HL Deb 10 July 1996 vol 574 cc293-5

2.51 p.m.

Lord Wise

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are taking any initiatives other than through the United Nations, to find a political resolution to the crisis in the Western Sahara.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we regret the suspension of the identification process. We continue to believe that the best solution remains in supporting the UN Secretary General and his staff in their attempts to resolve the conflict in the Western Sahara. We urge both Polisario and Morocco to co-operate fully with MINURSO, the United Nations scheme in the area.

Lord Wise

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. But what does she think the consequences will be for the people of the area, and also for the credibility of the United Nations, following its complete and absolute failure to bring about a fair and free referendum following the withdrawal of part of MINURSO? Does the Minister agree that the only option that unfortunately seems to be available to the Saharan people is a resumption of the war? If there is such a resumption, as I fear there will be, is there not a grave risk to the stability of the whole area? And what will be the consequences for Europe?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is difficult to tell my noble friend what the consequences might be. I have already said that we have been concerned at the lack of progress in the identification process. When the Secretary General reported on 8th May, recommending the suspension of the identification process, we said that it was disappointing. My colleague, the Minister of State, the right honourable Jeremy Hanley, discussed the conflict with the Moroccan deputy foreign minister in Rabat earlier this month, in an effort to try to help the process.

What must happen is co-operation of both parties with the UN on confidence-building measures. If political prisoners are not released and if there is no exchange of prisoners of war, frustrations will further build up. The frustrations of the Polisario worry us very much because we believe that it is essential that the ceasefire be maintained. It is difficult to predict, but renewed fighting will achieve absolutely nothing. It risks drawing in the neighbours—something which the UN and the whole free world should seek to avoid.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does not the main difficulty arise from the attempts by Morocco to introduce persons on to the register who are not properly qualified? Why has the Secretary General found it so difficult to develop alternative procedures for the proper identification of voters that will satisfy both sides but will ensure that persons who are not qualified are not placed on the register?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I must be honest with the noble Lord, I do not know the answer. I too should be fascinated to find out why it has happened. I shall do my best to do so and will drop him a line.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have discussed the question of the Western Sahara with President Mandela, given his wish to recognise it formally and also given that he has already made an offer to do so to the leader of the Polisario Front? Will the Minister also say whether there is any prospect of the registration process being re-started?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, in answer to the first question, not this morning, we did not have time; I shall try again tonight. The answer to the second question is that the door has been firmly closed on the current series of registrations. However, we continue to believe that it should happen and we will see what can be done. Some of us seek to follow that path, but at the moment it is not one that the United Nations seems to be willing to re-start.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many in this House appreciate and agree with the cautious attitude that she is taking to the problem? Is she further aware that many interests are involved on the periphery of the Western Sahara? They would be only too delighted to stir the pot even further with a view to provoking trouble. Does she accept that her attitude towards the problem is acceptable to those of us who wish to establish real peace in the area?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. We are right to be cautious. As he knows, we and other Security Council members not only supported Resolutions 1042 and 1056 earlier this year, but also in private we have encouraged the two parties. In the UN, we have encouraged them to consider additional ways in which new confidence might be created between the parties in order to facilitate the implementation of the settlement plan.