HL Deb 02 April 1979 vol 399 cc1705-8

3.7 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 will make a Statement on the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.


My Lords, the Government welcome the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel as a significant first step towards a comprehensive settlement.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this is an outstanding historic event of this century—certainly during my lifetime? Will he see to it that strong action is taken by our Government, with other civilised Governments, to ensure that this result, which has been achieved by the courageous efforts and guidance of three dedicated people, is not in any sense diminished by our standing aside on any occasion when it should be encouraged? Will he please realise that what we have been talking about today, terrorism such as that threatened by the PLO, some of whom are still being harboured by us, is something this action can assist in preventing?


Yes, my Lords, we are all in agreement that an accord between Egypt and Israel is surely an historic event of great importance, and we strongly support what has been done under the leadership of the American President as a precursor, we hope, of a comprehensive settlement. A comprehensive settlement, one further hopes, would also solve the problems of terrorism in that area.


My Lords, can my noble friend say whether his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has sent any congratulations to President Sadat, to Mr. Begin and to President Carter on what is a notable achievement, despite subsequent problems that may occur? Has he done that? If so, has there been any publicity of it? If not, why not?


My Lords, of course my right honourable friend has conveyed to the President of the United States, the President of Egypt and the Israeli Prime Minister his appreciation and admiration of their courage and constructive statesmenship through these difficult months of negotiation. No doubt he will continue, not only by words but by all possible action, to support this very promising attempt to move forward in the direction of a comprehensive settlement in this troubled area.


My Lords, could it not be accentuated a little more that historically this is the first time that the Eygptians and the Israelis have shaken hands since Pharaoh and Moses? If that point could be brought home we might realise the importance of this occasion.


My Lords, I had hoped, with my limited knowledge of history, that I had deferred to the historical expertise of my noble friend Lord Janner in this matter; but I do so even more freely, and willingly, with regard to the noble Baroness. I am sure that we are all conscious of the potential significance of this historic breakthrough. It can be the breakthrough not only in relation to Egypt and Israel but, even more importantly, in relation to the future pacification and development of the entire Middle East. The British posture—and, I am very glad to say, that of Western Europe—is to regard this historic breakthrough as the precursor of a comprehensive settlement in the area.


My Lords, would it be possible for Her Majesty's Government to take any active steps to reduce the isolation of Egypt from the other Arab countries: for example, by calling together a conference of the Arab representatives here in London and explaining to them very forcefully how much Her Majesty's Government welcome the achievement of this historic pact between two countries which have been virtually at war with each other for a period of 30 years?


My Lords, I can assure my noble friend and the House that no diplomatic opportunity is missed to convey to our Arab friends—with whom, I am very pleased to say, we are in diplomatic and friendly relations—our attitude to what has been happening. We shall take advantage of every possible opportunity not only to explain our own attitude but, I hope, to explain and to help to create a growing consensus of agreement between Arabs and Israelis in regard to the future of the area. As to a conference, I think it is early days to talk of conferences. The day will come of course when all of those involved will need to be brought together round the same table to put in shape the kind of comprehensive settlement for which, I repeat, this breakthrough must be regarded as a precursor.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that official circles and opinion-formers in the United States arc still somewhat dismayed by the first European reactions—including those of the United Kingdom—to the Washington treaty? They consider these reactions to be at best luke-warm, to some extent even counter-productive, by qualification and lack of fervour? Would my noble friend also agree that America seem to be strong and, if consistently and loyally backed by her European allies, are most likely to ensure the successful outcome of the negotiations?


My Lords, with due respect to my noble friend, this is not my reading of the American reaction to Western European comment on what has happened. Nor is it my reading of what has been said in this House or in the other place by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary about this matter. There can be no doubt that on the basis of what the community have said recently and in June 1977, when they laid down the basis of their attitude to the Middle East question, what the American President and the two statesmen from Egypt and Israel have already been able to achieve is wholly in accord with European desires and views. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister emphasised on the 27th of last month in the other place, it is most certainly the desire and the attitude of the United Kingdom.


My Lords, may I again ask my noble friend whether he will take the lead and see to it that civilised countries will assist Israel and Egypt? Egypt has about half the Arab population of the Middle East. Will he appreciate that such organisations as the PLO with all that they have been saying—and everybody here knows exactly how various are the kinds of things that they have been saying—have leaders among them who continue to advocate terrorism? Will he investigate how far they are acting together with other terrorists and will he see to it that they are prevented from acting from behind closed doors in our own country?


My Lords, certainly this Government, and no doubt, their successor—and they will probably be succeeded by themselves—will continue to examine very carefully from day to day the operations of terrorism and the best ways in which to safeguard this and other communities against its attentions. There is no need for my noble friend to ask this country to take the lead in the fight against terrorism. It has a very fine record in both the energy and the ideas which it has contributed to the worldwide fight against terrorism.