HL Deb 29 November 1990 vol 523 cc1091-8

5.14 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Namibia's attainment of independence and entry into the Commonwealth on 21st March this year were a great source of satisfaction to Britain. As a co-author of the UN plan for Namibian independence adopted in 1978 and a major contributor to the UN Transition Group (UNTAG), we played an important role in the independence process.

We have built up a close working relationship with the president and the new government. Our aid programme is an important element in this relationship. We have pledged £10 million over the next three years which is to be devoted to police training, education and health, and is designed to encourage good government, accountability and cost-effective use of resources. At President Nujoma's request and in addition to the £10 million package, we are also helping to train the Namibian army.

The purpose of the Bill before us today is to modify existing legislation to place Namibia on an equal footing with other Commonwealth countries for the purposes of UK law. The Bill follows earlier precedents, the most recent being the Pakistan Act 1990. It involves purely technical amendments to a number of Acts to apply them to Namibia. The Bill covers Namibia's relationship with the Commonwealth Institute. It provides for Namibian forces to be included in the definition of Commonwealth forces with implications for their legal status when visiting the UK, for example for training. It makes provision for the exercise of command and discipline when British and Commonwealth forces are serving together and for attachments of members of one force to another. The Bill also ensures that regulatory powers applying to the whaling industry will not apply to ships registered in Namibia as it is not appropriate for these powers to extend to the shipping of independent members of the Commonwealth.

Clause 2(2) of the Bill deems the Act to have come into force on 21st March 1990, the day Namibia achieved independence and became a member of the Commonwealth. There is no technical reason for this, but clearly there is a strong symbolic value in deeming the provisions of the Act to come into effect on Namibia's independence day.

I should remind your Lordships that the immigration and electoral implications of Namibia's admission to the Commonwealth have been dealt with separately by an Order in Council which came into effect on 25th August 1990. This added Namibia to the list of Commonwealth countries in Schedule 3 to the British Nationality Act 1981. With this brief summary of the Bill, I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(The Earl of Caithness.)

5.17 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, we are grateful for the clear explanation that the Minister gave of this small but nevertheless significant Bill. As the Minister said, the Bill aims to modify certain United Kingdom enactments in relation to the Commonwealth Institute, the armed services and visiting forces, and shipping in the light of the admission of Namibia to the Commonwealth. I, too, wish to take this opportunity to reiterate the sense of pleasure we all felt at Namibia's independence some months ago. I wish to express the high hopes we had and have that the people of Namibia will enjoy better lives now that they have emerged from the maelstrom of events which occurred in the long period of conflict which unfortunately lasted for many years in their country.

Although it is true that the eight months of independence have brought a kind of peace to Namibia, they have not, unfortunately, brought a glimmer of prosperity. It is on this worrying aspect of the extreme poverty of many areas in Namibia that I wish to comment. I wish to ask the Minister some questions about the part that Britain will play in this matter.

I believe that UNICEF is in a strong position to assess the needs of the Namibian people as that organisation drew up a country programme recommendation for assistance for Namibia for the transition period and for the first year of independence. In addition to establishing a child survival programme, UNICEF assisted in the repatriation of exiled Namibians. As many as 42,000 people were assisted in their return to Namibia.

The areas of main concern during both the transition period and the first months of independence were identified by UNICEF as, first, the larger numbers of vulnerable groups, including people who were internally displaced or had been led to migrate—they were often led to migrate to Crowded peri-urban areas—due to war and rural insecurity. A further vulnerable group includes populations in remote areas.

The second area of concern relates to the fragmentation of services and misallocation of resources resulting from the retention of several administrative authorities in different areas of the country, many of which follow their own policies and priorities. That is a legacy of the apartheid concept and remains a problem for the new country. Thirdly, a strain has been placed upon the health and education services by budget shortfalls, resulting partly from drastic reductions in South Africa's budget subsidy to Namibia but also from the internal resource allocation policies of the various administrations. A further major problem is the critical food security situation affecting poor households in northern areas due to a combination of long-term and short-term factors, including drought, displacement and income losses resulting from South Africa's military withdrawal and subsequent employment cutbacks.

Those stark facts make it clear that Namibia needs the strongest support in order to leave the launching pad and fly under its own steam. There are many ways in which the international community and the United Kingdom in particular can contribute. I should like to ask the Minister two or three questions in that regard.

First, there can be no doubt that the major unresolved question following independence is the future of Walvis Bay. The Minister mentioned it yesterday in the debate on the Commonwealth. The return of the port, which is required under UN Resolution 432, is critical to Namibia. Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking in order to influence the South African Government on the implementation of the UN resolution?

Secondly, in regard to economic aid, Namibia had hoped for a 19,000 tonnes beef quota under the European Community's Lomé Convention but the Commission recommended only a 13,000 tonnes limit. That quota has still to be ratified and therefore perhaps the Minister will say whether Her Majesty's Government will seek an increase for Namibia under the Lomé agreement. Will the Minister also say whether the Government are taking steps to ensure that Namibia receives least developed country status from the European Community, which would be of the greatest assistance to Namibia in acquiring EC aid funds?

Lastly, can the Minister tell the House when the Commonwealth Development Corporation will complete its survey of possible investment projects? Is he able to provide an estimate of the number of personnel from Voluntary Service Overseas and other agencies which are currently assisting Namibia? I should be grateful for answers to those questions, but as I did not give the Minister notice of the questions I should be equally grateful if he would write to me with the answers. I believe that that is an area in which the United Kingdom can be of enormous assistance to Namibia in its struggle to begin its independent life in better shape.

5.25 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, we on these Benches would also like to thank the noble Earl for his very clear introduction of the Bill, which we welcome. Because we support the principles of the Commonwealth we also welcome the fact that Namibia has joined the Commonwealth.

We are conscious of the fact that Namibia is an extraordinary country. In area it is much the same size as France and the united Germany but it has a population of just over 1 million people. It has had a difficult history over the past 60 years, culminating in the 1960s in the fight against a cynical apartheid regime imposed illegally by South Africa. Resistance to that regime began peacefully but unhappily ended in violence as that was seen as the only means by which the nationalist organisation, SWAPO, could continue to put pressure on the South African Government, against the disapproval of the greater part of world opinion, not to mention the United Nations and the International Court at The Hague which ruled that the South African acts were illegal.

When I was in Zambia in the 1970s, in Lusaka I met a number of the leaders of the SWAPO movement. I learnt something of the problems and their desperation about the cynical way in which their country was being used in a cat-and-mouse game. I was impressed by the quality and education of that small group of people and the reasonableness with which they faced what appeared to be a bleak future. I am pleased that Namibia is now a member of the Commonwealth. The action of the Commonwealth in paving the way for the admission of Namibia has been very encouraging, particularly with regard to education, both in Namibia itself and for those who are exiled from the country.

Before I finish I should like to welcome the aid which the British Government have put at the disposal of the Namibian state. It may not appear an enormous amount and we hope that it will be increased, but undoubtedly the quality of that aid will be excellent. We look forward to it continuing into a happy future. We wish the country well.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, all friends of Africa and of the Commonwealth will welcome the Bill and the evidence that it gives of Namibia's adherence to the Commonwealth. I remind the House that the Commonwealth offered membership to Namibia at a time when Namibia was still occupied by the South Africans but the Commonwealth was unable to help the Namibians to achieve the independence in which the country could make its choice.

It would be inappropriate if, in a bland welcome to the Bill today, we forgot the background to the independence of Namibia and its adherence to the Commonwealth and, in particular, the debt that we in this country have accumulated by our actions or lack of action over the past 40 years. My mind turns to the valiant activities of the late Reverend Michael Scott, who was the first public figure to take a continuous, stance on the matter. He attended the United Nations year after year on behalf of what was then known as South-West Africa. He was supported by and represented the people of what is now Namibia. In his lone stance he received some support from non-aligned nations but very little support from this country.

We should remember that it was South African occupation of the country and insistence on administration, despite the fact that the United Nations regularly passed resolutions calling on South Africa to withdraw from the territory, which provoked the war that broke out in 1966 and continued for the next 22 years. The International Court of Justice pronounced on the matter in 1971. With a curious parallel to the present situation in the world, the Security Council set May 1975 as the deadline for South African withdrawal. That deadline was not met. South Africans quite openly declared that they had no intention of meeting it. What did members of the United Nations and permanent members of the Security Council do about that open defiance? Nothing at all. In fact the following year, when a call was made for an arms embargo to enforce the decision of the Security Council, it was vetoed by the governments of France, the United States and the United Kingdom. How things have changed.

Despite the atrocity of the appalling massacre at Cassinga in 1978, when 750 Namibians in a refugee camp were slaughtered by the South African forces, still no action was taken. In the same year, Resolution 435, which became the basis of United Nations policy toward Namibia, was passed. What support did it receive from the members of the United Nations? There was a Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of South Africa and the setting up of a Namibian Council. Indeed, one of our own number until recently, the much beloved late Lord Caradon, was appointed as the commissioner for Namibia. He never arrived there.

What support was given to the Security Council, its resolutions and its policies at that time by the United Kingdom Government or members of the Security Council? A western contact group was set up. I met its members nearly 10 years ago in Lusaka. They wandered around year by year and quickly came under the domination of the United States representative. Nothing was done to put into action the resolution or any of the policies of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, throughout this period, uranium was being mined by Rio Tinto Zinc, based in this country, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Diamonds were being pulled out of the ground and sold in defiance of United Nations resolutions. The seas around Namibia were being grossly overfished in defiance of United Nations resolutions. In this country we took a part in all those activities. To its credit the Commonwealth regularly supported Resolution 435 and regularly criticized those who were breaking United Nations provisions; but not with the support of Her Majesty's Government.

I should like to pay tribute to David Owen who, as Foreign Secretary in 1978, almost reached a diplomatic agreement. I never thought that there was any chance of going through with it: in any case he never had the chance because he was out of office at a very early stage of the negotiations. I pay tribute also to the work of the churches. I single out a much beloved Member of this House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, together with his wife, who paid a number of uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous visits to Namibia. He produced brave reports of what was going on in the country.

That is the background, and that is the debt that we have piled up to the people of Namibia. It is good to recall that when agreement on a ceasefire eventually arose, the Commonwealth immediately played an active role by sending an observer team to supervise the elections in November 1989, as had been dome in Rhodesia. I mentioned the point in yesterday's debate. It did not just send an observer team; it also sent a technical team, which in some ways was even more important, from the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. Two legal experts were provided to help work out a new constitution. Training was provided in setting up the foreign ministry and other advisers were supplied to modify and modernise the civil service. Perhaps of most importance was the help given to the Namibian extension unit, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, to move back to Windhoek from its exile in Lusaka and Angola in 1990. That was a very important unit.

I was privileged to participate for a time in helping its training. It trained Namibian refugees to fit themselves to run an independent country, which is one, if not the most important, contribution that can be made from the outside to the growth, development and establishment of a new, independent nation. I am glad to know that the CFTC has continued to supply experts from Commonwealth countries to assist the Namibians in their nation-building.

I welcome the statement by the noble Earl about the work that has been done by the British to help training in both the police and the army. I regret that he could only announce the very meagre figure of £10 million, considering the debt I have outlined which we have built up to the people of Namibia—the amount of what one can only call loot, which has been extracted from that country ever since the war largely by the South Africans but with a great deal of British participation. I hope that the noble Earl will take the message from this House that £10 million is nothing like enough to repay the debt that we have built up.

Finally, I should like to reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs with regard to Walvis Bay. Walvis Bay has a very long history in the affairs of southern Africa, going back to the last century. Walvis Bay is absolutely crucial to the future economic health of Namibia. As my noble friend pointed out, that has been recognised by the United Nations. We are entitled to ask about the attitude of the British Government, as a member of the United Nations and a member of the Security Council. What policy are they following in insisting that United Nations support for the Namibian claim on Walvis Bay is pursued so that this new member of the Commonwealth is given a reasonable chance to build up its economic strength following the rape it has suffered over the past 40 years?

5.40 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that the Bill has received in your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said that it was a small but significant Bill. We agree about its great significance.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, spoke of the importance of Walvis Bay. It is worth recalling that in 1978 the United Kingdom voted in favour of Security Council Resolution 432 which states that Walvis Bay should be reintegrated into Namibia. As I said in our debate yesterday, we believe that this important issue is best resolved through negotiations between Namibia and South Africa. We believe that both the Namibian and South African governments are prepared to negotiate bilaterally.

It is also right to tell the House that the Namibian foreign minister has written to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and to the United States and German foreign ministers reserving the right to revert to the Security Council. We have replied commending bilateral negotiation but offering diplomatic support if necessary.

The noble Baroness also mentioned the importance of economic aid to Namibia. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, was grateful for the contribution of Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said that it was depressingly small. Let me repeat that Britain is producing a substantial amount of aid in various forms to Namibia. One must not forget also the contribution of the Community. In 1990, the Community draft budget has provided for help to Namibia of some £12.7 million. Within that there is a substantial contribution from Britain.

The noble Baroness asked about the least developed country status within the Community. I cannot tell her what it is at the moment. It is of course a matter for the Community to decide. Perhaps I may write to her on that point. I shall also write to her on the fourth point with regard to the CDC.

As to the economics of Namibia, the noble Baroness referred to poverty. It is worth saying a word about the external debt situation. Negotiations on that and other aspects of the financial and commercial relationship between independent Namibia and South Africa are now taking place. We must leave it to the independent Government of Namibia to decide how to settle those complex matters. However, I am sure that we all hope the outcome will provide a basis for a prosperous future for Namibia.

The Government share the warm sentiments with which your Lordships applauded Namibia's entrance into the Commonwealth. I am glad that Namibia has so many friends in your Lordships' House. The Bill is a practical expression of our welcome of Namibia into the Commonwealth. I commend it to the House.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down will he clarify one point? He stated that the British Government have expressed willingness to give diplomatic assistance. I believe that those were the words he used. Does he mean diplomatic assistance to the Namibian Government in claiming Walvis Bay back under the United Nations resolution?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the words that I used—indeed I believe that I used them yesterday—were "diplomatic support". We have already voted in favour of Security Council Resolution 432. We stand by to help in whatever way we can to achieve a positive solution to the matter.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.