HL Deb 28 January 1969 vol 298 cc1119-21

2.44 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude towards the proposal of a four-Power meeting to consider the means of guaranteeing peace in the Middle East.]


My Lords, we sympathise with the idea of a meeting of the four Permanent Members of the Security Council. We think it important that such a meeting should be clearly seen to be in a United Nations context and as a contribution to the work of Dr. Jarring in trying to promote agreement among the parties. We have so informed the French Government through diplomatic channels.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. As this Question refers to the Middle East may I ask whether he is aware of the deep horror which is felt on both sides of this House by the report this morning of the 14 hangings in Baghdad and Basra, and our fervent hope that influences may be exerted to prevent any continuation of this horror? May I also ask my noble friend whether, in view of the fact that the Foreign Secretary has now had his conversations with the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires and says that the proposal does contain constructive elements, and as the Minister of State is now in Cairo, following the French call for a four-Power summit, it is now possible for a meeting to be held between representatives of the four Powers, not to impose a settlement, but to open a door towards the acceptance of the United Nations resolution which our Government sponsored?


My Lords, so far as the question or comment about the hangings in Iraq is concerned, there is of course a point which must be made: that since all those involved in the trial appear to have been Iraqi citizens there was obviously no ground for any formal inter- vention, and there can be no ground for a formal intervention, by Her Majesty's Government. But we did take up the question informally with the Iraq Government on humanitarian grounds, as my noble friend might have expected, and we understand that others did, too. We urged clemency and pointed out the effect that this would have on Iraq's reputation abroad. I can assure my noble friend that we very much regret that the Iraqi Government did not feel able to show clemency in this case.

On the second, and perhaps more substantive, part of the Question, the Soviet Government, as my noble friend will know, has already announced its agreement to the four Powers proposal. It announced it on January 20. We have not yet had a considered assessment from the United States' Government, and I need hardly remind the House that the new Administration there has only just taken office. Indeed it is relevant as my noble friend has suggested that my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs is at present in Cairo. I hope that when he returns and when we have had a considered reaction from the United States Government we may be able to go a little further along this road.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister two questions? First of all, President Nixon referred yesterday, in his Press Conference, to a meeting of the Security Council for next Saturday. Would Her Majesty's Government say whether or not that is, in effect, to be considered as a meeting proposed by the French Government? Secondly, could the Minister say whether the French Government have received a written reply to their proposals from Her Majesty's Government? Could he comment on the fact that there was a verbal reply by an official of the Foreign Office last Friday to a representative of the French Embassy in London? It seems a little curious, in a matter as important as this, to have given information in that way first of all without giving a written reply to the French Government?


My Lords, on the first part of the noble Lord's question, if the four Permanent Members of the Security Council meet to consider this problem, I imagine that this will be at least a beginning of the process in which the French Government has invited us to participate. How and where such meetings will take place is a matter on which I should not like to speculate at this moment. So far as communication with the French Government is concerned, I must confess some astonishment at the noble Lord's suggestion. It seems to me to be a matter of very little importance whether an answer is given to the French Government in writing or orally, so long as it is given through the ordinary diplomatic channels. We have welcomed the French suggestion through those channels and I do not think we can be any more specific than that.