HL Deb 27 January 1987 vol 483 cc1248-52

2.55 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

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 what policy they propose to adopt towards the proposal that the Palestine Liberation Organisation should open an independent office in London.

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

My Lords, the PLO has been represented in London since 1971, until recently sharing an office with the Arab League. The move of the PLO office into its own premises did not require government permission. There is no question of the PLO enjoying any official status, privileges or immunities in this country.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I should like to ask whether she is aware that it leaves many very important questions unanswered? Is it not true that while the PLO was occupying premises under the umbrella of the Arab League it was an unlikely target for other factions of the Palestinian terrorist movement? Would she not agree that now it has a separate office with the umbrella of the Arab League removed and in another part of London, it is a much more attractive target for factions such as the Abu Nidal group which has been conducting murderous terrorist activities against the PLO over many years?

Does the Minister not agree that the setting up of this new independent office in a residential section of London lays us open once more to the possibility of turning quiet London streets into the battleground of Middle Eastern terrorists?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I appreciate the concern which lies behind the supplementary question of the noble Lord. The truth of the matter is that no official permission is required to open an office or to move to new premises as it is not a diplomatic or an official mission. As I have indicated, it does not therefore enjoy any official status or immunities. Of course if the organisation breaks the law we will not hesitate to act if there is evidence of illegal activity.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister how the Government can allow a terrorist organisation to remain in this country.

Baroness Young

My Lords, as the Government have made clear on a number of occasions, the PLO as such is not a terrorist organisation, though several of its component organisations have a deplorable terrorist record. The PLO is an umbrella organisation expressing the aspiration of thousands of Palestinians to secure their legitimate rights.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Abu Nidal group in recent years has murdered four PLO members? By setting up a separate headquarters are we not going to attract the attention of that Abu Nidal desperate group of terrorists? Are the police and the intelligence service able to cope with these extra risks?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I must make it plain that the Government have not been responsible in any way for establishing this independent office. This is a matter for the PLO, and although I take the point that the noble Lord made I think we have to face the fact that in a free and democratic society such as ours any organisation may maintain an office here so long as its activities remain within the law.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is it not a fact that it was precisely when the PLO shared the premises of the Arab League in London that its director Sahid Hamani was assassinated by the Abu Nidal group? Is it not also a fact that the reason for these assassinations is that the PLO representatives support the idea of a negotiated settlement in Palestine? Therefore, should we not do what we can to help these people in the courageous job that they are trying to do in order to achieve a negotiated settlement?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, made two points. The first point is a matter of fact. On the second point, he will be well aware of government policy. I should say to him that the terms of the Question are very tightly drawn about the office of the PLO. I think the noble Lord's second supplementary is wide of the Question.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, given the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has said, this office is likely to be particularly vulnerable as a target of terrorist violence, would the noble Baroness not agree that the particular location is especially unsatisfactory? For example, the rear entrance of that office is only 30 feet from a large primary school and there is a petrol station only 30 feet from its front entrance. Is there any kind of assurance that the noble Baroness can give to the residents, who are justifiably deeply worried about this matter?

Baroness Young

My Lords, again I take the noble Baroness's point about all this, but I must make it plain to her that in the move of this office no official permission was required. As for the use of the particular house, the office must comply with the local borough's planning regulations. Any kind of irregular use which conflicts with them would be a matter for Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords surely it is a terrible state of affairs when we say that we have no control as to what terrorist organisation sets itself up in this country or where? Can Mafia families come here and have a private office where they are unmolested, and will our police be prepared to defend them in their private battles? That is what we are being asked to do. On question of whether or not the PLO is a terrorist organisation, it has declared itself to be such. It has never had any other business. It has been its job to be a terrorist organisation.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Paget, should recognise that the PLO has had an office in London since 1971. I would not accept, if he comes to look at my answers in Hansard tomorrow, his definition of the PLO as a terrorist organisation. That is not the definition I have given in answer to a previous question.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the noble Baroness has been careful to detatch her department from the setting up of this independent office. Would she not agree, however, that this is, for reasons which have been expressed on all sides of the House, a significant development? Is she saying to the House that her department was at no time consulted by the PLO on this matter? If the department was consulted, could she say who consulted the department and whether talks were held about this development?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is that my department was not consulted. There was no reason why it should be consulted. As I have explained, it is open to any organisation to establish an office in London, and if in the course of its activities it breaks the law then of course it will be prosecuted.

Lord Morris

My Lords, could my noble friend say whether the Palestine Liberation Organisation will contribute to the undoubted increase in the police presence that will be required if this office is established in London?

Baroness Young

My Lords, it is of course the duty of the police to maintain law and order. I have no doubt that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will see that if an offence is committed there will be a prosecution. Of course there would be police protection were this to be asked for or were it to be necessary.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that there are many organisations in London which represent people from foreign countries which have been overrun and occupied by other powers and have tyrannical leaders and tyrannical governments? Those who believe in democracy and freedom have established themselves in London as well as the PLO. Is it not a fact that even orthodox ambassadors have been the subject of appalling assassinations? In so far as the Government recognise the PLO as the voice of the Palestinian people, is it not only right and sensible that it should have some representation in this capital city?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am not absolutely sure that I have the question that the noble Lord has asked, but in fact the PLO, has had an office in London since 1971. The reason behind this particular Question on the Order Paper is the fact that it has moved its office to another address.

Lord Chalfont My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether she is aware that the problem here is not whether the PLO, or that faction of it which occupies these new offices, will conduct itself in an improper manner. The question is whether its move does not provide in the middle of London a catalyst for terrorist activity. Is she aware that the offices, as we call them in this euphemistic way, which have now been set up in Kensington have been protected in such a way that they have locked-up windows, bullet-proof doors, a permanent daytime police guard, and floodlights at night? Is this not a fortress, and is it not an invitation to attack from—as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has said—the Abu Nidal group which has Yassir Arafat's PLO as its main target? If this is not a matter for the Government will she tell us why not?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I had hoped that in my answers to earlier questions I had made the position of the Government plain. I understand the concern that has been expressed and I have the point that the noble Lord raised in his first supplementary; but, as I have explained, this was not a move which required official permission. As for the allegation that the house has now become an armed fortress, this of course is a matter—the alteration to the structure of the house, or the lights, and all these other matters—for the local borough's planning regulations. It is for it to enforce those if it believes that these developments are contrary to the regulations which exist in that part of Kensington.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, it is within the knowledge of all of us that the PLO is not the benign organisation the noble Baroness has described, or that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, described. It is an organisation which is committed in terms to achieving its objective by violence, and its objective is the destruction of a state with whom we have friendly relations. Is it not quite wrong to allow that organisation, as such, to establish itself in London?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I have said earlier, the PLO has had an office in London since 1971. The point of the Question is the move of the office. If the noble Lord looks carefully in Hansard at what I have said he will see that I have chosen my words carefully over the description of the PLO.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the present representative of the PLO in London, Faisal Awaidha, belongs to the moderate mainstream element of the PLO, and that he has consistently shown a moderate attitude during the three and a half years he has been in charge of the office?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for that piece of information.