To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government have offered any assistance to the United Nations to conduct the referendum in the western Sahara.
Like the other members of the Security Council, we support the recent efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General and stand ready to consider requests for assistance.
Nevertheless, will the Minister use his considerable influence with the Moroccan Government and with Polisario in suggesting that they should co-operate to the fullest, so that the United Nations can get the referendum under way? Will the Minister confirm that assistance will take the form of the provision of officials and observers? If we are to send observers, will the right hon. Gentleman consider including me as one of them?
I cannot but accept the hon. Gentleman's offer, because it might be a rather arduous mission and we are therefore happy to have volunteers. More seriously, as a permanent member of the Security Council, we are entirely behind the secretary-general's efforts. There again seems some hope of making progress, and we stand ready to accept requests.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that King Hassan of Morocco has moved considerably towards holding a referendum in the western Sahara? One of the difficulties with which the United Nations has to come to terms is defining who lives there and exactly where, in order that a referendum can be held. If there is any question of observers being sent to represent this Parliament or the British Government, will my right hon. Friend ensure that apologists for the Algerian Government or Polisario are not among them?
I thought for a moment that another volunteer was coming forward. However, it is a serious matter. I do not want to appear, by what I say at the Dispatch Box, to endorse one side or the other in the dispute. It is far better to support the secretary-general and to proceed on the basis of the census taken by the Spanish —which is the information the secretary-general is now working on—in compiling a proper electoral roll and arranging a referendum.
Will the Minister join us in paying tribute to the secretary-general for restarting last week the first direct talks between Iran and Iraq, the success of the referendum in Namibia, and now his work in respect of the western Sahara? Will the right hon. Gentleman respond readily and positively when, as we hope, the technical mission returns from the western Sahara at the end of the month? How seriously do the Government view the failure on Monday to establish a direct dialogue between the two sides?
I happily join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the secretary-general, who has taken full advantage of the possibilities offered by making proper use of United Nations machinery that the improvement in the general world climate and between east and west has offered him. In the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and in one or two others that one could mention, the secretary-general has played his proper, vital part. The secretary-general's initiative in respect of the referendum rather than any separate direct talks has our fullest support.