HL Deb 24 July 1967 vol 285 cc608-12

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 are giving consideration to the proposal to establish a United Nations District in Sinai.]


My Lords, the broad concepts behind the proposal to establish a United Nations District in Sinai—including, as I understand it, the establishment of a permanent United Nations presence in the area, the desirability of large-scale development, and also the tackling of the refugee problem—have been and are very much in the mind of Her Majesty's Government. We believe that progress on all these matters must be an integral part in any eventual long-term settlement in the Middle East.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, which I find an encouraging one. Would he not agree the Sinai Peninsula is admirably situated as an assembly point for a United Nations Constabulary and also for the development of desalination plants, and, in addition, for the urgent problem of resettling refugees?


My Lords, there is much force in what the right reverend Prelate says. Without answering specifically on the question of desalination plants and the refugee problem at this particular time, I would say that at the moment we, and all our friends in the United Nations, are preoccupied with the question of restoring a lasting peace to the area, and I am not sure that at this moment to inject into the argument the idea of establishing some new status for Sinai might not make the task more difficult. But certainly we will bear in mind what the right reverend Prelate has said.


My Lords, over the past few weeks quite a number of your Lordships—the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, and others—have made constructive suggestions about solving this problem. Is the noble Lord aware that on every single occasion he has given stonewalling answers? There may be a reason. But may we take it that behind the scenes the Government are making constructive proposals and working for the settlement of this problem?


Yes, my Lords, the noble Lord may take it the Government are working hard and constructively for a solution to this problem, inside the United Nations and through other channels. I regret that he should find the answers the Government have made stonewalling, but I know he will agree that at a time like this, when the proposals which are being put forward and the negotiations which are being carried out are very delicate, it might not be helpful if we aired them all in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, what many people find so depressing is this continual harping on "a long-term solution". Of course there must be a long-term solution; but the noble Lord is surely aware that there is a great deal that could be done now in the short term to get things moving in regard to refugees, desalination and other feasibility studies.


My Lords, of course there is a great deal that can be done, and is being done. Her Majesty's Government do contribute. The noble Lord mentioned the refugee problem. I think our record over the refugee problem is second to none in the world, and we will continue to do all the things he has asked us to do.


My Lords, could this be done without a new resolution? I presume there would have to be a new resolution in the Security Council. Would it not need to have the support of Russia?


My Lords, if the noble Earl is referring back to the original Question regarding the establishment of some new status in Sinai, may I say that I think this would have to be a matte, for agreement in the United Nations. I am not yet clear whether it would have to be agreement in the Security Council, and therefore whether the veto of any member of the Security Council would arise. Certainly, if this problem came to be seriously discussed it would have to be agreed in the United Nations.


My Lords, would the noble Lord say what people are discussing this at New York? Are discussions taking place without a blue print or plans before those discussing it?


My Lords, at the moment what is being discussed is the broad concept. There is, as I understand it, no detailed plan for this.


My Lords, in view of the fact that there has been no progress at all in the field of disarmament, does not my noble friend think the time has arrived when priority should be given to a proposition of this kind, which might prove to be an alternative?


My Lords, I am not quite sure that I have understood the drift of the noble Baroness's question. I think there has been some progress in disarmament over the past two and a half years: I hope so. If the noble Baroness is referring to arms control in the Middle East as an aspect of disarmament, an element of disarmament, I certainly agree with her that some form of multilateral international control over the supply of arms for the Middle East is a prerequisite for any lasting solution of the problem.


My Lords, could not the noble Lord be a little more specific on the question of desalination raised by the right reverend Prelate? This is an extremely important matter on which the future of these countries depends.


My Lords, I am afraid that at the moment I cannot be more specific about the question of desalination, or desalinisation. In fact, it does not arise directly out of the original Question, which was concerned with the establishment of a United Nations District in Sinai. But this is another matter that Her Majesty's Government have in mind, and are discussing with our friends. But it would be wrong—indeed, it would be impossible—for me at the moment to go into any detail on those plans.


My Lords, ought not the Sinai desert first to be made habitable before any community is condemned to live in it? Could not the co-operation of the Israeli Government be obtained in this matter as they have had a great deal of experience in converting the Negev desert into habitable territory?


My Lords, I think we are now going rather wide of the original Question; but certainly anything that can be done to make the Sinai desert either habitable or into a base from which we can conduct future initiatives to settle this problem once and for all will be welcomed by Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, would the noble Lord bear in mind that Scotland is right in the forefront in the design and manufacture of desalinisation plant?


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are aware that Britain is in the forefront in this matter.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Israelis themselves are now having a review, through a Commission of Inquiry, into the whole problem of refugees? Would it not be wise to await the result of this inquiry since no one else, none of the great Powers, has ever tried to do this?


My Lords, we are aware that there is a study of this sort going on, and we shall await its out- come with great interest. But I feel that there is still a great deal that we and the other countries of the world can do to help in the immediate problem of these wretched refugees in the Middle East.


My Lords, would the noble Lord confirm that the policy of Her Majesty's Government on desalinisation is different from that of the last Government, of whom I asked not long ago what they were doing about it, and was told that the best thing I could do was to have my head examined?


My Lords, I was not aware that the previous Government had a policy on desalinisation.