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Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): Given that those who are friends of Israel take the view, as the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) does, that land for peace is a good arrangement, should not they accept the importance of bringing pressure on Israel to accept that taking away land for the Har Homa settlement will not create peace, and may lead to a complete shutdown of the peace process?

Mr. Banks: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He makes his own point in his own way and I have some sympathy with it.

One of the most important friends of Israel is the United States. I referred to US policy in the middle east on previous occasions in this Parliament. In view of the changes of Defence Secretary and Secretary of State in the United States, with Mrs. Madeleine Albright coming into office, it is important that a second Clinton term in Washington does not allow things merely to tick over in the middle east. Given that Congress is rather right-wing, it is important that the British Government do what they can behind the scenes to bring pressure on our American friends to ensure that they play a full and proper part in bringing peace about, using the Oslo accord as a firm foundation. That is the impression that many of us have gained--too much ticking over and not enough action on the part of the United States in recent times.

I take the opportunity to pay tribute to His Highness King Hussein of Jordan, who, in recent years, has had a remarkably difficult role to play, which I believe he has

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played extremely well. He is a key player in bringing about peace between the various sides, and Britain must continue to give him our full support.

If time will allow, I should like to expand on other issues, but before I move away from Israel and Palestine, I want to make it clear that--given the interest in the debate and the fact that several other hon. Members want to take part--although I shall not cover in detail the importance of the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, those are inextricably bound up in finding a solution to the problems to which I referred.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): As my hon. Friend may know, I recently had the privilege of visiting Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Will he take it from me that the great majority of the people of all three countries wish only for peace? From time to time atrocities will be committed, such as the recent atrocity against the Jewish children in the Jordan valley, but does my hon. Friend agree that such atrocities committed by madmen or by religious or political extremists should never be allowed to throw the entire peace process off course?

Mr. Banks: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; that is an important point. It is recognised on all sides that the remarks made by people such as King Hussein have underlined the importance of his role.

I shall touch on two or three other trouble spots in the Middle East, to which other hon. Members might also refer in their contributions. I am particularly concerned about Iran, Iraq and Libya.

It is not acceptable for Iran to occupy the islands around Abu Musa and the Tunbs and to build serious gun emplacements. I pay tribute to the United Arab Emirates for the way in which they are trying to resolve that dispute, especially in relation to the International Court of Justice. I do not seek to isolate Iran. It is extremely important that she is not isolated, but the issue involving the United Arab Emirates must be addressed quickly.

With reference to Iraq and the recent difficulties, although we cannot interfere directly in the affairs of a state in the region, as has been wildly suggested by some, I hope that in the not too distant future the Iraqis themselves will replace the present regime, which ignores all its international obligations and brutalises its people.

Regarding Libya and our trade links, there are those who suggest, understandably, that British companies should no longer be prevented from competing for business. Nevertheless, there are serious issues, such as the gas factory that is being built and the question whether the Americans might bomb it. There are further issues, and I shall highlight just one. If Libya's peaceful intentions are to be recognised as real, we need an explanation of what she is doing. I have no doubt that the gas factory to which I referred will become an issue in the next Parliament.

Although there are trouble spots, there are a number of shining examples of the ability within the region to solve difficulties by peaceful means. I pay tribute to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for trying to broker an agreement between Bahrain and Qatar. Who would have believed last autumn, when we last debated the subject, that, almost over a cup of tea at a London hotel, some of the difficulties would be resolved? That meeting between the two sides in London went a long way towards resolving the dispute.

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Elections have recently taken place in Kuwait, and the new Government are settling in. Enormous improvements to the Kuwaiti economy are evident. Moving in line with our own democracy, Kuwait has given a greater say to Kuwaitis through elections and the formation of a new Government. There is no doubt that the people have had their say, not always to the liking of the Al-Sabah ruling family, but that is a shining example of the way that things can be done in the middle east, if the right of self-determination in an Arab form is allowed.

Although that may be appropriate in one country, I recognise that it may not necessarily be so in another. On a recent visit to Bahrain, I was pleased to see the improved and enlarged shura council. Similarly, there are better relations between this House and its counterpart in Riyadh.

I have a particular concern about those who abuse our hospitality in London--dissidents who overstay their visas, and those who claim political asylum and are granted it by Britain, and then abuse our hospitality by supporting terrorist acts here and abroad. I very much hope that, within the laws of this country, the police will not hesitate to act and bring charges against those found to be overstaying their welcome or breaking our laws. As a specific example, it is not acceptable for demonstrations to take place in London, from whatever quarter, where death threats may be made but no arrests follow. If a British citizen chanted some of the things that have been heard on the streets of London, he would be arrested for at least a breach of the peace.

In view of the interest in the debate, I draw my remarks to a close, to give other hon. Members an opportunity to contribute. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Foreign Office for recognising over the years the good fortune that I have in my friendships with several ruling families in the middle east. For someone of my age, I have been hugely fortunate. I thank my friends in the middle east for the trust that they have placed in me. That has helped me as a Member of Parliament to understand the difficulties that we in Britain face in supporting our friends in the middle east to bring about further peace and prosperity.

I pay tribute to those in the Foreign Office not just for their diplomacy at British posts overseas, but for the work that they undertake in batting for Britain in a trade context. The middle east is important not only for world peace, but for British jobs. I know that over the years the Foreign Office and trade representatives overseas have played an extremely active part in helping British companies to win orders. I hope that, in the years ahead, they will continue to do so.

I have skated over, all too quickly, some extremely important issues. The debate is one of enormous importance, and I have no doubt that we shall return to these subjects fairly soon in the next Parliament.

11.18 am

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) and thank him for his initiative in raising the debate before we close this Parliament.

I came into the House exactly 32 years ago this week as the baby of the House, and I am now ready to depart. My maiden speech was all about the problems of the Scottish Borders, which had been the subject of my

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by-election campaign, but as I have--to use a good Scottish word--deeved the Scottish Office on that subject endlessly over recent weeks, I am glad to make my last speech to the House on a different and important topic--the middle east peace process.

I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman on wider issues in the middle east; otherwise, I should make too long a speech. I want to cast my mind back over events that have taken place in the middle east in which I have been involved, and to say a few words about how I hope policy may evolve in the future.

Over the past four years, I have not been as regular an attender in this place as previously. As president elect and then president of Liberal International--I totted up recently the number of visits that I made to other countries in those capacities--I visited no fewer than 56 countries, some of them more than once. This announcement will not surprise my hon. Friends, who seemed to think that I was permanently in an aeroplane. I was concerned with promoting democracy, human rights and economic development. Over the past three decades during which I have been a Member of this place, however, nowhere has there been a greater consistent threat to peace than in the middle east.

In 1967, I was fortunate to be a member of the annual parliamentary delegation to the United Nations when that distinguished representative at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, was largely instrumental in having resolution 242 drafted and passed at the UN. It is my view that that resolution has remained the bedrock of a policy that has been supported by successive British Governments and by the global community in its attitude to the middle east peace process.

It was not until 1980, when I was the leader of the Liberal party, that I took a delegation to the middle east. On that occasion I spent two weeks in the region. I had the good fortune as a party leader to be received, with my delegation, by the various Heads of Government. It was a fascinating process to meet President Sarkis of Lebanon, President Assad of Syria, who continues to be president of that country, the late President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein in Jordan, for whom, like the hon. Member for Southport, I have considerable admiration.

The one Head of Government whom I did not meet was in Israel, and there was a clear reason for that. I had earlier met Chairman Arafat, as he then was, in Syria. Nowadays everyone meets Mr. Arafat, and very happily, on the White House lawn or anywhere else. In 1980, however, it was thought outrageous that a party leader in Britain should shake hands with that unknown person. When I went to Israel I was not received at any high level by the Israeli Government. I met Opposition leaders, however, and I got to know Shimon Peres.

During my time in Israel--I have been there several times since 1980--I came to understand the geographical fragility of the state of Israel and its need for long-term security. Indeed, I have never doubted that need. The great breakthrough came undeniably during the Government of Mr. Rabin and Mr. Peres with the Oslo accords. It must be a great sadness to us all who have watched events in the middle east over the years to see that peace process running into the sand under the change of Government in Israel.

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One of my friends in the former Israeli Cabinet told me that he regarded Mr. Peres as a great statesman and a hopeless politician. It is usually the other way round, in that we regard people as good politicians and hopeless statesmen. There was some truth in my friend's judgment, however, and it was unfortunate that by his mistiming Mr. Peres lost power. As a result, Mr. Netanyahu, with his rather reactionary views on the peace process, came to power.

What can we do as part of the outside community? At this stage I must disagree with the hon. Member for Southport that we in the European Union have a responsibility towards the middle east peace process. I believe that my view is shared by the Foreign Secretary. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's scepticism about a developing common foreign policy in the European Union. I believe that it is a healthy process. We have an opportunity in terms of all-party early-day motion 657, which relates to the Lebanon. Given the present agreement between Israel and the European Union, we have a unique and new position of influence in the middle east, and one which we should use. We should not be dependent all the time on the so-called superior power of the United States in these matters.

In terms of the current settlement proposal in occupied east Jerusalem, it is a matter of deep regret that the American Administration used its veto in the Security Council. The wrong signal was sent to Israel. I know that the Minister has described that as a disagreement over tactics rather than one of substance. He may be right about that, but that is not how it is perceived in the middle east by those who represent both sides of the argument.

The United States Administration made a grievous error and I hope that we and other members of the Security Council will constantly remind it of that. We do not want to see any repetition of such an error. The outside world must stand together if we are to ensure that the peace process moves on.

Over the years, I have come increasingly to the view that security cannot be found through military means alone. Security will not be provided for Israel if the occupation of southern Lebanon continues. It does not provide security for Israel or its Arab neighbours to acquire vast amounts of weaponry from the outside world.

In 1993, together with the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), I went to Uganda to try to ascertain what could be done in arguing for debt relief for that country. I pay full tribute to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the steps that they have taken at the International Monetary Fund to help establish a programme of debt relief for Uganda.

I noted recently, however, that defence expenditure by Uganda, while debt relief has continued, has increased from 13 per cent. of its budget in 1993 to 20 per cent. now. What is true of Uganda is true, unfortunately, of many other countries, especially those in the middle east. Peoples who are in need of development within their countries see their Governments forced, in the interests of what they believe to be security, to spend an increasing proportion of their budgets on arms.

Over the three decades that I have spent in the House, there have been many acrimonious and intense debates about the spread of nuclear weaponry and about nuclear disarmament in its various shapes and guises. Yet no one has been killed by nuclear weapons since the end of the

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second world war. Unhappily, in the world today, thousands of people are killed each week by conventional weaponry.

The arms trade is one of the great evils that the world faces. I am talking about all types of weaponry and not only land mines. Those of us who are interested in real security for human beings must make the conventional arms trade a subject of greater public debate than it has been. There is no greater hypocrisy in the world today than the readiness of the developed nations, east and west, to supply weaponry throughout the world and then wring their hands the moment that weapons are used.

I came upon an interesting statistic recently that reflected on the first world war. War memorials in this country and in others bear huge lists of names of those who were slaughtered during that war. Ninety per cent. of the casualties in the first world war were members of the armed forces and nowadays 90 per cent. of casualties of conflicts are civilians--women and children. The nature of conflict has changed. We must recognise that the arms trade fuels conflicts. Indeed, conflicts could not take place if it were not for the arms trade.

I do not suppose that in the coming election the arms trade will be a matter of great moment. It is not a matter of division between the parties. I hope, however, that in the heat or noise of the battle to come we shall not lose sight of some wider issues that are crucial to the future peace of our globe and to the future development of the growing population. I refer especially to the younger generation both in the United Kingdom and in the middle east.

With those words I shall take my leave of the House.

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