HL Deb 07 November 1973 vol 346 cc355-64

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question of which I have given Private Notice—namely,

"To ask. Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on the E.E.C. Council of Ministers' Meeting yesterday on the Middle East".


My Lords, the Nine Governments of the European Community, which issued a joint declaration on October 13, have continued to keep in close touch about the situation in the Middle East and a further joint declaration was issued by the Foreign Ministers yesterday. Copies of the declaration are available in the Library of the House.

The declaration is firmly based on Security Council Resolution 242, which the United Kingdom, together with all our partners regard as the indispensable basis for a permanent settlement. It reflects the essential balance of that resolution, between Israel's need for secure and recognised boundaries and the need of the Arabs for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory. The declaration emphasises that in the reconciliation of these two requirements, key importance attaches to the establishment of demilitarised zones, which would need to be policed by substantial peace-keeping forces. In this respect as in others the declaration conforms to the well known views and policies of the British Government.

The Nine Governments believe that if the present ceasefire is to hold it is essential that certain immediate problems shall be resolved such as the question of a return to the ceasefire lines of October 22 as called for by the Security Council, the relief of the Egyptian Third Army, and an exchange of prisoners of war. Also a very early start should be made to the negotiations called for by the Security Council in Resolution No. 338.

The Nine have drawn attention to the need for the negotiations to be conducted within the framework of the United Nations. Europe and the entire Inter- national Community have an interest in the achievement of a just and lasting settlement. We believe that the International Community will also have an important role to play in guaranteeing the settlement. And, as my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said yesterday in Brussels, this agreed Statement on the Middle East represents another important step in the process of evolving common attitudes towards major international problems and thus a common foreign policy.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for making that Statement. I hope she will understand if I leave aside the last paragraph, with the plaudits for having agreed a common policy in this matter. Would not the noble Baroness agree that we need to consider not only this Statement but the declaration of the Foreign Ministers of the Nine Countries against the increasing tension in the Middle East, and the very grave possibilities of a further outbreak of warfare between Israel and the Arab States, and in particular the fact that Dr. Kissinger, the Secretary of State of the United States, who has borne much of the burden of seeking a solution to the dangers of the Middle East, is at present visiting the Arab capitals?

Does the noble Baroness really think that the declaration made yesterday made any contribution to the efforts of Dr. Kissinger to find a solution to this dispute? Would she not agree that the Government's main claim for placing an embargo upon Israel was to place the British Government in a position to mediate? Was it not then accepted that in order to mediate one had to keep one's hands fairly free without any basic obligation to one side or another? Would not the noble Baroness also agree that the declaration of yesterday has been read by all experienced commentators as a rebuttal and an a front to Israel, and as pro-Arab in the extreme? Bearing in mind the representations made, I would ask whether the noble Baroness thinks that a declaration of that sort is likely to help Her Majesty's Government in any form of mediation that may arise. Again bearing in mind the important, if not crucial, visit of Dr. Kissinger to the Arab capitals, I ask whether the American Government was consulted by the British Government and the other eight countries before this declaration was agreed to.


My Lords, I hope that before very long we may have an opportunity to discuss the rights and wrongs of the declaration made by the Nine Governments the other day, but at the moment I feel that one of our chief pre-occupations should be not to say anything which might further exacerbate an already very dangerous situation. However, if I may I should like to ask the noble Baroness one or two questions for the purpose of clarifying the situation. The first arises out of the last question, I think it was, of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. We know that the declaration has been very badly received in Israel. Is the noble Baroness able to tell us what the reaction of the American Government to it was, if there has been any so far? That is the first question.

The second question is this. I note that in paragraph 3 of the declaration it is stated: They consider"— that is, the Ministers— that a peace agreement should be based particularly on the following points:

  1. (i) the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force;
  2. (ii) the need for Israel to end the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967; …"
I think I am right in saying that the famous resolution of the Security Council of 1967–Resolution No. 242–spoke of the possible evacuation by Israel of "occupied territories", leaving it vague as to whether it was suggested or demanded that they should evacuate all the territories or only some of them. Are we to take it that the passages I have read out are in any way at variance with Resolution 242, or do Her Majesty's Government still maintain that it is a question of Israel, as a result of negotiation, evacuating territories; that is to say, not necessarily all of them? That is the second question.

The third question is: how do the Government feel that agreement on what exactly is the original ceasefire line of October 22 can be reached? Is it to be left to the United Nations observers to determine exactly what that ceasefire line is to which the Israelis are now asked to retire? And is it not a fact that these United Nations observers have said that they are not in a position in which they can possibly say what that line is? That is the third question. The fourth question is this. Presumably the negotiations called for by the Security Council Resolution No. 338 are direct negotiations between the various parties, but is it not a fact that the Egyptians have said that in no circumstances will they enter into direct negotiations?


My Lords, I would quite agree with both noble Lords that it is important that in the present state of tension and difficulty we should take care with any questions and answers in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked: did I think the declaration was useful? My reply is: Yes, very useful indeed. He then suggested that the reason why we had imposed (in his own words) an arms embargo on Israel was that we should be in a better position to mediate. The House will recall that we had an arms embargo not only on Israel but on the Arab countries as well—what was called an "even-handed embargo"—because we felt that the volume of arms pouring into the Middle East from Russia and the Soviet Union certainly could not be matched by our own, and we should be in a more independent position; and that was also the view taken by our partners in the Community.

The noble Lord then asked: did I realise that the comments made in the media have considered this declaration to be an affront to Israel? My Lords, I do not accept that because I think that if this declaration is read with care it will be seen that what it does is to reaffirm the importance of what was contained in Resolution 242. That was the only resolution which was acceded to by Israel and the Arabs. The declaration also asks and hopes that certain immediate measures should be taken which would help to keep this delicate ceasefire on a continuing basis. The last question the noble Lord asked me, as did the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was whether the United States was consulted. My Lords, we have been in consultation with all our partners and, indeed, not only with the United States but also with the Soviet Union. The final drawing up of this declaration was of course the work of the Nine, but the United States knew perfectly well that we were trying for a combined resolution.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, spoke about paragraph 3 and particularly subsection (ii), concerning the need for Israel to end the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967. My Lords, we have always said, and in relation to Resolution 242, that we do not think that territories should be acquired by force. At the same time, however, we have also made it clear that Israel would have to be within secure boundaries and that there would have to be demilitarised zones and an international peace-keeping force. That implies that there must be some negotiation on the exact positions of these zones. The last question the noble Lord asked me was on negotiations. It is perfectly true that up until now Egypt has said that she would not undertake direct negotiations with Israel, while Israel has said that she would undertake direct negotiations; but we think that if we can see that the ceasefire will last and negotiations really start—even, as I said the other day, if we have to help the parties to get together—it might be a way of leading to direct exchanges in the end.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness confirm one thing, so that there can be no misunderstanding about it? Bearing in mind that Dr. Kissinger was in the Arab countries seeking to negotiate a settlement, would the noble Baroness say whether, prior to this declaration being issued, Her Majesty's Government and the other members of the E.E.C. consulted with the Government of the United States? If they did not consult, I cannot consider anything more irresponsible or more likely to endanger the establishment of peace in the Middle East.


My Lords, I really cannot accept that. As I said earlier, Her Majesty's Government have been in constant touch with the American Government and the State Department, who knew perfectly well what the efforts of the Nine were directed to doing. On the exact terms of this declaration, of course they were not consulted in that particular way.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that we have to go back to the so-called nonintervention policy of the British and French Governments at the time of the Spanish Civil War to find a national policy as ignoble as the refusal of this country to send spare parts to Israel in its time of need? Is the Minister also aware that, whatever the motives may be, sometimes we can be too clever and too self-regarding in big things, and not enjoy the bitter fruit that often follows?


My Lords, we discussed the question of the arms embargo at some length the other day. It was not an arms embargo only on Israel. The noble Baroness will recall that it was an arms embargo on the Arab countries and Israel.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she realises that this is considered to be a submission to blackmail? Does she realise that the French and ourselves, who have denied arms to Israel and have broken our contracts, are being regarded as the people who have steered this submission to blackmail through the Council, and will she reconsider the position in view of the fact that this is damaging the morals and the contractual obligations of our country?


My Lords, I am afraid that I completely fail to understand the reasoning behind the noble Lord's intervention. May I suggest to him that when he has an opportunity to read the text, which I am sure he will acquire from the Library, and when he studies it with care, he will realise that the whole purpose of the declaration of the Nine countries is to reaffirm Resolution 242 and try to ensure that negotiations are started as soon as possible.


My Lords, while fully realising that this is a most unsuitable moment to debate this subject at a time while negotiations are going on, may I remind my noble friends that some of us on this side of the House are also disturbed? I hope that at some more suitable moment we may have more of the information and may be able to sit down and discuss it without any danger to international relations.


My Lords, I certainly take into account what has been said by my noble friend. We have various opportunities for discussion. We had a debate the other day on Foreign Affairs when it was specifically said that the Nine were in disarray. I should have thought it would be an encouragement to the House to know that they are not.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the Press statement talked about withdrawal, mentioning Resolution 242, but without mentioning secure frontiers or any of the other things in the Resolution, and that it is a fundamental flaw of Resolution 242 that it can be interpreted according to anybody's lights?


My Lords, the noble Baroness, I think, referred to the declaration. I assume she is referring to the declaration of the Nine. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred to paragraph 3 in particular. That paragraph consists of four parts, one of which is: respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries;".


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that for the first time the Nine Governments have come to a unanimous agreement, which is a major advance for European political unity? Secondly, would the noble Baroness not agree that it is rather nice that European oil interests coincide with a certain amount of Jewish aggression in the Middle East?


Shame, shame!


Though the noble Lord says "Shame!", may I say that we have had a lot of speeches in this House that could have been read from the Knesset. Will the noble Baroness agree that it is also true that the Foreign Office are sticking up for British interests, and this is what we, as taxpayers, pay for?


My Lords, I could not agree more fully with the first proposition that was put forward by my noble friend. It is a real advance in the evolution of political partnership that the Nine should be able to issue a declaration agreed by all Foreign Ministers, and which helps to solve the really difficult problems of the Middle East. We hope, in so doing, that it has also been in the interests of this country.


My Lords, is it the contention of the noble Baroness that there are no grounds for the suspicion that the declaration of the Nine will strengthen the unwillingness of the Arabs to agree to negotiations which would be in any way acceptable to Israel?


My Lords, I think this resolution is balanced. It puts forward, very carefully, the different interests of Israel and the Arab nations. I think the fact that the nine Governments have sought to do this together shows that we are seeking to get a true and lasting peace.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that everybody in this House wants peace in the Middle East; that the proposals of the Security Council, with the support of two great Powers—and now with the added support of the nine European nations made yesterday—offer to the Arab States at least something that they desired, a return of some of their territory; and offered to the State of Israel the security which is the most sincere wish of every person in Israel? At this difficult moment of history military adventures by the Arabs and Israelis can only jeopardise the peace which both sides so deeply want.


My Lords, I would agree with the noble Lord, particularly that any extention of the fighting at any time anywhere in the Middle East makes feelings run so deep and so high that it makes it difficult to have a peace which everyone in this House wants and desires.


My Lords, I am sure we all concur with the advice not to raise the emotional content of this critical matter now, but I have one question on which the noble Baroness could perhaps throw some more light. She nearly answered, but not quite, one of Lord Gladwyn's questions, which was about the inter-relationship between the third paragraph in the declaration and Resolution 242. May one take it that where there is a different sub-language there is no intention of superseding Resolution 242? I suppose in International Law it would not be possible to do so.


My Lords, that is quite correct. This declaration says, just before paragraph 3, that the Security Council and the Secretary-General have a special role to play in the making and keeping of the peace through the application of Council Resolutions 242 and 338.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether these proposals are intended as a package deal, or whether there ought not to be some order of priorities, and whether the highest priority, certainly higher than the urgency of withdrawal, ought not to be the submission of lists of wounded prisoners and the exchanging of wounded prisoners by both sides?


My Lords, the question of the prisoners of war is of absolutely prime importance. We have always said that we think the Geneva Convention should be observed.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that she repeated on two or three occasions that the Statement is in the Library? From the statement she has given, one gets the impression that bias is shown towards the Arab States rather than towards Israel. Are we not overlooking the fact—if we are to believe the reports that have been circulating ever since the war started —that it was not Israel that was the aggressor, but the aggression came from the Arab States?


My Lords, we have carefully refrained from apportioning blame as to who started the conflict. We did not think that would help anybody in the search to try to get the peace negotiations going.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the news coming through from the Middle East at the moment is that there is a very substantial measure of agreement between President Sadat and Mr. Kissinger? Therefore, the agreement of the Nine has done no harm at this moment, and it may be a substantial achievement. Is the noble Baroness also aware that the United States is proceeding to full recognition of the Egyptian Government and that both parties have publicly expressed themselves as satisfied that they have made progress on the road to peace?


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House would like to thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I am glad that he feels that the Declaration of the Nine can make a contribution.


My Lords, having regard to the very delicate nature of the present negotiations, I am sure we all agree that the less said the better. But can the noble Baroness tell me whether consideration has been given to an agreement which to my mind seems possible on demilitarised zones? We have the Sinai Desert, which is more than 100 miles wide and which nobody wants, in the South, and the Golan Heights which is very susceptible of demilitarisation in the North. Would it be possible, were it agreed, for all demilitarised zones to be patrolled ahead of all negotiations by a strong United Nations Force?


My Lords, a good deal of thought is being given to this matter but we have considered, as I said in the Statement, that one of the immediate problems, for example, is the return of the prisoners of war and the relief of the Third Army. At the same time, the talks on how negotiations could proceed will include the question of where and how demilitarised zones could be drawn.