HL Deb 13 December 1967 vol 287 cc1108-11

2.25 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make on the peace plan for the Middle East, reported to have been unanimously agreed to by the United Nations Security Council on November 22.]


My Lords, the resolution unanimously adopted by the United Nations Security Council on November 22 was not in itself a "peace plan" for the Middle East. It was, however, a valuable first step towards a settlement in that area in that it laid down certain general principles in a way that could be accepted by both sides, and appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to go to the area.

The precise details of any settlement will have to be worked out in discussion with Israel and the Arab States. The Special Representative, Mr. Jarring, on whom the task now falls of starting the real process of peace-making in the area, has already left for the Middle East to begin his talks there. In view of his mission, and I do not need to emphasise the importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to it, it would not be appropriate to say anything further at this stage.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his full reply to this Question. I wonder if he could say whether, since this resolution was unanimously adopted in the Security Council three weeks ago, there has been any relaxation in the build-up of Russian aircraft, tanks, guided missiles, and skilled personnel in Egypt with the purpose of reopening hostilities at a convenient time. And can he say whether he thinks that the Russians agreed to our resolution and voted for it because they want a peace settlement in the Middle East, or because they thought that the resolution was an ineffectual expression of hope which they could safely support?


My Lords, of course it is not for me, or for Her Majesty's Government, to peer into the minds of those powerful men in the Kremlin. I can only hope that their motive for agreeing to this resolution was a sincere motive; that they do foresee and hope for a peaceful settlement of the dispute in the area. I have not by me at the moment details of any Russian military build-up in the area, and I should have to have notice of any Question requiring a detailed answer of that kind.

I cannot agree with the implication in the noble Earl's question, that the resolution was in some way inadequate or ineffectual. I think that it represented the end of an extremely hard and successful diplomatic exercise; and I believe that, as it finally emerged, the resolution has indeed provided a most effective and noticeable first step towards a peaceful settlement in the area.


My Lords, in view of the reference in the Security Council resolution to the urgency of the problem of refugees, may I ask my noble friend whether his attention has been called to the statement made by the Director-General of UNRWA at the meeting of the Political Committee yesterday, or the day before, that there were 400,000 more refugees than existed before the war in June? May I ask whether Her Majesty's Government are considering providing part of the required £19 million which the Director-General said was necessary? And would not the Soviet Government play a much more helpful part if they gave greater priority to the question of the welfare of the refugees than to pouring arms into the Arab States of the Middle East?


My Lords, of course Her Majesty's Government realise that the refugee problem is a serious one, and it is one of the really agonising problems that we hope to see settled in the overall context of a peaceful settlement in the area. In connection with what my noble friend has said about the intentions of the Soviet Government, perhaps I might add to what I said in answer to an earlier question, that it is not for us to peer into the minds of the gentlemen in the Kremlin. Of course it is for us to do that. What I meant to say was that I think we are in no position to speak didactically about their intentions. However, I take note of what my noble friend has said, and I can assure him that Her Majesty's Government have a serious and continuing concern about the fate of the refugees in this area.


My Lords, I am most anxious not to say anything which is unhelpful to what we want. But is it not the case that since this resolution was passed it has been violently rejected by the rulers of Egypt and Syria?


My Lords, as I have said, this resolution was a compromise resolution. It resulted, as I have suggested, from a long period of hard diplomatic activity and, like all compromise resolutions of this kind, it was inevitably less than wholly satisfactory to either side, and we did not seriously expect that simply passing a resolution of this kind would effect any revolution in attitudes in the Middle East. The best we could hope for was that neither side would reject this hard-fought-for resolution out of hand. I think that the fact that none of the major parties involved has in fact explicitly rejected this resolution, whatever they may have said about it in comment, is encouraging, so far as it goes.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that before the questions arising from this main matter are concluded, many of us would wish to express our congratulations to Lord Caradon on his remarkable achievement, after the division of the Security Council, in securing this unanimous resolution, and to express our hope that the United Nations Special Representative who has gone to the Middle East will contribute to the solution in regard to both the problem of rearmament and the problem of refugees which has been mentioned?


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that intervention. I should like to associate Her Majesty's Government with the feeling of deep admiration for the achievement of my noble friend in New York in securing this unanimous resolution. It was a notable diplomatic feat. I also associate myself with the hope expressed by my noble friend that Mr. Jarring will have success in his extremely important mission in this area.


My Lords, in view of the statement attributed to the representative of Her Majesty's Government who have resumed relations with Egypt, that his first mission will be to achieve the reopening of the Canal, can the noble Lord say whether that is contemplated as a possibility without negotiations with other Arab nations and also without further contributions of cash in any way by Her Majestys' Government to Egypt?


My Lords, I know that the noble Lord will not expect me to answer his question in detail. Of course it is one of our aims in the Middle East to see the international waterway of the Suez Canal opened to traffic. Indeed, it is true to say that the distinguished diplomat who has recently gone to Cairo to reopen our Embassy there said that what he wanted to do was to re-establish political, economic and cultural relations with the United Arab Republic. I think that this is his first task. If in the course of establishing these relations, and when they are established, we can get the Canal opened to international traffic, we shall of course be very gratified.


My Lords, in view of the fact that the statement to which my noble friend has just referred, regarding refugees, said that a great majority of these people would be spending the winter in tented accommodation, could my noble friend confirm this? And, if so, can he tell us whether any special relief measures are now being taken?


My Lords, I fear that I cannot, off-hand, confirm that statement. But I will certainly look into the matter. I can assure my noble friend that anything which Her Majesty's Government can do to ease the lot of these unfortunate people we shall do.