HC Deb 21 January 1981 vol 997 cc246-8
5. Mr Cyril D. Townsend

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the future of Namibia.

8. Mr. Dobson

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on Namibia.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Richard Luce)

Her Majesty's Government are deeply disappointed by the failure to achieve agreement on a date for a ceasefire in March leading to independence for Namibia by the end of 1981. It proved impossible at the Geneva meeting to reach agreement in view of the statement of the delegation led by the South African Administrator General that it was "premature" to agree on an implementation date. This is an especially regrettable setback after the great efforts of the United Nations, the Western Five and the front-line States to meet the reasonable concerns of South Africa and the internal parties. We support the chairman's closing appeal to those concerned to reconsider their position. The Five will review the position with the other participants in the negotiations and we shall discuss the problem with the new American Administration. Meanwhile, the progress made so far in preparing the ground for a settlement should not be thrown away.

Mr. Townsend

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are grateful to him and his officials for their sterling efforts in attempting to achieve a satisfactory conclusion at Geneva? Is he aware that the resulting failure at Geneva has encouraged the Soviet Union to continue to support Cuban forces in Angola?

Mr. Luce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first remark. I believe that any failure to reach an agreement is a setback for the people of Namibia and for all the surrounding States, including South Africa, and for the West. The only people who stand to gain from discontent and violence are the Soviet Union and its satellites.

Mr. Dobson

What pressures are the British Government bringing to bear on the South African Government, particularly in view of their general soft approach to South Africa, epitomised by the Prime Minister's statement that her desire is to bring South Africa in out of the cold?

Mr. Luce

The British Government have been working closely with the four Western Powers to persuade all the parties to compromise and reach an agreement. We should not underestimate the progress made over, admittedly, a long time. We should not underestimate the extent to which the gap was closed—until last week's setback.

Mr. Amery

Is my hon. Friend aware that although, of course, there is disappointment at the failure to reach agreement, there would have been a great deal more disappointment among many if an agreement had been reached that led to a SWAPO Government taking over Namibia? Does he agree that the South African Government have made their position clear, namely, that they will not accept United Nations' sponsored elections until the impartiality of the United Nations has been established over a prolonged period? Does he accept that to suggest anything else is, to say the least, misleading?

Mr. Luce

I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares our objective of stability in Southern Africa. I am sure, too, that he believes, as the Government do, that one of the best ways to achieve stability is by free and fair elections and that it is not for us but for the people of Namibia to choose their Government. That is the best way to achieve stability in that part of the world.

My right hon. Friend asked about United Nations supervision of the elections. He is right. There has been genuine anxiety on the part of the internal parties and of the South African Government about whether the United Nations would supervise free and fair elections. One of the main objectives of last week's conference was to see whether there could be common ground with a view to reassuring the parties that the United Nations would be genuinely impartial. I believe that Mr. Urquhart has made a series of proposals which should be considered seriously and reflected upon by all the parties as a gesture in that direction.

Mr. Healey

I offer my support to the hon. Gentleman, as he is supporting a bipartisan policy on Namibia. In answer to his right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), does he agree that responsibility for this tragic breakdown rests unequivocally with the Government of South Africa, who clearly went to Geneva intending to wreck the conference and in bad faith, and that the SWAPO organisation, on the contrary, showed great flexibility and moderation in seeking to relieve the United Nations of its responsibility for recognising SWAPO as the only representative of the peope of Namibia?

Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary go to see President Reagan they will make it clear to him that the credibility of the West in Africa is now at stake and that it is essential that the five Western Powers should continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the front-line States in finding a solution to this problem along lines that have already been agreed in principle by all concerned?

Mr. Luce

If the right hon. Gentleman does not regard it as too patronising coming from me, may I first congratulate him on his new position?

I come to South Africa and the role that she has played. Looking back on last week—as the right hon. Gentleman may know, I was able to attend the second half of the conference—I can say that it was the Administrator General himself who said that he felt that it would be premature to reach an agreement at that stage, and therefore it was the South Africans' decision not to go ahead. Looking back over several months, or even several years, of negotiations, however, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it has required compromise from all the parties, and that it would not be right to cast the blame on one party solely. But with regard to last week, the position is plain.

I should have thought that it would be only sensible, and that the right hon. Gentleman would agree, to say that the new United States Administration must have time to consider the situation in Southern Africa. I noticed that the new Secretary of State, in his evidence to the Senate, said that he wanted negotiations, a negotiated settlement and stability in Southern Africa.

Mr. Jim Spicer

Given that we shall almost certainly see an increase in terrorism against the Ovambo people by SWAPO guerrilla forces, can my hon. Friend give us any indication of the support role played by the Cuban, Russian and East German forces in Angola in helping those SWAPO forces to train for such attacks?

Mr. Luce

As my hon. Friend, who knows that area very well, will know, the Soviet Union and her satellites will always seek opportunities where they are available. The evidence is that a large number of Cuban troops, indeed thousands, are present in Angola. I believe that until we get a settlement that situation may well persist.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Minister aware that the constructive approach that he adopts in these matters would be strengthened if he responded more robustly to his right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)? I should be very concerned indeed if the Government shared the right hon. Gentleman's objectives in these matters. Can the Minister say what the next stage is with regard to the five Western Powers sitting down together to consider what initiative they can next take?

Mr. Luce

I believe that my right hon. Friend and I would both like to see stability in Southern Africa and would not like to see the Soviet Union and its satellites exploiting the situation there. However, we may have some disagreement on how we can best achieve that. I think that it is perfectly reasonable that we should debate this in the open.

With regard to the next stage, Mr. Brian Urquhart, who was the chairman of the conference last week, and who commanded the respect of all the parties, said that he felt that there was now a need for a period of reflection by all the parties. The new American Administration will also clearly need time to reflect. We shall certainly be ready to do what we can to help.