HL Deb 18 March 1986 vol 472 cc861-2

2.41 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why, having spoken in favour of it, they did not vote for the Security Council resolution on 17th January requiring Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, the deployment of UNIFIL to enable it to carry out its mandate, and the full restoration of Lebanese sovereignty.

The Minister of State for Defence Support (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we agree with the call in the Lebanese draft resolution on 17th January for complete Israeli withdrawal and respect for Lebanese sovereignty. We abstained because it included no constructive suggestions as to how these objectives might be achieved and did not refer specifically to the role of UNIFIL.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, while not finding that Answer particularly convincing may I, in general terms, ask my noble friend whether he does not agree that, when speaking to a Security Council resolution and having reservations, and thinking perhaps of abstaining, it really is of the utmost importance that this should be made clear in the opening speech, and that, if this is not done, then, should there be a change of mind during the course of the debate, an explanation of our vote should be given? Is there not a serious risk of a misunderstanding of what British policy really is unless this is done?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think the most important risk of a misunderstanding of British policy would have been to have voted in favour of a resolution with the shortcomings that I have referred to. It is all very well identifying the problem, but we need to seek a solution as well.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, is it not the case that the biggest obstacle to the restoration of power in Lebanon is not a small traditional zone but the presence of large numbers of Syrian troops and the political threat that they pose?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that the way forward in the Lebanon is for the Lebanese Government and people to be allowed to solve their own problems without outside interference from wherever it comes.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is it not an unconvincing explanation that Her Majesty's Government declined to vote for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon and for the full restoration of Lebanese sovereignty because the resolution did not mention UNIFIL?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, our problems with the resolution went a little wider than the noble Lord is suggesting. It did not point the way forward to a solution in this area; and we look forward very much to the next Security Council debate in April, which will be in connection with the renewal of the UNIFIL mandate, which we hope will be helpful in this regard.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it not the case that the Secretary General of the United Nations has now proposed an international peace conference on the conflict in the Middle East? Can the noble Lord say what is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to that proposal?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, that goes a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper. Nevertheless, Her Majesty's Government will support any constructive proposals in this area.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, in more specific terms, has not UNIFIL been put in a dangerous and difficult, if not near impossible position by the United States veto of this resolution, which referred back to previous resolutions about the setting up of UNIFIL, and by the continued occupation of a large part of the Lebanon by Israel's forces more than nine months after Mr. Peres promised their complete withdrawal?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that one of the major obstacles in the way of UNIFIL properly fulfilling its mandate is the continued Israeli presence in the south of Lebanon, and I hope that that matter can be corrected very soon.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government not vote for any resolution demanding the withdrawal of Israeli forces which does not also demand the withdrawal of Syrian and PLO forces from the Lebanon?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is right, if I may say so, to point to the need for these resolutions to be balanced. The one which is the subject of this Question failed, for example, to pay proper regard to Israeli security concerns and those of Lebanon. Those are among the reasons why we were obliged not to vote.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as he said, the resolution did not dot every "t" and cross every "t" but that distinguished people in the Middle East, including distinguished Israelis, believe that it provided a basis which, with the help of UNIFIL, could have begun the achievement of peace? What we should have said, having spoken in favour, and remembering that it could have been said in a speech, is that perhaps the resolution was not 100 per cent. perfect but that it deserved our support in endeavouring to bring peace to a very troubled land and to ease the strain on Israel.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if Israeli interests are concerned with UNIFIL fulfilling its mandate, then perhaps they could help them to do so.