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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 16 April 1980

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Uganda

1.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether Her Majesty's Government have offered Uganda assistance in the training of her police and armed forces in view of the possibility of withdrawal of Tanzanian troops.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Richard Luce)

We attach priority to helping Uganda rebuild her police force, and have been giving assistance in this field for many months. A request for training assistance for the Ugandan armed forces is presently under consideration.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply. Does he agree that Tanzania did a great service to the world in assisting to remove President Amin? Does he further agree that any help that we can give to Uganda to ensure stability in both its armed forces and its police force should in no way be denied? Will he ensure that a decision is reached as soon as possible?

I agree entirely that anything that we can do to help Uganda establish law and order—which is its top priority—is something to which we shall readily respond. That is why I said that we are giving priority to providing assistance and advice with the police and the armed services. There are further requests for advice concerning the armed services, to which we are willing to respond.

Will my hon. Friend consider either initiating the presence of a Commonwealth peacekeeping force in Uganda or inviting the United Nations to consider establishing a United Nations force in that country, rather than wait on events?

Although there has been a withdrawal of 10,000 Tanzanian troops, there are still at least another 10,000 in Uganda at present, and probably about 1,000 Tanzanian police. It is for the President of Uganda to determine whether he wishes to invite other countries to contribute forces. To date there has been no formal request to the Commonwealth Secretariat for a Commonwealth force. If the President wishes for that, it is for him to make an approach.

The Minister referred to a request for assistance in training the armed forces. Will he tell us the nature of that request, when was it made, and how quickly are the Government likely to respond? Is he aware that any other form of civil aid will be futile and worthless unless there is law and order, and chaos is prevented in Uganda?

I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman that the first priority—which is the choice of the Government of President Binaisa—must be the preservation and establishment of law and order. That is why I have said that we are giving prority to that area.

On the question of armed services, there have been discussions between the Deputy Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff in Uganda, and the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office in Britain. They have made various requests, which we are considering urgently, and to which we shall respond shortly.

Middle East

2.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he has any plans to visit the Middle East.

My right hon. Friend hopes to do so before long.

While the Lord Privy Seal is in that region, will he take the opportunity to raise the question of the human rights of the Palestinians, especially as we hear so much about this subject at the present time? Does the Minister agree that we need action rather than words to ensure that these people are once again able to live in their homeland and govern themselves?

As we have often said in recent months, we agree that the Palestinians have political rights. In any settlement that has any chance of enduring, those rights have to be accepted and recognised.

Is my hon. Friend aware that if he were to visit the Middle East today he would find among our friends grave concern that some positive and effective action should emerge from the EEC Foreign Ministers meeting on Monday with regard to the position of Iran? Is he further aware that if that meeting fails, that failure will be trumpeted out, literally in Iran and other countries as being a failure by America to achieve the support of its Allies, which will seriously demean and weaken the Western Alliance as a whole?

I accept the first part of my hon. Friend's question. There is no special magic about Monday's meeting, except that it provides the first opportunity for the Foreign Ministers of the Nine to meet and, we hope, to reach at least a first step decision along the lines indicated by my hon. Friend.

Does the Minister agree that the brutal and barbaric attack on the kibbutz at Misgav Am last week by a constituent body of the PLO makes it plain that the Foreign Secretary was sadly wrong when he said that that organisation was no longer a terrorist body?

We condemn absolutely the attack on the Misgav Am kibbutz to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. Ae he knows, we do not recognise the PLO. It is an umbrella organisation which includes different bodies, some of which are still associated with terrorism of that kind and others of which are working through political and diplomatic channels. It is important to encourage the second tendency and to condemn the first.

Does my hon. Friend accept that until the PLO has totally, clearly and definitely renounced any intention of destroying Israel it will be hopeless to demand, and useless to expect, the Israelis to have any kind of meeting with it?

In the end, I think that the two things will have to occur more or less at the same time. The Palestinians will have to accept Israel's right to exist within secure and recognised frontiers, and the Israelis will have to accept that the Palestinians have political rights, too.

Has the Minister noticed today the announcement of the creation of a new Arab force, including the PLO? Does not that indicate to him that there is no change in the PLO's stance towards the integrity of the State of Israel?

We have noticed the announcement of the force. Let us wait and see what becomes of it in practice.

Mr James Moss

3.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what further information he has regarding the trial or release of Mr. James Moss presently held in Mongu jail, Zambia.

I understand that no decision has yet been reached on whether the case against Mr. Moss should proceed to trial. Meanwhile, he is regularly brought before a magistrate, but continues to be remanded in custody, since bail is not granted in Zambia in murder cases.

As the Minister knows that Mr. Moss has been in confinement since December 1979, does he think that a visit by himself, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and myself might expedite a conclusion on the part of the DPP?

I should have to reflect a little on that question before giving a straight answer. However, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), are concerned. Indeed, their constituents who are relations of Mr. Moss have also made representations to me. My judgment is that through our high commission we are keeping in close touch indeed with developments in this case, and we shall keep a very careful watch on the welfare of Mr. Moss.

Does not the Minister think that it is unacceptable for Mr. Moss to languish in gaol for four months without the Zambian Director of Public Prosecutions making a decision on whether to bring the matter to trial? Can he say what further action the Foreign Office will take to press the Zambian authorities to make a quick decision, so that at least that element of doubt is removed from over this man's head?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, a charge of murder has been made against Mr. Moss. It is up to the Zambian Director of Public Prosecutions, when he has considered all the factors, to decide whether Mr. Moss should be taken to trial. We have been in touch with the Zambian Government to ask how far ahead they anticipate that will be. As yet we have had no response, but we hope to receive one very soon.

South Africa

4.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on relations between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of South Africa.

8.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he expects to meet the South African Ambassador.

Our relations with South Africa are governed by our desire to encourage peaceful change there and to achieve an internationally recognised settlement in Namibia. If there is progress on both these fronts, we can look forward to the steady improvement in our relations which we seek.

I have no plans to meet the South African Ambassador in the immediate future.

Bearing in mind the build-up of Soviet maritime forces in the Indian Ocean, most recently described in the defence White Paper, will my right hon. Friend have discussions with the Ministry of Defence about the possibility of sharing maritime intelligence information with the South African Navy, and even the possibility of having joint naval exercises with the South African Navy?

As my hon. Friend will realise, that is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but at present we have no plans to act as he has suggested.

When he meets the ambassador, will the right hon. Gentleman express the deep concern that is felt about the fact that Mr. Nelson Mandela and his associates have been locked away in South African prisons for 16 years, yet their real crime is that they simply want freedom for their own people? Would it not be wise for the Government to give the South African authorities the same sort of advice as Mr. Harold Macmillan gave them in his "wind of change" speech in 1960?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we have no standing in the case of Mr. Mandela, so I do not think that it would be right for us to make formal representations on his behalf.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!".]—However, I am sure that the South African Government recognise very well what an excellent effect on international opinion the release of Mr. Mandela would have, and how widely it would be welcomed in this country as a symbol of the desire for reconciliation in South Africa.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Conservative Members welcome the improved relationship between this Government and the Government of the Republic of South Africa? Does he agree that it would be wrong to put undue pressure on South Africa at the present time over the future of South-West Africa? Does not he further agree that South Africa is doing its utmost to ensure that there is gradual progress to a more democratic form of government in South-West Africa, and that the Administrator General, Mr. Viljoen, is seeking to hand over executive powers in many areas to the Parliament which at present exists in South-West Africa, which represents all 11 ethnic groups?

Of course I hope for better relations with South Africa. As my hon. Friend will know, a specific question on Namibia will be answered shortly. It may be worth reminding the House that it would have been impossible to hold the elections in Zimbabwe without the logistic help that we received from South Africa.

In view of the Government's opposition to the British Lions tour of South Africa, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the House, to the British Lions rugby touring team and to the South African Government that British Embassy facilities in South Africa will not be available to that team?

I do not think that that sort of declaration helps anyone. The House and the Rugby Unions know very well what our attitude is to the Gleneagles agreement, which commits us to taking every practical step to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa.

Does my right hon. Friend think that it is right and proper that an organisation such as the British Olympic Association, which does not wish to mix politics with sport, should consider sending a team to Moscow, when for political reasons the South Africans are prevented from sending a team?

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further with regard to Mr. Nelson Mandela? Surely there is nothing wrong with the Government pressing very strongly for, and making the strongest representations about, the release of Nelson Mandela and others, who have suffered years of the most cruel form of imprisonment on Robben Island. I believe that the full strength of the voice of the Government, through representations to the South African Ambassador here and to the South African authorities, should be heard with regard to the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners.

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I have just said. We do not have any formal standing, but I have made clear what good would follow from a decision of the South Africans to release Mr. Mandela.

Namibia

6.

asked the Lord Privy Seal how many times in the current year the five Western Powers have held discussions with South Africa concerning the ending of the illegal occupation of Namibia.

The negotiations for Namibian independence to be achieved through the plan for United Nations supervised elections require frequent contact between the five Western Powers, acting either jointly or individually, and South Africa.

Does not the Minister recognise that there is some urgency in the matter, since South Africa is now regularly using Namibia as a base for repeated assault and aggression not only against Angola but against Zambia? Is there not a contradiction between our efforts to free Namibia and our apparent interest in building up commercial and financial relations with South Africa?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been discussions recently between United Nations officials, on both the military and political sides, and the various countries involved with the Namibian problem. Dr. Waldheim, the United Nations Secretary-General, has just made a report on that mission. It is reasonable that we should strike a balance between the need for some patience, in the light of those developments, and the need to reach an agreement as soon as possible—I hope—on the outstanding problem of the demilitarised zone.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that when the group of Five discuss Namibia full consideration is given to the views of the different parties inside Namibia, and also to the views of the different wings of SWAPO inside and outside Namibia?

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend of that. The group of Five have kept in touch with the internal parties to ensure that they are aware of their views, and they will continue to do so.

Is it not in the interest of the West that there should be a free, democratic and independent Namibia as soon as possible?

Indeed. That is why we are committed to working as hard as possible for United Nations' supervised elections.

Afghanistan

7.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will place in the Library details of his approach to the Russian Government of his proposals as to how the Russian Army should withdraw forces from Afghanistan in order to avoid the possibility of internecine factional bloodshed.

No, Sir. The exchanges which we have had with the Russians are confidential. Our approach is flexible and other Governments are contributing suggestions on how the concept might be put into effect. It would, therefore, be misleading to publish details at this stage.

Do the Government agree with His Eminence the Cardinal Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, that the Russians should not be regarded as bogeymen? May we be assured that these confidential communications are carried out in a sensible spirit, and not in the spirit of lashing the Russians? Lashing the Russians is not the way to get the Red Army out of Afghanistan.

The proposals put forward by my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and endorsed by the Foreign Ministers of the Nine, are not designed to lash the Russians. They are designed to give the Russians a way in which they can withdraw their troops from their aggression in Afghanistan, leading to neutral and non-aligned status for that country.

Has the hon. Gentleman considered the doctrine propounded by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) only a fortnight ago, when he seemed to suggest that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was justified by the fact that atrocities had been committed against Russian advisers within that country? Has he given careful consideration to that extraordinary principle?

I have indeed. It is true that it is dangerous to be a Russian in Afghanistan at the present time, but the remedy is in their own hands. They could withdraw.

Although after the invasion it was right that Western countries should press the Russians to withdraw, is it not now obvious that they have no intention of doing so? Should not the Government base their diplomacy on that assumption?

The Russians are now engaged in a savage colonial war in Afghanistan, to which it is difficult to see an outcome. It must be right to work in the direction in which we are working. The war is being conducted by upwards of 80,000 troops who are engaged in fighting the resistance movement. It must be our aim to encourage and to work towards encouraging them to bring that to an end by withdrawing their troops.

What evidence do the Government have that some circles—at least in the USSR—now realise that the invasion of Afghanistan was a major blunder in every sense of the word? Which item of British Government policy is designed to encourage those circles and to increase their influence?

It is the proposal to which the question was addressed. It is a proposal precisely designed to give the Russians a way out of their aggression.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the nature of those replies, I shall return to this subject in the Adjournment debate which you have kindly given me for next Monday.

Middle East

9.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what part his Department is playing in talks on securing peace in the Middle East.

We have no direct role in the current peace negotiations. We continue to support the autonomy talks as a step towards a comprehensive settlement. We are also discussing with our European Community partners ways in which Europe might be able to contribute to such a settlement.

Is the Minister aware that, so far as the Government may be involved, the peacemaking process is not helped by the intransigence of Premier Begin in colonising the disputed lands? Does he accept that there can be no lasting peace in the area until the just claims of the Palestinian nation are met?

Yes, Sir. We believe that the, Israeli policy of increasing settlements on the West Bank is unwise, unjust and a major obstacle to a settlement.

Can my hon. Friend say what action the Government have taken to support the role of the United Nations peace-keeping force in Southern Lebanon, in view of the adverse events there in recent weeks?

We take that very seriously. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has been in London today, and he has expressed great alarm which we share. A discussion is taking place in the Security Council of the United Nations at this moment on the matter. We strongly support UNIFIL, the United Nations force in the Lebanon, and we are willing to support any sensible measures to buttress it and increase its effectiveness.

In view of the fact that the Camp David agreement is defunct and is about to expire on 26 May in any case, what initiatives is the Foreign Secretary trying to mount with his European colleagues to bring forward other proposals which will be more realistic in terms of the need for the restitution of Palestinian rights?

As I said in my original reply, we are considering what we might do. We do not wish to do anything to cut across the highly important talks that are taking place within the Camp David process.

In view of the general confusion in the Middle East and the statement of President Carter that in no circumstances would he recognise the PLO, and in view of what the PLO is now attempting to do in setting up a command in Syria, will the Foreign Secretary, or his deputy, reiterate what was said by the Prime Minister, namely, that there is no question of Britain's recognising the PLO?

President Carter said that he would not recognise the PLO so long as it did not recognise Israel. That is one of the difficulties that we have constantly pointed out. We do not recognise the PLO, and it will be difficult for us to do so as long as it refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist within secure and recognised frontiers.

What progress have the Government made towards persuading the PLO to drop the part of the covenant which states that Israel must be destroyed? Most reasonable people, including the majority of people in Israel, feel that if the PLO were to drop that part of the covenant there could be discussions that could lead to a major breakthrough, which would benefit the Palestinian Arabs.

It is partly a matter of the covenant, as the hon. Gentleman says, but perhaps even more so a question of terrorist attacks. We are doing what we can in that direction. It would be a great help if the Israeli Government would state at the same time that they recognise that the Palestinians have a right to a homeland also.

I agree with the last remarks of the hon. Gentleman. However, there appears to be a different emphasis on the condemnation of the Israeli moves from that on the action of the PLO. Will the Minister make it clear that he is prepared to demand that the PLO drops this part of the covenant as a price for going ahead with negotiations?

We should not pay too much attention to the covenant, any more than we should to the founding documents of other political organisations. It is the action that is taken, particularly the renunciation of terrorist activity, that matters.

Olympic Games

10.

asked the Lord Privy Seal how many countries are now in agreement with Her Majesty's Government in their proposals for an Olympic Games boycott.

The number is increasing all the time. The latest information available suggests that about 30 Governments have publicly announced that they are in favour of a boycott or have expressed serious reservations about their athletes taking part.

Is the Minister aware that many of us who were deeply unhappy about the holding of the Moscow Olympics on human rights grounds, long before the invasion of Afghanistan or the American presidential elections, nevertheless feel that the current slogging match between the Government and the British Olympic Association will leave us with the worst of all worlds in this country, exposing deep divisions when there should be unity? Will he discuss with those athletes who have voted to go to Moscow, as is their right if they so wish, some form of unified protest by them in Moscow during the holding of the Games?

No. That ignores the fact that the Soviet Union controls the television output for the Games. There is no slogging match. We quietly and firmly reiterate our view when we are asked to do so. It must surely be increasingly clear to the hon. Gentleman that, as the tide of boycott begins to flow strongly in many sports, this will be a tawdry event, with second-rate competition.

Whatever other countries may do, will not any British athlete who goes to Moscow to compete dishonour himself and his country?

The competitors find themselves in a difficult personal situation, which has not been helped by the premature decision of the British Olympic Association to accept the Moscow invitation. We shall do what we can to help them in that situation, but we believe that it is strongly against British interests for British athletes to participate.

Should not the Government give up their attempt to blackmail our sportsmen and sports administrators? Does not the Minister find reprehensible the attempted character assassination of Sir Denis Follows, a man of the highest possible integrity, who has served sport admirably over many years?

The integrity of Sir Denis Follows is in no way in question. We disagree with his judgment about British interests in this country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this ought to be a situation in which Britain was leading the way and not merely counting how many other countries were doing this? Is it not sad that, without impugning Sir Denis Follows' character, he should commit character suicide rather than have his character assassinated because he will not understand that he has a position to uphold as a British person, and not merely as a representative of sportsmen?

I would rather not be drawn into further comment on Sir Denis Follows. I merely say that we warmly welcome the latest decision by British yachtsmen not to take part.

Will the hon. Gentleman say what compensation the Government are prepared to give to those business men who have obtained franchises for the Moscow Olympics, including Mr. McClue of Ayr, and will lose substantial amounts of money? Surely these are the people that the Government should be trying to encourage, but they will lose money as a direct result of the Government's action. What compensation will be given to them by the Government?

If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a particular case, he should do so. In principle, the Government are not liable for compensation in this matter.

Will my hon. Friend persuade the Government to take a more resolute attitude towards those British members who still wish to go to Moscow and point out that if they go they could distinguish themselves by being almost the only representatives in Moscow from any free country in the world?

It is true that the tide towards a boycott is flowing strongly and that the competition, sport by sport, will now be second-rate in many respects. For example, the United States' swimmers won 13 gold medals at the last Olympic Games. A swimming competition without American participation is certainly a second-rate affair.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, whatever position individual Members have taken in regard to the Olympics, many of us—even those of us who have strong views—find utterly distasteful and disgusting the attempt by members of the Government to brand individual sportsmen in Britain as dishonourable or as if they were disloyal in making their personal decisions? Will he therefore confirm that no impediment or difficulty, administrative or bureaucratic, will be put in the way of individuals making their own choice and going to Moscow if they wish to do so?

I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's account of what has been taking place. We have made it clear that it is a matter for choice in a free country whether people go. We have also made it clear, and shall go on making clear, our judgment as the British Government where British interests lie. We hope that as many individuals as posible will follow that advice.

Afghanistan

11.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what is his latest assessment of the situation in Afghanistan; and if the Russian Government have yet replied to Her Majesty's Government's proposals for the neutralisation of Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan the Babrak Karmal regime lacks support. There is widespread popular resistance to the Government and the Soviet occupying forces, which could number as many as 100,000.

Our proposals, endorsed by the European Nine, are for a neutral and nonaligned Afghanistan. This is different from "neutralisation", which implies an imposed solution. We have put our thinking to the Soviet authorities. We are studying their reply and will decide later whether to continue the exchange and, if so, how.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is wide support for the Government's proposals, and will they push ahead with them? Does he also agree that this is about the only hope of getting the Soviet Union and its leadership off the hook on which they put themselves with this colonial aggression?

This is a serious proposal which has been put to the Soviet Union and to many other Governments in a serious vein.

We know who guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium and how that guarantee was implemented. Which countries would guarantee the neutrality of Afghanistan, and how would they implement it?

As I said in answer to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I shall not today go into the details of a plan which is still being discussed and is still evolving. The three parts of it are clear: first, Soviet withdrawal; secondly, a declaration by the Afghans, repeating one that they have often made before, in favour of neutral and non-aligned status; and, thirdly, support for that declaration by their neighbours and other countries.

Is it not true that many countries have retaind their neutral status satisfactorily without external military guarantees? In those circumstances, is it not in the interests of the free world and of peace that neutrality should prevail in Afghanistan, and that this would be in the interests of the Great Power balance?

Yes. One of the encouraging things about our proposal is the degree of interest and support which has been expressed for it by many countries in the free world, and in particular the Islamic world.

Does the Minister accept that evidence of that took place in Oslo last week at the parliamentary assembly of the International Parliamentary Union, when an overwhelming majority of nations condemned the incursion into Afghanistan by the USSR and strongly called for its withdrawal? It appeared to be the general hope of the Assembly that the initiative being taken by her Majesty's Government, with a large amount of backing from the Opposition, would be successful?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We certainly intend to proceed in that spirit.

Falkland Islands

12.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will implement the Shackleton proposals for the Falkland Islands.

I have nothing to add to the replies given on 19 December to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher).

In view of the reports, confirmed this morning, of a potential fish yield of 1,000 million pounds per annum, plus the potential of offshore oil from these islands, will my hon. Friend confirm that the sovereignty of these islands is not the subject of any agenda item for discussions with any foreign powers?

I do not know from where my hon. Friend got those reports of the potential. I have not the ability to be anything like so precise. In fact, I am dubious about the potential of fishing and oil. I confirm that the forthcoming talks with the Argentine Government will be purely exploratory. The Argentinians have sought talks with us, and we have responded by saying that we will meet them.

In view of the disputes with Iceland over cod, and the fact that now we have limits of 200 miles by international acceptance, why cannot the Government think a bit more about this matter and put 200-mile limits around these islands in the South Atlantic: not merely the Falkland Islands, but St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Asuncion Island, South Georgia—the whole lot? Even if we cannot get boats out of Hull to fish there because of the distance, at least we could charge the vessels of Japanese and Communist States for licences and make some money for these people in Port Stanley.

It would be impossible to police a 200-mile zone fishing limit round the Falkland Islands without the agreement of the Argentine Government, but that is one of the items that can be raised in the forthcoming talks.

Before my hon. Friend goes to his meeting, will he refresh his memory about the recommendations by the old Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Public Expenditure Committee in the previous Parliament, in so far as they referred to this specific question of the potential for British fishery development in the Falkland Islands?

Order. I shall allow an extra minute at the end of questions on the EEC so that I may now call the Front Bench spokesman on this question.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he has invited representatives of the Falkland Islands to attend the new round of talks, as has been the previous practice, and will he say what has been their reaction?

I confirm that we have invited representatives from the Falklands, and one councillor will attend.