HL Deb 08 April 1987 vol 486 cc1058-78

4.55 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster rose to call attention to the situation in the Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Arab areas of former Palestine; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am indeed most grateful for having been given this opportunity to address myself to the problems of the Middle East, and in particular to those of Lebanon and the occupied areas. Unfortunately, this debate has had to be put on at very short notice, but I am extremely grateful to those noble Lords who have come into the breach in the past day or two. They will have had even less time to prepare their speeches than I have had.

I think one can describe the problems of the Middle East as polycentric, multi-factional, and hydra-headed. What do I mean by that? Hydra-headed refers of course to the PLO. Many attempts have been made to crush them by the Israelis, by Amal, and somehow or other if you lop off one head of the hydra another springs up. They seem to be quite indestructible. Polycentric, my Lords? Well, we only have to look round the Middle East to see how many centres there are.

Multi-factional, what about that, my Lords? What about the situation in the Lebanon, about which I shall talk in a minute or two? How many factions are there there? A friend of mine said recently, "It is not so much a case of 'a plague on both your houses,' but 'a plague on all your 25 houses' ". By that of course he meant all the various political and religious divisions in the Middle East, and there are 17 main factions in Lebanon alone.

Perhaps I might remind your Lordships of some of the confessional groups which make up the infinitely complex, infinitely fragile, political structure of the Lebanon. The oldest established of the Christian communities are the Maronites, who established themselves in the mountain hinterland of Lebanon in AD640 under the leadership of St. Maroun. Politically they are divided into two main groups—the supporters of former president Chamoun, and those of the present President, and they are frequently scrapping among themselves. There are other Christian groups which I could briefly mention, but they are of no great political importance, such as the Greek Orthodox, the Greek Catholic, the Syrian Orthodox and the Syrian Catholic.

Of the Moslem communities it is important to stress that the largest of these—and indeed the largest in the whole country—is now the Shia, who number at least 800,000, and some people say even 1 million. They are found mainly in the southern part of the country. It is this faction, whose military wing, Amal, have come into prominence recently with the blockade of the Sabra and Shatilla camps, fortunately now over. I shall say a word about that in a minute.

When I was speaking about Lebanon on the last occasion in your Lordships' House—it was in fact on an Unstarred Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on 22nd June, 1984—I said that we had reached in the Lebanon a Humpty-Dumpty situation. In other words, the Lebanese Humpty-Dumpty had suffered such a great fall and fragmented into so many pieces that there seemed no possibility of re-joining it. I much regret that that is proving all too accurate today. President Gemayel, who visited this country recently, controls little more than the limits of his garden. The cabinet has not met for nine months, and the government are in no way in control of the country.

I shall not say much about the blockade of the camps, Sabra, Shatilla and Bourg E1 Barajneh, because, as your Lordships will have read in the papers today, the Syrians have entered the Shatilla camp, which is the one where there was the greatest suffering, and they have put a stop to the activities of the Amal. It is perhaps worth mentioning that when the siege was at its height entry of food and medicines to the camps was forbidden, starvation and disease were widespread, women were being fired upon as they went to draw water at the wells, and rats were reported to be eating the flesh of the unburied bodies. What a horrible picture! Having heard an account of conditions there from a Chinese doctor who worked in that area I can assure your Lordships that this was in no sense an exaggeration.

Let me turn now to the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. I must make it clear, although some noble Lords may disagree with me, that there can be no doubt whatever that these occupied territories are slowly but inexorably being incorporated into the State of Israel. One cannot get away from that basic fact. Perhaps I may give your Lordships some examples. As will be appreciated, I am sure, an adequate supply of pure water is a paramount need in countries like Israel, where temperatures often rise to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a lovely passage in the Koran which says: We have created from water every living thing".

What a lovely idea that is! But, my Lords, what do we find? the water allowance for agricultural purposes has been fixed at from between 90 to 100 million cubic metres per year for 400 Palestinian villages. This allowance of water will not increase, even by the year 2010. By contrast, however, water for the Israelis' agriculture will increase during the 1980s to an estimated 60 million cubic metres by 1990 for only 30 settlements. There are several quite serious agricultural restrictions: for example, farmers in the West Bank and Gaza face many difficulties. These include restrictions on land that can be cultivated, the amount of water that can be used and the planting of trees. They face unfair competition from Israelis whose agriculture is subsidised, and they have to pay many taxes, including those on land, income, exports, and so on. Their export is restricted. They are not allowed to sell produce in Israel—a very important point—whereas the Israelis are able to flood the local markets with cheap subsidised produce.

Then there are many abuses of human rights. For example, no political activity is allowed. Road blocks, curfews, demolition of houses, detentions and deportations have been common. Universities are closed periodically and students arrested, as your Lordships will have seen in the press. Youth centres have been closed for the flimsiest of reasons. To take one example, the youth centre at Kalandia camp was closed because it showed the film "The Lion of Africa", which was claimed to be an incitement to riot. I could go on, but I hope I have given a fairly clear picture of the extent to which the people in those territories suffer.

The situation in the Gaza Strip is worthy of rather special attention. Since the military occupation of the strip, together with the Golan Heights and the West Bank in June 1967, attention has been largely fixed on those latter two territories to the virtual exclusion of Gaza. This strip is an artificial entity about 45 kilometres long and eight kilometres wide. It has no historical identity, and it is inhabited by about 500,000 people, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Of this number nearly 50 per cent. are under 14 years of age. Some 350,000 are refugees, living in camps where conditions are about as bad as anywhere in the Middle East. There seems little hope of an improvement so long as the rat-infested sewers continue to run through the camps. The government health services in Gaza are, sad to say, chronically under-staffed and short of funds. They work with outdated equipment. Gaza has no qualified anaesthetist, no heart, paediatric or chest surgeon and only one psychiatrist compared with 2,000 in Israel.

The main purpose of this speech is not to tell your Lordships what has been happening in this area, but to make recommendations to Her Majesty's Government concerning policy. Here I think we must do all we can to support the Declaration by the Twelve on the Middle East signed in Brussels on 23rd February, 1987. That declaration has not been given very wide prominence, so far as I can see, but it includes some important recommendations. Time permits me to mention only two. First, Article 4: the Twelve would like to state that they are in favour of an international Peace Conference to be held under the auspices of the United Nations with the participation of the parties concerned and of any party able to make a direct and positive contribution to the restoration and maintenance of peace and to the region's economic and social development". What could be more positive and constructive than that? Surely Her Majesty's Government will go along with that. Then we have Article No. 6 which to my mind is also very important and particularly relevant today. It reads as follows: Without prejudging future political solutions, the Twelve wish to see an improvement in the living conditions of the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories, particularly regarding their economic, social, cultural and administrative affairs. The Community has already decided to grant aid to the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories and to allow certain products from those territories preferential access to the Community Market.

There are just two other aspects of this problem that I should like to touch on briefly. One is the problem of terrorism. I have not given figures of numbers killed or details of attacks because that is largely unnecessary; but I should like to say—I hope we may get further on this if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, gets his debate on terrorism—that terrorism is essentially the product of maladjusted people. There are very important psychological considerations behind it. To give one example, the genesis of all this trouble in Lebanon was way back in 1974 when a Christian boy of 14 years, no more, held up a bus containing Moslems and killed them all, just like that; he mowed them down with a machine gun. In my view that 14 year-old boy was not basically evil. He was probably no worse than any of your Lordships' 14 year-old sons, but it happened. I hope that some time may be given to consider this problem in rather more detail.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I reminisce about my earliest visit to Palestine and Lebanon which was during the war in 1942 and 1943. I can remember so well walking over those hills of Galilee—the northern part of Israel now but formerly Palestine—and all the beauty of the spring flowers. One would see little children running joyfully from school with their smiling faces and their warm welcome. I can remember being taken on one occasion to a Palestinian house. There I was given not a glass of water, not a cup of tea or coffee: I was given a bowl, a piece of soap and a towel. I was invited to wash my feet. Is that not a wonderful link with the Palestine of the Bible? How splendid it would be if we could restore something of that atmosphere to those troubled countries today. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Kagan

My Lords, I shall be very brief. I well remember the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, on 22nd May 1985. At that time there was very severe criticism of Israel, with blame for what had happened in the Lebanese camps. At that time it was implied that there was lack of goodwill on the part of the Israelis. Sadly, we have now seen that no one could put order into Lebanon, and the description of "Humpty Dumpty" was absolutely justified. I feel that Israel has received an unfair amount of blame.

So far as the occupied territories are concerned, I am afraid that in a situation like that there is not a choice between a good answer or a bad answer. Sometimes fate gives us the choice between bad, worse and terrible. It is not easy to administer a country in which a lot of vested interests are hostile. The Israelis have tried very, very hard indeed to co-operate with the native population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to try to improve things, but as soon as anyone among the native Palestinians there shows the slightest sign of co-operation with Israel, terror is applied against them.

In Israel, the Israelis are allowed to have different opinions, to discuss and to disagree in a civilised manner; but I am afraid that among the Palestinians any dissent is punished and squashed by terror. That is the difficulty. It is not just a question of Israeli lack of goodwill: it is the case that one has to make the best of a very bad and difficult situation.

So far there has been no mention that at the present moment Shimon Peres is attempting to arrange a meeting in which Palestinians will participate. What the outcome will be one does not know. Israel not only wants peace: it needs peace desperately. As I said earlier, the perfect answer is not there as an option.

5.14 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Viscount for introducing this Motion and for the extremely informative way in which he did so. My noble friends would, I feel, support all the recommendations that he put forward for the attention of the Government.

At long last a degree of law and order has been imposed by the Syrians in Lebanon. It is a thankless task, for which I think they deserve credit. Already there are an increasing number of acts of violence against the Syrian occupying forces, and it remains to be seen how long even the present measure of order can be maintained.

Perhaps the noble Baroness, when she comes to reply, would say something about our relations with Syria. My noble friends and I were among the first to support the Government over the breaking of relations following the disgraceful Syrian association with a monstrous terrorist act. Is it the Government's view that there have been changes of personnel since in Syria and some signs of a more positive policy? Are the Government considering, bearing in mind the immensely important position of Syria in the Middle East, some partial restoration of relations with that country?

At the moment the Syrians have succeeded in raising the siege of the refugee camps. In a world where scenes of cruelty have become all too commonplace, it is hard to beat the spectacle of women and girls running to fetch food for their starving families and being shot as they do so. The relief of these camps was an absolute first priority. We hope and pray that the lifting of the siege will continue.

If I may, I should like to draw attention to the noble conduct in the Bourj al-Barajneh camp of two British citizens, Dr. Pauline Cutting and Nurse Susan Wighton. I hope that the Government will assure us, since there has been talk of reprisals, that they will spare no pains to do whatever is possible to ensure the protection of these two brave ladies and in due course perhaps give them the public recognition that their heroism deserves. Credit is also due to a small band of newspaper and television reporters who have recently shown to the world the real horror of life under siege in the camps. May I also ask the noble Baroness whether she can tell us what the latest position is on the kidnapping of Mr. Terry Waite and other British subjects in Beirut?

Even at the best of times, when Lebanon was free and prosperous, stability was threatened by tension between Christians and Moslems. There was no chance of this stability surviving the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, driven from their homes by Israel. Naturally these unhappy people demanded to be allowed to return to their homes. Naturally also, in my view and I think in the view of most people, very disastrously and most mistakenly, the PLO set up a kind of mini-state in Lebanon to forward thòse aims.

The results were disastrous. First, there was Lebanese resentment at the infringement of their sovereignty and then, much worse, there was the Israeli invasion in which over 100,000 innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were either killed or injured, apparently in the hope that somehow in this way the PLO would be destroyed and Palestinian national aspirations would be ended.

Israel is still contributing to the destabilisation of Lebanon by maintaining a de facto presence in the south of the country and by continuing bombing raids. There have been eight bombing raids so far this year. All these things have been in defiance of unanimous Security Council resolutions.

Will the noble Baroness confirm that it is still the position of the Government, as I believe it is, that they warmly support the work of UNIFIL in the south of Lebanon and will resist all efforts to have the force removed? It is regarded by the people there—the people who are in danger—as their friend and ally, and it has done a splendid job in very difficult circumstances indeed.

It has often been said that there will be no peace in the Middle East until a measure of justice has been done to the Palestinians. Lebanon is one example of this and another example, as the noble Viscount has so admirably shown, is the deplorable situation in the West Bank and Gaza. It is not merely the denial of normal civil liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom to vote, but far worse, as the noble Viscount indicated—the deportation of people without trial from their own country. There are collective punishments and frequent shootings of unarmed civilians—so frequent as not now to get much notice in the press, although I saw that there was a case last Monday. It is, I am afraid, an example of colonialism of a rather brutal kind and it is in nobody's interests, least of all in the interests of Israel, that this situation should be allowed to continue.

A just solution has long been available on paper. I refer to the unanimous decision of the Foreign Ministers of the European Community at Venice, which was reaffirmed, as the noble Viscount mentioned, in February this year. On these Benches we congratulate the Government and the other governments of the European Community both on the original Venice declaration and on the reaffirmation in February.

It laid down the essentials for a peaceful settlement. On the one hand, there was recognition of Israel's right to live in peace within her recognised international frontiers, with her security guaranteed not only by an international treaty, but also by European troops on the ground, which is plainly implied in the Venice declaration. On the other hand, there was self-determination for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and—so the Venice declaration puts it—the "association" of the PLO with the peace process. On these Benches we warmly support this way forward.

Further, we support the Government in any efforts they can make to bring about an international conference to start the peace process going. We know that there are very grave difficulties. Such a conference would be attended by all the interested parties including Israel and the Soviet Union, and with Palestinian representation acceptable to the PLO. This is, I know, a very great difficulty. No one can dictate what the Palestinian representation should be. But all those who understand that the PLO is accepted as the leader by the overwhelming mass of Palestinians, including those on the West Bank and Gaza, must, I am sure, agree that peace negotiations which exclude the PLO are worthless. There must be Palestinian representation at this conference acceptable to the PLO, and we should certainly support the Government in that.

But, alas, there are of course grave obstacles. Last week, overriding his Foreign Minister, Mr. Peres, the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Shamir. reaffirmed his unqualified opposition to any international conference and any negotiations on relinquishing the West Bank and Gaza and, as his recent visit to the United States showed, the views of Mr. Shamir carry inordinate weight in Washington. indeed, it is fair to ask how far the United States Government are actually in command of their own policy in the Middle East, bearing in mind their high dependence on Congress and the high dependence of Congress on the pro-Israeli lobby. American Senators and Representatives will explain quite readily that if they oppose the Israeli line they pay a heavy penalty in loss of media support and in campaign contributions particularly. They will frankly admit that Congress seldom decides Palestinian problems on their merits. This lamentable state of affairs places a particularly heavy responsibility on the European Community in its efforts to reach a just settlement.

But though the outlook is bleak—no one can deny that—it is not hopeless, and there are one or two developments which ought to encourage the Community. I am thinking, for instance of the increasingly influential and positive role being played by Egypt and also by Syria and the Soviet Union. I am thinking also of the small but growing section of Israeli opinion which recognises that the status quo is no solution for Israel, no option for Israel, in the longer term; that the balance of power is bound to shift against Israel in the longer term not only in economic, financial and military terms, but above all, in the view of well informed Israelis, in terms of population, of demography. These far-sighted Israelis are willing to trade land for peace.

Then on the Palestinian side within the PLO there are strong elements, braving the murderous threats of the Abu Nidal terrorist group, which are striving also for a just and peaceful settlement. These are the elements, together with the European Community itself, on which hopes for the future rest. Let the Government encourage and build on these elements and they will have the warm support of my noble friends and myself.

5.26 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester

My Lords, like the last speaker I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for providing us with this opportunity to comment on the continuing chaos and horror of events in the Lebanon. Your Lordships will be aware that on these Benches we have at this time our own particular concern about the progress of events there. But such is the delicacy of the situation, I am sure your Lordships will understand if I simply reaffirm our constant prayers for the safe return of all captives, including the Archbishop's envoy. Terry Waite's disappearance has perhaps done more than years of war, kidnaps and suffering to bring home to many the reality of life in a country where the rule of law has been replaced by terror and anarchy. It is this reality which I believe should be the focus of our concern, and in this short debate I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to both political and humanitarian realities.

There are in your Lordships' House many who are much better qualified than I am to speak about the political dimensions of the situation in the Lebanon, but I feel that underlying those dimensions is a wider moral one. This is that the institutions we have created in our efforts to bring peace to the world are woefully inadequate to the task. We are thankful to have the United Nations as a world agency, but its existence is a beginning and not an end. Until the UN has the power to intervene in such a situation we cannot be content. It will remain impotent until it is given proper resources and is able to demonstrate a political will that will make it work. The situation in the Lebanon should remind us every day that while we may leap ahead in some fields, we progress little in other more vital ones.

I would draw your Lordships' attention to the general effects of the fratricidal conflict that we see in the Lebanon—the cheapening of life, the acceptance of war as a habit, the casual acceptance of torture and murder. These can become the touchstones by which everything is judged. The bell tolls loudest for those closest, but its echoes should reach whoever values peace. For this reason, I am sure your Lordships will join me in believing that the problems of the Lebanon, whether it be the homelessness of the Palestinians or the treatment of other groups and minorities, should continue to concern us all. We must all want to assure the people of the Lebanon, of whatever political or religious group, that their suffering is not forgotten and that we work and pray daily for their deliverance from fear and hunger.

Finally, I should like to salute the courage of those who share the dangers in order to bring aid and relief to those who suffer. I am thinking of the doctors, nurses and officials of the Red Cross and the United Nations agencies who remain committed to their humanitarian work, despite great threats to their own security. They more than anyone demonstrate the possibility of simple humanitarian concern taking precedence over political or personal advantage. Those of them who give their lives we should surely revere and honour as we do the heroes of other causes.

I should also like to thank the Government for the money they have provided to support the work of relief agencies. Like the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, I share the hope that it may be possible to mount an international initiative to address the causes of conflict in the Lebanon. Until that time—and it may be quite a while—I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that we shall continue to see that funds are made available for relief work. That work serves in particular the widows and orphans of the war.

I began my few remarks by asking that we concentrate today on the realities of life in the Lebanon. I believe that it is only when we see clearly the plight of the most desperate that we shall find the moral energy to move mountains on their behalf.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, the noble Lord the Chief Whip of the Government referred in the last debate to our happy estate in having government by sympathy, by agreement and with mutual affection. He referred to the horrors of government by hate and spite. In the Middle East, government is about hate and spite. It is about nothing else. One cannot run around saying how nice it would be if all the Middle Eastern peoples loved one another. They do not. As the noble Lord, Lord Kagan, pointed out, we are dealing with a situation in which there is no good will available. We are dealing with a situation in which we have to choose between order and terror. It is a straight choice. In governing the Middle East, people must be more frightened of you than they are of the other man.

The PLO is a terrorist organisation. We all know that terrorism has been its method. The PLO illegally got itself into Lebanon. It at first tried to get itself into Jordan. However, thanks to the King of Jordan, it was defeated and expelled. Do not tell me that we are urging the king to have it back. The PLO then went into the Lebanon. I remember Lebanon in the old days, with its strange arrangement of a Christian president and a Muslin chief justice working happily together until the PLO came in. The PLO is the villain of this piece as it has been, to a considerable degree, within Palestine as well.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, may I put one point? Is the noble Lord aware that more than 100 countries, including EC countries, recognise the PLO as the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people? One really cannot condemn all the members of the PLO as terrorists. That is quite ridiculous.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I shall happily give the noble Lord a list of the absurdities upon which the whole of the United Nations agree. When one has this absurd and unworkable forum of bogus representation, one gets people who are perpared to find that black is white and that the PLO is not a terrorist organisation. It has never been anything else; terrorism is what the PLO believes in. It has urged terrorism and used it at every opportunity. When it was finally thrown out of Lebanon, it was not long before it was back again and got back into the camps. We have heard of the misery of those camps. They are the people who are to blame for it—

Lord Chelwood

Where else have they got to go?

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I shall not give way. I have only six minutes. Those are the people who went into the camps. They did not go there to be peaceful; they went there to make war, in just the same way that the IRA goes into Northern Ireland and makes war. We are dealing with terrorists. We should not block our eyes to that.

So far as the West Bank is concerned, the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, said that he wished he could restore the Bible situation which he found there before the war. I profoundly wish that he could. However, has he any idea what the Bible situation was? The land was ruled by Rome with a rod of iron. It was ruled in such a manner that wherever one walked one could not fail to see the crucifixes in the countryside. Read Josephus; he tells us what Palestine was like. The archaeologists will tell you that one of the most prosperous times in the history of Palestine was the time when Roman rule gave order. That is what the Middle East needs now.

The West Bank is working very well, It has order. That order may involve some people being thrown out or being expelled from their own country. However, it is vastly better than the chaos which is the alternative. The same situation exists in Ireland. We are the Jews in Ireland as the Israelis are in the West Bank. Both of us are doing an exceedingly good job.

To my noble friend Lord Mayhew I should like to say that though we have been friends for a very long time, I have recognised this strange aberration of his during all the time in which I have been with him in Parliament, from the time when he was with Ernest Bevin in the Foreign Office. At that time, the attempt was made to allow the Arab nations, who had armies available at that time, to destroy and annihilate the Jews. It was a shocking part of our history and it failed because of the tremendous courage of the Jews who defeated Ernie Bevin's plan. At that time my noble friend acquired his anti-Semitism—

Lord Mayhew


Lord Paget of Northampton

—and I have never known him to dissent from it for a moment. There has never been an occasion either in this House or in another place that he has not used his opportunities to viciously attack Israel.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my old friend. However, he surely is not suggesting that I am racially prejudiced against the Jews. That is a very serious accusation and he has no evidence. I am willing to prove the contrary. If I may remind him, there is a grove of trees planted in my honour in Israel. It is called the Christopher Mayhew Grove. Perhaps he can answer that.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I do not know how that happened in the negotiations in which he was representing Ernie Bevin. Those kinds of actions may happen when one tries to conciliate one's enemies. If that grove is there for any purpose, that is the purpose, because he has never been anything other than an enemy of Israel. I am not saying that he is racially prejudiced. Doubtless he will tell us that many of his best friends are Jews. However, his behaviour has never displayed any love of Israel; this is the final time and I am tired of hearing it.

This is an occasion on which we can look at the situation. The issue, and the only issue, in the Middle East is terrorism. That overwhelmingly transcends all the others. Until you have destroyed, defeated and bound terrorism, you can have no peace and no order. Get your priorities right—that is what I urge on the Government—and do not say that in order to settle this we have to bring the terrorists, the PLO, into the negotiations. The rule which the Government try to follow is that they do not deal with terrorists. Once they deal with terrorists—whether they be the IRA or the PLO; it is just the same thing—they will be in trouble.

5.40 p.m.

The Earl of Oxford and Asquith

My Lords, the rather short notice of the debate has certainly left me less well prepared for it than I should have liked. But having served for many years in what was then Palestine, I should feel ashamed if I did not speak, however briefly, in support of the Palestinians now in Lebanon and in the West Bank and Gaza. In part, at least, it was for their welfare and that of their parents and grandparents that we undertook responsibility for the Palestine mandate. We failed them in the end in this responsibility, with the consequences for them that we see today.

The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has done a great service in drawing attention so eloquently to their plight, not least because there is a worrying disproportion between the attention that this has received and the attention given to sufferers with more powerful backing. If an American hostage is taken, still more if an American is killed, all America is up in arms, sometimes literally so, when it results, for example, in the bombing of Tripoli, with British support. If an Israeli is killed—it may be Sidon that is bombed, with shocking casualties, or it may be Tunis—this is called "teaching the terrorists a lesson". But when Palestinian Arabs die in tens of thousands—the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has given 100,000 as the number—or survive certainly in hundreds of thousands in the most deplorable conditions, the world's reaction is strangely muted; a curious disparity of response.

Only a week or two ago we saw how the concert of Western opinion—again with British support—has induced Russia to make important concessions in the interests of Soviet Jewry. Is it too much to hope that concerted action by ourselves and others could help to alleviate the Palestinians' ordeal and redress the injustices which have been done to them? Latterly, it is true, conditions in the camps of Lebanon have become so appalling that more publicity has been given to them in the press. The heroic efforts, which have been mentioned, by the charitable organisations—the British charity, Medical Aid to Palestinians, and others—to bring medical skills, medical supplies and food into the beleaguered camps are worthy of the highest praise. I commend this charity, Medical Aid to Palestinians, to your Lordships for any support, moral or material, it may be possible to give it. The news in this morning's papers about the relief of the camps will come as an encouragement to these efforts.

But while conditions in the Lebanon have received their share of the limelight, less than ever is said about conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, where abuses of human rights, contrary to international conventions—the fourth Geneva convention in particular—receive scant attention in the press. First and foremost is the expropriation of lands on which Arab families have lived for centuries, so that a very large proportion of West Bank land is now under Israeli ownership or control. Other abuses have been mentioned by previous speakers—restrictions on freedom of movement, freedom of association, academic freedom. I need not expand on them.

One or two have not been mentioned; for example, the obstacles which are being placed to the reunification of close families where spouses or children are living on different sides of the border; the maltreatment of prisoners and suspects under interrogation in prison; the denial of political status to prisoners of conscience—a matter which Amnesty International has taken up in the strongest terms—and injuries of the most severe kind, often by gunfire, inflicted on children throwing stones. On the economic side—less poignant but hardly less important—there is the apparent determination by Israel, to which the noble Viscount has referred, to integrate the economy of the occupied territories into her own and to prevent any separate development.

One example of this is that agricultural marketing in the West Bank and Gaza has to be conducted through Israeli state agencies, undermining the European trade concessions to Palestinian farmers recently agreed in Brussels. Another example to which the noble Viscount also referred is the rigid control of water resources which has forced thousands of Palestinians off the land, compelling them to seek work as unskilled labourers within Israel itself.

In these and other ways it is clear that Palestinians of the West Bank have become second-class citizens in the country where they have always lived. In the words of Professor Leibowitz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: One and a half million Palestinians are deprived of their civil and political rights. This is a false democracy". Professor Leibowitz is an example of the large and growing number of Israelis determined to uphold civilised standards, and if arguments and pressures could be more vigorously concerted and pursued it would seem odd that Israel's government should be less responsive to them than, in the recent instance, Russia has been. In Israel there is at least an organised government. In the Lebanon, where conditions are so chaotic, it is a puzzle to know what can be done and for the time being we may have to make do with palliatives.

Among various ideas that have been put forward is the suggestion that we and other friendly countries should give more generous hospitality on humanitarian grounds to such refugees as might wish to be resettled outside the Middle East. As a nation we have fine traditions of asylum and the idea could certainly be worth pursuing. But I have some doubts whether it could make much headway except within the framework of a long-term political solution.

Palestinian refugees so far have taken the line that what they want is not only charity but justice, and have been slow to relinquish the hope of returning to the land from which they have been obliged to move. Palliatives are useful and I do not want to disparage them. They are useful but they are not enough and they should not distract us from our efforts to help towards a more fundamental settlement.

The Venice declaration, which explicitly recognises Palestinian rights to self-determination, is still, I am glad to say, a cornerstone of our policy and that of our European allies. I was glad to see that we and they are now also supporting the idea of an international conference on the Middle East because I now believe this to offer the best, and perhaps the only, hope of such a settlement. I am glad to see that the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Peres, seems now to agree with this approach.

I would ask the noble Baroness when she replies to the debate to say what progress, if any, has been made in the matter of a conference and what in her view are the prospects of overcoming possible objections by President Reagan and highly probable objections by Mr. Shamir. In addition, I ask her whether she can tell us anything of what passed in the Moscow discussions between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Mr. Shevardnadze on the subject of the Middle East in so far as it is relevant to this debate. Perhaps she can also tell us whether anything relevant to that emerged from the recent conversations between the Prime Minister and King Fahd.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for initiating this debate and for his knowledgeable speech, and we have also heard a number of interesting speeches from other noble Lords who have a close acquaintance with the Middle East. The noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, who has just sat down, knows the Middle East in detail and speaks of it with understanding and sympathy.

I cannot pretend that I have the same expertise, but I recall a visit to the Lebanon and Jordan over 30 years ago with Members of both Houses. My noble friend Lord Paget who has just spoken was also a member of that delegation. Prior to setting off we were asked by Mr. Selwyn Lloyd to do all that we could to improve relations with the Lebanon following the recent bitter war. We were received with a good deal of argument but also with kind hospitality. I remember the long talks we had with men such as Mr. Chamoun, Mr. Emile Bustani and Mr. Henri Pharaon, as well as with Ministers in the Government. As my noble friend said, Christian and Moslem worked together in government and administration, and the country was prosperous. They appeared then to have overcome the religious divide in a remarkable way.

Beirut was a prosperous and beautiful city and port. We walked through its streets with interest and without fear. We also visited some refugee camps which had recently been set up there, and although we had a sense of foreboding we did not fully contemplate the appalling, catastrophic developments which lay ahead. We did not foresee that friendship between Moslem and Christian would turn into bitter hatred and violent conflict or that, against all the precepts of the Koran, Moslem, would kill Moslem, and that Beirut would be changed into a scene of dreadful carnage and suffering.

This House has debated that tragedy before, and it knows its causes. There have been invasions and civil war.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I remember that visit very well, but surely my noble friend recognises that the friendship between Moslem and Christian which was very evident then only went when the PLO came in.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, my noble friend has made that point in his speech, but I shall read his remarks very carefully. I am describing the scene as it was when he and I visited the area all those years ago. My reflection at the time was that it was a happy place. It was only when we visited the refugee camps which were then recently built that we felt that dark days lay ahead. That is what we reported to Mr. Selwyn Lloyd when we returned to this country.

Perhaps I may summarise the three great initiatives which have been taken on the Lebanon and the Middle East. First, there were the United States-Soviet peace talks initiated by the United Nations in 1973–74. Secondly, there was the Camp David agreement of September 1978. That had some significant results, notably the handing over of Sinai by Israel to Egypt. Thirdly, there was the Venice Declaration of 1980 which had much in common with the Geneva objectives.

The regrettable failure of those initiatives does not mean that we should not continue to try. It is important that this House should recognise that Britain cannot resolve this intractable problem alone, but in concert with our partners in the European Community. Through the United Nations and other channels, which I shall mention shortly, we can at least persist in efforts to create a movement towards peace.

The Government have stated their policy on a number of occasions. They have said that they will co-ordinate their efforts with those of the United States and the moderate Arab states, notably Jordan and Egypt, while maintaining a friendly dialogue with Israel. In fact, the United Kingdom has gone further than the United States in opening channels with the PLO and holding talks with its officials. We do not forget the proposed meeting between the Foreign Secretary and the Jordan Palestinian delegation which fell through some three years ago. At that time Sir Geoffrey Howe made an important statement: An international conference may certainly have a part to play but we are not yet convinced that the scene has been sufficiently set for that". Well over a year has passed since he said that, and I mention it because I strongly believe that a conference must take place at some stage, though the moment must be right and the preparation for the conference must be careful and adequate. I think that is a view which the House shares and which noble Lords have reflected in their speeches. There must be a will to succeed and there must be full preparation before talks start.

So far as concerns the United Nations, I assume that the Government are still committed to Resolutions 242 and 338. (I shall return to those later.) In fact, those resolutions were the basis of the Venice Declaration and the talks at Geneva.

There are certain events which make this a timely debate. The first is the recent visit of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to this country. The Financial Times reported that the king: has been attempting to address attention once again to the intractable conflict at the root of the Middle East's problems—that between Israel and the Arab world. They said that the King was out to remind Britain—and through it the US—that the ultimate fate of Western interests in the region as a whole will most probably depend on the resolution of the Palestine dispute". It seems that King Fahd reflected the frustration of moderate Arabs at the lack of progress, the virtual stagnation in the Middle East peace process and the inactivity of the United States. Perhaps the noble Baroness could comment on that and confirm that that is a fair summary of the political situation at the present time. I think we can assume that Her Majesty's Government are in close touch with the United States Administration on a possible initiative. That really lies at the heart of this debate today.

I now turn to what is probably the most important potential development, and I would welcome the observations of the noble Baroness on this point. The Prime Minister returned from her visit to Moscow a few days ago following her extensive talks with Mr. Gorbachev. To what extent was the Middle East discussed in those talks? I ask that specifically because the Soviet Union now seems to be very anxious to attend any international conference on the Middle East, and appears to me to be anxious to mend fences with Israel. That could be of immense importance.

Let us take this development with other calls for a conference as follows. First, following the special meeting at the end of February, the European Community called for an international conference which would include the Soviet Union. That was an initiative in which Her Majesty's Government participated. Secondly, the Islamic summit held in Kuwait in January stated that there would be Arab support for an international conference. Again, in my view that is a development of the greatest importance.

Thirdly, we read in the International Herald Tribune that Mr. Yassir Arafat said he would consider the possibility of a delegation of Palestinians to such an international conference which did not include members of his PLO. The resumption of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Israel would be an event of profound importance. It would also remove the United States and Israeli objection to the participation of the Soviet Union in a conference. Therefore we may be approaching an historic opportunity.

If we take all these factors together we must agree that the prospects are much more promising than appears on the surface. A conference with the backing of the United States, the Soviet Union and the EC would not necessarily resolve the problem of the Middle East—the ultimate solution must depend on the people of the area itself—but that could be an immensely powerful impetus towards a settlement.

What we cannot and must not dismiss from our minds, as several noble Lords have reminded us, is the suffering of the people. We read about it daily and we see it on television. As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, the courage of journalists such as Mr. Brent Sadler and the photographers who are responsible for the pictures we see and who bring the dreadful realities into our homes has to be greatly admired. The suffering of the hostages, such as Mr. Terry Waite, who so far as I can see are guilty of nothing save a desire to help others, reminds us that there is nothing more cruel than religious wars. One can only hope that they will soon be released.

We are conscious of the 40,000 or so hungry Palestinians who have been besieged in refugee camps in Lebanon for over four months and of the efforts to relieve them and to get food to them. We are filled with respect and admiration for the brave people who, for no reason other than compassion, risk their lives hour by hour to minister to the sick and to the wounded. As the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, there are outstanding examples. We know of the dedication of Dr. Pauline Cutting and Miss Susan Wighton. Dr. Cutting has already operated on over 500 casualties and admits to being numbed by the scale of human tragedy.

I understand that they are now regarded as prisoners with a price on their heads because they appear to have alienated the militias. I shall be grateful to the noble Baroness if she can tell the House what steps the Government are taking to assist Dr. Cutting and nurse Wighton and whether they are in further peril. We are glad to learn today of the food which has now been taken to that area.

For all those reasons, and many others, is it not essential that everything should be done to hasten the end of this wicked shambles? I believe that the Government are anxious to do what they can to help. In that they have our full support. The whole of the Middle East has been destabilised and it is a grim lesson to us and to the whole world. There is suspicion and old scores to be settled, but the Arab world and Israel have an urgent duty to seek a lasting solution. Like the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, I know that there are Arabs and Israelis who are moderate and who are working to that end. The rest of us have an equal duty with others to help towards and, if necessary, press for a solution. Together we can do a great deal but alone we can do very little. Perhaps the Government themselves can stimulate the move towards the conference which so many people on all sides are now advocating.

6.4 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for the opportunity to debate the appalling situation in Lebanon and the plight of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. We greatly appreciate the deep knowledge and long experience of the Middle East which the noble Viscount brings to our debates.

Those who, like the noble Viscount, knew Lebanon in happier times—and I know that this evening many noble Lords have spoken from personal experience of visiting the Lebanon—grieve at the tragic waste of human resources over the past 12 years. From its former glory as the business and cultural centre of the Near East, Lebanon has become the stage for the region's conflicts, played out in civil war, foreign invasion, terrorism and economic decline. Perhaps 10 per cent. of the population have been killed or wounded since 1975. Every new development brings a new twist to the civilian suffering.

The plight of the Palestinians in the refugee camps of Beirut and South Lebanon, and of those Lebanese who were caught up in the recent fighting, is of great concern to us all. We have repeatedly called for a ceasefire and regular access to the camps for relief workers and humanitarian aid agencies. We deeply deplore the appalling suffering inflicted on the civilian population by the continuing violence, particularly the sniping in the camps in West Beirut which has killed women who were seeking to buy supplies. We welcome the news that relief supplies are now reaching the Shatila camp as a result of the Syrian action yesterday—a point referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. We hope that the siege of Bourj al-Barajneh will be lifted very soon.

This afternoon I pay tribute, as have so many of your Lordships to all those who at great personal risk are working to relieve the suffering. I, too, salute Dr. Cutting's courage in carrying on with vital humanitarian work in the face of these dangers. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked a specific question about Dr. Cutting. I can tell him that we are alert to the need to do whatever we can to ensure her safe departure once she indicates a wish to leave and circumstances permit it. Our ambassador in Beirut is closely watching the situation.

As noble Lords will know, last month we allocated a further £550,000 to the International Committee for the Red Cross and UNRWA for relief work in Lebanon. This is in addition to our contribution of £1 million to UNRWA's reconstruction appeal for Lebanon and of £5 million per annum to UNRWA's general budget, a large portion of which is disbursed in Lebanon. We have also contributed £650,000 to the ICRC in the last two years for its work in Lebanon.

The wider problems of Lebanon are compounded by the inability of the legitimate Lebanese authorities to re-establish control over the whole country. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told President Gemayel when he came to London in February, we remain firmly committed to support Lebanon's sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity.

We have consistently pressed Israel to complete its withdrawal from Southern Lebanon—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. We regard Israel's "security zone" in South Lebanon as provocative and against Israel's own long-term interests. We urge the Israelis, therefore, to work with the UN Secretariat to enable the Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to deploy to the international border to fulfil its mandate of bringing peace to the area. UNIFIL's achievement in the face of immense difficulty is impressive. UNIFIL is a force for stability in the area. We fully support it.

The Syrian occupation may at last have brought some measure of stability to Beirut. We hope that stability is maintained and extended. But in the final analysis neither Syria nor Israel, nor even the international community, can hope to impose peace in Lebanon. Peace will come only when the Lebanese communities themselves, now tragically divided, are again able to work together, free from all outside interference, to rebuild their country. The recent successful exhibition in London "Lebanon at Work not War", was a timely reminder of the skill and enterprise of the Lebanese people. It is encouraging that there are once more signs of movement towards national reconciliation. We hope that all Lebanese will now work towards this essential goal.

We in Britain are naturally most concerned about our fellow citizens missing in Lebanon. During his recent visit, Walid Jumblatt said that he would continue his efforts to secure Terry Waite's freedom—I recognise the terms in which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester referred to this matter—and would do all in his power for British hostages. I regret that I have no good news to impart this evening. We continue to do all we can to establish the position of all British hostages in Lebanon; we are doing all we can to obtain fresh information.

I should like to pay tribute to our Ambassador in Beirut, Mr. John Gray, and his small staff who, like their predecessors, have shown great professionalism and dedication under the most testing and dangerous circumstances.

The Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967 also suffer from an atmosphere of tension and confrontation. Nearly all your Lordships who spoke referred to the occupied territories. The frustrations of a people denied their rights, including their fundamental right to self-determination, can easily boil over. Violence breeds violence, and the cycle of protest and repression gathers momentum. We deplore violence from whatever quarter, and we fully accept Israel's right to ensure her own security. But security considerations cannot justify the use of collective punishments and deportations. We maintained a regular dialogue on human rights with the Israel authorities, and have urged them scrupulously to respect their obligations as occupying power. As my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said to the Middle East Association last January, the Israels cannot, indefinitely ignore the aspirations and frustrations of the Palestinians under occupation without destroying the democratic values of Israeli society". In answer to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked, we have made clear our strong opposition to deportation in our regular dialogue with the Israelis. The United Kingdom statement on behalf of the Twelve deplored the deportation of Hanniya as contrary to international law.

We urge the Israeli authorities to work to promote a better atmosphere in the territories as a prelude to negotiations. A freeze on settlements, an increase in permits for family reunifications and the lifting of travel restrictions on Palestinians are long overdue.

We and our European partners are committed to help improve the conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. This year we increased the annual EC aid programme to the occupied territories to £2 million and the EC contribution to UNRWA to about £14 million. As your Lordships will know, we contribute 20 per cent. of the Community aid budget. We have also more than doubled our bilateral aid programme to £1 million a year, half of which will be channelled through Jordanian institutions. An ODA team has just visited the area to assess how this new aid can best be used.

The Community, also on a British initiative, has adopted measures to facilitate the export of produce from the territories to the European market. This will encourage new trade flows and provide the Palestinians with an incentive to improve their living standards. The Commission is working actively to overcome the remaining obstacles to such exports.

Conditions in Gaza are of particular concern. This was a point that the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, made. This tiny area suffers from appalling overcrowding, compounded by the appropriation of land for Israeli settlements. It lacks essential facilities. As a specific contribution to the acute difficulties faced in Gaza, we are giving £100,000 over two years to the Rafah municipal sewerage scheme and £94,000 over three years to the Gaza enterprise training scheme, but all this can be no substitute for peace negotiations for a just and lasting settlement. Such a settlement in the Government's view must ensure both security for Israel and justice and self-determination for the Palestinians.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked about the PLO and the peace process. We believe that the PLO should be associated with negotiations. In this context, the noble Lord referred to the Venice declaration. However, the PLO can expect to play a full part in the negotiations only if it renounces violence and recognises Israel's right to a secure existence. I am encouraged by the growing consensus that some form of international conference could help break the current deadlock. We salute the efforts of all those working towards this end.

The noble Lord, Lord Kagan, referred to the work of the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed this with him when he visited London last January. Agreement has yet to be reached on what the powers of such a conference might be, who might be represented at it or how it might carry out its work.

The noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, asked about the American attitude to an international conference. The US Administration have pledged to explore all avenues that might lead to a settlement, including the proposals for an international conference. We regularly discuss this with the American Government.

Before a conference two things need to be clear. First, there must be a real prospect of progress. The parties to the conflict must reach enough common ground on the procedural aspects to permit this. We stand ready to contribute, whether individually or with our colleagues in the European Community, to the establishment of that essential measure of common ground. Secondly, it cannot be rushed. The hasty convening of an inadequately prepared conference that failed to make progress would be a disaster leading to a hardening of historical positions. That was the sense of the statement made by the Foreign Ministers of the Twelve in Brussels of 23rd February. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, referred to this.

We of course fully support the points made in the declaration. My right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary played an important role in its preparation. We and our Community colleagues will continue our efforts to encourage all parties to find a settlement. Mr. Tindemans, representing the Presidency, is shortly to tour the region. He will encourage the efforts of the parties to overcome the remaining difficulties. Mr. Tindemans will not be visiting Syria.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked about changes in the attitude of the Syrian leadership. While we agree that Syrian deployment at the camp has provided a welcome relief, we continue to believe that ministerial contact with Damascus is neither necessary nor appropriate in the absence of evidence of a change of heart over terrorism or a willingness to play a constructive role in the search for peace.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary held useful talks on these issues with Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Shevardnadze in Moscow. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me about these talks. They were impressed by the Soviet willingness to contribute in a realistic and constructive manner in efforts to advance the peace process. In some respects the Soviet analysis is similar to our own. The Soviet Union is fully aware of the need for further detailed preparatory work before any conference can be convened. It is therefore encouraging to note its acceptance of contacts with Israel as a part of these efforts.

The noble Lord asked also about King Fahd's visit. King Fahd confirmed that progress towards a settlement remained a high priority. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed the situation in the Middle East with King Fahd during his State visit last month of course. She is to see him later this week. The Middle East will be included in the talks of my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary in Washington later this week.

With what I have been able to say, I hope that your Lordships will be assured that we shall continue to do all that we can to promote peace negotiations.

6.20 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I am indeed grateful to the noble Baroness who has replied and to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, many of them, as I said earlier, at very short notice. I think that we would all agree that the ground has been covered very fully and effectively. There were several important points made which filled in the lacunae in my own speech. Since there is a little time in hand, perhaps I may refer to one or two points that were made by noble Lords and which were not picked up exactly by the noble Baroness.

First, I should like to refer to the criticism of the PLO made by the noble Lord, Lord Paget. On many occasions in your Lordships' House he has described the PLO as a terrorist organisation but, as I have said also on many occasions and as I am sure the noble Baroness will agree, the PLO is an umbrella organisation. I do not know quite how many groups it covers. At the last count I think that the number was eight or nine. Some of these groups are quite moderate. Indeed, the PLO representative in London, Mr. Faisal Awada, belongs to the most moderate group of all, known as Fata. I think that that is an important point to make.

Secondly, as regards UNIFIL, I agree with speakers who said that its presence is most important and that it should be allowed to continue. I hope that the noble Baroness agrees that it may be possible to strengthen its numbers, not to enlarge the range of countries represented but to increase the numbers and also at the same time to provide the force with a rather more effective mandate.

The third point that I should like to make is one which has been mentioned by one or two other noble Lords. I consider it most important that we should encourage Russian involvement in the peace settlement. With those few remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.