HC Deb 02 February 1994 vol 236 cc884-6
10. Mr. Luff

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest prospects for a comprehensive peace in the middle east.

14. Mr. Burden

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking to promote peace in the middle east; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Lebanon, Israel and the occupied territories and Jordan from 3 to 6 January. The Prime Minister met Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan in London on 11 January. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary held discussions with the Lebanese Prime Minister in London on 25 and 26 January. I am encouraged by the determination of all the parties to make progress towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

Mr. Luff

Against the background of the great courage being shown by Israel, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Syria and Jordan in furthering the peace process, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the welcome for the Government's decision to extend £50 million of export credit to Lebanon? Can he confirm that that credit will be used in part to build civil defence orders, which will further enhance the security of the region? Against that background, does he not feel that the time has come for the British Government to drop the arms embargo on Israel, an embargo which Britain applies uniquely among European Community nations?

Mr. Hogg

In the case of the arms embargo on Israel, which was imposed following the invasion by Israel of south Lebanon, there is an obligation on Israel under the provisions of UN resolution 425 to leave south Lebanon. I hope that that will happen soon. It will be much easier to relax the arms embargo so far as Israel is concerned when that happens.

Mr. Burden

While welcoming the continued progress being made in peace talks between Israel and the PLO, does the Minister agree that it is rather dangerous that the Israeli Premier has been saying that peace is still some way off, and that that could send out entirely the wrong message? Does he agree that confidence-building measures are vital and that for the Palestinians, who have been under occupation since 1967, a good confidence-building measure which Israel has in its power to institute is the release of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners who remain in Israeli jails?

Mr. Hogg

There has, indeed, been progress by Israel in releasing prisoners and that is very much to be commended. There are people who are still held and we should like there to be further progress in that area.

On the subject of Prime Minister Rabin's comments, it is important that Prime Minister Rabin is realistic, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should like there to be an early agreement on this stage of the talks.

Mr. Batiste

Can my hon. Friend confirm that, as and when the British Government wish to invoke it, they have powers under the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980 to prevent British companies providing information to the Arab Boycott Office for the purpose of the boycott of Israel, in just the same way as the Government invoked those powers against the United States some years ago?

Mr. Hogg

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is right about the effect of the legislation to which he refers, but I will certainly write to him. I think that persuasion is the best way forward, and I am pleased by the encouraging signs that we see among the Gulf Co-operation Council countries concerning a relaxation of the boycott, especially in its tertiary and secondary phases.

Mr. Worthington

Has the Minister read the speech by Prime Minister Rabin to the Council of Europe on 26 January, which in some respects could have been delivered by Yasser Arafat? Prime Minister Rabin called on Europe to contribute to the transformation of the region through economic development and co-operation, by rehabilitating refugees, developing water and natural resources, overcoming environmental hazards and regulating arms control. Is it not true that Europe has still not measured up to that task, and what does the Minister intend to do about it?

Mr. Hogg

I have not read Prime Minister Rabin's speech, but I shall be happy to do so, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has brought it to my attention. As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it plain that the United Kingdom is contributing about £70 million over the next three years. Implicit in the question was a suggestion that the United Kingdom Government should increase our own public expenditure in the occupied territories. That sounds awfully like an additional commitment to additional public spending that has not been cleared by what the Opposition amusingly call their Treasury Front Bench.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that ultimately an enduring peace in the middle east will depend on a sense of religious toleration in all countries, which has previously been conspicuous by its absence? In particular, has he seen recent reports by Middle East Watch, Amnesty International and the Jubilee Campaign on the increasing oppression of the Christian minority of 200,000 people in Iran, culminating in the death of Bishop Hovsepian Mehr of the Assemblies of God only 10 days ago? Will my right hon. and learned Friend urge the Iranian Government to allow the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to send in a special rapporteur to examine the position of Christian minorities in that country?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend makes a sound point. I am afraid that the state of human rights in Iran is a matter for considerable concern. We need to take every opportunity not only to impress upon the Government of Iran our concern about those matters but to expose to international opinion what is going on there.

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