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Column 1121The only democracy in the middle east is Israel. I know that some would enjoy denigrating the country, but we should not forget that, as a democracy, it enjoys certain validity. I defy any hon. Member to cite an example of two democracies that have gone to war. Some examples are close to meeting that definition, but I cannot think of one.
We must appreciate that, in the middle east, there is scope for various sytems of government. The Gulf states illustrate the fragile position of monarchs under threat. In such tribal communities there is always the threat of domestic upheaval. Despotic and fundamentalist regimes nearby are a threat to those neighbours who enjoy traditional quasi-feudal systems of government.
We must appreciate that it would be desperately wrong for us to try to impose democracies on those countries and to say that their regimes are somehow less legitimate because they are not yet practising democracies. The path to democracy in many of those countries should not and cannot be accelerated. We would be doing them a grave disservice if we tried to impose our western ideals on their forms of government. In various parts of the world different countries are differently suited to different forms of government. As one wise old bird from the Foreign Office said to me only last night--he was probably looking back to India--"One has to appreciate that there needs to be variety in government. Indeed, there was a point when processions of elephants were an essential part of the governmental process."
The key to our good relations is trade. Our diplomatic influence will wane further if we believe that simply clubbishness and an Oxford accent will suffice when dealing with the political elites of the middle east. Our commercial relationships are inextricably linked to our political relationships and influence in that region. I was heartned to learn from the autumn statement that the budget of the Export Credits Guarantee Deparment will be increased by £750 million. I hope that that budget will cover the Gulf states with which our trade is of great advantage, to them and to us. Last night a dinner was hosted by the Bahrain Society--I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) was unable to attend because he had the Adjournment debate--and that remarkable man, the Minister for Development, Mr. Yousef Shirawi, pointed out the enormous extent of the development that his country still wishes to undertake. That development offers us a remarkable trading opportunity, and I hope that Foreign Office Ministers and Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry will concentrate their efforts upon it.
The pattern of influence in the middle east has changed dramatically with the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the past 10 years Syria has had a pivotal role in determining the balance of influence in that region, but it no longer has the backing of the Soviet Union, which it enjoyed for so long. The balance of trade and influence has changed and that offers us a remarkable opportunity to exercise our influence through diplomacy and trade.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) that the sooner we have greater trade within that region, with the withdrawal of the Arab boycott on Israel, the more fruitful it will be for the relationships of all those countries in that troubled part of the globe.
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Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) : I shall make a brief contribution to the debate, which gives me the opportunity to raise the case of one of my constituents, Paul Ride, who is in prison in Baghdad. His case is greatly influenced by the general relationship between our Government and that of Iraq.
I appreciated greatly the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who made a powerful and reasoned case for his motion. It was also interesting to learn from the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) about the situation in Jordan, where one person in four is a refugee. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that example should be viewed in the context of Europe and, in particular, of Bosnia. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could draw that to the attention of some of his hon. Friends who seem so intent on pushing the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill through Parliament with the excuse that too many refugees are coming to this country. Jordan puts that claim into perspective.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said, it is clear that arms sales to Iraq have gone on for years. During the Iran-Iraq war people in this country were fed the idea of Iran as the aggressor--the villain of the piece in everything that was going on in the middle east. Iraq was presented as the buffer that would prevent Iran rolling across the middle east and imposing a fundamentalist regime. During the war arms were sold to Iraq and it used chemical weapons. Before and after the war, the Kurdish minority were persecuted and internal repression was practised in Iraq. Those facts were drawn to the attention of the House by some of my hon. Friends, but they were largely ignored. The regime in Iraq was repressive then, and it is still.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow also pointed out, the regime in Kuwait is hardly democratic ; nor is the way in which Palestinians have been treated there since the Gulf war. Since that war, a regime of sanctions and blockades has operated against Iraq, and that is the background to my constituent's case.
Paul Ride was working as a catering manager in Kuwait and, in late June, he disappeared near the border with Iraq when he went to visit a friend who worked nearby. The exact circumstances are still not 100 per cent. clear, but we know that he was arrested by an Iraqi patrol. It was several weeks before his wife knew anything, because he simply disappeared. However, it then turned out that he was in prison in Baghdad and, when news of his appearance first came through, he was about to be put on trial. At that trial he was sentenced to seven years in prison on a charge of illegally entering the country. Another Briton, Michael Wainwright, is also in prison in Baghdad and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) is dealing with his case. An American was also arrested by the Iraqis on the border, but he was soon released. Obviously that begs the question why the Americans were able to get one of their citizens released so quickly, while our citizens are in gaol and are likely to stay there for several years.
The reason that Paul Ride and Michael Wainwright have been held is that their imprisonment is a form of retaliation against sanctions--it is a bargaining counter. Their release depends on our relationship with Iraq. We do
Column 1123not have an Iraqi embassy in London any more, but there is an Iraqi interest section at the Jordanian embassy and Iraqi diplomats are posted to other European countries. They have been approached by MEPs and others working on behalf of Paul Ride and Michael Wainwright. Iraqi diplomats say, "How can you expect us to take the humanitarian steps you seek, and release those people who are in prison, when your sanctions mean that our children cannot obtain the medicines they need?" My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow vividly pointed out the situation. "How can we take such humanitarian steps when there would be repercussions for us in our country?", they ask.
We have heard how the real victims of the sanctions on Iraq are the most vulnerable, the old, the sick and the children. Up to a quarter of a million children may have died through lack of drugs and medicines. I have with me a letter from the head of the Iraqi interest section at the Jordanian embassy pointing out that the harsh economic sanctions have caused an acute shortage of medicines and medical appliances. It adds that the Iraqi Red Crescent Society is asking humanitarian organisations to supply urgently required items such as rubella vaccine, of which 200,000 doses are required, hepatitis B vaccine for adults and children, yellow fever vaccine, anti-gas gangrene serum and anti-snake serum. It is a long list. I point out in my early-day motion 942, which has attracted a significant number of signatures in recent days, the contrast between the attitude of Governments in refusing to supply medicines and what was happening before the Gulf war. Whatever the circumstances of the arms sales --who knew about them, what they were and who signed this or that letter-- everybody knows that arms and machine tools to make arms were sold. Contrast that state of affairs with what is happening now and the inability of people to obtain medicines.
Mr. Gerrard : While the sanctions regime may not prohibit medicines being imported by Iraq, the embargo and freezing of assets in foreign currencies makes it virtually impossible for Iraq to obtain the supplies it needs.
The Government should reconsider their position over sanctions. I have raised the issue today from the point of view of an individual and the effect it is having on a constituent of mine. The general feeling is that nothing will happen to achieve his release until there is a change of position. Having raised it at the constituency level, I am anxious to make it clear that I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow in the wider context of the need to lift the sanctions.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : I apologise to the Minister for the fact that I shall not be able to stay till the end of the debate. I explained in a letter to Madam Speaker that I had other engagements in my constituency.
I welcome the statement in the motion about the positive attitude of the United Kingdom towards its traditional friends in the middle east. In particular, I
Column 1124welcome the fact that Prime Minister Rabin is due to visit this country next month. I am sure that he will receive a warm welcome, for, during the few months that he has been Prime Minister, he has shown greater flexibility of thought than many Arab states have shown since the foundation of the state of Israel.
Israeli Prime Ministers have visited this country on many occasions. It is noted in Israel that only one serving British Prime Minister has visited that country. I refer to Lady Thatcher, who went there in 1986. I remember that visit with great pleasure because I was there at the time. The warmth of the reception that she received should underline to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the wisdom perhaps of his paying a visit to Israel.
The people of Israel would also like a visit from a member of our royal family. Her Majesty the Queen has visited a number of Israel's neighbours. It would help relations in that part of the world if she or a member of her family visited Israel.
Everyone welcomes the fact that individuals such as Terry Waite are at long last free. They were incarcerated for far too long. The manoeuvres that started the release of hostages in the middle east began with the decision of Israel to release a number of prisoners held in that country. It hoped that the result would be that Israeli hostages who have been held in the middle east for many years and whose relatives have not heard from them might be released. For example, I have met Mr. and Mrs. Baumel, whose son was captured by the Syrians in 1982 and taken to Damascus. He has been held under circumstances of which we are not aware, and we do not even know if he is still alive. His parents should be told what has happened to their son.
I also recently met Mr. and Mrs. Fink, from Manchester, who now live in Israel and whose son some was similarly captured. They have not had a word from his captors about his whereabouts. In both cases, the captors have acted against all international understanding and conventions governing the way in which prisoners should be treated. I have recently heard from friends of Mr. Arad, who has been held for many years. His daughter has not had the privilege of getting to know her father. We should be told whether Mr. Arad, an Israeli navigator, is alive. He should be released, having been kept longer than any prisoner was detained during the second world war.
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : I am sure that my hon. Friend wishes to give the House a balanced picture. He will be aware that no country in the middle east holds as many prisoners without proper trial as does Israel. A major step that Israel could take to help the peace process would be to release more than 1,000 Palestinians being held without proper legal trial.
Mr. Marshall : My hon. Friend expects my speeches on the middle east to be as balanced as his. There exists in Israel a rule of law which is the envy of many other states in the area. The justices there have an independence which is denied to many judges in other countries in the middle east and in other parts of the world. We must accept certain realities about the middle east, one of which concerns the future of Jerusalem. While certain parts of the middle east are negotiable in the peace process, people should not blind themselves to the fact that
Column 1125the future of Jerusalem is an issue about which no Israeli Government would negotiate. Those who favour religious tolerance and freedom must believe that Jerusalem should remain a united, not a divided, city. There is more religious freedom in Jerusalem today than there was when it was a divided city.
For Israelis in general, and for the Jewish community, the western wall is the holiest part of the world. When it was under Jordanian control, nobody was able to go from Israel to worship there. The first time that an Israeli could go there was in 1967. No Israeli Government could be expected to agree to Jerusalem again becoming a divided city. Some 70 per cent. of the population are Jewish. When it was partially under Jordanian control, the Jordanians did not honour their religious beliefs and they have therefore lost any right to have a say over Jerusalem's future.
I should like--I suspect that one or two former British ambassadors wish that it had happened--the British embassy to be transferred from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Those who have lived in Tel Aviv have often said that they would be happy if the next embassy went to Jerusalem. There are many problems in the middle east, and there are many refugees in Jordan. In the late 1940s, there was a huge transfer of populations. Refugees from Arab countries went to Israel, and Palestinians left Israel to become refugees elsewhere. Let us consider the attitudes of their respective Governments. The Israeli Government set out to house their people and provide them with jobs and opportunities. Many of the Arab Governments did nothing of the sort but merely allowed the refugees to fester and multiply and did not provide them with decent housing conditions.
If the Arab states had wanted to solve the problem, they could have done so. Had they devoted two months' oil revenues to sorting out the problems of many of their refugees, the difficulties would have disappeared decades ago. We must accept the fact that certain Governments in the middle east are indifferent to the refugees' fate. Indeed, one suspects that, the worse that fate, the happier they are.
Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East) : I was struck by how remarkably wide my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) had managed to draw the motion. It allows us to range over a period of history that goes back to the Balfour declaration and up to the recent "Dispatches" programme. You will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I cover much the same ground.
When I look at the history of our involvement in the Arab world, I am struck by how overwhelmingly destructive and divisive it has been. We have played a game of deceit in which we have said one thing while practising another. In an embarrassing moment immediately after the Russian revolution, Lenin and Trotsky decided on a breathtaking innovation. They published all the secret documents and treaties in the Russian Foreign Ministry, which proved embarrassing for Britain when it transpired that we had promised the land of Palestine to both the Jews and the Arabs at exactly the same time, while keeping both documents confidential and not telling either party what was proposed.
Such duplicity and behind-the-scenes dealings produce military conflicts that rumble on not just for decades but for the best part of a century. I have come to the
Column 1126conclusion that all our interests would be better served if we based our foreign policy on some form of morality, rather than on the nonsense of looking for expediency and contracts, and working out what is in our immediate short-term interest. It is in our interest that there should be a stable world : the only way to achieve stability is if there is justice, if peoples have the right to self- determination and if one set of peoples does not enslave another.
Like many people, I am happy that some progress has been made in resolving the issue between the Palestinian people and the state of Israel. I am not overwhelmed with joy, however, at the slow pace of those negotiations. Even the new Israeli Government are being unrealistic about the future arrangements that they expect the Palestinian people to accept.
The Palestinians have been in that area for tens of thousands of years and have a long-standing, recognised culture. They are the most cosmopolitan and international of all the Arab peoples. Perhaps because most of the rest of the world has marched through their territory at some time, they have been open to more outside influence than anyone else in the Arab world. I know of no other Arab peoples more committed to the concept of democracy. Three generations have lived in camps for displaced persons with refugee status, eking out an existence on the margins of other peoples' nations and societies. That has given them more confidence in the commitment that the state that they eventually create will be a democracy and will not replicate some of the unpleasant military or feudal dictatorships in the regime.
Israel should now show the imagination to offer the Palestinians not just a deal that they would be prepared to accept but one that lays the foundation for peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. That must mean a Palestinian state on the west bank and Gaza. It will not be good enough to expect people who have suffered so much for so long to put up with municipal status, giving them about the same amount of power over their affairs as the people of Islington or Tottenham have under the present regime here. No one wants to have an expansion of arms in the area. I should not be surprised to find that a deal could be struck between the Palestinians and Israelis that would ensure that the Palestinian state would be demilitarised. There could be economic co-operation and development, meaning that, within five or 10 years, everyone in the area would have an interest in preserving the peace because their economies would be growing and they would be trading with each other.
All the power rests with Israel. Israel has 200 nuclear weapons ; the most powerful, modern and efficient military machine in the area ; and a virtual blank cheque from the new United States President-elect, Bill Clinton, who is completely committed to the Israeli cause and has been in American politics for many years. From that position of strength, Israel must take the concessions. It cannot expect those who do not have a military machine, nuclear weapons, their own state or a right to vote under Israeli occupation to make concessions. They have nothing to concede. If Israel is now prepared to show imagination, a peace can be secured that will respect the traditions of the two peoples and lay the foundations for peace in the future. It means that Israel must make concessions and I hope that the British Government will make that point privately and publicly to the Israeli Government.
Column 1127If our involvement in the issue of Israel and Palestine has been slightly two-faced over the decades, our recent involvement with Iraq and Iran make it look a model of straightforwardness and honesty. Like most people in Britain, I have been amazed as revelation after revelation has emerged about the scale of our involvement in the Gulf wars in the past 12 years. I remember hearing numerous Ministers say that the Government did not support the continuation of the war between Iraq and Iran but that they were in favour of a complete arms embargo being imposed on Iran and Iraq so that the war could be brought to a conclusion.
It is now apparent that, from day one, Britain and America were doing everything in their power covertly to supply information and provide arms to sustain Iraq's attack on Iran, simply because they considered that Saddam Hussein was a lesser evil than the Ayatollah Khomeini.
The Iranian revolution was a genuine revolution from below. It was a wave of anger by the Iranian people, who had seen their nation subjected to outside western influences, decade after decade. They saw their Government, in the form of the Shah, as a western puppet and had seen that puppet supported by western Governments for convenience because he was anti- Communist. They had seen western Governments loth to raise any issues of human rights abuses. They had seen the oil companies exercising their influence. There was none of the pride of a nation state. Would we have tolerated that subject position? Of course not. Eventually, it created a revolution from below--as genuine a revolution as that in Russia in 1917, that in China in 1949 or that in Cuba in 1959. We should have recognised that.
Like virtually everyone here, I would have found it difficult to support the Ayatollah's political programme, but that was a matter for the Iranian people. However, because western interests felt threatened, we helped to arm and build up Iraq. There was, remarkably, a degree of anticipation at the end of the cold war. The Soviet Union was providing conventional weapons to Iraq and we in the west were covertly providing the rest, which was much more dangerous. That war continued for eight years and resulted in the slaughter of millions of people, to achieve nothing. It left an Iraqi military machinery that was so powerful that America took the first opportunity to smash it ; America perceived it as a threat to western interests, which it clearly was, as Saddam Hussein was a wild cannon.
Would not it have been better if we have kept out of the conflict during that eight years and not encouraged one side and prolonged the slaughter with our support ? Did we think that simply because Saddam Hussein was temporarily on our side against the Ayatollah, he was someone whose military strength we should build up ? Would it not have been more honest to work with the refugee groups--the Kurds who fled from Saddam Hussein's tyranny and the Shia Arabs in the south--who wanted a better Iraq ?
It seems that our morality in terms of foreign policy goes no further than the immortal words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, when he was President in the 1930s, discussed the obnoxious regime of Somoza in Nicaragua with his Secretary of State. The Secretary of
Column 1128State said, "This man is a son of a bitch" and President Roosevelt replied, "He is our son of a bitch." Sadly, that seems to be the underlying basis on which we in this country approach foreign policy issues.
The same is true of Government of both colours. Like many Labour Members, I listened with acute embarrassment when, in the debate on Iraq, the Government listed the degree of covert arms sales that Labour Governments had been prepared to go along with. Such a policy has to end. If we pump arms into the volatile regions of the world, we shall create wars that ultimately damage us greatly and cost much more than the short-term profits of one or two arms companies. I shall now deal with precisely how the arms entered Iraq, which seems a particularly pernicious issue. It should not be an immediate party political issue. I believe the Prime Minister's assurance that he knew nothing of it. I have watched the right hon. Gentleman for 25 years and I can honestly say that I have never seen him lie--in Lambeth council or here. It may be embarrassing to him that the document was in his office but he did not read it, but people under pressure occasionally make such mistakes. I do not think that there is any great shock or horror about the Prime Minister's role in the affair.
The shocks will come in relation to the role of the present Prime Minister's predecessor and her family. I hope that all parties will be prepared to deal with the issue honestly and openly. What has been going on is a scandal of immense proportions. We should all have an interest in ensuring that no party in government allows such a scandal again.
I knew virtually nothing about the involvement of Mark Thatcher in the arms trade. When I see Mark Thatcher's name in the newspaper, I usually turn over and move on to something else. He was not someone I had an interest in and he never struck me as particularly bright or as someone with very much to say. I was not terribly interested in motor racing. I have crossed the Sahara desert twice without getting lost and I find it difficult to see how anyone could get lost there. There is only one road crossing the desert, so one simply has to go along it one way or the other.
I was surprised when, one day sitting in my bath, I was reading The Guardian and I came across a little article by Richard Norton-Taylor, who has an excellent track record for finding out embarrassing things that the Government prefer us not to know. The article spoke of a book that had published in America by a former Israeli military intelligence officer, Ari Ben-Menashe. The book could not be published in Britain because of our restrictive libel laws. It contained damaging revelations about Mark Thatcher and arms sales to Iraq.
By a stroke of immense good fortune, I was due to go to the United States the following week. I got straight off the plane and went into a bookshop to buy a copy of "Prophets of War". I read it from cover to cover, and Mark Thatcher merely played a bit part--he had a walk-on role. The book was much more to do with what George Bush did or did not know about the hostage arrangements in Iraq in the 1980 election and other matters.
When I returned to the House, I submitted an early-day motion, which I resubmitted in a slightly different form after the Scott inquiry was announced by the Prime Minister. To my surprise, it attracted 53 signatures. I usually find it difficult to obtain double figures for
Column 1129signatures on my early-day motions. However, people who are not known as my closest confidantes and who are not from my wing of the Labour party signed it.
The early-day motion contained the charges of Ari Ben-Menashe. I accept that we have to be cautious when dealing with the relevations of rogue intelligence officers who have turned against their former employer. However, it is important to remember that Mark Thatcher and the Iraqi arms deals played only a minor part in the book and were not essential to what the author was trying to establish. The author makes various charges. The book stated that Mark Thatcher owned a Texas-based company that was used to move equipment directly from Britain to Iraq. It should be relatively easy for Lord Justice Scott to determine whether that is true or false. The allegation was that Mark Thatcher introduced the supergun designer, Gerald Bull--who was subsequently murdered--to the South African military intelligence general, Pieter Van der Westhuizen, who then introduced Gerald Bull to the Iraqi deputy chief of procurement, who arranged a payment for Gerald Bull's services via Cardoen Industries financial network.
The book also alleges that Mark Thatcher was an associate of Dr. Carlos Cardoen, who is now getting a little more publicity for his activities. Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe was invited by one of my colleagues and came to the House of Commons this week. He was questioned by several hon. Members. According to Ari Ben-Menashe, Dr. Cardoen's main job in life was the procurement of arms for Iraq in the west. When Ari Ben-Menashe--who was then still working for United States intelligence and trying to discourage Gerald Bull from going ahead with the supergun--arrived at Dr. Cardoen's office, he found Mark Thatcher there. What was Mark Thatcher doing with Iraq's main procurer of weapons in the west? The book alleges that Dr. Cardoen was introduced to Mr. Bull by Mark Thatcher, who was the link person.
If those allegations are true, they are breathtaking. Conservative Members are having to listen to unpleasant things about their former colleagues. But if we reverse the circumstances, we can ask what Conservative Members would be saying if my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) had been Prime Minister for the past 10 years and it had just been discovered that his three daughters had all become multi-millionaires in the arms trade and had been wandering around selling armaments to a country with which we were ultimately at war. I suspect that we would have heard something from Conservative Members.
Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : The hon. Gentleman is making an extraordinary allegation--he is suggesting guilt by smear. He makes allegations about Mark Thatcher, who is not a colleague of any hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman must make absolutely clear whether he is making allegations against the former Prime Minister of this country or not. If he is not doing so, to try to imply that there is some association between the former Prime Minister and Mark Thatcher, other than that they are mother and son, is disgraceful.
Column 1130of Mark Thatcher. I suspect that many Conservative Members will say much the same thing over coming months as Lord Justice Scott continues his inquiry.
Mr. Dalyell : I asked a number of specific and careful questions about Mark Thatcher. Some 2 million or more people watched the "Dispatches" programme, produced by Box Productions. As I stressed, the company must have gone to its libel lawyers. Those viewers heard of serious allegations by a member of the Reagan Administration, Mr. Howard Teicher suggesting that political families were involved in matters of considerable difficulty. The hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) should see what hundreds of thousands of people have seen on television. He might then agree that it is at least up to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to respond to those allegations.
Mr. Livingstone : I thank my hon. Friend. I made it clear in the early-day motion that I was repeating the allegations. At that stage, I was not certain of the extent to which the allegations might be gross exaggerations. When Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe came to the House this week, I pointed out that his book was published several months ago. Mark Thatcher is a resident of Texas. I asked Ari Ben-Menashe whether he had received any libel writs about the charges in the book. The answer was that he had not. Mark Thatcher is not short of a bob or two, so he could afford a lawyer. I should have thought that charges of such gravity would bring forth a writ if they were inaccurate. That is another mark that suggests that the allegations are probably true.
Mr. Dalyell : In relation to the meeting at the Carlton Tower, Howard Teicher is reported to have expressed great concern that a member of a political family should exploit a perceived connection to make money. Our hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins), a very responsible parliamentary colleague who is a member of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, said that in the light of all that and in the light of what was said to the Select Committee, there must be a full disclosure. If those are not matters for the Floor of the House, I do not know what is.
Mr. Livingstone : I thank my hon. Friend again. He raises an important point. We in Britain know that in many instances Mark Thatcher was an embarrassment to his mother and to the Conservative party. That is why he was in effect bundled off into exile in Texas after the scandal involving Cementation. He was lucky to get away without going inside. He was bundled off so that he would no longer be an embarrassment.
Hon. Members know that Mark Thatcher is no mastermind who will one day inherit the Tory party leadership. However, there are many nations in which the sons and daughters of prime ministers and presidents inherit political office as a result of their control of political parties. Dynastic politics are powerful in many nations. We may have had no illusion about the real influence of Mark Thatcher, but many people in other countries who saw the son of a long-serving and powerful Prime Minister sitting at meetings discussing the purchase of British armaments for sale to Iraq would have thought that the Government must have some awareness of what was going on.
Column 1131controversial view? We were rubbished on the Floor of the House by the then junior Home Office Minister, who is now the Secretary of State for Education, on the matter of Colin Wallace. Colin Wallace was then, rightly, awarded thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in compensation. Everything that we said turned out to be true and everything that was said by Ministers turned out to be a load of drivel.
Mr. Livingstone : I am delighted to be reminded of that case. I recall my hon. Friend and myself going through three years of general abuse. We were told that we were obsessive and monomaniacal, that we had wild staring eyes and that we tabled too many questions. Did anyone get up and apologise when it was all shown to be true? There was a deathly silence on the Conservative Benches.
One of the joys of the House of Commons is that one raises an issue and then suddenly one starts to get anonymous letters. I now receive anonymous letters from all round the world about people who bumped into Mark Thatcher or who saw him with somebody else. One must treat those letters circumspectly. I am now collaborating with a journalist, Mark Hollingsworth, who is writing a book about Mark Thatcher's arms dealings and I shall pass all the information to him. I am sure that Conservative Members look forward to the book's publication. I received further information about an arms deal--this brings us back to our involvement with the Arab world--which was not with Iraq. I received information from a journalist which I then put forward in the form of three early-day motions. The first stated :
"That this House notes that the Foreign Secretary received a letter dated 3rd June 1992 from Mr. Abdul S. Minty, director of the World Campaign against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa, alleging that Mr. Mark Thatcher was involved in promoting the sale of South African G6 Howitzers to Saudi Arabia ; further notes that Britain is a member of the United Nations 421 Arms Embargo Committee of the Security Council and was present when these allegations were discussed by the Committee ; and requests that the Foreign Secretary report to the House on the action taken by Britain's representatives when this matter was reported and on the nature of his reply to Mr. Minty."
The second early-day motion stated :
"That this House notes the reports to the United Nations 421 Committee that Mr. Mark Thatcher offered to act as the middle man' in an attempt by Armscor, the South African government owned weapons dealer, to break the United Nations arms embargo and sell £328 million worth of G6 howitzers to Saudi Arabia".
I do not know what the commission rates are, but the commission on £328 million must be more than a few bob.
The early-day motion continued :
"the deal was dropped after pressure from the United States Government"--
who had been alerted to it. The early-day motion then
"calls on the British Government to deposit in the Library of the House the reports on these events compiled by MI5 and MI6." The third early-day motion stated :
"That this House notes that Lyttleton Engineering were participants at the four day Defence and Security Exhibition which opened in Bahrain on 11th May 1992, that Lyttleton Engineering is a former subsidiary of Armscor (and now part of the state-owned Denel Group) and known to produce G5 and G6 Howitzer guns ; further notes that Mark Thatcher accompanied his mother to the opening of the Britain in the Gulf' trade fair in Dubai two weeks earlier and that Mark Thatcher's unofficial spokesman, Sir Tim Bell,"--
Column 1132who is known to some Conservative Members--
"has refused to confirm or deny whether or not he attended the defence exhibition ; and calls on Mr. Mark Thatcher to give a full account of his movements and activities in this area."
Mr. Livingstone : It is quite simple. When journalists telephone Mark Thatcher to ask whether he has been flogging arms to country A, B, C or D, he refers them to Sir Tim Bell. Sir Tim Bell then reminds the journalists about the libel laws and says that he cannot confirm or deny anything. That is the exact nature of the role. I do not know whether he is paid for his services, but I recall that Sir Tim Bell has very strong links with the Conservative party and the former Prime Minister.
To my surprise, I was told that my early-day motions were not acceptable because they were repetitious and were caught by Speaker Weatherill's ruling. Therefore, I resubmitted my motions as questions and I received answers to them yesterday. Those answers are interesting. The first states :
"A letter from Mr. Minty dated 3 June 1992 was received in the office of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on that day. The reply, from an official, dated 25 June, stated : The United Kingdom adheres to UN Security Council resolutions 558 and 591 concerning, inter alia, the import of South African-produced arms. We take seriously allegations of British involvement in any contravention of these resolutions.'
In the case the hon. Member raises, we have no knowledge as to whether South African-produced arms were purchased by customers in third countries. But we shall investigate any alleged British involvement if it is established that such arms were imported in breach of the above resolutions."
The second reply states :
"There has been no substantive discussion within the committee"-- that is, the UN committee on the arms embargo--
"to date, although the chairman has undertaken to seek information on the report from the relevant parties. But if the committee were to establish that arms have been imported in breach of United Nations Security Council resolution 558, we would of course be prepared to investigate any allegations of British involvement."
In response to my question about pressure from America to scrap the deal, the response was that the British Government
"are not aware of any such representations."--[ Official Report, 26 November 1992 ; Vol. 214, c. 767-68. ]
I tabled a written question to the Secretary of State for Defence asking if he would
"list all communications between his Department and Mr. Mark Thatcher concerning the Defence and Security Exhibition in Bahrain on 11 May."
I received an evasive answer to that question. The reply was : "It is not the practice for Government Departments to list communications with members of the public."
I am not surprised about that.
It strikes me that those answers are remarkably similar, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said, to the denials--if one can call them that-- that we received on the Colin Wallace affair. There was never a categoric "no". We were told, "Well, if there's information we'll look into it. If you know anything, pass it to the police." When I do not receive an absolute denial, I am encouraged to continue probing.
Column 1133Those rather open-ended replies, which do not dismiss the charges, suggest that the British Government are not writing out the allegations from Mr. Abdul Minty, which are now being investigated by the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Dalyell : Are we not further entitled to probe because there is every suggestion that the Cabinet guidelines issued in relation to behaviour in respect of such matters have been flouted? The "Dispatches" programme broadcast in print the Cabinet guidelines in relation to the undertakings that should be given by families because families are mentioned specifically in those guidelines. It is fair to ask whether the Cabinet guidelines were flouted. The Government will have to answer that at some time.
Mr. Livingstone : I am particularly struck by that point. Let us be honest about this. If the Foreign Secretary had been able to make me look a complete wally and if he could simply dismiss the charges out of hand, would he not have taken that opportunity? Would he not have said that it was nonsense? Would he not have struck me down and made me a laughing stock before the House? Instead, there have been guarded replies which leave it open to him, if he has to do so, to admit eventually that the allegations are true.
However, I must emphasise that we are still talking about allegations that Mark Thatcher was trading arms to Iraq and that he was trying to sell South African arms to Saudi Arabia. However, if there is any shred of truth in the charges, are we to believe that MI5 and MI6 did not warn the Prime Minister of the day about the activities in which her son was involved? Surely the director of MI5 or MI6 must have thought that it was important, if any information of that kind came to light, to warn the Prime Minister immediately that her son was engaged in activities that were illegal in British law and contravened United Nations resolutions. Of course, the director of MI5 or MI6 would have done that.
If the allegations are true, we will want to know what the intelligence and security services told the Prime Minister of the day. Was the Prime Minister of the day warned about what was happening and what action did she take? Lord Justice Scott will have to examine that matter. I hope that the Government will give a commitment that the full files of MI5 and MI6 on Mark Thatcher--I am prepared to bet money with any Government Members that those files exist--are made available to Lord Justice Scott. I hope that they will also be made available to hon. Members on the Labour Front Bench so that we can see whether there has been any abuse. We want no cover-up.
There is no reason whatever why the Government should defend Mark Thatcher and his arms deals. That is not a reflection on the Prime Minister. However, if the Government have been defending arms deals, we want it out in the open so that the defence of such deals will not happen again under a Tory Government, a Labour Government or any other Government.
I shall examine the position of Dr. Carlos Cardoen a little more. He is a major and powerful figure in Chile. According to Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe, Dr. Cardoen is a business associate of Mark Thatcher. A British journalist who went to investigate Dr. Cardoen has been murdered. That is a particularly unpleasant twist to the story.