HL Deb 15 July 1994 vol 556 cc2086-8

11.25 a.m.

Lord Mayhew asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assurances they received, when raising the embargo on arms sales to Israel, that British weapons would not be used in Lebanon or elsewhere in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have received assurances from Prime Minister Rabin that Israel recognises its international border with Lebanon and has no territorial claims on Lebanese territory. All applications for the sale of arms to Israel are considered case by case in the light of international guidelines. These include whether a proposed transfer would be likely to increase tension in the region or to contribute to regional instability.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I ask the noble Baroness for an assurance that no licences will be issued which might involve the use of British weapons against Lebanese or Palestinians in defiance of the Security Council resolutions and the Geneva Conventions.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is right in saying that we should regard very carefully any licences, but particularly these licences. Having lifted our arms embargo on Israel we are now in line with our European partners, but that does not mean that we disregard what goes on in the region. We believe that regional stability is paramount in considering all applications for arms sales to Israel, not only as regards the Lebanese but those in Palestine, the Gaza Strip or the West Bank.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, what precautions, physical and otherwise, will be taken to ensure that our country in no way infringes United Nations Security Council resolutions? A word of mouth promise would be insufficient and could damage the good name of this nation.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, all the normal action will be taken by the Foreign Office in this matter. We have certainly worked hard behind the scenes to see a peace come to the Middle East. We want to see the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon as Security Council Resolution 425 calls for. We will go on keeping a close watch because we have been asked by Mr. Arafat to give considerable help in the region. That help would come to nothing unless all the things the noble Lord has asked for were also in place.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does the Minister agree that at a time of delicate negotiations in the Middle East, Questions of this kind which cast doubt upon the good faith both of the Government of Israel and in fact on the good faith of Her Majesty's Government do nothing to help the peace process and may do something to hinder it?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are times when I am sure that Ministers at this Bench have often thought that Questions are not particularly helpful to the matters in hand. However, as far as this matter is concerned, we welcome the efforts that are being made in the discussions between Israel and the PLO which started in Cairo on 1lth July, and indeed the discussions which will start with Jordan next week because it is crucial that the discussions go on. Irrespective of whether the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is helpful or not, what is important is that the discussions towards full peace in the Middle East continue.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that anything which helps the Israeli Government fulfil their obligations under the peace process is extremely welcome? However, this matter is completely different. Does she not realise that it is unprecedented for this country to permit the export of arms to a country which is in breach of Security Council resolutions?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is not quite right. What we have done is to make sure that we deal with Israel according to the international guidelines agreed by the permanent five members of the UN Security Council in October 1991, by European Union members in June 1991 and June 1992, and by CSCE countries in November 1993. We are certainly not out of line with our partners in any way but we say that regional stability is paramount when we consider all these matters.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the most helpful steps in the peace process would be the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanese territory, as required by Security Council resolution? Can the Minister say what steps we are taking to encourage and persuade Israel to effect that withdrawal?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows only too well, the Foreign Office is continuously engaged in trying to make that happen through the normal channels. However, as I said in answer to an earlier question, we fully support the implementation of Security Council Resolution 425 calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. We make our views clearly known, as we did on the occasion when Israel abducted Dirani from Lebanon. That was a clear breach of international law. Our views continue to be made known throughout.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government also intend to end the arms embargo against Syria? If that is the intention, can she say what the timetable will be?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness an exact answer to that question. Obviously we hope that at some time that will be possible but it will happen only when there is stability within the Middle East.