HL Deb 22 May 1989 vol 508 cc4-7

2.43 p.m.

Lord Eden of Winton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether as a result of the initiative of the Arab League and in furtherance of their discussions with the European Community and the permanent members of the Security Council, they can now hold out any hope for an early end to the bombardment in Beirut and for the restoration of peace in Lebanon.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Arab League negotiators helped bring about a ceasefire on 11th May. Despite sporadic shelling of the coastline and tragic incidents such as the assassination of the Mufti on 16th May, this ceasefire appears generally to be holding.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, was not Syria's presence in the Lebanon originally designed to produce conditions for a political solution? However, is it not now becoming increasingly clear that the 25,000 or more Syrian troops there are in reality an army of occupation? As the Syrians seem to justify their actions on the grounds that they need to protect themselves against Israeli threats, will Her Majesty's Government take the opportunity of the presence in London of Mr. Shamir to press for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon; that is, both Syrian and Israeli troops?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we believe that all those involved in the current fighting, including Syria, should agree in the first place to an immediate ceasefire. We also believe that the Israelis should withdraw fully from Lebanon and allow UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, to deploy to the international border in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Recommendation No. 425. We believe that the Israeli presence in Lebanon is provocative and destabilising and not in Israel's own long-term interests. I cannot inform my noble friend what is on the agenda of the discussions with the Israeli Prime Minister, but I have little doubt that this will be one of the items.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I shall turn to a slightly different point. What are the prospects of deploying the Arab League monitoring force in the Lebanon? As the noble Baroness is aware, there has been a good deal of speculation as to whether this force may become effective. Will she tell us what the latest news on this matter is? Further, I mention the concern with which we all regard the latest kidnapping of another British subject in the Lebanon. Will the Minister say what action Her Majesty's Government are taking or what representations they are making? Does she not agree that this barbaric, uncivilised and cruel practice does no good whatsoever to the Palestinian cause, or indeed to the Islamic religion, and that the more that is publicised the better the situation may be and we may get some results?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we acknowledge the extensive work which has been carried out by the committee of six of the Arab League. Indeed it is that committee which nursed into being the ceasefire of 11th May, which, despite sporadic firing and the latest car bomb incident on 16th May, is generally holding. We believe that the Arab League should be allowed a free hand in consolidating this achievement. The noble Lord may be aware that there is an extraordinary Arab League summit meeting scheduled for later this week in Morocco. I have no doubt that Lebanon will be high on the agenda.

With regard to the disappearance of Mr. Jack Mann which took place in West Beirut on 12th May, we of course remain deeply concerned for all British hostages in Beirut. However we are firmly convinced nevertheless that our policy of not making substantive concessions to terrorists is the right one. Nevertheless, clearly the embassy is making, and has made, all the necessary representations and is using its best endeavours to solve the problem. However, part of the problem as regards this disappearance is that there is no knowledge of a group which may have been responsible.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, while expressing sympathy with and admiration for the noble Baroness in her handling of these Questions, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether he agrees that with two Questions on the Order Paper dealing with foreign affairs and defence it is a pity that no one from either the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office is here to answer the Questions, on which the House can reasonably expect an informed Answer.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, both the Ministers concerned are abroad on the business of their departments. They try to be here to answer to your Lordships' House whenever possible but it just so happens that they are abroad at the present time.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, while I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that reply, may I suggest that in such circumstances it might be more appropriate to defer the asking of such Questions?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is answering very well on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, while welcoming the present fragile peace, will Her Majesty's Government and other governments, particularly those of the Arab League, now urge the Syrian Government and President Assad publicly to accept Resolution 520 of the United Nations, which recognises Lebanon, a foundation member of the United Nations, as being an independent and sovereign state?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as I said, we support any realistic attempt to achieve a durable negotiated settlement which will lead to the restoration of peace, full sovereignty, independence, territoral integrity and nationality unity of the Lebanon. However, we believe that in the present situation it is important to allow and enable the Arab League to persevere in the work it is doing in this respect. I do not believe that it would be appropriate for me to make any pronouncement on the lines which the noble Earl has suggested.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, while I warmly welcome the Answers she has given on this Question, does the noble Baroness agree that it was the Arab League which invited the Syrians into Lebanon in the first place for the protection of the Christians? Does she also agree that it is very unrealistic for Arab Governments to urge the Syrians to leave while the Israelis stay, as she said, in the south?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. Perhaps I can supplement what I said earlier by saying that we are committed to the United Nations Interim Force in maintaining stability in Southern Lebanon. Obviously we continue to support that approach as well as awaiting a further outcome from the Arab League.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, would not the annihilation of Lebanon be greatly against Western interests? Ought we not to be seen to be associating ourselves closely with the French Government and the Government of the United States of America in giving maximum public backing to the efforts of the Arab League?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe that we have already done so. Through the European Community we have expressed full backing for the Arab League in its efforts to achieve a political solution. We and other members of the Twelve stand ready to help in whatever way is thought helpful. We have issued several statements to that effect, both unilaterally and together with the United States and our partners in the European Community.