HL Deb 21 May 1992 vol 537 cc680-2

11.11 a.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ask the Israeli Government to release Mr Mordecai Vanunu.

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

My Lords, no.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the noble Baroness will recall that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is sitting by her side, answered a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about 16 months ago in the early part of January of last year in which he told him that this man, who was kidnapped by the Israeli secret service, given a secret trial and put into solitary confinement, was at that time still in solitary confinement. Is the Minister aware that there are a number of people who are concerned about Mr. Vanunu and who would like to know what is happening to him, under what circumstances all these matters took place and what the present situation is? It is a position which concerns a number of us.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, Mr. Vanunu appears to have been treated in accordance with the normal judicial process in Israel. Many Israelis were highly critical of Mr. Vanunu's action. That is why the Israeli authorities have said that he is in solitary confinement for his own protection. He is allowed a priest because, as your Lordships may know, he converted to Christianity before he returned to Israel. His conditions of imprisonment are, as far as we can judge, compatible with normal Israeli practice. There is little basis on which we can possibly consider interfering.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, while it may not be possible to secure the release of this prisoner, cannot something be done to improve the conditions of his detention? Is it not the case that he has been held in solitary confinement for over five years in a cell measuring 45 square feet, with very restricted exercise and visiting? Will the Government press for improvements in these conditions?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that many Members of your Lordships' House know that the British Government have no locus on which to approach the Israelis. However, I am sure that the Israeli Government will have heard of the questions being asked in this House. On our inquiries the Israeli authorities have told us that Mordecai Vanunu has a larger than standard prison cell; he has radio, television, books, newspapers and the right to receive visitors. If that is proven not to be the case, then obviously the matter could be taken up with the Israeli Government. As far as we know, what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has said is perhaps not quite so much the case.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, I have a warm regard for my noble friend. He has raised a Question asking the Government to seek the release of a man who has committed foul crimes against a friendly country. I plead with the Government not to make representations to the Israeli Government.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, is quite right. Any man or woman who reveals his country's sensitive military secrets to anyone runs the risk of harsh punishment. That is what I understand to have happened. I do not see any locus for the British Government to approach the Israeli Government. However, I am sure that the words spoken in your Lordships' House will be noted by the Israeli Government.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, would the noble Lord who has raised this point like the Israelis to interfere with anyone whom we were holding, that person having been sentenced under the Official Secrets Act for selling information? Surely it is one of the worst crimes that a person can commit?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness has made a very good point.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether my noble friend, Lord Jenkins of Putney, has made any representations concerning a free pardon for Dr. Klaus Fuchs or Dr. Allan Nunn May?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, not to my knowledge.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that this sad story raises the wider issues of nuclear proliferation and the dangers of a nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East? What are the Government doing to strengthen the nonproliferation treaty and to turn the partial test ban treaty into a comprehensive test ban treaty?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am not sure that that question relates to the Question asked. However, we constantly urge the state of Israel to accede to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to accept the IAEA safeguards to end all such speculation.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of my noble friends are excessively friendly this morning? Is she further aware however that this country would not dream of kidnapping one of its citizens, bringing him back to this country and subjecting him to a secret trial on the ground that he had released information about something which we were doing wrong internationally? Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Baroness that Mr. Vanunu's loyalty may have been directed to a higher authority than that of the Israeli Government? That government was in breach of international law. In my view what Mr. Vanunu did was thoroughly honourable. However, I conclude my questions by asking the noble Baroness whether she is aware that one is glad to hear the better news which she has given about the way in which this man is being treated? He is a man who in his own right and in his own view has behaved honourably.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have found all parts of your Lordships' House extremely friendly since I arrived here and for that I am very grateful. As regards Mr. Vanunu's abduction, despite the concern which exists about the circumstances of his departure from the United Kingdom, there was no evidence at the time that any British law was broken. I cannot add further to my earlier answers.