HL Deb 21 July 1988 vol 499 cc1485-6

3.20 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will, in co-operation with their major allies, seek to convene a special international conference concerning the problems in the Middle East.

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

My Lords, we believe that an international conference under UN auspices can provide a suitable framework for negotiations between the parties to the Arab-Israel conflict. We shall continue to work for such a conference to be convened.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. There seems a distinct possibility of a ceasefire and an armistice in the Iran-Iraq war. United Nations Resolution 598 has been in existence for one year. Tens of thousands of people have died—civilians and people in armies and air forces—but the United Nations appears to have done very little. Does not the Minister agree, therefore, that if a ceasefire is brought about there should be special representation with regard to the future of prisoners on both sides? Does not the Minister further agree that when this part of the Gulf war is over there should be a full endeavour to resolve the dispute between Israel and the lands that Israel occupies, with particular reference to the Palestinian refugees?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the two issues are of course separate but I very much agree with the noble Lord that we should all welcome Iran's decision. It is a most significant move towards the end of what the noble Lord describes as a most destructive conflict. The real work on that now begins.

As regards the Arab-Israel problem, this very much relates to the proposals for the international conference and those, as I have said, we continue to support.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that if a ceasefire takes place, as we fervently hope it will, that will create a new situation in the Middle East? The Shultz initiative becomes even more important in the light of a possible ceasefire. Can the Minister say what is the present position with regard to the Shultz initiative?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as regards the chances of a ceasefire, we must seize this opportunity for peace. We pledge our full support for what the secretary general is seeking to achieve. As regards the Shultz initiative— and I take it that the noble Lord is referring to the Arab-Israel conflict rather than the Iran-Iraq conflict—we greatly welcome the renewed United States engagement on that issue. It is certainly a vital ingredient of the peace process. We are keeping in close touch with Mr. Shultz. My right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary saw him on 3rd June before the latest shuttle and has seen him twice since then.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people will have been pleased to hear the remarks made by the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Mr. David Mellor? He gave a warning to the Israeli Government that if peace is not established within 20 years there will be more Palestinians than Israelis and Jews in Israel and the occupied territories, which would leave the Israeli Government in a South African type situation.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, if my noble friend and I have in mind the same quotation he will find that my honourable friend was not accurately reported.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, reverting to the Iraq-Iran war, will the noble Lord accept from these Benches that we are also extremely pleased that the Iranian Government have taken the step of calling for a ceasefire? Are Her Majesty's Government now going to take steps to renew our representation in Tehran, which was discontinued when Mr. Chaplin left last year in circumstances which were far from satisfactory? Have assurances been received from the Iranian Government that the presence of a British diplomat in Tehran could take place with proper security?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, we must move one step at a time. We do not yet have a ceasefire. We must look at representations, and so on, in the light of events.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that international conferences through the United Nations have never been particularly fruitful? The endeavour of my original Question was to suggest to the Government, who have done so much and given a good lead in establishing some form of connection and discussions with people, that we should rely on our powerful allies and not necessarily the United Nations in an endeavour to stop the squalid war that is continuing between Palestinians in their own country and the forces of Israel which are occupying that country.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord realises that the issues involved here are exceedingly complex. They go very much to the heart of the dispute itself. That is why, as I have said before, it is for the parties to work out mutually acceptable arrangements. It would be wrong for us or anyone else to dictate terms from the outside.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that we must approach this in a realistic way. International conferences are not worth the paper they are written on if either side of the argument is not prepared to co-operate!

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it is important to achieve an end to the conflict, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is concerned about. We believe that the active re-engagement of the United States in a search for peace and the suggestions put forward for a conference still provide the best hope.