1. Mr. Roger King : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what efforts the United Kingdom is making in international fora to prevent the return to power in Kampuchea of Mr. Pol Pot.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : The surest way to keep Pol Pot and his cronies out of power lies in a political settlement in which Cambodians elect a government of their choice. That is a principal objective of all our policies.
Mr. King : In thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply, will he accept that most sane-thinking people would not welcome the return of Pol Pot and his murderers to run that tragic country? What action is being taken to follow my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's proposal that the five main members of the United Nations Security Council should work towards a settlement?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I agree with my hon. Friend's condemnation of Pol Pot, which is why I expressed our objectives so clearly in my original answer. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's proposal is one of a number of ways in which we are seeking to carry forward the search for a settlement. I discussed the matter a couple of weeks ago with the Chinese Foreign Minister in Tokyo, and it is clear that discussions--for example, between China and the Soviet Union--are helping to advance the process. We have placed the topic on the agenda of the Five at the United Nations and they will carry it forward when they feel that it is appropriate.
Mr. Mullin : Is it not the truth that, far from attempting to prevent the return of Pol Pot, China, America and Thailand--with the active acquiescence of the Government--have spent the past 10 years supplying food, guns and diplomatic recognition to the Khmer Rouge? In what way is that designed to keep the Khmer Rouge out of power?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Britain was, in fact, one of the first to withdraw recognition from the Pol Pot regime. The policy which we and others share at the United Nations and elsewhere on the seating of the coalition Government of democratic Kampuchea does not in any sense mean recognition as a Government or support for Pol Pot. That
Column 878is not the position, either, after the United Nations General Assembly has adopted resolution after resolution condemning the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Soviet Union, Poland and Hungary have taken welcome steps to liberalise their political and economic systems. That is in stark contrast to the situation in Czechoslovakia and Romania.
The openness of all countries in eastern Europe will be tested at the negotiations just opened in Vienna.
Mr. Boswell : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree with me that eastern Europe is far from a monolith and that countries are proceeding towards political pluralism at different rates? Will my right hon. Friend support the advance guard, castigate the laggards to whom he has referred and tailor the Government's policies accordingly?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's approach, which is why I drew that distinction in my original answer. The record of Romania for flagrant disregard of her conference on security and co- operation in Europe obligations is the worst in the Warsaw pact. I made that extremely clear when I saw the Romanian Foreign Minister in Vienna on Monday.
The performance of Czechoslovakia is also far from good. We have spoken regularly to the Czech authorities--most recently after the imprisonment of the playwright, Mr. Havel.
Mr. Alex Carlile : I share the Foreign Secretary's welcome for developments, especially in Hungary, but will he ensure that the European Community responds as positively as it can to those developments in encouraging trade between the Community and central European countries?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right. The establishment of relations between the Community and Hungary has gone further than those with any other eastern European country. Hungary established the first trade and co-operation agreement with the Community and is certainly the most worthwhile interlocutor of the Warsaw pact countries.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The important feature is that political progress is taking place in those countries notwithstanding their continued membership of the Warsaw pact. Their membership is a matter for determination between the Governments and it is important that continued membership should not inhibit the progress that is taking place in several of those countries.
3. Mrs. Dunwoody : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on British-Israeli relations in the light of the recent visit to Israel by the Minister of State the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave).
6. Mr. Maples : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent visit by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) to Israel.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : My visit to Israel, the occupied territories and Jordaincluded a constructive discussion of the peace process with my various hosts, and underlined the enduring strength of both Anglo-Israeli and Anglo-Jordanian relations.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Did the Minister have time to discuss with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Itzhak Rabin, his plan to hold democratic elections in the West Bank to provide some suitable representatives of the Palestinian people with whom talks can proceed?
Mr. Waldegrave : I spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister who is Mr. Arens, not Mr. Rabin. Mr. Rabin's plan was one of the principal topics of the detailed discussions that I had and we talked through the implications of it with the Palestinians and with the Israeli Government. The Palestinians, as is well known, are extremely suspicious of moves that they see as involving them in elections that would not be properly free.
Mr. Burt : My hon. Friend's efforts for peace in the middle east will be warmly welcomed by all sides of the House. While true friends of Israel have never been afraid to offer home truths to that country, does my hon. Friend recognise that the same should also be true of those who are counselling the rather recently converted Palestinian Liberation Organisation? Does he agree that it should be urged to use all its influence to prevent further disturbances on the West Bank and in Gaza because true evidence of peaceful intent will be needed to convince understandably cautious Israeli public opinion?
Mr. Waldegrave : It is very important to urge restraint on all sides. I make a distinction between military, armed terrorist activity, which is out of the question and which I urge the PLO leaders to condemn-- we all know that there are factions within the Palestinian movement which are trying to undermine the new, more moderate position of Mr. Arafat--and the intifada. I made it clear to all the Palestinian leaders that I met that the intifada should be pursued with the utmost restraint, but I believe that it is an expression of solidarity among Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza, which no single man could, of his own will, call off.
Mr. Nellist : No doubt the Minister is aware that I was in Israel and the occupied territories in the week preceding his visit--we probably crossed at Ben Gurion airport. Apart from the slightly dubious pleasure of being detained and questioned for an hour by senior intelligence officers
Column 880from Shin Bet at the Ramla maximum security prison I spent much of my time talking to doctors on the West Bank. When the Minister met Defence Minister Rabin did he express to him the outrage felt by working people in this country about the iron-fist policy pursued in the territories? That policy has resulted in seven Israeli soldiers being injured, one being tragically killed, and 11 Israeli citizens killed, compared with more than 400 Palestinians killed and 20,000 injured. That figure includes a six-year-old girl from the Gaza Strip who was shot in the head when I was there. Did the Minister express the outrage felt by working people in this country about that occupation policy?
Mr. Waldegrave : I congratulate the hon. Member on his escape. In the past we have made protests, and I made further protests, about the handling of the intifada. When I was there I visited Nablus, which was under total curfew. By chance on the same day the Israeli Prime Minister described the West Bank as being "liberated", which seemed a little bizarre to me.
Sir Dennis Walters : The United States Secretary of State was reported the other day as having said in Vienna that the time was not yet ripe for a middle east peace conference. Will my hon. Friend and the British Government do everything in their power to persuade the United States that after 22 years of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and increasing repression of great brutality, the time for such a conference is not only ripe but over-ripe?
Mr. Waldegrave : It is the responsibility of all who wish to see a successful outcome that we do not raise impossible expectations of the speed with which events will unfold. We all want to see progress, but it is obvious that the United States will take some time to formulate their position and any moves, towards a conference or anything else, must be carefully prepared. I made that point to Palestinians and they were receptive to them.
Mr. Janner : Does the Minister accept that, unlike any other country in the area, the Israeli Government are accountable to the electorate? Even if, as in Britain, the electorate makes a most serious mistake, its views must be taken into account. In those circumstances, will the Minister consider, if and when he again visits the middle east, that it will help a Government to come to the negotiating table if a person who comes as a visitor to that country does not criticise publicly the Government who receive him within that country and in a neighbouring country?
Mr. Waldegrave : I make the distinction that Her Majesty's Government have made it clear in the past that the intifada is being mishandled, that serious mistakes are being made and unnecessary suffering is being caused. I did not, however, spend my time criticising Israeli policy in the way that the hon. and learned Gentleman described. My host, Netanyahu, described our meetings as being a friendly non-meeting of minds. That is more or less the truth.
Sir Ian Gilmour : Did my hon. Friend, on his very impressive visit to the middle east, discover whether the current Israeli Government accept resolution 242? In view of our Government's justified insistence on obtaining from Mr. Arafat a pledge that he accepts resolution 242, will
Column 881they, before or during talks with Mr. Shamir, establish clearly that he pledges himself to the implementation of that United Nations resolution?
Mr. Waldegrave : My right hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the new complexities. Within the broadly based current Israeli Government--a Government of national unity--there is, clearly, a variety of positions on that point. Mr. Shamir is on record as saying that the return of Sinai meets resolution 242. That is not the view of others in the Government and it is not the view of Her Majesty's Government. I am not sure that I am much the wiser on that point.
Mr. Steel : May I congratulate the Minister on his constructive visit to the middle east? In view of the depressingly negative utterances of Mr. Shamir on peace prospects, do the Government have it in mind to revive the European Community initiative?
Mr. Waldegrave : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the troika of the European Community has been conducting useful discussions and has met Mr. Shevardnadze, which was a new and welcome development. All our efforts are made within the framework of European Community policy and we are not trying to launch a private initiative of our own. We shall be discussing and mutually sharing the results of a variety of recent visits by Community leaders to the area.
Mr. Latham : May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his helpful, valuable and constructive visit to the middle east? Will he emphasise that perhaps the important visit and meeting recently has been between Mr. Arens and Mr. Shevardnadze? Is it not essential, if the Soviet Union is to continue to take a constructive role in middle eastern matters, that it should re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel as soon as possible?
Mr. Waldegrave : I am especially grateful for the support of my hon. Friend. He is right to say that that was an important meeting. Mr. Arens gave me a full account of it, for which I was grateful. Although there were many positive aspects to the speech that Mr. Shevardnadze made the next day, Her Majesty's Government do not find easy to accept one or two aspects of it, such as the question mark raised by the legitimate existence of Israel being made conditional on the acceptance of the rights of Palestinians. That was not helpful--nor was talk of sanctions against Israel. However, we welcome elements of current Soviet policy, such as the steady move towards multilateral talks, the pragmatic approach and the helpful pressure which, to some extent, Mr. Shevardnadze put on Syria.
Mr. Kaufman : During his visit to Israel, did the hon. Gentleman learn, as I did two weeks ago when I addressed a conference of 1,000 Israelis in Jerusalem, that a growing body of Israeli Jews favour dialogue with the PLO, as was shown by the 53 per cent. in the latest opinion poll who say that they want that? Does he agree with Mr. Abba Eban, who said at the conference that I addressed, that it is a remarkable innovation for one country--Israel--to seek to nominate not only its own participants in the negotiations but those of the other side also? Does he further agree that Mr. Shamir's truculent attitude in his interview on BBC television is not only damaging to Palestinian interests but to Israeli interests, and that the
Column 882only sure way of ensuring Israel security is not to suppress Palestinians by force but to talk to Palestinians about making peace?
Mr. Waldegrave : Once again, I associate myself fully with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I met many people in Israel who were open- minded when discussing practical ways forward and who wished for a sense of movement in Israeli policy. I also met many within the Likud who said the same thing. There is a prospect of movement in Israeli policy and the best way for those who are friends of Israel to foster that is not to talk in terms of pressure or sanctions against Israel, but to work with those who are leading the way in that direction in Israel. I took the precaution of having lunch with Mr. Abba Eban before going to Israel, although his name is something of a red rag to the present Israeli Foreign Ministry, and he said many wise things to me that were along the lines quoted by the right hon. Gentleman.
4. Mr. Bernie Grant : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with other Governments in order to resolve the problem of Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : We have recently made representations to 21 resettlement countries urging them to increase the number of Vietnamese refugees they are prepared to take from Hong Kong. We have ourselves undertaken to resettle an additional 1,000 Vietnamese refugees in Britain, and have secured significantly increased commitments from other countries at the same time.
Mr. Grant : Given the Chinese Government's insistence that the problem should be resolved before 1997, when Hong Kong reverts to Chinese sovereignty, what timetable does the Secretary of State have in mind for dealing with the remaining 10,000 refugees in Hong Kong? Will he give the House an assurance today that there will be no compulsory repatriations of any refugees?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Clearly, it must be the intention of us all to ensure that the problem of the Vietnamese boat people has been resolved well before 1997. It is a topic in which the Chinese Government have taken a helpful interest in some respects. They have taken back to China a number of refugees of Vietnamese origin. They are also doing all that they can to encourage boat people en route not to proceed with their journey along the south China coast towards Hong Kong because it is important to check the inflow which has threatened to overwhelm Hong Kong in recent months. It was for that reason that we introduced the screening policy and those who have been identified as non-refugees have no prospect of resettlement elsewhere. Therefore, unless they are to stay indefinitely in detention centres in Hong Kong--they are being improved as much as possible--it must be recognised that their long-term future rests in Vietnam.
Sir Peter Blaker : Will my right hon. and learned Friend pay tribute to the moderation with which the Government and people of Hong Kong have dealt with this difficult problem? Does he know of many countries that are nowadays prepared to allow unlimited immigration to economic migrants? Will he confirm that the screening of the economic migrants from the genuine refugees and the
Column 883repatriation of the economic migrants will be conducted in consultation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Hong Kong Government and people for the way in which they have accommodated a massive increase in the number of arrivals. About 18, 000 people arrived in 1988. That has put a major strain on their resources and they have responded with voluntary as well as governmental help on a magnificent scale. As I said, they are bringing forward their programme to liberalise conditions for those who have been accorded refugee status and to move residents away from unacceptable buildings which still exist.
The screening policy has been introduced after consultation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is being conducted in accordance with guidelines worked out with that organisation, and it is important for us to continue doing that. The same kind of policy is now being adopted in other parts of the world, not least in the United States in relation to arrivals from central America.
Mr. Eastham : I note the Foreign Secretary's remarks about the increased numbers whom the United Kingdom is prepared to take. May I, on behalf of the small number of refugees who have been accepted by this country, make a special plea on behalf of families who are divided? Hon. Members will be aware of the representations that we receive from families who have been divided for eight or 10 years and who are still waiting for permission to be reunited. Will special attention be paid, in relation to the additional 1,000 whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, to the need, where possible, to reunite families, especially those who have been divided for many years?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's humanitarian concern. The commitment of which I reminded the House represents a doubling in the rate of acceptance of Vietnamese refugees from Hong Kong into the United Kingdom. Since 1975, we have taken about 20,000 Indo-Chinese refugees of whom 13,000 were Vietnamese from Hong Kong. Only the United States and Canada have taken more, so we have made a substantial contribution.
As for particular cases of reunification, our proposed new commitment would widen the eligibility criteria for resettlement cases, but specific cases would need to be considered by the Home Secretary.
Sir Hal Miller : In relation to the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many people in Hong Kong have difficulty in understanding how those people are admitted when refugees--if that is the right description ; "would-be entrants" might be a more neutral term--from China, including their own kith and kin, are not admitted and, if found, are deported?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : That factor is powerfully in the minds of the people of Hong Kong. A substantial number of arrivals from what is called mainland Hong Kong are returned to China each year. That happens, I have no doubt, because of the recognition of the severe overcrowding in Hong Kong. For that reason, such an urgent case was presented by the Government and people
Column 884of Hong Kong for us to do something in the face of the dramatic inflow of Vietnamese boat people. We have done something ; we have introduced the new policy for screening out the non- refugees and we have enhanced our willingness to accept them.
7. Mr. Burns : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what co-operation is being achieved through the United Nations to tackle the threats from international trafficking in cocaine.
Mr. Eggar : A United Nations convention against illicit drug trafficking adopted last December will strengthen international co- operation to combat cocaine trafficking. The United Nations fund for drug abuse control finances major assistance programmes in all the principal cocaine producer countries.
Mr. Burns : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that it is important for the Government to seek the consent and agreement of foreign Governments to reach agreement on taking the assets of drug traffickers? What success, if any, have the British Government had in getting bilateral agreement with other Governments to put a stop to this vile trade?
Mr. Eggar : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In fact, we have already signed six such agreements, the last one being at 10.30 am today when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary signed an agreement with Switzerland. We are in the process of negotiating with 20 other countries and we are in contact with another 20. During my recent visit to Guatemala and Costa Rica I had discussions with the authorities about the possibility of reaching agreement with them.
Mr. Rathbone : While I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Government on the lead they have given internationally in controlling drug trafficking, can my hon. Friend tell us what efforts have been made particularly to encourage other European and Commonwealth countries to sign the United Nations convention?
Mr. Eggar : We constantly point out the need to sign to the relatively few countries that have not signed. Some 43 countries signed when the convention became available. I also had discussions with central American and Latin American Governments about the need to move towards ratification of the convention as soon as possible. With regard to other co -operation with the United Nations, next week my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I will meet Miss Joan Anstee, who is in charge of United Nations bodies in Vienna connected with the fight against drugs.
Column 885entered into further specific undertakings to introduce democracy. It remains to be seen if those commitments will now at last be fulfilled.
Mr. Martin : In so far as Her Majesty's Government can exert pressure on the Nicaraguan Government, will my hon. Friend continue to impress upon them that we shall take those pretensions to democracy more seriously when the rights of opposition parties are respected in that country?
Mr. Eggar : I agree with my hon. Friend. The Nicaraguan Government have committed themselves, in the Esquipulas agreement and on many subsequent occasions, to introducing democracy. Their record so far has not been impressive. Indeed, it is significant that they have not succeeded in introducing democracy. That significance is recognised by the fact that President Ortega himself had to enter into specific agreements in the San Salvador agreement.
Mrs. Mahon : The Minister spoke of the Esquipulas agreement. What pressure did he bring to bear on the Government of Guatemala on his recent visit to central America about their gross violations of human rights and the need for them to keep to that agreement?
Mr. Eggar : I had extensive talks on human rights with both the Foreign Minister and the Home Minister of Guatemala. I also met the human rights procurator. We were requested by the Guatemalan Government to help them by providing assistance on human rights matters. I discussed with them the conclusion of the United Nations special expert who has recently reported to the human rights commission that in his view there is no intention by the Guatemalan Government to abuse human rights.
Mr. Foulkes : Since the Nicaraguan Government declared a ceasefire, they have engaged in constructive dialogue with all opposition forces, and they have allowed even the hypercritical La Prensa to publish freely ; above all, they have brought forward free elections to February 1990, fulfilling all the requirements of the central American peace plan. Is it not extremely unfortunate that last week in San Pedro Sula, as he has done again today, the Under-Secretary of State repeated parrot fashion an out-of -date Washington line? Will he now at last get up to date, recognise the progress in Nicaragua, support the peace plan and the peace initiative, help to ensure that the Americans stop aid to Contra terrorists and ensure that all the Contras are removed from Honduras as quickly as possible?
Mr. Eggar : Of course Her Majesty's Government support the peace process. That is why we signed the agreements following the San Pedro Sula conference. Under the Nicaraguan constitution, the army, the police and the judiciary owe allegiance not to the state but to the Sandinista party. It is perfectly reasonable for me to point out that that is not in accord with what I understand by democracy and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not agree.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker) : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had useful talks with President Mitterrand at the Anglo-French summit meeting in Paris on 27 February. The two Governments consult closely on a wide range of issues. There are numerous ministerial and other contacts between the two countries.
Mr. Gow : Was it not General de Gaulle who described the proper structure of the European Community as "Europe des patries"? Would not the general have approved warmly of the Prime Minister's speech at Bruges? Is my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the Bruges speech matched by that of the present President of France?
Mrs. Chalker : I note the comparison that my hon. Friend makes, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it quite clear at Bruges that Britain's destiny is in Europe. I am not quite sure whether General de Gaulle always saw things in quite the same way. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we must concentrate on practical matters, working for greater unity but avoiding restrictive uniformity. Perhaps President Mitterrand might agree with that rather more than President de Gaulle did.
Mr. Ron Brown : Did the Minister raise the question of France's soaring rates bill, running into thousands of pounds for property owned in London? Did she mention that debt, bearing in mind that in Scotland individuals who refuse to pay the poll tax receive threats to seize their property and arrest their wages? Does she intend to have a warrant sale at the French embassy?
Mr. Curry : While I welcome the recent agreement for the exchange of officials between Britain and France, does my right hon. Friend recognise that the degree of co-operation between Britain and France and Britain and Germany is a shadow of the co-operation between France and Germany? Will she take all possible steps to improve the quality and extent of that co- operation?
Mrs. Chalker : Indeed, Sir. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that an exchange of diplomats at first secretary level is starting in the autumn. I hope that that will be increased and that we shall have not only diplomatic exchanges between the two countries but business exchanges, scholarly exchanges, which already exist, and exchanges between schoolchildren.
Mr. Kaufman : The right hon. Lady described the Prime Minister's talks with President Mitterrand as useful. Was it not indeed useful that President Mitterrand sent the Prime Minister away with a flea in her ear when she tried to enlist him in her dangerous cause to modernise short- range nuclear weapons to circumvent the INF treaty? Is it not equally satisfactory that Chancellor Kohl has given the Prime Minister the same unceremonious brush-off? Why is Britain's the only Government in NATO or the Warsaw pact who are actively planning to increase the world's stock of nuclear weapons?
Column 887east recently that he has missed something. France is currently modernising her own short-range nuclear missiles. Like us, she understands that obsolete weapons do not deter, and President Mitterrand said at the summit that NATO should modernise if the Soviets are doing so. The Soviet Union has conducted a massive modernisation of nuclear forces during the past decade and I have absolutely no doubt that France is pursuing her policy of deterrence in a sensible way, just as we are.
12. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many British citizens detained abroad required consular help in 1988 ; how many of these faced criminal charges ; and what was the total cost of providing assistance.
Mr. Eggar : One thousand, eight hundred and fifty two British citizens were reported to us as having been arrested in 1988 on criminal charges, including 441 in connection with drugs. Those detained briefly for minor offences are often not reported to us. No specific figures are available on the total cost of consular assistance in those cases.
Mr. Evans : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the British people are sick and tired of lager louts, layabouts and hooligans dragging the name of this country through the gutters of the world? Is it not about time that those layabouts who seek consular services paid for those services through direct debits from their wage packets, their social security payments or from their parents and so removed the burden from the taxpayer once and for all?
Mr. Eggar : I understand my hon. Friend's very strong feelings about this matter. A very small minority of British citizens behave disgracefully abroad and give the country a bad name while making life difficult for other British tourists in the same resorts. I have made it clear on many occasions that with regard to requests for consular services, we will put people who have got into trouble as a result of their own activities at the bottom of the list and we will help those who really need help first.
Mr. Heffer : When the Minister considers these problems, will he distinguish between the lager louts from Tory areas in this country and genuine people who may get into difficulties and who are in no way connected with the lager louts from the Conservative areas of this country?
Mrs. Chalker : We look forward to implementation of the United Nations plan for Namibian independence, which is due to begin on 1 April. We are contributing a signals unit to the United Nations transition assistance group.
Mr. Colvin : The House will be aware of the importance of so-called linkage in connection with the implementation of resolution 435--namely the withdrawal of Cuban and South African troops from Angola. The South Africans have gone. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that 70 United Nations observers under the leadership of a Brazilian general are sufficient to verify the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola? Does she see any role for the United Kingdom--which is impartial with regard to Angola--as head of the Commonwealth, in the process which will lead to reconciliation in Angola and to free and fair elections in that country, which we all want to see?
Mrs. Chalker : The United Nation's secretary-general recommended that the United Nation's Angola verification mission--UNAVEM--should consist of 70 monitors. We have full confidence in his judgment that UNAVEM can verify the withdrawal. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of peace in Angola. It is very difficult to see how lasting peace can be achieved without internal reconciliation. We continue to be in touch with all the African leaders who are best placed to mediate in this matter and we hope that there will be reconciliation soon.
Mr. Pike : Will the Minister assure us that she is maintaining the closest possible contact with the changing leadership in South Africa to ensure that genuine Namibian independence can be secured and that that can be the first positive step towards further genuine moves to ending apartheid in South Africa?
Mrs. Chalker : Yes indeed. We shall monitor what happens very carefully, because, as the hon. Gentleman has said, we believe that a successful progression to independence in Namibia may give us further clues about the way in which apartheid can be ended all the faster in South Africa.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton : Will my right hon. Friend assist in the holding of an informal forum or meeting of all the parties that will be contesting elections in Namibia prior to the election process getting under way, particularly if there is considerable support from many countries throughout the world for the holding of such an informal conference as a way of achieving national reconciliation in Namibia before the election campaign gets under way? Will the United Kingdom encourage such a development and perhaps facilitate the holding of such an informal conference?
Mrs. Chalker : I am not sure whether the United Kingdom has the specific role that my hon. Friend suggested. We understand that there may be as many as 46 parties campaigning in the Namibian elections and I honestly do not know whether, with refugees returning to Namibia all the time, it will be possible even to arrange an informal forum such as he suggested. The important thing is that the observers who will be there--all 800 of them, compared with the 460 originally envisaged--ensure that there are free and fair elections. Another 1, 150 civilian monitors will be present during the election campaign. Given those preparations, and because we so much want independent Namibia to be a success, it would not be right to prescribe a special sort of conference, which, as my hon. Friend well knows, was not part of United Nations Security Council resolution 435.