HL Deb 02 August 1982 vol 434 cc521-4

2.55 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to help end the worsening conflict in West Beirut.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the Government voted for Security Council Resolution 516, adopted yesterday (1st August) which demands an immediate ceasefire, the cessation of all military activities and the deployment of United Nations observers to monitor the situation in and around Beirut.

We support Mr. Habib's mission as the best way of bringing the bloodshed in Beirut to an end. Withdrawal of Israeli and Palestinian forces from Beirut is an essential first step to restoring peace to Lebanon.

We have also drawn attention to the direct connection between the events in Lebanon and the Palestinian problem. There can be no stability in the region until the political aspirations of the Palestinian people are met.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, in addition, will the Government make urgent representations to the United States Government to stop the flow of arms and, in particular, phosphorous shells, to Israel? Will he agree that quite apart from considerations for humanity, nothing suits the Russians better than the spectacle which is watched by the whole world of NATO's most powerful member facilitating what amounts to war crimes against the people of West Beirut?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it is not for Her Majesty's Government to comment on United States military supplies to Israel, but the United States are best placed to bring the conflict to an end, and so we support Mr. Habib's mission.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on these Benches view with horror the recent developments in Beirut and agree very strongly with the Government action supporting Security Council Resolution 516? While accepting his proposition that there cannot be stability in the region until the aspirations of the Palestinian people are met, would he not also agree that there cannot be stability in the region either until the natural desire of the people of Israel for security is met?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I entirely agree with Lord Stewart's final remarks. The overall peace settlement which we all so much desire must take account not only of the Palestinian right to determine their own future but also Israel's right to security and peace.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, since, as we understand it, the Israeli Government do not accept that the PLO is a body capable of expressing the political aspirations of the Palestinian people, is there any means of finding out what body in the opinion of the Israeli Government is capable of expressing such political aspirations?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, what we have to do now is await the outcome of Mr. Habib's mission.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the horrendous slaughter now going on in the Lebanon—deliberately planned—can only sow the seeds of bitterness and wrath for generations to come among Jews and Arabs? Would it not be far better if Her Majesty's Government and our great ally the United States of America claimed that the same United Nations that created the State of Israel should demand that Israel and others associated with the United Nations now obey the instructions of the Security Council to stop the carnage? In short, is it not time that some civilised behaviour took over, instead of invasion, slaughtering and killing, to stop what could be a venomous feeling from one generation to the other if it still continues?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, this has been the intention of all the Security Council resolutions which have been passed since this tragedy began. The latest one, Security Council Resolution 516, indeed calls for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of military activities in the Lebanon. It also requires the deployment of United Nations observers to monitor the situation in and around Beirut if the Government of the Lebanon immediately calls for this. The United Nations have now heard from the Government of the Lebanon and from the PLO, both expressing their desire for this. A response is now awaited from Israel.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, bearing in mind the equipment which has been found by the Israelis of war materials, tanks, guns and so on, belonging to the Palestinians, may I ask the Government whether they have taken any action about advising nations which are supplying the Palestinians with such arms to stop doing so?

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords, we have not done this. Different nations have their own rules about the selling of arms, which is one of the most difficult questions of modern times. We have our own rules and we hope, by our example, that we are doing as much as we can in this respect.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, while the whole House will clearly wish to join the Government in their good wishes for the success of the mission of Mr. Habib in Beirut in this very dreadful and dangerous situation, do the Government share any of the alarm felt round the world over the increasing isolation of the United States itself in the United Nations? Is it not the case that peace depends on a form of Palestinian self-determination which is acceptable to those who have the trust of the Palestinian people both in Israel and in their diaspora and which is no less dependent, on the other side, as the noble Lord has already said, on guarantees for the security of Israel itself?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord refers to, as he sees it, the isolation of the United States in this matter, but I think I must make it clear that Her Majesty's Government believe deeply that it is the United States which can bring a settlement of this tragedy. It is for that reason, I repeat, that we pin our hopes on the mission of Mr. Habib. For the success of that mission, there must be the pre-condition of a cease-fire.

The noble Lord then went on to refer to the question of self-determination of the Palestinian people. The original Answer that I gave on behalf of Her Majesty's Government mentioned just that matter; but there must also be evenhandedness in this matter and there must be a clear statement from the PLO of Israel's rights and a confirmation of the renunciation of terrorism by the Palestinians.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, why is the Minister reluctant to make any comment on the delivery of incendiary devices to Israel by the United States? Is it because the Government do not believe there is any moral content to the use and facilitation of these weapons or because they do not wish to offend the United States, which is our greatest ally? In connection with the rights of the civilian population, would the noble Lord make representations to the Israeli authorities that international observers should be admitted to the territory they have occupied, so that they can see that the persons who have been detained by the Israeli military are being properly treated?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, on the first part of the noble Lord's question, it is simply not a matter for us. It is not appropriate that we should comment upon the arms supplies which the United States sees fit to send to other countries. As to the second part of the noble Lord's question, I think that is answered by Resolution 516.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to consider again whether or not the delivery of arms, including phosphorous shells, by the United States to Israel is a matter for Her Majesty's Government? Are not Her Majesty's Government a permanent member of the Security Council and did they not vote for a resolution of the Security Council condemning Israel as an aggressor? Are not Her Majesty's Government a close ally of the United States? Why, then, do the Government just wash their hands of this profoundly worrying phenomenon, the continuance of the selling of arms and phosphorous shells by the United States to Israel?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, at every stage Her Majesty's Government have shown the very opposite impression from that which the noble Lord is seeking to impart—that we wash our hands of this tragedy. We have supported the United Nations at every stage; with the Ten, we have tried to map out how the problem might be resolved; we have given humanitarian aid; and we support in principle the establishment of a peace-keeping force. But it is not our business, nor would it be appropriate for the Government, to comment on arms supplies to Israel from the United States.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the PLO also receive a great many arms from various sources? Are they aware that it is not only Israel which gets arms? The PLO has a tremendous number of arms, and I have read about the amounts recently.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, on the last two questions that have been asked, one by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, and the other by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, what we must try to do, instead of giving what might be said by certain parties to be gratuitous advice, is to support the United Nations in their resolutions to obtain a cease-fire and to pin our hopes on the success of Mr. Habib's mission.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, referring to the original Answer of the Minister, will the Government urge the Security Council of the United Nations to do something more about its admirable resolutions than merely sending observers? Is it not possible for the Security Council to establish a United Nations peace-keeping force in the Lebanon which would have the competence to compel not only the Israeli forces to withdraw but also all foreign forces in the Lebanon?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, in his statement on 29th July, the United Kingdom's representative on the Security Council said that a strengthened peacekeeping presence would be likely to be essential in the Lebanon.

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