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Column 291Paice, James
Porter, David (Waveney)
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Alan Howarth and
Mr. David Maclean.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Dennis Skinner.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8803/88 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by Her Majesty's Treasury on 10th May 1989, 8804/88 and 8805/88 relating to procurement procedures in the water, energy, transport and telecommunications sectors ; and endorses the Government's view that the broad approach of the Commission should be supported but that changes are desirable in the proposed directives to prevent the imposition of unnecessary burdens and constraints.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : I am delighted to have this opportunity to draw the attention of the House to British policy towards the Lebanon. Shocked by the plight of the people of the Lebanon, I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who will kindly reply to this brief debate, what more the Government could do to assist them. It is foolish and remiss of the House that we do not have more debates on international issues. It is our job to turn the spotlight of public attention on the world's trouble spots and to seek solutions. Britain is involved directly and indirectly in the Lebanese tragedy, in many and various ways. As I discovered in my visits to that country, the last being in 1982 when I was a British parliamentary observer at the presidential elections, the British are highly regarded--curiously, more so than the French, in some ways. Many Lebanese look to this country in their long drawn-out hour of need. We should be clear at the outset that the problems of the Lebanon will never be tackled successfully until the Palestinian-Israeli dispute has been settled. The many parties to that grave and historic dispute are using the Lebanon to help to achieve their long-term aims. It is essential, too, that the Lebanese people learn that loyalty to their country must be paramount. Too many people for too many years have given their loyalty either to internal factions at the expense of their country or to other countries. While the international community can and must deal vigorously with the international dimension, the Lebanese must set aside their present and deep divisions--be they religious, political or a combination of both--and unite. If they cannot, they and their children will be condemned to years of further bitterness, despair and degradation. The political scene in the Levant is like a tangled web. I have time to highlight six major aspects and to put some questions to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. First, what further action will our Government take, in concert with other European Community Governments, and through the United Nations, to end the destruction of the once beautiful and highly civilised city of Beirut? The capital was once the Geneva of the middle east. There has been wholesale slaughter of its citizens. Our Government are right to support the initiative of the ministerial committee of the League of Arab States led by Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs and to arrange a ceasefire and a negotiated solution. It is the best bet in the current circumstances, but it is realistic to doubt whether it can succeed when it is weakened by the Iraqi-Syrian dispute.
Are we taking advantage of our transformed relations with the Soviet Union? Did the Prime Minister discuss the Levant with the Soviet Prime Minister when they met in Luxembourg a few weeks ago? United Nations resolution 520 called for
"strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence".
Why do our Government not press for this matter to be raised as a matter of urgency in the Security Council? Is it true that no European Community country, save France,
Column 293is willing to take this crisis to the United Nations? If so, why such prudence when a United Nations resolution is being ignored and hundreds of people are dying each week? Is an international conference a possibility?
Lord Glenarthur has described the crisis as being an "internal dispute", but clearly it is more than that. Ask the Syrians. I trust that we shall set our faces like flint against partition. That would be no solution ; it could never be stable.
As Middle East International put it recently in an excellent editorial :
"A tiny Christian enclave in the north, a Syrian protectorate in the centre and an Israeli protectorate in the south would be a prescription for permanent conflict."
Secondly, what more can be done to bring humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict? Britain has contributed more than £1 million to UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross for projects on health care, water supply, education and other relief operations. Britain also supports UNRWA which does wonderful work in assisting Palestinian refugees in the Lebanon.
There is an urgent need to get medical aid and food supplies into Beirut following a new peak of savagery and destruction. Mr. Perez de Cuellar has spoken of some $87 million being needed to provide assistance to 800,000 people in chronic need of general relief and urgent rehabilitation. There is also an immediate need for $5 million to ensure electrical supplies in Beirut on which the provision of water and hospital services depends. I should like to see the Royal Navy landing supplies by helicopter and other means to both sides as soon as the shelling stops.
Thirdly, turning to southern Lebanon, when did we last draw the attention of the Security Council to Israel's continuing and illegal occupation of a substantial part of the Lebanon following its second and highly destructive invasion? Its activities in that part of the country are outrageous and provocative and UNIFIL must be allowed to operate right up to the internationally recognised border in accordance with Security Council resolution 425. It is not sufficiently known that Britain does a first- class job in supporting UNIFIL from our sovereign bases in Cyprus.
I should like to see UNIFIL's mandate strengthened. I have been appalled by the role being played by the south Lebanese army, Israel's surrogate force. The UN soldiers, more than 170 of whom have been killed since 1978, have been trying to protect the hapless, mainly Shia inhabitants of the border area from brutal attacks by the SLA. In recent months the Israeli army, and the mainly Maronite SLA, have expanded their operations in the south, outside the so-called security zone. In March, Israel's northern front commander stated that he was considering enlarging the security zone to include five villages in the central Bekaa valley. There have also been well-reported recent Israeli incursions close to Beirut.
Who gave Israel a dispensation to invade and maraud in the land of its neighbours? That behaviour must be brought to a halt. That is a matter that the Bush Administration could address, even if it wishes to duck the wider issues. Such violence offers no solution. If the Israelis cannot be moved out, there is no chance that the Syrians will leave.
Fourthly, I am mindful of the breakdown in relations between Britain and Iran over the Salman Rushdie affair, which was made worse by the deplorable and completely
Column 294irresponsible comments by the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and its impact in the Lebanon. Britain has been forced to close consular and visa offices following a security alert that warned that Iranian-backed fundamentalists in Beirut might be preparing attacks.
I hope that my hon. Friend will tell the House what is the latest position and what more can be done to protect our admirable and courageous ambassador, Alan Ramsay, who is a personal friend, and his dedicated staff. There is also the presence of armed Iranian units to consider.
Fifthly, in all our minds is the continuing plight of the British hostages, who are thought to be held in or near Beirut by the pro-Iranian Hezbollah. We appreciate that there may be little that the Minister can say and that there is always the danger that ministerial comments may lead to dangerous speculation, but has the Minister any news of Mr. Jackie Mann, a former fighter pilot, who was reported missing at the weekend? The sympathy of the whole House goes out to his wife, family and friends.
Finally, and touching all those issues, is the extraordinary role of Syria. Alack, we have foolishly failed to restore diplomatic relations--which in my view had been broken off correctly--so we have minimal influence or ability even to communicate. Its forces were initially invited in and at first were welcomed by the hard-pressed inhabitants of Beirut, who hoped that they might at least keep the armed fanatics off the streets. However, now the Syrian army is the main element on one side of an increasingly bloody and futile war, which is mainly conducted through the random shelling of civilian targets--a completely abhorrent form of military conduct that must be universally condemned. What is the Government's official position on Syria's presence and activities in the Lebanon?
The canvas is a vast one, but I hope that I have made clear the deep concern that I suspect all right hon. and hon. Members have for the people of the Lebanon and also the extent of Britain's responsibility, especially as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The multinational force, in which the United Kingdom participated, was a failure, and I do not envisage another. However, there may be an enlarged role for UN peace keepers and, indeed, the UN in its many forms.
This is not a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. Television brings its sorrow and savagery nightly before us, and this evening's news of a successful and outrageous brutal bomb attack was no exception. Without a shadow of a doubt, the vast majority of the Lebanese seek peace and the reunification of their country after 14 years of conflict.
Difficult though the problems are, they must not be regarded by us as insoluble. The objective is an independent, sovereign and united Lebanon, at peace with itself and its neighbours. It would be wonderful if the United Kingdom could be seen to have played a leading part in helping the international community to achieve that objective.
I wish my hon. Friend and his fellow Ministers well in that endeavour.
Column 29512.10 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Timothy Eggar) : As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) has said, Lebanon's plight is tragic. The fighting there, which has been going on over recent weeks and months, has caused many casualties and deaths and the physical destruction of much of the once beautiful city of Beirut and its surrounding countryside.
The Government's aim, in common with other countries who wish Lebanon well, is to restore peace and stability to that tragically divided country. I am most grateful, yet again, to my hon. Friend for his initiative in calling this Adjournment debate.
I am also grateful for the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). I know that he will join with me and the House in paying tribute to the tremendous work done by the late Lord Chelwood on behalf of the Lebanon and its people. If he were with us, he would share our anguish at the latest developments there. For reasons of which the House and my hon. Friends are well aware, the situation in the Lebanon is complex. Our powers to help resolve the present crisis are severely limited. The conflicts between the people of Lebanon are deeply rooted. Unhappily, too, their country has also become a battleground for foreign forces.
In the last analysis, it must be our aim to enable the Lebanese people themselves to find ways of restoring peace to their country without foreign interference.
As a sign of support for those working towards a settlement in Lebanon, we have kept our embassy in Beirut open under difficult and extremely dangerous conditions. I know that the House will wish to join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath in paying tribute to the courage and tenacity of our ambassador, Mr. Alan Ramsay, and his small team in Beirut. They are doing an excellent job of work.
The embassy has for a long time had to operate in particularly trying and hazardous conditions. In recent weeks its working conditions have deteriorated even further. The Rabieh district of east Beirut, in which the embassy is located, has experienced its share of the recent heavy shelling. The movement of embassy staff is necessarily extremely restricted and it has become increasingly difficult for the ambassador and his staff to perform all the functions normally expected of it.
The staff are constantly working against a background of specific threats against British targets, and the risk of being taken hostage remains high. The recent death of the Spanish ambassador in Beirut was an all too tragic reminder of the personal risks run by all foreign diplomats working in the uniquely difficult circumstances of present day Lebanon.
A major reason for our embassy remaining is the plight of British hostages in Beirut. The House is already well aware that Alec Collett, John McCarthy, Terry Waite and Brian Keenan have all been the unfortunate victims of kidnapping in Lebanon. We now await with considerable concern news of another British national, Mr. Jack Mann, who disappeared in west Beirut last Friday and whose subsequent whereabouts remain unknown. As my hon. Friend has said, we understand the anguish of his family and sympathise with them.
Column 296We are aware of the anxieties of all the families and friends of those who have been detained and kidnapped against their will. However, we remain firmly convinced that our policy of not making substantive concessions to terrorists is the right one. Within that policy, we have consistently done the maximum possible to ensure the hostages release.
In an environment where basic human rights and civilised standards of behaviour are flagrantly disregarded, our embassy has done, and will continue to do, everything possible to get firm information about the plight and position of the British hostages in the Lebanon. We raised the position of the hostages regularly with the Iranians before the breach in relations with them. It is high on the agenda for all our contacts in the region and elsewhere. We shall continue with those efforts, although we must also acknowledge that recent events have moved against us.
The intensified fighting in Lebanon has, as I have already said, made the task of our embassy even more difficult and dangerous, and the situation within Iran makes it very difficult for us to deal with that Government. This situation is not of our choosing. Nevertheless, we have done, and will do, the maximum possible in the circumstances, and will continue to strive to secure the release of British hostages.
The recent disappearance of Mr. Mann further underlines the vital importance of consular advice that we have given to British subjects in Lebanon. For years, we have strongly urged all those who have no pressing reason to remain in Lebanon to leave while commercial means are available. We have also regularly issued warnings advising British subjects not to travel to Lebanon unless it is absolutely necessary.
Let me return to the political situation in Lebanon which provides the background to the plight of the hostages. The bitter nature of the fighting has been shown in a further tragic twist today, with the news of the murder of Shaikh Hassan Khalid, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and a Sunni leader of stature and distinction. We deplore this new act of violence, and the loss of a man who has been consistently a force for moderation.
Since 23 September 1988, Lebanon has had two rival administrations, and deepening partition in Government institutions. Since 14 March, this division has led to an outbreak of hostilities unmatched during 14 turbulent years of fighting between rival factions. Our policy, in common with that of most other countries, is to use our good offices with all the parties in order to help bring an end to the carnage without, however, taking sides between the two administrations. We recognise states, not Governments. But to end the 14 years of war and suffering, it is vital that a political solution should be found. The first thing that is needed is a durable, negotiated ceasefire. Along with our European partners, we repeated our call in a statement on 17 April for all parties, including Syria, to stop fighting and agree to an immediate ceasefire. We were naturally associated with the statement issued by the President of the United Nations Security Council on 31 March, and his further statement on 24 April. We have fully supported the ministerial committee of the Arab League, chaired by Sheikh Sabah, in its efforts to obtain a ceasefire. The Arab League has come very close to success. It gained an agreement to a ceasefire to begin on 28 April and offered to deploy an Arab League force to police it. Although we were greatly disappointed that the ceasefire broke down after three days, the Arab League
Column 297negotiators helped to nurse a new one into being on 11 May. There has been some sporadic firing, but the ceasefire generally has been holding and we hope and pray that it will prove more durable than the last.
We believe that, for as long as the Arab League is pursuing its initiatives, it should be allowed a free hand before the international community considers alternative approaches. This is in keeping with article 52 of the United Nations charter, which says that every effort should be made to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through regional organisations before referring them to the Security Council. In any case, it is clear we should have to think very carefully before involving the Security Council actively in what is essentially an internal Lebanese issue.
Once a ceasefire has been established, Lebanon can work towards a period of national reconciliation. We hope that, as a first step, all parties will facilitate an election, in complete freedom and without external pressure, of a president capable of starting this vital national work. We look forward to seeing an independent, united and sovereign Lebanon, able to pursue its destiny without the presence of foreign forces on its soil.
We regret very much the involvement of other forces in the conflict in the Lebanon. All those involved, including the Syrians, should move rapidly towards an immediate ceasefire. One objective of political progress and reconciliation should be the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. The Israelis should also withdraw fully from Lebanon and allow UNIFIL to deploy to the international border in accordance with Security Council resolution 425.
The presence of UNIFIL demonstrates that the international community still regards Lebanon as a sovereign state. We remain fully committed to UNIFIL and contribute more than £4 million to maintain the force.
Column 298A withdrawal by UNIFIL would increase the risk of outright confrontation in the area between Israeli, Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian forces. We do not think anything is to be gained at present by seeking to amend or strengthen UNIFIL's mandate. The important thing is for UNIFIL to be allowed to fulfil its existing mandate, which will be possible only when Israeli troops complete their withdrawal from Lebanon in compliance with Security Council resolution 425.
My hon. Friend has asked what more the British Government can do in a practical way to relieve the terrible suffering of the Lebanese people. We give, as my hon. Friend knows, essential aid through multilateral channels. We continue to support United Nations and European Community organisations in their efforts. We give nearly £1 million a year through United Nations organisations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. We have also, this year, given more than £750,000 in emergency aid through the European Community budget.
Circumstances on the ground make provision of direct aid difficult. This is why we call on all parties first to agree to a negotiated ceasefire. Then, once this happens, we will know exactly what work needs to be done, how it can be done, and then work out a practical way with our partners to relieve suffering that undoubtedly exists. I know that the House has welcomed this opportunity to debate the tragic situation in Lebanon. I have taken careful note of the points which have been raised, and I should like to assure my hon. Friends that the Government will take careful account of their views in assessing the contribution we can make towards the resolution of this particularly bitter and fruitless conflict.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Twelve o'clock.