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Mordechai Vanunu

Volume 589: debated on Saturday 11 April 1998

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2.35 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Prime Minister raised the case of Mordechai Vanunu at his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister on 19th April, and what response he received.

My Lords, the Prime Minister did not raise the case of Mordechai Vanunu when he met the Israeli Prime Minister recently. However, we have already raised Mr. Vanunu's case with the Israeli Government on humanitarian grounds and, if necessary, will do so again.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for raising the case of Mr. Vanunu with the Israeli authorities. Is the Minister aware that recently the honourable Member for Islington North and myself presented to the Israeli Prime Minister and President a petition which had been signed by hundreds of people from all over the world, from Archbishop Desmond Tutu downwards, calling for Mr. Vanunu's release and that that release has been demanded also by Amnesty International? Does not the Minister believe that the continued detention of Mr. Vanunu is purely retributive in view of the fact that he has already spent 11 years wholly deprived of human company? That represents a much more severe sentence than the 20 years originally passed on him.

My Lords, I am indeed aware of the noble Lord's visit to Israel and his contact with the Israeli authorities. As a government, we have expressed our concern about the solitary confinement which was ended earlier this year. However, Mr. Vanunu is still in confinement. The Government have raised those humanitarian concerns with the Israeli Government and will continue to do so. That was done most recently by my honourable friend Mr. Derek Fatchett.

My Lords, will the Government use their best endeavours to make sure, first, that the prisoner is allowed to associate with other prisoners, and, secondly, that in due course and as soon as possible he is released?

My Lords, as I understand it, the solitary confinement has finished. There are other humanitarian concerns which we shall continue to raise. However, the aegis of Her Majesty's Government is relatively limited in this matter because the prisoner is being dealt with under Israeli law and there is no real locus for the UK Government.

My Lords, am I not right that on 13th December 1945, the House of Lords, sitting in the Queen's Robing Room, rejected an appeal against conviction for treason and sentenced to death one Lord Haw-Haw, who did not acquire his title either by heredity or appointment but through notoriety? Does my noble friend agree that if anyone committed the sort of treason against our country that Vanunu committed against his, that person would receive very little sympathy either in this House or in the country?

My Lords, the case to which my noble friend refers was slightly before my time but I am aware of the circumstances and the emotions surrounding it and the situation of British law at that time. Our concern is that Mr. Vanunu should be treated properly under Israeli law and on humanitarian grounds. As I say, we have raised those concerns with the Israeli Government from time to time and, if necessary, will continue to do so.

My Lords, given that the world has moved on in the past 45 years, does the Minister agree that Israel would wish to live by the highest standards of civilised and tolerant conduct? In particular, will he see whether steps can be taken to ensure that Mr. Vanunu receives visits from his family and from others who wish to see him?

My Lords, I hope that the Government of Israel will abide by humanitarian standards in that respect. Indeed, that will be one aspect of the representations which are made. We have made several representations to the Israeli Government on humanitarian grounds on a number of issues, many of which have been taken on board. We hope that the Israeli Government will continue to listen to points made in your Lordships' House, as well as to those made elsewhere, on behalf of this particular prisoner.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that Mr. Vanunu is greatly admired by all sensible people throughout the world because he blew the whistle when his government secretly and nefariously acquired a nuclear capacity?

My Lords, we have frequently expressed our concern about the Israeli development of a nuclear capability. Indeed, we have urged the Israeli Government to sign the non-proliferation treaties. To that extent, therefore, I agree with my noble friend that that is the actual issue, rather than necessarily the precise treatment of this prisoner, which I believe should continue to be dealt with under Israeli law.

My Lords, have the Government received any representations from the noble Lords, Lord Avebury, Lord Hylton and Lord Jenkins, regarding a free pardon for Dr. Klaus Fuchs and Dr. Alan Nunn May?

My Lords, although I am, in general, aware of those cases, I am unaware of any such representations.

My Lords, bearing in mind that the Government support the public interest disclosure legislation, which will affect residents in the UK, does not this case demonstrate the need for international action to protect international whistle-blowers who publicise information which is of benefit to the world-wide community?

My Lords, ideally, the answer is probably "yes". However, in practice, these issues are unlikely to be conceded by governments, all of whom have a legitimate security concern.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that Mr. Vanunu was originally enticed away from the territory of the UK? Therefore, does not that give us something of a locus in the matter? Further, will the Minister make representations to the Israeli authorities to allow Mr. Vanunu to see his brother, who has been deprived of the privilege of visiting him since he conveyed some questions, which were perfectly legitimate, to the Sunday Times?

My Lords, as I understand the issue, and as far as one can ascertain, Mr. Vanunu actually left UK soil of his own volition. Therefore, anything that happened subsequently did not happen on UK soil. Nevertheless, we do have a general humanitarian concern here, including on the issue of family visits. However, I believe that that was probably covered by my earlier answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.