HL Deb 24 April 1989 vol 506 cc1062-4

3.5 p.m.

Lord Eden of Winton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action they are taking in concert with other European Community governments and through the United Nations organisation to end the destruction of Beirut and to bring about a negotiated solution to the Lebanese crisis.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, we are in close touch both with our European partners and the other permanent members of the Security Council. We fully support the efforts of the Arab League to arrange a ceasefire and a negotiated solution. Statements to this effect were issued by the Twelve on 17th April and by the President of the Security Council on 21st April.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, how much longer must we witness the destruction of this once beautiful and civilised city and the wholesale slaughter of its people? Does it not seem that the Syrians, who came to Lebanon to protect its independence, are now bent upon its elimination? While supporting and encouraging the Arab League initiative, will the British Government ensure or press for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal from all Lebanese territory of both Syrian and Israeli forces?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the Government are fully seized of the horrors of the destruction which continues seemingly unabated. We are in constant touch with the Secretary General of the United Nations. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed Lebanon with him on 18th April. We share the view that we should use our contacts to achieve a ceasefire, and we support the initiative of the Arab League because we believe that is the best bet in current circumstances.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we are daily witnessing the appalling destruction not merely of Beirut but indeed of all of the Lebanon? What is the point in being in close touch with world organisations which apparently are not prepared to, or cannot, do anything whatsoever? I believe it is a most hopeless and useless situation to be in touch with organisations that can do nothing.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the fact is that the organisations are there and they have a role to play, as does the European Community, which has issued a number of statements. But we have to make those statements, whether the noble Lord likes it or not. We have also expressed our full backing to the Arab League for its efforts to achieve a political settlement. The 12 member states stand ready to do what is thought helpful, in any other way we can.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this problem was discussed by the Prime Minister when she met the Soviet Prime Minister in Luxembourg last week and, if so, whether any specific proposals were made which might give hope that a new initiative might be taken?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the matter was certainly discussed with the Secretary General on 18th April. However, I am afraid I cannot say whether it was discussed with the Soviets, which is the point the noble Lord made. However, I can assure him that where we can develop a role and see it taken forward, we shall certainly play our part.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, apart from the efforts that the Government are making to ensure a ceasefire, will they consider going a little further and pressing the President of Syria to make a statement which would confirm United Nations Resolution No. 520, which calls for: strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Lebanese Government"? I think it is very important to try to get the Government to work along those lines too.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that is an interesting proposition and we would support any realistic attempts to achieve a durable and negotiated settlement leading to the restoration of peace and the full sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Lebanon.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, while I wish to give general support to the Government's position, is there any fear that British arms supplied to Iraq are finding their way into this conflict?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, not that I know of.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many ceasefires there have been in Lebanon so far? Is looking for another one not a bit futile? Is it not the position that Lebanon is subject to invasion from Syria and that she can be rescued only by somebody who is in a position to beat Syria, and that is Israel? Does the noble Lord agree that if we give full support to Israel to deal with the situation from her position on the Heights, that could work?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord's question about the number of ceasefires is that we have probably all lost count. That does not mean that we should not continue to call for them, because no sensible means of taking the matter forward can be achieved without a ceasefire.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, perhaps I may press my noble friend further on the issue. Is there not now a real threat to the independence of Lebanon? If there is no sign of an early initiative resulting in action to secure the withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces, will the British Government press for the matter to be raised as a matter of urgency at the United Nations Security Council?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that is certainly something we would consider. However, it is an internal dispute. There are therefore difficulties with the United Nations charter which says that initially regional groupings should be used to deal with this kind of problem. That is why we believe that the Arab League is tailor-made for the situation in the first instance rather than the United Nations. Nevertheless, I shall certainly note my noble friend's remarks.