HC Deb 01 March 1995 vol 255 c1029
4. Mr. Mudie

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest situation in Western Sahara.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

The United Nations Secretary-General stated in his report to the Security Council in December that, subject to further satisfactory progress, he hoped to be able to recommend in March that the referendum on Western Sahara be held in October this year. Security Council resolution 973, adopted in January, provided for the reinforcement of the UN's identification commission, which should enable the compilation of the voter list to be speeded up.

Mr. Mudie

The House will be delighted with that reply. I should be grateful if the Minister would assure the House that he will instruct our representatives at the United Nations to take any necessary initiative if there seems any likelihood that the date will not be adhered to.

Mr. Hogg

I am pleased to be able to give the hon. Gentleman pleasure. There is, however, a problem with the speed at which voter identification is taking place. The commission is processing voters at a rate of about 2,000 a week, so it might be difficult to make the October date, but we would most certainly like the referendum to take place at the latter end of this year.

Sir David Steel

Is the Minister aware that since the United Nations peacekeeping effort in Western Sahara began about three and a half years ago, £87 million has been spent on the operation and there has been a great deal of foot-dragging? Will he note the evidence given by Ambassador Ruddy to the United States congressional committee in respect of this foot-dragging; and will he do his level best to ensure that the date does not slip?

Mr. Hogg

I very much hope that the date will not slip. The Ruddy allegations are serious and the United Nations has sent a team to investigate whether they have substance.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Apart from the problem of registration of voters, has the Foreign Office detected any other problems which may impede the referendum? There has been quite a lot of opposition hitherto.

Mr. Hogg

The identification of voters is a substantial obstacle to holding the referendum in October, although I hope that it will be possible to hold it then. I do not immediately call to mind any other problems, but knowing the nature of the business I suspect that there are some. However, the identification of voters is certainly the principal difficulty.

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