§ 11 am
§ Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)
It is an enormous pleasure and privilege to initiate this important debate. It is the third debate that I have initiated on this subject in this Parliament and it is gratifying to see that there is interest across the Floor of the House. I hope that I shall be able to make the remarks that I want to make in a fashion that allows all those right hon. and hon. Members who wish to contribute to do so.
On my way to the House this morning, I was reminded of some advice given to me by my distinguished right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) some years ago, when he said that, if and when I came to the House, I should think about specialising. I had heard that from other people and, as a result of my membership, with my right hon. Friend, of the Transport Select Committee, people probably thought in my first two or three years that that was my main interest. However, as many people know, I have always had an interest in the middle east. Unlike my distinguished predecessor in Southport of 100 years ago, the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, who, after he was elected to Parliament, went off for two years under his own steam around the world to fact find, I spent my first two years nursing my constituency. I am pleased that I did so, because an election is coming up in a few weeks' time.
It is a great pleasure, towards the latter part of this Parliament, to raise these important matters, because we cannot have prosperity throughout the world unless we have peace and there is no doubt that a vital piece of the jigsaw in that respect is the middle east region. One immediately thinks of the problems between Israel and Palestine, which have existed for a long time. I have drawn attention to the progress towards peace between Israel and Palestine, but there is still an enormous amount to do. I pay tribute to the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the unique role that it and Britain as a whole have played in trying to bring about peace. Britain gives the largest share of aid to the Palestinians—some 16 per cent. of the European Union contribution. This country has a unique role to play in furthering the cause of peace in the middle east. I do not seek in this debate to oppose a European Union involvement, but I am at least a little suspicious of a Community-wide foreign policy.
In the first 100 days of the Netanyahu Government, I expressed concern that, all too often, Mr. Netanyahu was reacting to events rather than trying to set the tone for his period in office. All too often, we heard suggestions that he might have delegated the task of deciding what to do in the first 100 days to other members of his Cabinet. When one journalist tackled a leading Likud moderate on the issue, he said, "I know nothing about being tasked with the first 100 days' planning." In the last Israeli election campaign, we heard too much from senior Israeli politicians who said that they were against the Oslo accord, denounced Mr. Arafat and opposed the Hebron redeployment.
In office, Mr. Netanyahu in particular has realised that there is no alternative to the Oslo accord, meeting Mr. Arafat or the Hebron redeployment. However, I pay tribute to the Israelis for the 80 per cent. withdrawal and hope that those in the Arab world will give credit to Israel and its Government for that courageous move. I hope that we shall see further progress shortly.
818 I referred to the problems of the first 100 days of the Israeli Government, which is often a matter of public perception. The perception—it is my perception, too—is that Mr. Netanyahu may have met Mr. Arafat when he did only because of pressure from President Weizman, which is not necessarily a good thing. During the elections, Mr. Netanyahu took the view that the Oslo accord should be renegotiated but, now that he is Prime Minister of Israel, it is not tenable that Israel should be able to renegotiate while Mr. Arafat should stick to written agreements.
There must be give and take on both sides, and I have never doubted that land for peace was the way forward. Mr. Netanyahu must hold out further real hope towards the Palestinian people. He must make it clear that, if there is no terrorism, there can be no reason why more and more Palestinian workers should not come to work in Israel. They do not stay there; they often return home overnight, unlike many other migrant workers who stay on a permanent basis and cause difficulties in Tel Aviv.
Because of the impasse that we have reached, there has been an enormous cooling of relations, particularly with Egypt. I note, too, that Qatar, Tunisia and Oman have, to some extent, gone back on previous pledges on improving diplomatic relations between their countries and Israel. It is incumbent on those of us who are friends of Israel to make it clear that we want the existence of an Israeli state within secure boundaries, defending itself where necessary, internally and externally, from terrorism. However, we are not prepared to turn a blind eye to some sort of neo-imperialism or colonialism that shows contempt for the legal process and a refusal to accept that a Palestinian identity exists and must be recognised.
I underline the fact that I pay credit to Mr. Netanyahu for the 80 per cent. withdrawal.
§ 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 819 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.
820 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.
§ 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 821 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.
822 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 823 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.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
When I glanced at the Order Paper this morning and noted that my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) had secured this debate, I little thought that I would have the great privilege, largely thanks to my hon. Friend's self denial in making a short speech, of taking up the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who represents what I call the border trinity, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel).
The right hon. Gentleman has been a distinguished Member of the House for a very long time—indeed, 32 years. There is no Member of this place who has more justly deserved the title of right hon. Member. It is fitting that a number of his Liberal party colleagues, a party which he led with great distinction, should be in their places this morning to hear his short but wise speech. Although this Chamber will be deprived of his wisdom and counsel in future, I hope that I will not be accused of being too provocative if I express the hope that Parliament will not be so deprived—
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I can express a hope; I cannot, alas, bestow a gift. I believe that he still has an enormous amount to offer, and although he will want to spend more time enjoying the border solitudes that he so rightly loves, Westminster needs his contributions. I trust that we shall continue to get them even if they are from another place.
I understand, from his rather frenetic activity, that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) is likely to seek to catch your eye in the near future, 824 Mr. Deputy Speaker. He, too, is due to make his dowager speech—I suppose that that is the opposite of a maiden speech. I know that the House will look forward to hearing him.
I did not know who would seek to take part in the debate, but I was anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it is fitting, in the closing hours of this Parliament, for the House to turn its attention, in a bi-partisan capacity, towards the middle east. Although all the topics touched on by my hon. Friend in his admirable and lucid speech are important, what is surely uppermost in all our minds today are the events taking place in Jerusalem at the moment.
I am proud to call myself a friend of Israel, and I wish to see Israel with recognised secure borders, as my hon. Friend said, but if I am a friend to Israel, I am a friend to peace first, and what is happening in Jerusalem at the moment is jeopardising the chances of peace in the middle east. I appeal—carrying, I hope, the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House—to the Prime Minister of Israel to think again. In his high office, Mr. Netanyahu carries with him the hopes and fears of people all over the world.
I appreciate that it is not easy to hold together an uneasy coalition. Indeed, in recent years some in Israel have paid with their lives for their political courage, in particular Prime Minister Rabin. No price is too high to pay for peace. Mr. Rabin knew that: he paid it. His successor worthily donned his mantle and fought for peace in the middle east, recognising that when one fights for peace it is always necessary to compromise, and when one compromises, no one is wholly satisfied. There is, however, a goal that is above personal satisfaction, and it is crucial that Mr. Netanyahu recognises that.
What happened at Oslo was of crucial importance. It set in train a series of events that brought, for the first time, true hope of lasting peace to the middle east. That hope is now at risk. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister, and the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), who speaks for the Opposition, will link themselves with my remarks and will appeal to Mr. Netanyahu to recognise that, if he persists with what he seeks to do, not only will he be unleashing bulldozers on a hill in Jerusalem, but he will be putting a metaphorical bulldozer through the prospects for peace. He has a duty to the country of which he is the Head of Government; he also has a wider duty to everyone in the middle east.
In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) referred to the yearning for peace. Mr. Netanyahu has a duty to everyone beyond the middle east who sees it as a potential cauldron from which world conflict could still erupt to try to ensure that the peace process is put back on track. Only this week, he was given a lead and an example by His Majesty the King of Jordan who, in the wake of that appalling tragedy, which brought back memories of Dunblane—almost on the anniversary of Dunblane—went and grieved with the grieving and mourned with the mourning. He went not only as a Head of State but as a human being, saying, "These things are more important. Let us, for goodness sake, sit down and work together."
If Mr. Netanyahu persists with his ambitions for the building project in Jerusalem, he is, whether he intends it or not, spurning the gesture of peace from the King of 825 Jordan. If Mr. Netanyahu does that and persists with a narrow nationalism, he will jeopardise the future of his country far more than he will jeopardise the future of his Government by ceasing to appease the more nationalist members of it and those who support it.
In what I suppose will be my last speech in this Parliament—I trust that I might be able to make one or two in the next—perhaps I might be allowed to say this to Mr. Netanyahu: "The eyes of the world are upon you, and although the British Parliament is moving towards dissolution and begins to focus on a general election, nevertheless we do not neglect our responsibility as British legislators wanting to play our part in creating a true and lasting peace. We appeal to you to make that task possible by backing off from the course on which you have embarked, the end of which can be only disaster for you and your people."
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) for initiating the debate. I intended to intervene in his speech but could not find anything much with which to disagree. It was the first time that he has spoken in the House and I have agreed with him. I thank him for that, and thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few final words.
My first words in the House were some 27 years ago, in defence of the rights of the people of Leicester, North-West—which has now become Leicester, West— following my father, who served that seat for 25 years. It is the first hereditary Labour seat in this House, and it will maintain its right to vote to the last breath. I am so sorry that there will be no Janner available for the people of Leicester in the future. I thank them so very much for their kindness to me, for voting for me and for allowing me to serve them for so long.
This is another subject with which I have been deeply connected, both as a proud Member of the House and as a proud Jewish leader. I am glad to be able to speak immediately after my hon. Friend—he is both honourable and my friend—the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), with whom I have fought many human rights battles. I pay tribute to him for his service in the House.
When listening to the debate, I wondered just how much people understood of the pressures that are on Mr. Netanyahu. I have spent the past 18 years trying, unsuccessfully, to get rid of the Conservative Government, and I am not very good at getting rid of the Governments of other countries. I did not vote for this lot in here and would not have voted for that lot over there, but we have to understand what Prime Minister Netanyahu has achieved. He went into an election saying, "No land for peace," and he broke his election manifesto promise. Conservative Members should understand that—although he did it for good reasons. He did so at a price: alas, the price is now being paid to members of his unruly Cabinet concerning matters in Jerusalem. I do not disagree with the points that have been made, but we must understand the political balance in a vibrant, vehement and difficult democracy. In that part of the world, it is almost alone in that.
I have been privileged to visit almost all the Arab countries that are happy to accept a Jewish visitor, and one or two that usually are not, such as Saudi Arabia. I have 826 been received with great courtesy, and I hope that I have played some part in the continuing peace process. The greatest moment of this aspect of my life was when I attended Oslo, not for the agreement, but when Prime Minister Rabin, Foreign Minister Peres and President Arafat jointly received the Nobel peace prize. Rabin was my friend, and he was a great man. Shimon Peres is my friend, and I value him and am deeply attached to him, his philosophy and his person. Arafat I have become friends with, and I hope so much that the peace process will continue.
I am one of only two or three people in the House who speak Arabic. I am the only one who speaks both Hebrew and Arabic, unless the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) has been learning to speak them in his long periods away from the House during this Session. What matters to me is that we can converse, communicate and understand each other. I am not sure how much good it does to lecture Prime Ministers of other countries about how they should do their job, when we are so desperately unsuccessful in getting the Prime Minister of own country to do his as we want him to, but it is the privilege of democratic friends to try. It is a privilege that we have exercised to its full.
It is a privilege to serve in this House. It is a privilege that I shall miss dreadfully. I am grateful to hon. Members, to Ministers and to members of the Foreign Office team, with whom I have often disagreed, but who have done so much for me so courteously. I thank them all, and I bid farewell by saying how deeply appreciative I am of the privilege that I have enjoyed for so very long thanks to the good people of Leicester, West.
§ Mr. Tarn Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I was greatly moved by the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), because if there was ever an issue-cause politician, he is it. I remember his maiden speech and that of my right hon. Friend—I shall call him that—the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) when he was the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. I was moved by what he had to say also.
I shall be crisp. I have had 10 debates on Libyan sanctions, but the Minister will be relieved to know that I just want to make two new points.
First, will the Government reflect on what happened in the St. Albans Crown court in the case of Regina v. Rees and Rotheroe? Judge Colston said:In my judgment, the material which has been disclosed today indicates that there was within the Department at the material time concerns about the application of relevant sanctions legislation, and the way that it was being applied by the DTI.Why did Judge Colston stop an important case and describe the actions of the Department of Trade and Industry as an "affront to justice"?
How much did the case of Regina v. Rees and Rotheroe cost the public in preparation and lawyers' fees?
Lawyers told the Department of Trade and Industry of their massive concerns about inconsistencies in the application of sanctions against Libya. Will the Government disclose the relevant documents to Parliament? Do Ministers agree that there is cause for urgent public concern?
827 Does this matter not fly in the face of the rigorous implementation claims? I refer to the answer given to me when I askedthe President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on his discussions with the US Government on Libyan sanctions, and the cases of British nationals who have allegedly transgressed UN sanctions.The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) replied:I have been asked to reply.We regularly discuss UN sanctions against Libya with the US Government. Both Governments remain committed to the rigorous implementation of the sanctions until Libya has complied fully with UN Security Council Resolutions 731 and 748.Any contravention of the legislation implementing these sanctions in the UK is a matter for the competent prosecuting authorities."— [Official Report, 26 November 1996; Vol. 286, c. 150.]In one sense, it seems like Matrix Churchill revisited, but I come from a different direction on the whole business of Libyan sanctions. The people who really lose are those in British industry, because Libya was one of our traditional markets.
I do not doubt that Libya did bad things in the early 1980s when it supplied arms to the IRA. It is questionable whether it was responsible for the terrible murder of Yvonne Fletcher, but I am certain, for reasons that I have endlessly outlined to the House, that it was not responsible for Lockerbie, which is the immediate cause of sanctions, which deeply harm one of our traditional markets, where most of the decision makers were educated at British universities and not at American universities. I believe that we make a mistake by following America's lead on Libyan matters.
Secondly, I want to ask about Iraq. To demonise the leadership, rightly or wrongly, is hardly a mandate to punish the whole population. Unfortunately, that has been the fate of the Iraqi people since the imposition of a draconian sanction in 1990.
I want to ask about Ambassador Ekeus's mission. The special commission was established in 1991 to oversee the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme. Ekeus has since expressed a reluctance to define a programme of completion, and to provide a proper framework of inspection.
Regrettably, earlier this month, Ekeus was forthright in stating without reservation or remorse that Iraq may be developing or acquiring a long-range missile capability. Paradoxically, Iraq, before and during the Gulf war, was in possession of a sizeable arsenal of chemical weapons, but failed to use them. Incidentally, the technology and materials for those lethal weapons were sold to Iraq by all the countries that are permanent members of the Security Council.
If Ekeus and his team were diligent in their task, surely they would have come up with more confirmed reports. There is no "maybe" about it. One wonders whether they are aware of the commonly known fact that Iraq's economy is mortgaged for generations to come: its whole infrastructure is in tatters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale visited Iraq with Bishop Tom Butler, the Bishop of Leicester. He is nodding because he knows, as I do, what the terrible situation is on the ground. To embark on such a mammoth advanced technological programme, Iraq must have free access to the necessary financial and technological means.
828 Furthermore, the weakness of this statement by Ekeus may lie in his commission team's lavish life style in a ghetto created in Iraq, totally unaffected by the tragedies evolving around them, engulfed in the unrelated pursuit of historical site visits and acquiring antiquities and valuable antiques by the advantage of the strength of the US dollar—the dollar was equal to 1,300 dinar—in other words, stripping whatever is left of Iraqi national heritage.
One of the saddest experiences in the human tragedy was to go to the famous Iraq museum in Baghdad, and see how the great treasures of Sumeria and the earliest civilisations of the Tigris and the Euphrates had been treated. I believe—I have heard the same from museum personnel who are unconnected with politics—that it is disgraceful that people who are supposedly serving the United Nations are bringing home, either for themselves or for commercial profit, treasures from ancient Iraq.
It remains the case that the benefactors of this human tragedy are the western arms manufacturers. Democracy, human rights and Arab nationhood are a mirage on occasions, used by politicians to delude public opinion. Many advocate concern about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, but the harsh practicality is totally different. One cannot set aside recent replies by Madeleine Albright—We think the price is worth it"—on the sanctions-related death of 500,000 Iraqi children.
Having visited a children's hospital in Baghdad, I know that, whatever the politics involved, to see those infants expiring in one's presence is a dreadful thing. God knows what that is laying up for future generations. It will affect the attitude of a whole section of the Arab world towards the west. That is a disaster, which ought to be looked into by the incoming Government, whoever that will be.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) for initiating the debate. Having heard so many valedictory speeches today, I should make it clear that, although mine is also a valedictory speech, it is valedictory only in terms of the current Parliament: I intend to strive, might and main, to be in the next.
In that context, I take considerable heart from the experiences of Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. A few months ago, before the Israeli general election, all the pollsters and pundits were forecasting that he had not a hope of victory. I remember watching a television broadcast on the world network on election day, in which the Israeli Labour party proudly proclaimed, as the results were coming in, that it was back in power and that there would be a Labour Government. Indeed, a victory party was already in progress. In the end, of course, Mr. Netanyahu won the election, and he is Prime Minister today. I think that there is a lesson in that for members of all parties in the House.
Speaking as a Conservative, I am proud to describe the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) as my friend. He is retiring from the House in a few days' time. I have had the privilege of serving with him for part of his long career, and have seen him put up a real fight. Of course, he has fought on behalf of his constituents; that is his primary duty. As a member of the Jewish community in this country, however, and as one whose constituency contains a sizeable section of that community, let me say that the Jewish community has 829 been extremely proud of the hon. and learned Gentleman, in good times and, more important, in bad. He has risked unpopularity and criticism, and I dare say he has forfeited benefits in his party as a result of his determination to stand up for the causes in which he believes.
Those causes have ranged widely: he has spoken up not just for the state of Israel, but for many other causes involving human rights for the Jewish people and others throughout the world. I pay public tribute to that tremendous record of service. Let me echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack): I hope that we shall not miss the hon. and learned Gentleman's voice, views, work and actions in years to come.
As I said a moment ago, my constituency contains, in Manchester, a sizeable Jewish community. It is a proud community, because the area was the home of modem British Zionism. It is where Weizman came to work at the university, and where he went on to persuade the British Government to grant the first recognition of the possibility of a Jewish home in Israel. I am proud of that connection.
I must say to some of my colleagues on both sides of the House—who, of course, accept the need for Israel to have security—that the issue is real, and will not go away easily. The state of Israel has lived with the threat of extinction for 50 years, and the people know that, at the end of the day, only they themselves will stand with it. They cannot rely on outside forces to come to their rescue if their freedom and security are threatened. That has been their history for 50 years, and they know it well.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, as well as Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Rabin, contributed to the peace process. It should be remembered that he was the first to bring the Egyptians into that process. I remember when he sent Israeli bombers to Iraq to extinguish its nuclear capacity; as a result, many years later, our own forces were free from that threat in the Gulf. There was much criticism of what Begin did from all over the world and all sides of politics, but he did it to preserve Israel's security and, ultimately, ours.
I remind the House that there will be difficult times in the years to come. We all want peace in the middle east— that is the wish of everyone who lives there, not least those in Israel who have seen their sons and daughters killed and wounded for far too long—but that must be balanced by the knowledge that, whatever happens in the future, Israel is not facing extinction. It does not face a threat to its existence, or the end of what was and always has been a great dream. I hope that that will not be forgotten in the Parliaments of the future, of which I hope to be a part.
Theodore Hertzl, the founder of modern Zionism, said of the creation of the state of Israel, "If you will it, it is not a dream." I think that, if there are men and women of good will throughout the middle east who will it, peace too should not be a dream.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
It is a privilege to speak in the debate, and to follow so many hon. Members with a distinguished record in the House on, among other things, concern about middle east security. I welcome the debate, and congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks).
830 I taught in a school operated by the United Nations. It was one of the few places where, throughout the 1960s, children of Jewish-American origin, one or two children from Israel and students from a number of Arab countries showed that, if they were not subject to the prejudices that affect many who are much closer to the situation, they could work and learn together in harmony. However, I want to make a couple of observations not because of that experience, but because my limited parliamentary experience has involved two visits to the Lebanon, one of which happened to coincide with the kidnapping of Durani by Israeli forces. That created a period of tension. The second visit was only last April when we saw the start of the attack on Lebanon and witnessed the beginning of shelling in the middle eastern mini-war.
§ Mr. John Marshall
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the problem of Lebanon and Israel is a two-way problem? I remember standing on the border between Lebanon and Israel and hearing on the news 10 days later that where I had stood had been the subject of an attack from within Lebanon and that people had died. Some of my friends said that the people had got their timing wrong. Does he accept that, if the kibbutzim are being attacked day after day by mortars and missiles, the Israeli Government have to react?
§ Mr. Gunnell
Wherever there is conflict, there are always two sides to the issue. When we talk about the peace process, we are talking about a process in which, although we hope that parties will come together and recognise the larger good that is secured by peace, there are elements of provocation on both sides. Were that not the case, we would not have such difficult conflicts to resolve. I certainly want to follow through the views of hon. Members who have expressed the wish that the peace process continues in a firm way, and of those who recognise that the Har Homa settlement development is a block in the peace process. I certainly join those hon. Members who have said to Mr. Netanyahu in the debate that they wish that he would feel able to call a halt to that settlement, because we see it doing lasting damage to the peace process. Indeed, we think that it will prove very difficult to get the momentum back into the peace process if the development goes ahead.
I am perhaps more influenced by my role as an observer in a European Union team that witnessed the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Assembly. Through being present at the elections, one got the sense, particularly perhaps because I was in the rural area of Qalqilya, of the joy of the ordinary people who were taking part in the election—the joy that they were free to vote. I met very elderly people who explained to me that it was the first time that they had had the opportunity to vote and who gave me some sense of what that meant to them.
Four generations of one family were all able to vote for the first time. It was clearly an occasion that gave them not a sense of bitterness about the experiences of their life, but the same sense of hope and forward-looking attitude as we have seen in other areas where elections have been held, almost unexpectedly in terms of the slow progress in the development of moves towards peace.
It is important that we get the peace process back on track. Those people took the election seriously, but, above all, they wanted recognition of a Palestinian state. They looked forward to that, because they seemed to be in 831 a period of promise. The area in which I was observing the election was very rural, so there were no hotels in which, it was thought, members of an EU observation team could stay. Therefore, we stayed in a settlement. I think that we were the only observation team to do so.
It was interesting to talk to people at the settlement and to see the different attitudes. One of our two election teams, a team of Swedes, had gone out perhaps 200 or 300 yards on election morning before the flat tyre on their vehicle became evident. The British consulate made it clear that it believed that that flat tyre was no coincidence. Indeed, an object had obviously been knocked into the tyre because some people did not wish the process to go ahead at that stage. That demonstrated that there were those who violently opposed the agreement.
The turn of events has shown that those people have had considerable influence since. We understand the pressures on Mr. Netanyahu. We think that it is important to focus on the problem of Jerusalem. We know that this Government have recognised the importance of east Jerusalem, but the ringing round of Jerusalem by settlements, which is more or less completed by the Har Homa development, has been accompanied by pressures on Arabs living in east Jerusalem to leave it. Although we could not, as yet, describe that process as anything like ethnic cleansing, it has some features of that: the mood is that people who are Arabs are not welcome in east Jerusalem. That meant that the experience of election day for Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem was very different from the experience that I witnessed in rural areas.
I am anxious to join other hon. Members in hoping that the peace process is not stalled and that, whatever the result of our election, the United Kingdom Government will continue to take a stand on issues involving Jerusalem and to support United Nations resolutions. I recognise that we would have supported the recent UN resolution that was vetoed by the United States. I hope that, in continuing discussions within the Euro-Med agreement, we can ensure that pressures for the recognition of human rights are sustained. To that end, I join other hon. Members in wishing that middle east security can be underpinned by a recognition of the human rights of all the people who live there.
§ 12.7 pm
§ Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) on securing this debate. It is an extremely important debate in terms of its timing, but it is also an occasion that, over the next few weeks, many of us who have been able to participate will well remember, because it has shown that the House of Commons is rational and that we can conduct debate in a sensible way. Perhaps there will not be much of that atmosphere in the country in the next few weeks. Therefore, we should enjoy it and perhaps luxuriate in it this morning.
It has also been a great pleasure to be here for the valedictory speeches of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner). My path crossed that of my hon. and learned Friend before I became a Member. I was the unsuccessful Labour candidate for Bosworth in 1979. My great achievement was to turn what was then a marginal Conservative seat into a safe Conservative seat. 832 My successor as Labour candidate was my hon. and learned Friend's son and he did worse than I did, so our paths crossed at that point. I am sorry that his son has not followed in his footsteps—
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
The son of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) has joined us now.
§ Mr. Fatchett
I understand what has happened in the family, but, if my hon. and learned Friend's son had come into the House, he would have had to follow the extremely fine example that had been set by his father. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West has been a great servant of the people of Leicester; I know that from my own involvement with Leicestershire over the years. He has also been a great servant to his own community, and on the issues that we are discussing.
It was a great pleasure to hear the final speech by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) to the House. I am sure that, when the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said that we hoped that that would not be the right hon. Gentleman's final speech in the Houses of Parliament, his wishes were echoed on both sides of the House.
We do not have any nominating powers, so I cannot make any suggestion or offer to the right hon. Gentleman in that direction, but I am sure that I have the support of every hon. Member when I say that the right hon. Gentleman's period as a Member of the House of Commons will be well respected and fondly remembered. I am sure, too, that his contribution as leader of his party will go down in history as one that saw the party rebuilt in a modern way that gave it a very significant voice in British politics.
I agree whole-heartedly with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the arms trade. It is one of the big moral, economic and political challenges that faces us as we move into the next millennium. It is a travesty when extremely poor countries spend disproportionate amounts of their budgets on arms. There is no need or moral justification for that. We all realise that difficult decisions will be involved in reversing the process, but the task for all of us is to see what contribution we can make towards that end.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) rightly broadened the scope of the debate beyond the middle east peace process. I hope that they will accept my apologies for concentrating, in the few minutes left to me, on the peace process alone. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow raised, as always, some important moral and political issues that will not go away, which will have to be confronted in the next Parliament.
The mood of the House in the debate has been clear: we all want the peace process to continue. That is not surprising, because that process brings to those in the region opportunities for justice, security and prosperity, and to the rest of the world security in a sensitive region and the opportunity for expanded trade and economic development. The price of failure is great; the prize for success is immense. Therefore the peace process is important to each and every one of us.
All the contributions to the debate have made, with justification, the same point—that the peace process is at a crossroads. That is right, although we must remind 833 ourselves that significant progress has been made over the past few years. The contributions of many people, as statesmen, have already been mentioned. The decision on the Hebron agreement was crucial for the Likud Government, because it endorsed the peace process and they are now part of that process. That is not to say—and nobody is saying—that the process will continue to move easily towards a final settlement. That is not how things will be, and we know about all the difficulties.
May I draw to the attention of the House, if I need to do so, the dreadful events of last Thursday, when Israeli schoolgirls were killed. We in the House find it easy to understand the grief, because of the events in Dunblane almost exactly a year ago.
Out of those tragic events of last Thursday, some important developments arose. The fact that King Hussein of Jordan felt able to visit Israel and join the grieving family is in itself a tremendously significant statement and act. We all congratulate him on the role that he has played in trying to maintain the peace process.
Naturally, hon. Members have mentioned the Har Homa settlement, and on that subject there is no difference between the two sides of the House. In our view the settlement is contrary to the United Nations resolutions and is an impediment to peace. We ask Prime Minister Netanyahu to think again.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire talked about the need for statesmanship, and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale drew attention to the difference between politics and statesmanship. An act of statesmanship is desperately required from all the parties to the middle east peace process—an act inspired not by immediate political gain, but by the need to ensure that the long-term interests of the people of the region and of the countries directly affected are recognised and put first.
The message arising from the debate is clear. We wish to see that act of statesmanship by the key players. We want them to follow the example that King Hussein has so clearly set.
The way in which this country can make a contribution to the middle east peace process has already been described. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale talked about the role of the European Union, and it is important that that body speaks with a consistent co-ordinated voice on questions affecting the peace process. The role already played by envoy Moratinos has been especially important. The hon. Member for Southport need not worry about any embryonic European foreign policy here; what he needs to think about, in a common-sense way, is how we can co-ordinate things and make a contribution to the long-term objective that we all share.
That does not mean going around the region pitting one country against another; it means using the expertise, knowledge and experience that we have, and the friendships that Britain, almost uniquely, has on both the Israeli and the Arab side. Let us build on those to play a constructive role, not in competition with the United States but in support—with the need, occasionally, to be a candid friend to the United States and to say that things are not being done in the right way, and that we have some advice and experience to offer.
834 That is an important role for this country and for the European Union. There is something on which we in this country can pride ourselves. I shall even give the Government some credit for it, although that may be the last time that I say that over the next few weeks. We can give the Government credit for the contribution that this country has made towards EU aid for the Palestinians.
It is clear enough that there must be a real financial benefit for the Palestinians from the Oslo process. Since the Oslo agreement, their standard of living has fallen by 20 per cent. There must be a relationship in which people can see not only peace and justice but economic prosperity too.
I shall finish on the thought that although we shall be divided over the next few weeks, one thing will unite the House when it returns after the election, and will unite whatever party is in government. That is our wish to make a continuing commitment to peace in the middle east—a peace to bring security to the people of Israel and justice for the long term for all the people within the region. If we can make a contribution to that, we shall have made a significant contribution to a better world.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)
I had intended to make a longer speech at this point, because the title of the debate covers such a wide area, and so many important matters have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members. However, unfortunately I have been left with even less time than I would usually have in a normal half-hour Adjournment debate.
I wanted to heap fulsome praise on the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), who is a good friend, and has worked closely with me on foreign affairs for nearly two years. I also wanted to pay tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who is also a good friend. However, I know that they will both allow me to express on another occasion my feelings about their contributions to the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) on his choice of debate. Because the contributions to the debate have been long, my comments must be short. I hope that the House will accept that my brevity is a sign not of rudeness, but of the fact that I must now get down to business.
I know that many hon. Members share my concern about the situation that has developed in Israel and the occupied territories. Sadly, events since January have largely dissipated the good will generated by the Hebron agreement. The start of the construction of the settlement of Har Homa in one of the few gaps in the ring of Israeli settlements around the Arab area of East Jerusalem can do nothing but harm to the peace process, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out yesterday. The international community agrees that this settlement, like all settlements, is illegal. It also goes against the spirit of the Oslo agreement.
It is very disappointing that the Israeli Government have decided to go ahead, against all the advice of the international community. The fact that they have done so damages the peace process and, I believe, damages Israel too—not only in her relations with other states, but in the prospects for the peace and security desired by the vast 835 majority of Israelis. Regrettably, the tension caused by this issue has caused mistrust in other aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
We welcomed the fact that the first stage of Israeli redeployment on the west bank was announced on time, but we are aware that its extent caused disappointment among the Palestinians. We must remember that the Palestinian track remains central to the peace process, and indeed to the whole question of security in the middle east. Since the start of the process, when there were positive moves on that track, there has been greater optimism and stability across the region. When there have been difficulties between Israel and the Palestinians, dangerous tensions have arisen.
Events since the start of the year have demonstrated that contrast starkly. The signature of the Hebron agreement showed that the Government of Mr. Netanyahu regarded themselves as bound by the Oslo process, which had made such gains under the previous Israeli administration. Indeed, the strong majority in the Knesset for the Hebron agreement was an encouraging signal for further progress on the Palestinian track. The first subsequent stage of Israeli redeployment on the west bank was set for early March, and the start of final status talks for mid-March. As I have said, Hebron lifted our hearts somewhat.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting this week to see if they can find a way to return to the process that had resumed after Hebron. We hope they will succeed. One casualty of the current inflamed situation has been the scheduled start of the final status talks. These talks are to determine the shape of an overall settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, and we have urged both sides not to allow the timetable to slip further. If final status talks are to succeed, an atmosphere of confidence will need to be restored—above all, there must be an end to unilateral moves that create mistrust and the risk of violent reaction.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear repeatedly our views on settlements and related issues. I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), as I have done so often on this matter, that there is solidarity in the House. There is a need for both sides to do all that they can to reduce the tension that has arisen. We took a firm line in the UN Security Council debate, and at the General Assembly. We have played a leading role in the efforts of the EU— particularly through its special envoy Miguel Moratinos, to whom we give our full support and co-operation. He is doing an excellent job, and we hope that he can restore the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating relationship.
We have heard this morning about the EU-Israel association agreement, which was debated at length in Committee a month ago today. The agreement is part of the Union's efforts to support the stable and prosperous development of the region. A parallel agreement with the Palestinians was signed by the General Affairs Council last month. The final decision to adopt the EU-Israel agreement will need to be taken by Ministers in the General Affairs Council after all member states have ratified it. While the peace process continues to make progress, there is no good argument for holding this up. But if progress is halted, EU-Israel relations generally could not fail to be affected. I therefore cannot say whether this will be a succesful negotiation.
836 As for the Syrian-Lebanese tracks, we must understand there can be no comprehensive peace in the region without peace between Israel and Syria, and we very much hope that negotiations broken off last year can be restarted on the basis of land for peace. Progress on that track could lead to movement on the Lebanese track, and an end to the tragic on-going fighting in southern Lebanon which has claimed so many lives on both sides, including in the Lebanese civilian population. The people of Israel want to see no more of their young men and women dying in south Lebanon. It is up to Israel to make progress.
On aid to the Palestinians, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central for his comment. The UK will disburse some £28 million in aid to the Palestinians this financial year and we are giving the EU a great deal of support, which is included in that figure.
I shall put the question of middle east security in the context of our prime interests in the Gulf. In the past 15 years, the stability of the region, and thus the economic well-being of the Gulf states, has twice been threatened by aggression. With two thirds of the world's proven reserves of oil in the Gulf—in a world increasingly dependent on oil—the western nations, including Britain, have a paramount interest in secure access to the Gulf. It is now over six years since the end of the Gulf war, and our Gulf friends know that, as we demonstrated in 1994, they can count on our help. Our long-standing association with the Gulf and a wide range of shared interests mean that the UK in particular has a strong interest in securing and underpinning peace and stability in the Gulf, and containing any threats.
A key strand of our policy in that region is our enthusiastic support for the Gulf Co-operation Council— to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southport referred—which we have supported since its inception in 1981. We are committed to helping the GCC states establish co-ordinated defence forces, which are essential for their assured future. Those arrangements need to be matched by greater political co-ordination and co-operation. I am happy to give credit where credit is due, and I heartily welcome the recent agreement between Bahrain and Qatar—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southport also referred, in his excellent speech—to improve their bilateral relations and to appoint ambassadors. We hope that that process of consultation and consolidation will continue. We shall also continue to take the lead in promoting constructive dialogue between the EU and the GCC.
We are also concerned by the continuing dispute between the UAE and Iran over Abu Musa and the Tunbs islands. We have urged both parties to seek a peaceful resolution and are happy to support the UAE proposal to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice. I urge the Iranians to enter into serious negotiations to resolve that dispute.
Britain makes an extensive military contribution to Gulf security. We contribute to operations Northern and Southern Watch over Iraq. We have maintained a naval presence in the Gulf since 1980, through the Armilla patrol. We also work closely with the Gulf states to see how we can best help support them in their defence needs. These are a few examples of Gulf security, but we stand ready to offer any additional help that might be needed with training or in supplying defence equipment.
837 Gulf trade has increased dramatically. Combined exports to the six GCC countries in 1996 totalled almost £5.25 billion—an increase of 26.8 per cent. over 1995. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were, respectively, our 13th and 24th largest export markets. Saudi Arabia is our foremost non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development market, and our exports there rose by 51 per cent. last year. I was pleased to attend the inaugural meeting of the UK-Dubai joint trade committee on board Britannia. The enormous strides made by the UAE on the economic front in recent years provide good opportunities for the UK and Europe. Our fundamental interests in the Gulf are almost identical with those of the GCC countries, and our perception of the threat is also identical.
As for Iraq, Saddam Hussein poses a serious threat to middle east security. As recently as October 1994, he threatened to invade Kuwait once again, and only the swift and robust response of the international community stopped him. He is a danger to his own people, and I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) supports him. Only last year, Saddam Hussein used his considerable military machine to attack civilians in Irbil—a clear flouting of Security Council resolution 688. I say yet again to the hon. Member for Linlithgow that food and medicines have never been subject to sanctions. If there are starving children in Iraq, it is the fault of Saddam Hussein, who builds glorified palaces to his name and his honour when people are starving. Blame him, do not blame this House, Sir.
Following the Gulf war, we established a special commission to oversee the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. We provide strong support to that commission. I must again tell the hon. Gentleman that members of the United Nations special commission in Iraq carry out vital work. They are trying to spot weapons of mass destruction, which it is said could kill the world's population six times over. All the hon. Gentleman wants to do is to make cheap criticism of their work and their accommodation. I should have thought that they should be congratulated on their achievements instead of subjected to unjustified criticism.
We now have United Nations Security Council resolution 986. There is a greater amount of money—