HL Deb 19 January 1981 vol 416 cc239-41

2.43 p.m.

Lord Brockway

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 they will make a statement on the proceedings of the conference on Namibian independence; and what action they propose following its failure.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Lord Carrington)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are deeply disappointed by the failure to achieve agreement on a date for a cease-fire in March leading to independence for Namibia by the end of 1981. It proved impossible to reach agreement at the Geneva meeting 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 set-back 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.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I thank the Minister for that very full statement. May I ask him whether he will accept that I am so gravely concerned about the consequences of this failure that I will refrain from criticism of South Africa and the DTA and seek to suggest a way to settlement? Is he aware that the proposal is made for economic sanctions but that would be vetoed by the Security Council? Is there not another approach? SWAPO, with the support of the front line states, has proposed that United Nations' support for it should be withdrawn when a date is fixed for the cease-fire. Would it not be possible for the General Assembly of the United Nations to carry a Motion to that effect? If they did, would it not be very difficult for South Africa and the DTA to resist it?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for what he has said and I certainly should like to look at his suggestion. There is no doubt that one of the factors which affected the South African decision to say that the implementation was premature was their feeling that the United Nations was not impartial. There were attempts to give undertakings to satisfy the South Africans and the internal parties about this. But they were not sufficient. This may be one way of doing it and I am grateful to the noble Lord for suggesting it.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, may I very warmly welcome the forthright and clear statements made by the Foreign Secretary on this matter and strongly support the suggestion made by my noble friend. We agree that the best way to move forward without losing the momentum which the Foreign Secretary, foremost among others, secured for us in this matter towards the end of last year, would be to reconvene the Five and other countries and to consult them with a view to reconvening the conference as soon as possible under United Nations' auspices on the basis that the unilateral and singular recognition of SWAPO, as the only negotiating body, would be dropped in favour of a more comprehensive basis for negotiation.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. What I think is absolutely essential—because I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said about the gravity of the breakdown of these negotiations—is that we should continue to seek a settlement and do what we can to avert a complete breakdown. Consequently, any suggestions which are made will be looked at most carefully by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, could the Government say what would be the earliest date on which the General Assembly, if it were so minded, could pass a resolution such as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway? In view of what the Foreign Secretary said about progress not being thrown away, could he in the meanwhile seek an assurance from the South African authorities that they would be prepared to adhere to the original timetable if such a Motion were passed?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the last part of the noble Lord's question is going a little fast. What I said was that we would look and see whether there was anything that could be done on the lines of what the noble Lords, Lord Brockway and Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said. With regard to his first supplementary question, I must confess that I am afraid that I do not know.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, is it correct that the General Assembly, under the charter, has no power to give effect to its resolutions and that is one of the difficulties?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the original resolution was passed by the General Assembly and consequently a further resolution by the General Assembly would have the effect of rescinding it.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord two questions. First, his statement that the South Africans doubt the impartiality of the United Nations on this issue. In his view are the South Africans correct in having those doubts? The second point that I should like to ask him is this: In a general way have we any preference as to whether the future Government of Namibia is on our side or the other side? If we have a preference in the matter, what are we doing about it?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, whether or not the South African Government are right or wrong about the partiality of the United Nations, before any United Nations' agreement comes into operation what we must make sure is that the United Nations is impartial. That is absolutely essential. Regarding the second part of the noble Lord's question, I always prefer people who are on my side; but, on the other hand, perhaps it is better for the people of Namibia to make up their own minds.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have written to a leading member of the un-aligned nations suggesting that they should propose a Motion of this kind at the General Assembly and I have informed the chairman of SWAPO and of the front line states? Will the British Government indicate to them their support if such a Motion were introduced?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, the noble Lord has sprung this suggestion on me without any previous notice. I think that I should like to consider it a little more before making so positive a statement. But I will certainly examine it.