HL Deb 05 February 1976 vol 367 cc1411-5

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether our representative at the United Nations, Mr. Ivor Richard, has made any representations to the Director General of that organisation to offer mediation in the present conflict in Angola.


My Lords, the Government are extremely concerned about the conflict in Angola and have been active in promoting the withdrawal of foreign forces and reconciliation between the parties. In the light of inquiries we have made, we do not believe that it would be helpful at the present time to take the initiative suggested by my noble friend; but we shall continue to keep the situation closely under review, and I would not rule out such an initiative at some time in the future.


My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for that Answer, but it is not altogether satisfactory. Can my noble friend explain why it is that this peace-keeping organisation, the United Nations, and its co-partner or its superior, the Security Council, seem to be reluctant to take any action vis-à-vis Angola? Can it be that they are reluctant to offend the Soviet Union who are involved? In those circumstances, could not the United Kingdom Government take the initiative? Surely they are not afraid of the Soviet Union.


My Lords, the United Nations, and certainly this Government, have to have regard to one central fact. The African countries have made it clear that they consider that the Angola situation is their primary responsibility. If later they decided that the United Nations could play a useful role we would do everything in our power to support them.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he agrees that the leverage of the Western Powers might be used against the Soviet Union regarding the question of Angola, and whether the Government have considered or are taking any steps for concerted action with our eight fellow Member States of the EEC and also with the USA?


Yes, indeed, my Lords. The attitude of our partners in the Community is very much in accord with the attitude we have taken: that is to say, that we deplore any outside intervention from any quarter in the internal affairs of Angola.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I entirely excuse him from any sentiment other than the correct one in a matter of this sort? But in reply to my Question he mentioned that the Organisation for African Unity seemed to be interested in the matter. Is there any evidence to that effect? Is it not extraordinary that the Organisation for African Unity also seems to be afraid of the Soviet Union? They have not moved an inch in the matter.


My Lords, those points raised by my noble friend represent his own points of view. I can only repeat that our information, which is based on very sound sources, is that the Continent of Africa, including important and influential States in that Continent, would deplore any initiative from outside Africa, either UN or otherwise. Until we have a consensus in Africa it would be foolhardy—possibly disastrous—for any other country to intervene.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the position in Angola has very serious implications so far as at least one Commonwealth country is concerned; namely, Zambia? So this is not a matter which can be left simply to the African countries of the OAU because they are almost equally divided on this matter. Is it not time that not only Her Majesty's Government but also other countries concerned with the development of Russian power in Africa took some initiative to try to resolve the present situation, which amounts to aggression by the Russians and the Cubans in Angola?


My Lords, what the noble Lord has said is that there are elements in this matter which have to be kept in mind, particularly when we consider how best and how productively to introduce into an African situation an initiative which is non-African. It is not an easy matter and Her Majesty's Government have taken the lead in consulting like-minded countries in the West as to how best to proceed.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not now think it appropriate that the large loans, at very special rates, for the provision of wheat to the Soviet Union should be reconsidered?


My Lords, would it not help to show our true feelings about Angola if we were to find some way of stopping mercenaries from going there from this country?


My Lords, there is an Act still on the Statute Book, the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870. I do not believe it has been invoked since the Jameson Raid in 1896, and it is not absolutely clear whether it would apply in the present situation, but this point is being urgently examined. We deplore, and we would seek to do everything in our power to stop, mercenary incursion from this country or any other country into Angola.


My Lords, can the noble Lord give any indication as to whether the reticence of our representative at the United Nations, complained of by the questioner, was in any way related to the apparent inexplicable reticence and neglect of our representative when Israel was being branded as racialist in the UN Security Council?


My Lords, there was certainly not reticence in denouncing the infamous charge against Israel that it was a racialist country. In fact we took the lead in denouncing such a thoroughly unfounded assertion. In regard to what we have been doing about Angola, I repeat that we have been in close consultation with other countries in the democratic West to see how best to move in this very important and difficult situation in Angola.


My Lords, reverting to the question of the mercenaries, is it not a fact that we have on the Statute Book the Foreign Enlistment Act, which I believe has never been used since the Jameson Raid?

A Noble Lord: The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has already said so.


My Lords, can that Act be got out of the cubbyhole, dusted and an effort made to see whether it is applicable to this situation?

A Noble Lord: My Lords, the noble Lord might listen to the answers.


My Lords, clearly my noble friend listened very closely to what I said just now because he has reproduced it in almost identical words. He omitted the last clause of what I said; namely, that we are looking at the applicability of the Foreign Enlistment Act with urgency to see how it can be applied to the Angolan situation.


My Lords, bearing in mind that the question of mercenaries, freedom fighters and others is rather beside the actual Question asked, may I ask whether the Minister would agree that despite the Government policy, for which I have respect, every time there is an international conflict of this kind—which this is—and the United Nations is not asked to intervene, that in itself weakens the United Nations? Further, is he able to tell us whether there has in fact been any discussion with the Secretary General about any possible intervention by him under Article 99 of the Charter?


My Lords, I could not answer definitively the second part of the question asked by my noble friend. I should like to look at that and be absolutely precise about it. On the first point, indeed when the United Nations—the world authority—is incapable of moving, here or at any other point of disturbance and danger, it is a weakening of the world authority. I would add that it does not devolve upon this country to take the initiative.


My Lords, is my noble friend not aware that the United Nations has sent a representative to inquire into the difficulties in Mauritania with the Polisario, and could they not again make some efforts in the direction indicated by the questioner, always bearing in mind that the intervention which has been provoked in Angola came in the first instance because of the under-cover operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and South Africa? If, in fact, we keep our noses out and leave these countries to develop their own affairs, in the long run the same thing may happen in Angola as happened in North Vietnam, and they will join the non-aligned group, where I happen to think the future destiny of this country ought to lie.


My Lords, there is a great deal in what was said by my noble friend Lord Wigg with which I am in agreement, but I disagree with him about one or two things in the middle of his intervention. What he has said suggests that those who intervene in situations like this may find that, in the end, their intervention is counter-productive, and the country that is the subject of that intervention may opt for a quite different alignment from that which they hoped for.