HC Deb 18 March 1987 vol 112 cc922-4
12. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent initiatives Her Majesty's Government have taken towards ending the Iran-Iraq war.

16. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has received about the possibility of an end to the Iran-Iraq war.

Mr. Renton

We take every opportunity to encourage progress towards a peaceful settlement of the Iran-Iraq conflict in bilateral contacts, in concert with our European partners and at the United Nations. The Foreign Ministers of the Twelve issued a further statement on 26 January, and we are taking an active part in discussions at the United Nations. We support the constructive role played by the United Nations Secretary-General. There are, however, regrettably, no firm indications that an end to the conflict is in prospect.

Mr. Parry

Surely the appalling loss of life, particularly among young people, calls for an immediate ban on sales to both countries? Will Her Majesty's Government continue to raise this particular question with the Council of Ministers and the Security Council?

Mr. Renton

Let me first reassure the hon. Member that, as I have said many times in the House and in answer to letters from parliamentary colleagues, the guidelines that we have had in place since the end of 1984 are strictly impartial as between Iran and Iraq. They have lost British manufacturers many millions of pounds' worth of orders, but we are scrupulously seeing that nothing is exported from this country that would significantly enhance the capacity of either side to prolong or exacerbate the war. Yes, we will certainly continue to pursue these points in both the Council of Ministers and the Security Council in New York.

Mr. Greenway

Is it not a fact that chemical weapons have been used in the war and that innocent people have been killed by them? Will my hon. Friend condemn the use of chemical weapons, both in this war and anywhere else?

Mr. Renton

What my hon. Friend says is right. A United Nations team investigated the use of chemical weapons by Iraq and reported on this to the Security Council, when the use of chemical weapons was condemned. We continue to press both sides not to use chemical weapons and we remain active in Geneva in pursuing negotiations on a total ban on the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the Minister accept that his words about bringing peace in the Iran-Iraq conflict would make much more sense and be much more plausible if there were an absolute ban on the sale of arms to either side and on the sale of any precursor chemicals that could be used for the manufacture of chemical weapons? Does he not accept, further, that he would be well advised to ensure that this ban was effectively co-ordinated throughout the EC and the United States?

Mr. Renton

I find it rather hard to be lectured on this point by the hon. Gentleman. We have put an export embargo on a number of precursor chemical weapons. We have introduced a warning list, which is circulated to manufacturers, about other chemicals that could be used as precursors. Many chemicals which have a perfectly bona fide civilian use can also be used as precursors, which is one of the difficulties with a tight export regime. But we have been taking a lead on this and if all other countries were being as prudent and careful as we are about the export of military equipment there would be very much less danger of the Iran-Iraq war escalating.

Sir John Farr

May I ask my hon. Friend whether he will say something about aerial attacks on British merchant shipping using the Gulf, whether he can say anything about any new counter-measures which may be available and whether he has anything encouraging to say to the House in this respect?

Mr. Renton

Yes. As my hon. Friend will know, there was an attack by the Iranians on the MV Isomeria, a Shell gas tanker, towards the end of January. We protested strongly to the Iranians subsequent to that attack. We have since then taken care to see that the Armilla patrol is more regularly in the Gulf near the area where these attacks have been taking place, not only on the vessel that I have just named, but on other neutral merchantmen. The job of the patrol will be to help and to stay in the vicinity of British merchantmen.