HC Deb 26 June 1991 vol 193 cc989-90
12. Mr. Burns

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the visit of the Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), to Lebanon.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My visit to Lebanon from 9 to 12 June was the first by a British Minister since 1985. I had useful discussions with the President, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and other leaders. They addressed the situation in Lebanon and in the region. I was impressed by the determination of the Lebanese Government to restore their authority over the whole country. I was also able to stress the great importance that we attach to the release of the hostages held in Lebanon.

Mr. Burns

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that he conveyed to the Lebanese Government the British Government's support for their efforts to reassert their control over, in particular, southern Lebanon?

Mr. Hogg

That is an important point. We strongly support the policy of the Lebanese Government, and that of the Lebanese army, to reassert control in south Lebanon. We are anxious for the militia now in south Lebanon—particularly the Palestinian and Hezbollah militia—to be disarmed. It is also important for the Israeli army to withdraw to Israel, pursuant to the provisions of Security Council resolution 425.

Mr. Kaufman

Having adverted at our last Question Time to the hon. and learned Gentleman's role with regard to the hostages, I pay tribute to his courage in going there. It is not easy to go to such a dangerous country where anybody's life, however well protected, must be at risk. The hon. and learned Gentleman's visit will, I hope, demonstrate to the relatives of John McCarthy, Jack Mann and Terry Waite that the whole House is determined to bring about their freedom.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman is too gracious, though I am extremely grateful to him. Incidentally, I should pay tribute to the members of the Royal Military Police, who provide the close protection unit for the ambassador, and to our staff there. They are the people who really deserve the credit. I also had the opportunity to meet all the families, and I pay tribute to them. The courage of all of them is extraordinary, as is their forbearance. I would single out Mrs. Sunnie Mann, an elderly lady who is living in Beirut in a block of flats five storeys up and has to carry the water up to her flat. She is a very brave lady. The House should know that.

Mr. Adley

I share in the welcome given to my hon. and learned Friend for his visit. Has he seen the very useful exchange and comments made by the Prime Minister at a recent Prime Minister's Question Time? Can my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Government still hold the Israelis responsible not just for Sheikh Obeid but for the other Lebanese hostages whom that Government hold? What messages are Her Majesty's Government sending to the Israeli Government about the hostages that they hold?

Mr. Hogg

We have never accepted a linkage between those held by the Israeli Government and the western hostages. There are two reasons for that. First, one does not link one evil with another. Secondly, we do not have the capacity to make the Israelis deliver anything. If we accepted a linkage, the position of the western hostages might be worse rather than better. However, it is extremely important that we should work for the release of all the hostages. I certainly agree that it is highly desirable that the Government of Israel should release Sheikh Obeid and the detainees in south Lebanon. At the same time, the Government of Israel have a perfectly legitimate interest in securing the return of the bodies of their service men, which are now in the Lebanon, together with any of their service men who are still living. All those things are important. To the extent that we can promote them, we shall do so.

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