 1985. Two British citizens, Mr. Leigh Douglas and Mr. Philip Padfield were kidnapped on 28 March this year, and Mr. Brian Keenan, of dual British and Irish nationality, was kidnapped in Beirut on 11 April. The House will wish to express to the relatives of the kidnap victims their sympathy in the terrible anxiety that they are now undergoing after all the acute stress to which they have already been subjected. Further information will certainly be given to the next of kin as soon as it is received.
Mr. Gray has also reported that another British citizen was kidnapped earlier this morning in west Beirut on his way to the airport. So far we have not received any claim of responsibility for his abduction. The ambassador is making inquiries with the authorities in Beirut and with community leaders.
Last week Mr. Gray repeated and reinforced his standing advice to British citizens against remaining in west Beirut and other areas in Lebanon where British citizens are at particular risk. All reasonable security precautions have been taken to protect Mr. Gray and his small staff. We have asked him urgently for his further advice on staffing of the British embassy and the safety of the remaining British community.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary held an urgent meeting with his European colleagues in Paris this morning to discuss terrorism. A further meeting will be held early next week to discuss implementation of the recommendations of experts.
I understand that a suspected explosive device was found this morning at terminal 1 of Heathrow airport. The terminal was evacuated while the device was made safe. A women was arrested by the police.
This morning four rockets hit the ambassador's unoccupied residence in west Beirut. Mr. Gray was not present at the time, and he reports that there were no casualties, although some damage was caused to the building.
The whole House will wish to pay tribute to Mr. Gray and his staff, who are doing their work in the Lebanon with skill and courage in dangerous conditions.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
We on this side of the House express our condolences to the bereaved and our admiration for the ambassador and his staff in extremely difficult conditions in Lebanon. We take no satisfaction from the realisation of our prediction that we in Britain will now be in the front line of terrorist outrages.
The Arab Fedayeen, or Arab commando unit, which has claimed responsibility for the three deaths in Lebanon, 1024 has apparently claimed that those three murders were in direct retaliation for the United States' aggression against Libya. Does the Minister have any further information on this subject? Is it correct that those three are the first tragic victims of the Prime Minister's completely isolated support for President Reagan? What progress had the Foreign Secretary made in his negotiations last week with the Syrian Government about the release of those three Britons—progress which appears, tragically, to have been cut short?
What information is there about the terrorist group responsible for the outrage of shelling our residence in west Beirut? If sufficient evidence is available to show that a neighbouring Arab country was responsible, whl the Government be tempted to invoke article 51—the self-defence article of the United Nations—and seek a retaliatory strike against that country? Where do we draw the line as we add up the mounting cycle of violence?
It is said that armed groups are now roaming the streets of west Beirut in search of foreigners as their victims. In those circumstances, what advice is the Foreign Office giving to residual staff at our embassies and to other British nationals? Is evacuation a practicable option in these circumstances? What special measures are being taken to protect our embassies and missions, both in the middle east and elsewhere, particularly in places where the Libyans have maintained their missions?
Finally, during the debate last night the Foreign Secretary told the House that he would today again urge our European partners to meet the challenge of terrorism. In the light of the results of this morning's meeting, is the Minister convinced that our European Economic Community partners have risen to the challenge?
§ Mr. Renton
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the sympathy that he has expressed to the relatives of the kidnap victims. His sympathy is obviously shared by the whole House. At present we do not have any information about who was responsible for these murders. Indeed, the bodies have not been identified. As soon as we have the information, we will contact the next of kin if the victims are British.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, "fedayeen" is a word commonly used in Arabic. Thus, the Arab fedayeen sounds like a wide group, not one of the specific terrorist groups on which we have previously received information. We cannot therefore be certain at this stage of the type and identity of the group claiming responsibility.
The shelling of our west Beirut residence obviously sounds alarming, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that rocket attacks in west Beirut have been all too frequent in recent months. Our chancery building was subject to a rocket attack in August 1984. For that reason, for months we have arranged for all the United Kingdom staff to sleep in east Beirut rather than west Beirut.
As I said in my statement, we have given instructions to posts throughout the world, and particularly those in the middle and near east, to look carefully at their security measures. We shall be reinforcing this advice specifically in regard to Beirut after receiving further advice front the ambassador. The remaining British citizens in the Lebanon have for a long time been advised not to travel, for example, in west Beirut, in the Beka'a valley, or south Lebanon, unless they absolutely have to do so. Our ambassador has frequently pointed out to them that he is 1025 not able to give them the protection that British citizens abroad would normally receive. He is considering this advice to see whether it should be strengthened.
The EEC meeting this morning was only an interim meeting for Foreign Ministers to discuss progress, particularly on the subject of international terrorism. They repeated their determination to take quick action in this respect. Next week, at the Foreign Affairs Coumcil meeting on Monday, it is expected that expert groups will submit reports, with their recommendations for action on international terrorism.
Finally, I refer to the hon. Gentleman's comments about the British Government's support for United States' action against terrorist targets in Europe. Is he really suggesting that Governments should not take such action; that their hands should be tied because of threats made to them by terrorists and kidnappers? The Government carefully considered the position of our hostages in the middle east and elsewhere, but if we had allowed our hands to be tied and not taken action of the sort that we deemed it right to take, because of possible reprisals by kidnappers, that would have been seen as giving in to terrorist criminals, and that is not the sort of action that the House would expect from this Government.
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
My hon. Friend has the support of Conservative Members in the tribute that he paid to our ambassador in Beirut and his staff, and in his expression of sympathy to the relatives of the British kidnap victims. Is he aware that this side of the House rejects most of the conclusions drawn by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson)? My hon. Friend and his right hon. Friends have our support for the courage that they are displaying in doing what they believe to be right in the face of international terrorism.
§ Mr. Renton
I thank my right hon. Friend both for his expression of sympathy for the relatives of the victims and for his warm support for the work being done by Her Majesty's ambassador in Lebanon and his staff, and I will ensure that his expression of support is passed on to those concerned.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Minister's expression of sympathy to the relatives of the kidnap victims, and also in paying tribute to the work being done in very trying circumstances by Mr. Gray and his embassy staff in Beirut.
Alliance Members profoundly disagree with the Government's decision to support the American intervention in Libya, but we unreservedly condemn acts of terrorism. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that there are more effective ways of dealing with and combating terrorism than the method chosen, such as the ways which we believe are being discussed by the European Council of Ministers and which we hope will be implemented? Does he not believe that by standing alone in Europe and aiding and abetting American military action we have made British subjects and citizens more vulnerable to retaliatory attacks, the first victims of which he referred to in his statement today?
§ Mr. Renton
I thank the hon. Member for his expression of sympathy and his support for the ambassador 1026 and his staff. I agree with what he said about action of the past few hours in relation to British hostages. One thing that this shows is the clear need for international action against international terrorism, whether ordinary terrorism or state-sponsored terrorism. This is the message that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has been hammering home for many months, at meetings in the EEC and at the United Nations, and we hope that more positive action will be taken in the months ahead.
I am sure that the House does not want me to go over the debate that occupied seven hours last night, but surely it is right that in certain circumstances military action in self-defence is necessary in order to discourage and prevent further acts of terrorism.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, sadly, it looks as though it is one of my constituents who has been killed, and will he join me and the House in sending our deepest sympathy to the father and relatives at Bideford? My hon. Friend said that it is important for all British subjects to get out of Beirut, but how can they do that without some assistance? I understand that one or two people who have gone to the airport have been captured. Will my hon. Friend make arrangements somehow for such people to be protected?
§ Mr. Renton
I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. I am sorry to hear that one of the victims may be a constituent of his. I know that the House would want to associate itself with the expression of sympathy to his constituent's family. To avoid misunderstanding, I emphasise that my advice was not, to use my hon. Friend's words, that it is important for all to get out. I drew a careful distinction between west Beirut and east Beirut. Anyone who has been to Beirut recently, as I did in December, will know well the reasons for that distinction.
Our advice through the embassy to British residents has for many months been that they should not travel through west Beirut unless they have good reason to do so. At the moment the same advice does not apply to east Beirut. There is, of course, always the possibility that people living in the Lebanon can leave by ferry, which is the usual method for coming to and from Beirut. That is a possibility which I am sure many people will be thinking about at present. I bear in mind my hon. Friend's remarks about the safety of those travelling to the airport in west Beirut, and I shall pass those on.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South East)
All hon. Members will be saddened by the news of any victims of terrorism, no matter from where it comes. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) say that the answer to terrorism is international action. Our criticism is that there has been unilateral action. Having met the ambassador from the Lebanon and his delegation only a few days ago, what support are the Government giving for United Nations resolution 425 for the removal of American-backed Israeli troops from the south of Lebanon, which would be a major means of stabilising that region? Will the Secretary of State make a statement as soon as possible?
§ Mr. Renton
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I do not agree that the United States' action was unilateral. Rather, it was action by the United States, supported in one respect by the United Kingdom, 1027 on behalf of the international community, which is threatened by international terrorism. Someone earlier referred to the front line of terrorism. We have been in the front line for at least the past 10 years, since the agents of the Libyan Government started to commit their crimes in Britain.
The hon. Gentleman will know that we strongly support the continuation of the mandate of UNIFIL in south Lebanon. That is coming up for discussion at the United Nations. We have always strongly urged Israel to complete its evacuation from south Lebanon. That has been the Government's consistent policy, and I hope that it will be seen to be put into effect.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North)
I join my hon. Friend in offering my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the victims in Beirut, including my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas, who have suffered deeply since the abduction of their son. May I have an assurance that everything possible will be done to ascertain the facts of what has happened in Beirut as soon as possible?
§ Mr. Renton
Yes, I can give that unqualified assurance to my hon. Friend. We expect to hear within hours about the identification of the bodies, and that information will be communicated immediately not only to the next of kin but to any Members of this honourable House who, for constituency reasons, are associated with the victims.
Let me take this opportunity of thanking all those many Governments, organisations and individuals who have tried in recent weeks to assist us, either in locating or in securing the release of the various hostages. Their work has been magnificent, and if for three of them it has ended today, that is a great tragedy.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
In view of the deteriorating security situation in Beirut, do Her Majesty's Government have not only contingency plans for the evacuation of British residents there, but military units to assist in such an evacuation, as was the case recently in Aden?
§ Mr. Renton
I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. The evacuation in Aden was substantially assisted by the chance presence of Britannia, and we cannot always call on the royal yacht for this purpose. Its presence outside Aden was extremely helpful, but that was by chance, as it was on a voyage to Australasia. The right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into detail about possible contingency plans, but I take his point about the dangerous situation in the Lebanon. That is a matter of which we have been aware for a good many weeks.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
Everybody will deplore these dastardly deeds, but will my hon. Friend please understand that it is necessary sometimes to try to comprehend what is going on before one rushes into making decisions such as the Government made the day before yesterday? Does he agree that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister refers to state terrorism she aptly describes the acts of Israel in southern Lebanon? That is seen by almost all Arabs as a direct result of the policy of the United States in the middle east, with which we now, sadly, seem to be associated. Will my hon. Friend at least confirm that it remains the British Government's policy utterly to condemn this illegal invasion and occupation of Lebanese territory? Will he now recognise that the Government should be seeking, with our European 1028 partners, to restrain the United States from its one-sided policy in the middle east which has caused so many problems?
§ Mr. Renton
I would only make the point to my hon. Friend that in the course of yesterday's debate, virtually all of which I listened to, many hon. Members on both sides of the House said that the real solution to the problem of terrorism in the middle east lay in the solution of the Palestinian problem. I would not deny that that is the root cause, but it is the easiest thing in the world to say that. The difficulty is to find a solution. Successive Governments, United Nations organisations, the United States and many others have sought such a solution over recent years. King Hussein is in Britain at the moment, and doubtless that is one of the matters that he will be discussing with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, since it was her initiative, after discussions with King Hussein, which appeared to have a chance of taking us a step forward in meeting a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation last autumn. It is easy to say that that is the problem, but the difficulty, as all Governments have found, is to find the solution to the Palestinian question.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I associate myself with the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), especially with his expressions of sympathy and condolence, in the same way as I associate myself with the Prime Minister's statement on Tuesday:Terrorism is a scourge of the modern age."—[Official Report, 15 April 1986; Vol. 95, c. 730.]In fact, most people would agree that terrorism is an almost exquisite form of premeditated treachery. With that in mind, will the Minister give the House an assurance this afternoon that he will prevail upon the Prime Minister, who has not been present throughout these proceedings, to consult her friend the President of the United States to see whether she may be allowed to agree with me in stating that a terrorist is a terrorist, regardless of the insignia worn when committing the insane and bloody act?
§ Mr. Renton
I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I fully agree with him in his wholehearted condemnation of terrorism, be it state-inspired or directed, wherever it occurs.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
Is my hon. Friend aware that this afternoon in Westminster Abbey King Hussein of Jordan paid a moving tribute to the late Glubb Pasha? Cannot we somehow get back to those happier days when Englishmen knew and understood the Arab people so well? Surely there will be no peace in that part of the world unless a peace plan can somehow be started again, perhaps by the EEC Ministers.
§ Mr. Renton
I note what my hon. Friend said. I would have been at that memorial service had it not been necessary to prepare for this statement in the House on these tragic events. Thinking of Glubb Pasha does, of course, remind us of an era in the middle east when Britain was an extremely important protecting power. That day has gone for ever, but our interests in the middle east remain very strong. We never forget them.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Will the Minister accept that we have gone beyond the days of the late Glubb Pasha and are living in the 1980s? While all Members of the House of Commons will understand why he should make such an anodyne, apparently innocent and 1029 bland statement about the present situation, will he convey to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State that they have made a disastrous error of judgment and should learn the lessons accordingly?
§ Mr. Renton
I do not think that the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary has made a disastrous error of judgement. Therefore, no, I will not convey that message.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, arising out of the current situation in Libya, we now may be at the beginning of a chain of consequences and events, some of which, sadly, may have tragic results for individuals, but some of which may yet result in the elimination of state-sponsored terrorism and therefore make the world safer for individuals?
§ Mr. Renton
Yes, I very much hope that the result which my hon. Friend sees as a possibility will come about.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Unfashionable though it may be these days, may I express a high regard for the quality of the senior officials of the Foreign Office? Did not those self-same officials warn Ministers specifically that if there was a military attack on Libya we might expect retribution in Beirut? Will he confirm that that specific warning was given by officials? Was that warning passed on by Ministers to Downing street, and did Downing street overrule the Foreign Office? Was that specific warning about Beirut taken into account? Is it not a case of Downing street thinking that it knows better than everybody else?
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman has an infinite capacity for seeing plots that do not exist. It is not necessary for officials to warn Ministers about the position of hostages.
§ Mr. Renton
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he listens and waits for a minute. I was in Damascus and in Beirut before Christmas. I spoke to Mr. Shara', Mr. Khaddam, Mr. Karami and other senior Ministers about Alec Collett and what could be done to secure his release. I did not need the advice of officials for that. So, quite clearly, when the decision was taken to support the United States in its measured attack on terrorist targets in Libya, one of the matters that was carefully taken into account was the implications to those who were being held hostage.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Apart from Beirut, has it not been easily predictable since Monday that the lives of other British citizens would now be at risk elsewhere in the middle east? What are the Government doing about stepping up protection for them?
§ Mr. Renton
I have already said in answer to earlier questions that we have given instructions to our posts throughout the middle east to take particular security precautions. Notably, in regard to Libya and Lebanon, in the first category, Mr. Dunnachie, who is in charge of our British interests section, has been giving advice to the British community constantly for the last few days, and Mr. Gray, our ambassador in Beirut, has been doing that along the lines that I have already mentioned for a good many weeks now.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
Can the Minister tell the House rather more than he has about the bomb at terminal 1 at Heathrow airport this morning? In view of the continuing and awful series of airport and airline outrages, one more of which was, appparently, only averted today through the customary effort and courage of airline staff, is he consulting the British Air Line Pilots Association to see whether we can bring into force, by agreement, an arrangement that aircraft do not land in those countries which provide safe havens for terrorists and murderers?
§ Mr. Renton
I cannot say any more at the moment about the bomb at Heathrow terminal 1. Police inquiries are at an early stage, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment further. Of course, it is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who will in due course answer further questions about the bomb.
We have not received any representations from, for example, the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations, but if it makes such representations as the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested, the appropriate Department will consider them very carefully indeed.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the kidnapping and murder of people in the middle east is not a recent phenomenon? Many of us remember the situation that existed in the late 1940s when this was going on, and it has been going on ever since. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the military action taken earlier this week is not the first instance of military action being taken in the middle east? Any student of middle east history knows that air forces, including the Royal Air Force, have been engaged extensively in the middle east in operations of this kind?
§ Mr. Renton
I take my hon. Friend's point, and he is of course right in saying that terrorist activities are nothing new. Specifically in regard to Libyan terrorist activities, this country has been suffering from them ever since 1979; for instance, in March 1980, when a Libyan journalist was shot in Regent's park. The whole House should agree that, despite the tragic circumstances that I have had to announce today, if the Government refrained from taking what they believe to be the correct action, because they were frightened of reprisals by terrorists or kidnappers, they would be giving in to blackmail by criminals. I cannot believe that that is a course of action that the House would want the Government to follow.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
Is it not evident from the hon. Gentleman's replies to the questions that have been put to him that these are not departmental answers? It is impossible for his Department to be responsible for these replies. If, tragically, this intensification of terrorist action continues over the coming days, will the Government make sure that the person who comes to the House to answer for these matters is the Prime Minister, who is primarily responsible?
§ Mr. Renton
I cannot say that I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman's question. Responsibility for the middle east is specifically mine within the Foreign Office, and it is therefore totally appropriate that I should have come here this afternoon to make a statement about developments in the Lebanon today.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)
On this occasion, when, quite rightly, the whole House is condemning savage murders, would it not be right for us to make it absolutely clear also that the more that terrorist activities take place, the stronger will be our resolve throughout this House? Should we not also point out that we have been at the sharp end as victims of terrorism in this country and abroad for a long time before Monday night's bombing of Tripoli?
§ Mr. Renton
I fully agree with my hon. Friend, and I have no doubt that, despite these tragic events, hon. Members, certainly on the Government Benches, are determined that there shall be no compromise and no trading with terrorists.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Does the Minister accept that his earlier explanation of the discussions in Paris today reveals a disturbing lack of urgency, and that his reference to more effective measures against terrorism in the months ahead being planned by European Foreign Ministers will not reassure people in this country that the Government are committed to effective measures other than the use of force? Will the Minister report the decisions of principle, if any, which were taken today in Paris which carry the discussion beyond the communiqué issued on Monday?
§ Mr. Renton
Although I understand the reasons for it, the hon. Member will have to restrain his impatience for a few more days. Today's meeting of the Foreign Ministers was only an interim meeting, at which once again the need was accepted for further urgent measures both to suppress terrorism in Europe and to recruit wider international support from friendly and moderate countries to stop state terrorism. A full meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council will take place on 21 April. It is from that meeting that the hon. Gentleman should expect to hear an announcement, in the communiqué, of what decisions have been taken.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must have regard to the business before the House today. I shall allow questions to go on for a further 10 minutes, but then we must move on. I hope the House will agree that I should give preference to those right hon. and hon. Members who did not take part in yesterday's debate and who were not called on previous statements.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
Does my hon. Friend know that when I went through Heathrow airport last Saturday there was no passport control on any El A1 aeroplanes? I was travelling on a British aeroplane, and I was told that because an El A1 flight was taking place that day the passport controllers had refused to work.
§ Mr. Renton
I note what my hon. Friend says, and it is certainly a matter of concern. I shall see that it is passed on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has responsibility for passport matters.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
On what basis does the Minister justify his statement that in supporting the United States attack on Libya Britain was acting in support of the international community? Will he please name the countries which have indicated to Her Majesty's Government their support for the United States' attack on Libya and Britain's support for that attack?
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman would do better if he listened more closely. I said that the United States, with our support in one specific area, was acting on behalf of all those in the international community who have suffered from international terrorism. That is of course right. Libyan terrorism threatens not just the United States and the United Kingdom, but a number of the surrounding Arab countries, and this action should be considered to have been taken on behalf of all of those countries.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that urgent steps will be taken to find out whether the Libyan Government are in any way responsible either for the three murders in the Lebanon or for the bomb at terminal 1 at Heathrow? If there is a connection, will my hon. Friend ensure that that fact is clearly announced to the world and, to the extent possible, ensure that the evidence is revealed?
§ Mr. Renton
I note with great care what my hon. Friend said. There is always a problem about revealing specific sources when one finds out the details of who is responsible for terrorist attacks and for kidnappings. However, I listened to what my hon. Friend said, and I shall bear his comments in mind.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Do the Government understand what every schoolchild could have told them—that by acting as a puppet of the Americans they have placed in danger the lives of countless innocent British citizens? Do they understand that the responsibility for their blood is now on their hands?
§ Mr. Renton
I find the hon. Gentleman's comments cheap, unpleasant and time-serving. I should like to make the point to him that the price for resisting terrorism is never cheap. We never thought that it would be cheap, and no intelligent person should think that it will be cheap. But we cannot combat terrorism by side-stepping it. If we try to side-step it, the eventual price is likely to be greater than if we had resisted the terrorism from the beginning.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
The Minister knows that at least two of the people who may have been victims of this terrorist action worked and lived not in west Beirut but in east Beirut. The university is in west Beirut. The Minister also knows that the majority of British subjects who are now living in Beirut wish to remain there, as do the British subjects in every other Arab country. They are looking to this Government, not for their support for action against Arab Governments, but for an initiative that will resolve the problem in the middle east. That is the Palestinian problem. Will the Minister confirm that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister intends to go ahead with her visit to Israel, and is he able to say what initiative she will take to Israel in an effort to settle the Palestinian problem?
§ Mr. Renton
I listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's question, and I realise that he appreciates the difficulties. However, I would make the point to him that it is not just a question of the Palestinian problem, to which I have already referred. The inter-communal problems in the Lebanon between different types of Moslems and between the Moslems and the Christians go back many centuries. These problems are at the heart of so many of the difficulties around Beirut. It was for this reason that Syria brought forward the joint tripartite draft agreement, 1033 to try to find agreement between the communities around Beirut for a peaceful settlement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is certainly proposing to go ahead with her visit to Israel. I have no doubt that she will take some thoughts with her for discussion with Mr. Peres about how the Arab-Israel peace process can be moved forward.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Does the Minister accept that there can be no prospect of peace in the middle east, and certainly no real reduction in terrorism, unless the Palestinians secure a homeland? Does he also accept that the influence which Britain and America could have exerted to that end has been considerably reduced by the insane attack upon Libya by the Americans, with the support of this Government?
Does he also accept that, because of this insane adventure, we have made British citizens in many countries in the middle east targets for terrorism? Will he give a clear undertaking that British bases will never again be used by the Americans or by anybody else to undertake mad adventures of this sort?
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman's determination to introduce extravagant words like "insane adventure" causes him to lose sight of the point that he made at the beginning of his question, which was about the Palestinian problem and the Palestinians' right to a homeland. We have always supported the Palestinians' right to self-determination. We take a foreign policy view about this question which is quite different from that of the United States. It was against that background that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister suggested during her visit last autumn to Jordan that a joint Palestinian delegation should come here. It is a pity that that initiative did not work out, but we always remain willing to look at other ideas for bringing reputable Palestinians, as representatives of the Palestinian people, into the peace process.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)
The Minister of State keeps saying that the Government's policy must not be dictated by the fear of reprisals. What will he say if, tragically, it is shown that some of the people who have now been found dead had been held hostage for a very long period? Does he accept that it was the Government's support of the American action that brought about the killings? No doubt their lives were always in danger while they were held hostage, but was it not the Government's support for the American action that brought about the tragic killing of those who had been held hostage for so long?
§ Mr. Renton
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I know him to be a thinking and careful person. I should only like to send back the thought to him that we had the position of our hostages very much in mind. However, if any Government refrain from taking what they believe to be correct action through fear for their hostages, they are allowing their hands to be tied by terrorists and criminal kidnappers and are giving in to blackmail by terrorists and kidnappers. That is something that we have always said we would not do.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Does the Minister accept no responsibility for the loss of the hostages' lives?
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Will my hon. Friend accept that, whatever was said yesterday by two ex-Prime Ministers and an ex-Foreign Secretary, given the circumstances in which the Government found themselves, and whatever misgivings they had, given the fact that the European Community turned its back on the Americans, there was no alternative for a British Prime Minister but to agree to the use of our bases and, had they been Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary, no doubt they would have made the same decision?
§ Mr. Renton
If my hon. Friend is referring to the Opposition, I am not at all certain that they would have made the same decision, because I am not certain that it is in their character to take determined decisions to stand up against terrorism. That apart, I agree with my hon. Friend's remark.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Worley, East)
In acquiescing in the American President's demands for the use of British bases, which was in clear contravention of the spirit and understanding of the original agreement on these bases, did the Prime Minister contemplate the inevitability of these British deaths, and others which will follow, and the inevitability of the Libyan civilian casualties as well?
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. He is trying to repeat some of yesterday's debate. It is clear that the agreement of the Prime Minister and of the Government was not in contravention of the original Attlee-Truman agreement. I do not agree with his comments, and I repeat that it would be wrong if the Government allowed their decisions to be dictated by fear of what terrorists or criminal kidnappers might do.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
In the weeks and months before these bodies were discovered, and well before the American air strike, is it not the case that evidence was building up in Beirut—circumstantial perhaps—to link the abductions of these British citizens to the policies and agencies of the Government of Libya?
§ Mr. Renton
I hope my hon. Friend will not mind if I do not go into further detail this afternoon. I do not wish to say anything that might affect the safety of those who are held hostage—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Tell the Truth."] I assure the House that it is not a question of telling the truth. It is a question of the safety of those who are being held hostage in the Lebanon. For that reason, I shall not go into further detail.
§ Mr. Anderson
Has not the Minister, in his bland statement today, failed to recognise that the situation has changed fundamentally because of the attack and that British citizens everywhere are now vulnerable to terrorism? In the light of that, what is his advice to British subjects in west Beirut? Is it to stay, or to leave? If it is to leave, how do they do so? Has the hon. Gentleman not today confirmed that negotiations which were under way with the Syrian Government about the release of our citizens have been totally undermined by this invasion and that our Government have abandoned those citizens to their fate? If we are not to be dictated to by fear of reprisals, what possible ground can there be for thinking that Colonel Gaddafi and his apparently less rational Government will be dictated to by the fear of reprisals?
§ Mr. Renton
Our advice for many years now has been not to go into Beirut, or to other parts of the Lebanon, which are every bit as dangerous as west Beirut. We have 1035 today instructed our ambassador in Beirut to give us his further opinion on what additional instructions, if any, should be given. The situation in the Lebanon has been in turmoil for many months, as anyone who has been there recently will know. We have been in discussion with many Governments in the middle east the Syrian Government included, for weeks about our citizens who are held hostage. We in this country have been in the front line of terrorism for many years, not least since the killing of Policewoman Fletcher two years ago. There is nothing new about this situation.