HL Deb 25 October 1973 vol 345 cc758-69

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to repeat a Statement being made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the Middle East. The Statement is as follows:

"I warned the House on the 22nd of October that we should not become too euphoric about the prospects for peace in the Middle East and that there were many difficulties ahead. The fragile cease-fire although reinforced by a second Security Council resolution has repeatedly broken down, mainly in the Suez area. My most recent information is that no fighting is in progress at present. The Security Council met again last night following a broadcast appeal by President Sadat for Soviet and United States intervention. But this proposal was not pressed in the Council.

"There are already a few United Nations observers in the battlefield area, What we believe is needed now is the immediate despatch of substantial numbers of additional United Nations Truce Supervisors to the sensitive area, in whatever numbers the United Nations Commander considers necessary. I understand that the Secretary-General has the necessary personnel on call. They could be sent to the battlefield within hours. We have been pressing for this from the start.

"A draft resolution tabled by the non-aligned group in the Security Council provides for this and we shall support it.

"It also provides for the establishment of a United Nations Emergency Force. I have always said that some such action would be needed and that we would participate if required to do so. That pledge stands. We favour immediate planning by the Secretary-General as also envisaged in the nonaligned draft. Before coming to any final decisions we must be quite clear on what the mandate of such a force would be—what precisely it would be expected to do, and where it could be deployed. There is a great difference between truce supervision which is done by groups of unarmed observers and the guaranteeing of demilitarised zones. The latter is the kind of task which we have envisaged for a United Nations force. We shall be in the closest consultation with the Secretary-General and members of the Security Council about the task, size, and composition of such a United Nations force.

"At the same time as all this is going on, it is imperative that the negotiations envisaged in the Security Council resolution of October 22 should start immediately. These negotiations should be used not only to make progress towards a settlement of the main Arab/Israel dispute but also to deal with the immediate situations of greatest danger to the ceasefire and thus to the whole prospect of peace.

"Honourable Members will have been concerned to see reports that the Soviet Union may be considering moving their own troops into the Middle East area and that American forces have been put on an increased state of alert. The American Secretary of State, Dr. Kissinger, will be giving a Press conference a little later this afternoon and honourable Members will understand that I should not anticipate what he will be saying then.

"As regards Russian intentions, we have no confirmation of these reports, but I have instructed our Ambassador in Moscow to seek clarification at a high level. This latest news of an increased state of tension can however only underline what I have just said about the urgent need for the negotiating process to start between the parties."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.


My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement and I think will wish to support the line the Government are taking in it, especially as regards supporting the neutral's resolution in the Security Council. Can the Government tell us whether, as well as being prepared to contribute our share of men to any force which we may be called upon to contribute, we are in a position to give financial and logistic support behind that, if it is going to be useful?

I think the House will mostly agree with the implication in the Statement that the Government believe that the proposed joint United States-Soviet force is not a good idea, if only because China will quite certainly veto such a thing in the Security Council and then, whatever else it might be, it would not be a United Nations force.

On the question of the American strategic alert, we appreciate what the Statement says about not anticipating Secretary Kissinger's remarks later today, but are the Government in a position to tell us whether they have received any advance communication about it from the Americans?

Lastly, although it is difficult to think about such a thing in the dust and the heat of this day, are the Government still bearing in mind the paramount necessity of bringing out of this disaster a permanent embargo on arms imports of all sorts and from any quarter into the Middle East, to prevent the outbreak of a fifth Middle East war?

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness one question, but before doing so I should like sincerely to apologise to her, and indeed to the House, for having, as I see she said, "fled the House" yesterday just before the end of her second Statement on the activities of the Council of Ministers in Strasbourg. That was for personal reasons which I can explain to her, if necessary, and I apologise most sincerely to the House, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who I see referred to it later.

To come to my question, as I understand it, the Security Council, in making its recent proposals (two, I think) for a cease-fire was acting under Chapter VI of the Charter, enabling pacific settlement of dispute and presumably under Article 37, which says: If the Security Council deems that the continuance of the dispute is in fact likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, it shall decide whether to take action under Article 36 or to recommend such terms of settlement as it may consider appropriate. I assume this is what it has been doing, recommending appropriate terms of settlement, and suggesting there should be a cease-fire and, subsequently, negotiations based on the application of Resolution 242 of 1967. On the other hand, if they are now proceeding to recommend, or indeed to try to organise, what is called, I think, a peace enforcement task (I cannot remember the precise phrase) the next stage is the establishment of a United Nations emergency force, with which the noble Baroness agreed. This would be quite different from the truce observance organisation which would not be armed; I imagine that an emergency force would be armed, as it is in Cyprus at the moment. If that is so, could that be done under Article 37 which is concerned with the specific settlement of disputes, or would it have to be done under Chapter VII which starts off by saying, The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace …aggression…", and so on, and thereafter, if that is ignored, proceed to other measures. Is it therefore possible that the emergency powers could be organised or recommended under Chapter VI, or must they come under Chapter VII?


My Lords, first of all I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for saying that he supported the Government in the general tenor of this Statement. He asked whether we shall be prepared, quite apart from giving a contribution to the United Nations emergency force, to provide also financial and logistic support. This will be one of the matters which will have to be decided because, as is made quite clear in the Statement, we shall have to consult the Secretary-General and our fellow members in the Security Council about the task, size and composition of the force, and therefore, of course, what it would need in the way of financial resources or logistic support.

The noble Lord then asked about the Soviet-American forces. Naturally we would rather there was a United Nations umbrella over the search for a peaceful settlement and a ceasefire in the Middle East. So far as the alert is concerned, we were informed of what was taking place so far as our American ally is concerned. With regard to the permanent embargo, I think it is too soon to consider anything of that nature. What is really necessary is that we should keep the present very fragile ceasefire and then go on immediately to the first stages of negotiation.

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for his handsome apology both to myself and to the House as a whole. We just had to tease him a little when he said something and then did indeed flee from us. The noble Lord asked about Chapter VI of the Charter. It is of course quite true that the first two resolutions have been under Chapter VI of the Charter, the pacific settlement of disputes but the non-aligned security resolution, the draft resolution which is to be voted upon later tonight I understand, calls for the setting up immediately of, among many other things, a United Nations emergency force under its authority, and requests the Secretary-General to report within 24 hours on the steps taken to this effect. I understand that it is perfectly possible to have a resolution of this nature which does not say specifically that this matter comes under a Chapter VII resolution, but depends on the consensus voting of the members of the Security Council.


My Lords, we admire what the Government, the Security Council and especially the two Great Powers, America and the Soviet Union, have been doing to achieve peace in the Middle East, and hope that no misunderstanding between the two Great Powers can jeopardise this very precious move of the Security Council. But may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that under the Third Geneva Convention both combatants are obliged to give detailed information on the prisoners of war they have taken? Israel has so far scrupulously observed the Convention, but Egypt has not. Those of us who are friends of both Egypt and Israel would hope that Egypt would obey the Geneva Convention as one step towards bringing peace to these two nations.


My Lords, I am sure it will be the sense of the House that there should he an exchange of prisoners of war at the earliest possible moment. As I understand it, Israel insists on an exchange of prisoners of war, but she has not made this a pre-condition of any negotiations for settlement. I understand that there are still a number of qualified pilots held captive in Egypt from the 1967 war.


My Lords, I think the whole House will appreciate the grave implications of the Statement the noble Baroness has made, which seems to indicate that the tension now is not so much between the Arab countries and Israel as in possible differences between the Soviet Union and the United States of America, the Soviet Union being prepared to send forces, the United States of America not prepared to send forces. In view of the fact that last night in the Security Council the nations which are not concerned with either of the two great power blocs made the proposal that there should be a United Nations peace-keeping force of unaligned nations, may I ask the noble Baroness whether Her Majesty's Government will give the strongest support to that proposal, first as a means of preventing the outbreak of any renewed war and, secondly, as a means of moving towards peace?


My Lords, naturally every noble Lord must be concerned about the possible grave implications of what is without doubt an increased state of tension in the Middle East. On the other hand, we have to remember it was the Soviet Union and the United States who together drafted the first resolution which was in fact passed unanimously by the Security Council, except that China did not take part. The draft resolution which is to be voted on tonight does not in fact say that any emergency force should be composed only of those who are non-aligned. It is put forward and drafted by those who are non-aligned and who themselves ask for a United Nations emergency force and an increase in the number of United Nations truce observers. Of course, as my right honourable friend has said, it is very important that discussions should start immediately on what is meant by a "United Nations emergency force" but we shall support it by our vote.


My Lords, may I first thank the noble Baroness for having made reference to Clause 2 of the original arrangement for a cease-fire—it was accepted by both sides—which requires tile parties to come together? And in that respect may I urge her to do all she possibly can to see that that be done as speedily as possible, because it is the view of many of us that that is the quickest, indeed the only, way of settling the differences between the parties concerned. Following up the question put by my noble friend Lord Maybray-King, may I also ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that the breaches of the Geneva Convention have been very great? For example, the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit the prisoners or the wounded. Israel has done everything that the Convention requires. Is the noble Baroness also aware that very few names have been given by Egypt, and none by Syria of the prisoners taken by them, and that one important anxiety of people, whether in Israel or anywhere else, is obviously about their families and friends in respect of those who have been killed or wounded or who are kept in captivity? I wonder whether the noble Baroness would be good enough to press that issue as quickly as she can, particularly on humanitarian grounds, apart from any others?


My Lords, on the first point, of course, before the main parties to the dispute can come together, it is absolutely essential to keep the present ceasefire in being. We are trying by every means to see that this is ensured. That is why we support this Resolution, which calls for an immediate increase in the number of truce observers; that is before we get down to the question of the emergency force. On the question of prisoners of war, we shall certainly do all that is in our power. We very much hope, on humanitarian grounds, that an exchange of prisoners can be arranged at the earliest possible moment.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether her attention has been drawn to a news flash which has appeared on the tape, that the United States of America have been brought to a state of full atomic alert, not only there but in Europe, by order of the President? I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether Her Majesty's Government were consulted about this before hand and whether she has any comment to make? If she says that she would prefer to wait for Dr. Kissinger, I shall more than understand. But it is a matter of some slight importance, because it could mean that within 24 hours we shall all be dead.


My Lords, I need hardly say that we have heard reports of this matter, and it of course gives cause for very great concern. But the noble Lord has given me the answer that I shall give to him, namely, that I suggest to the House that we should wait for Dr. Kissinger.


My Lords, with regard to this matter of a proposed British contribution to a United Nations peacekeeping force, does the noble Baroness understand that everybody recognises and appreciates the good intentions of Her Majesty's Government, but has she taken note of the speech, delivered, I think, yesterday, by the Israeli Foreign Minister, in which he condemned the British Government's recent refusal to provide spare parts and other equipment to the Israeli Government? In those circumstances, is she satisfied that if a United Nations peace-keeping force is created the Israeli Government will accept a British contribution?


My Lords, certainly we read with great care Mr. Eban's speech on British policy; but my right honourable friend and the Government do not accept the criticism contained in it. We feel that often things are said in the heat of the moment which will perhaps be modified when the situation is calmer. We have in fact been doing a great deal in our efforts to obtain peace, and we intend to go on doing so. The fact that we stopped supplying arms to both sides has put us in an independent position which I think may be of some use in the days to come. I am sorry—what was the second question'?


Of course, rejecting the noble Baroness's suggestion about the action of Her Majesty's Government, I wanted to know whether, in the circumstances, the Israeli Government will accept a British contribution to a United Nations peace-keeping force.


I am so sorry; I was concentrating on Mr. Eban's speech. I said in the debate we had last week that it is very important, when we come to the question, for example, of guaranteeing demilitarised zones, that it should be done by a Resolution of the Security Council, which would be mandatory. That would mean that members of the force would be sent there on the authority of the Security Council, unlike the United Nations force which was sent there through a General Assembly Resolution which was merely a recommendation. Therefore, that force could not be removed by the request of the parties concerned, but only by the authority of the Security Council.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness inform the House whether there has been any comment or observation from the participants in the Middle East war as to the reception of a United Nations peace-keeping force?


My Lords, I think what matters at the moment is whether there is going to be a truce that can be kept. I think everybody's attention is set on that.


My Lords, my noble friend referred to the early exchange of prisoners. While that is desirable, it is hardly likely to happen in the next few days. Has her attention been drawn to the Press statement that there are about 25,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Suez area? Could not this country play a part, with other nations, in getting supplies to these prisoners, either by means of an air lift, or by actually providing the food?


My Lords, I will certainly take into account the suggestion of my noble friend.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that, while we are all, naturally, mainly preoccupied with the military situation, the maintenance of the cease-fire and the other very serious news which has recently been brought to our attention, is it not necessary, perhaps more than anything else, to proceed without delay to work out the methods of progress towards a lasting peace? I ask the noble Baroness whether she agrees—and T think the end of her speech indicates that she does—how all-important it is to establish the form of the peace conference which is to take place under the appropriate auspices, as the Resolution of the Security Council said. Is not that the most important thing of all? I think she would agree that once the processes of working out a lasting settlement are put in motion—and it must take a long time—that will be the greatest contribution to the maintenance of peace, both in the area and internationally, on a wider basis. Therefore, I hope that despite the preoccupation we have at this time with the immediate dangers, she would agree that we should proceed immediately to work out and put into effect the full proposals for a peace conference directed to the establishment of a lasting peace.


My Lords, that is why we voted for the new Resolution 338 in the Security Council: it calls for the immediate implementation of Resolution 242 in full while negotiations are going on; in other words, it should run concurrently with the negotiations and not be delayed until negotiations are completed, We feel that there is more chance of success this time because this Resolution was put forward by the super-Powers and not reluctantly acquiesced in, as was the case in 1967.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness please see to it that what is contained in Clause 2 of the proposals shall be put into effect at once? Does she not realise that interpretations which were not correct. or not accepted by one side or the other, were to a very considerable extent the cause of the war breaking out again? One particular statement, the Harrogate speech, I am sorry to say, helped very considerably towards the war breaking out. Does she not think, as has often been said in this House, that the important thing is to bring the two parties together, as is proposed and is accepted in the Resolution?


My Lords, I certainly think that it is most important to get the two parties together. Whether they will meet together on their own at first remains to be seen; they might have to be helped on the way. I am sorry the noble Lord disagreed with some of the Harrogate speech. If I may quote two things from it, my right honourable friend said: One must accept the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area could live in security. That was the background to Resolution 242.


My Lords, is not the implication from that that our Government was suggesting that the Israelis should go back to boundaries which could not possibly be protected? Where would they have been if that suggestion had been accepted and the Arabs had broken out in the way they did to attack Israel?


My Lords, the famous resolution in fact said: the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". The noble Lord will know as well as anybody else in the House that there is a certain ambiguity in that resolution, but the fact remains that it is the only resolution to which both Arab and Israeli subscribed, and that is its importance.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness able to say which of the non-aligned countries of the Security Council are putting the resolution to the Security Council to-night, and whether they are the same countries as would take part or provide contingents in the United Nations emergency force?


My Lords, I regret to say that I cannot do that without notice. I have only the terms of the resolution and not the signatories to it, but I will write to the noble Lord.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness still able to confirm the statement of ten minutes ago that in the Suez area no fighting is in progress at present? Can she say what is the justification for any Russian intervention?


My Lords, as the Statement said, last night in a broadcast President Sadat in fact asked for both Soviet the United States intervention, although this was not pressed in the Council. As I say, we have no confirmed reports of exactly what is happening, and I think we should wait until we get them confirmed.