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Column 1127record is not inspiring, and as greater account is taken of safety measures, extra costs may be imposed on the industry.
Added to this, although estimates have undoubtedly been partly involved in it, is something that is likely to be extended in the future-- decommissioning processes for the whole industry. Paragraph 41 of the report says :
"future potential customers, when placing new reprocessing contracts, can hardly find very attractive the rise of THORP's costs in real terms and the delay in its start up. NII requirements were the principal reason on both accounts. Customers must wonder whether safety requirements in the future will occasion even more delays and cost escalations."
I hope that that will be the case, and that we are becoming more and more safety conscious, for reasons such as those spelled out by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells).
The commercial insurance factor in clause 3 is quite fascinating. What actuarial considerations are involved? "Actuarial" is a technical term, but what we are concerned about are the factors that have to be considered and the chances of various things going wrong. In the context of the nuclear industry, there are the meltdown possibilities, problems of prevailing winds, and problems of airborne disasters, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd.
If a disaster involving plutonium in transit were to occur in a place such as Malta, which is a small island, it could be disastrous for the whole nation. At present Malta is going for the development of new power station provisions. Thankfully, because it is such a small nation, nuclear power is not financially feasible. If an accident were to occur in such an area, it would devastate not only the island but the whole of the Mediterranean. That consideration must be extended to our own island. Although our area and our population are vastly greater than those of Malta, this is still an island. What liabilities have to be taken into account? What, for instance, about dead sheep? How is the accountancy aspect going to be related to that?
Should we not be putting a brake on nuclear development, given that at present there is a great deal of scientific speculation about nuclear fusion--what methods of fusion can be used, and whether these can take place, for instance, at room temperature? I do not know whether, if we were to be told that it could take place at room temperature, we would give the impression that it was as safe as a front room. Or will we have the same problems as I imagine are associated with the current industry--except that some of the problems of meltdown then begin to disappear?
The hon. Member for Havant criticised press interpretations of the Select Committee's report. It is not surprising that the press has responded to the report in what some people may see as a sensational fashion. Paragraph 46, which deals with the transporting of plutonium to Japan by air or sea, states :
"We are concerned about the proposal to fly plutonium to Japan in future, and especially about the use of Prestwick airport In the wake of the Lockerbie disaster, the consequence of a similar air accident--or terrorist outrage--involving plutonium are too horrific to contemplate."
The movement of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste across national frontiers and seas, in particular, seems to me to be especially worrying. A nuclear equivalent of the Karin B, oil spills or of the Lockerbie air disaster is well understood by ordinary people. The thinking may be sensational, but there are very good reasons for having
Column 1128sensational considerations of that type very much to the forefront of our minds. We must be worried by provisions in this Bill. They are technical, but they are technical forms of treachery so far as the wellbeing of people is concerned.
Mr. Barron : I do not intend to delay the House long, but I ought to comment on one or two of the speeches that we have heard. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who is not in his place at the moment, shares with me the view that people are slightly alarmed by the newspaper report about the scuttling of a nuclear submarine. Although I know that the Minister has no departmental responsibility for defence, he may want to comment on that.
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) never ceases to amaze me by his support for the nuclear industry. The industry must be terrified every time he gets to his feet. I am even more amazed by his thoughts on low-level nuclear waste. Only a few years ago the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North was a major voice in the "Bedfordshire Says No" campaign when it was proposed to dump nuclear waste in that county. I am told that he led that campaign well. He now says that the Rolls-Royce solution which has increased the cost is not the answer. When the Select Committee on the Environment published its report on that matter, I am not sure that it was totally convinced by the solution. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that it is better than what was happening at Drigg at that time. It is now in concrete trenches in steel boxes and is retrievable if anything goes wrong.
That has increased the cost to BNFL or at least to its customers since most of the contracts are on a cost-plus basis. However, it makes people in that area and in the country in general more confident about the disposal of low -level nuclear waste.
The rest of the speech by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North consisted of his customary promotion of the flotation of National Power. He pointed out what everybody knows and what will make John Baker and others happy, which is the tie-up of the cost of the nuclear fuel cycle as it is at present.
The hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) and my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) raised an important question about decommissioning. I should like to ask the Minister about the increased cost of decommissioning. As I understand the information in the report, decommissioning is now the total liability of BNFL and will cost £4.6 billion for the new decommissioning policy. Under the old policy, the total liability was £438 million. As I understand it, most of the costs in the cost-plus contracts are passed on to the customers of BNFL which at present are the CEGB and the foreign companies which are sending waste here.
I am interested to note that that does not deal with the decommissioning of all generators in Britain. It is the cost of decommissioning BNFL's plants, and BNFL has only two generators. Therefore, the decommissioning costs of Magnox and other power stations when they come to the end of their life will be in addition to that £4.6 billion. Therefore, we are talking about a much greater threat to the public purse. I do not expect the Minister to comment on that immediately, but I give him notice that we will
Column 1129want to probe that issue further. We will want to discover the total cost of decommissioning Magnox and AGR power stations, and PWR stations if they are fuel-fed in years to come.
The hon. Member for Havant and my hon. Friends mentioned the transportation of plutonium. I understand that it is a major issue in the Prestwick area. I believe that the hon. Member representing that area is the Secretary of State for Defence. In some instances he has no argument about plutonium flying around in airborne craft. I wonder what his position is in relation to the concept of moving tonnes of plutonium to the other side of the world by aircraft flying out of his constituency.
I agree, as I am sure do many others, with the comments made by the hon. Member for Havant about his Committee's feelings on the issue. Perhaps it is an issue on which we should go no further than we have already. However, we still do not have an answer to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd about what we shall do with the tonnes of reprocessed fuel that we have on our hands now. We are told that a clause in the recent contract says that the waste should return to the country of origin. At present, we have no programme for the movement of that fuel so that we can complete that clause in the contract. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's comments on that.
Mr. Michael Spicer : In his opening remarks the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) asked whether the Government intend to make a full response to the Select Committee's report. I can confirm that that will be the case. In the meantime, the House might wish me briefly to give our initial answers to some of the points that have been raised.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland asked about long-term research. In my opening remarks I said that the Health and Safety Commission will need to sponsor research on its own account to ensure that the totality of research is adequate. Therefore, there will be research independent of the immediate requirements of, for example, the nuclear installations inspectorate doing its safety checks and the research associated with that. There will be ongoing research in parallel with that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about my comments during the Report stage of the Electricity Bill on emergency planning procedures. The Health and Safety Commission has asked the Health and Safety Executive to bring forward regulations which will require local authorities to have plans available for dealing with emergencies at nuclear installations. Those regulations will be made under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 after full consultation with interested bodies. Therefore, an intense consultation process is taking place. It is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to bring the regulations forward. There is a promise that those regulations--GMAH-type regulations--will be brought forward. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the relationship between the Atomic Energy Authority and the private sector, whether there could be an extension of that relationship and why it had not been done in the Bill. That is an extremely difficult issue which poses problems that we
Column 1130are currently considering. It raises the question of how far one can allow a public sector body to trade in the private sector. There are arguments both ways. No doubt we shall tell the House our thoughts when we have considered that matter further.
Mr. Spicer : No, I cannot. Obviously, with the changes that have taken place in the AEA, the issue is likely to be in the front of our minds when we think about its future. It would be implicit in the changes that are taking place in the organisation as a result of the various decisions we have taken in the past few months.
The theme of the debate was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd), the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and particularly by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). In the context of the additional finance limits for which the Bill makes provision, the hon. Member for Pontypridd said that the Bill represented a lame-duck rescue. I do not think that he could have been in the Chamber when I said that BNFL has been consistently profitable since its inception, had paid dividends over the last 12 years and aims to pay off all its borrowings by the mid-1990s. He made a comparison with the coal industry. I only wish that it was a true comparison, because, if that were the position facing the coal industry, a lot of our problems, certainly with respect to the coal industry, would not exist. It was a speech that was unusual for the hon. Gentleman. It was full of hyperbole and not, I think, fully worthy of him.
Mr. Spicer : The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has just rushed into the Chamber and is coming to the defence of the coal industry. It is not a question of not liking it ; I was not passing a value judgment on it. It was factually inaccurate to talk about a lame-duck rescue. The hon. Member for Bolsover backs his hon. Friend's judgment no doubt because he shares his prejudices. The hon. Member for Bolsover is full of prejudices ; he is riddled with them. Therefore, it is wholly unproblematic that he would support his hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd's prejudices. I am not surprised that he backs his hon. Friend against me. In fact, I would be rather unhappy if the hon. Member for Bolsover's prejudices were on my side.
I turn now to the question of costs at BNFL because undoubtedly there have been cost overruns in the past. I concede that to my hon. Friend the Member for Havant, who particularly raised this point, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) also raised it. Because of cost-plus contracts, the effect of these overruns has been the almost automatic increase in prices paid by the CEGB ; and because of the monopolistic position of the CEGB in the market place it has in turn been able to pass these cost increases straight through to the electricity consumer.
With the passage of the Electricity Bill--which is relevant in this context, Madam Deputy Speaker--all this will change. The privatised successor companies to the CEGB will no doubt wish to put far greater pressure on BNFL when contracts are struck between them for further
Column 1131reprocessing and related work. What is more, these contracts will be fixed price in nature. BNFL will therefore be under pressure to continue the process of tightening the control by its management of the vast capital projects in which it is currently engaged. And, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North, the Government will ensure that the contracts finally signed are fair as between BNFL and the electricity supply industry. It will be a difficult operation, I concede.
Sir Trevor Skeet : I am heartened by this. These will be fixed price contracts from now on. From what date will this be so? They will not antecede the current date covering the past? This is where the generating companies could fall into difficulties.
Mr. Spicer : The practice of entering fixed price contracts has already been started, so they are nothing new. All I am telling my hon. Friend and the House is that, particularly as the ESI prepares for privatisation, the contracts it will need to strike for its reprocessing arrangements will in all probability be on the basis of fixed prices.
Mr. Barron : I think that the Minister has nearly answered my question, but I want to ask it again. What the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) is asking and what I am asking is this : is the Minister saying that any fuel that is currently under the old cost- plus contract signed for reprocessing will be moved to a new contract with the flotation of the electricity supply industry?
Mr. Spicer : If what I say now is wrong, I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman about it. The answer really depends on the precise terms of the contracts, I suspect. I do not think it will be possible simply to renegade on the existing contracts ; they will be part of the assets and liabilities of the successor company.
Mr. Spicer : The hon. Member for Bolsover is on form this evening. I fully concede that he is absolutely right ; I used the wrong word at that point. I hope that will be the only point on which I shall have to agree with him for the rest of the evening.
I have to say in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Havant that the rise in unit prices in BNFL's main businesses over the past three years amounted to less than 7 per cent. annually for enrichment, were virtually nil for Magnox fuel manufacture and were 8.5 per cent. annually for reprocessing. In fact, AGR fuel prices decreased between 1984 and 1987.
As to the cost increases in the THORP project, increased costs of £200 million to a total of £1.8 billion were due to a requirement to meet more rigorous safety standards and to escalations arising from a delay of over two years in the project. BNFL has now carried out a major review of the THORP project and is increasingly confident of its ability to complete the plant within the latest costs estimate. The first stage receipt and storage facility is now on stream and the main plant is on schedule for completion in 1992.
As to the anxieties which have been expressed by, in particular, the hon. Member for Pontypridd but also by my hon. Friend's Committee about THORP's long-term business prospects, all I can say is that I would not mind
Column 1132having a business which had 10 years' profitable contracts in the bag amounting to some £4 billion. As the House knows, by far the largest component of these contracts is contracts with Japan, which amount to around £2 billion and will make THORP the largest earner of yen in the country. The Japanese contracts are even contributing to the present development of THORP, which will have been fully written off by the time the first 10-year contracts come to an end. I turn next to the second major point which has been recurring throughout this short but, I think the House will agree, interesting debate, the question of the significant misrepresentation which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant has acknowledged, has been given to the Committee's report on the question of the dumping of foreign nuclear waste in this country.
All contracts, for the reprocessing of spent fuel signed since 1976 have contained clauses for the return of waste. Nowhere in the report is it suggested that the pre-1976 contracts should be renegotiated. They were freely entered into and it would be impossible for any Government to step in now and attempt to get them amended retrospectively. Paragraph 30 of the report of the Committee has been particularly misrepresented in this context. The report talks specifically of waste from 1,500 tonnes of spent fuel as being the result of pre-1976 contracts. In the newspapers this morning this has become 1,500 tonnes of waste. In fact, 97 per cent. of this is recovered in the form of uranium and plutonium. About 100 cu m of high-level waste--that is, as said earlier, about two bus loads, which is rather different from the 1,500 tonnes mentioned in the press today--will arise from the reprocessing. This is less than one tenth of the expected high-level waste arising to the year 2000. The vast majority of the billions of pounds of business which lies ahead will be subject to the condition that the waste is returned to the country of origin.
Turning to another set of questions, about decommissioning, which hon. Gentlemen have raised during the course of the debate, a question was raised in particular--I think by the hon. Member for Rother Valley--about the wisdom or otherwise of leaving nuclear plant for a long period after it has been shut down before it is removed. Our primary concern is always to ensure that nuclear plant, whether operating or closed down, is safe in terms of both men and the environment. I will come to the specific question about the triggering of schedule 12 to the Bill in a moment, but there is no doubt that it is technically possible to decommission plant on a much shorter time scale than the industry at present plans. Indeed, we are demonstrating this with the Windscale AGR. However, the difficulties of doing that are considerable. In any reasonable commercial terms, it makes much more sense to leave dismantling work until radioactive decay makes it easier to meet required standards of worker and environmental protection.
The NII and the various authorities are quite clear that 100 years is the best period. Were somebody suddenly to impose a new regulation upon the industry to carry out the third stage of decommissioning sooner, it is quite possible that the provisions of schedule 12 might be triggered off and implemented.
The Select Committee made the interesting suggestion that the companies legislation should be amended to make decommissioning costs the first charge in the event of
Column 1133liquidation. I certainly cannot be expected to make an immediate response to that suggestion today, but I have noted it.
Sir Ian Lloyd : Have the Government received what my hon. Friend would describe as a convincing and complete explanation of the vast difference between the two figures which I gave, the original figure of £468 million and the current figure of £4,600 million?
Mr. Spicer : My hon. Friend was the Chairman of the Select Committee which recommended that the definition of "decommissioning" should be changed from plant on site to a return to a green field site. That redefinition of what was implicit in decommissioning has been a major reason behind the escalation in the provisions for decommissioning which BNFL is now making for its plants. My hon. Friend may have to pursue that point.
Several questions have been raised about the ownership, control and transportation of plutonium after privatisation. I assure the House that the privatisation of the electricity supply industry will make no difference to existing strict controls which govern the ownership and use of all civil materials. Plutonium and other nuclear materials will continue to be subject to Euratom safeguards and the terms of the United Kingdom- Euratom-IAEA safeguards agreement. Reports on plutonium production are supplied to the safeguards authorities by the reactor operators when the irradiated fuel is sent to reprocessing plants. Further reports are made at each stage as the plutonium works its way through the nuclear cycle.
Those procedures are administered by Euratom, whose safeguards inspectors have access at all times to the facilities in question to check that the reports are correct. The present restrictions on the transfer of nuclear material abroad will also continue after privatisation. Civil plutonium can be transferred abroad only on assurances covering its peaceful use, physical protection and controls on retransfer, and it will remain subject to the safeguards arrangements that I have already mentioned.
Mr. Spicer : When I refer to ownership, I may implicitly answer my hon. Friend's question. The hon. Member for Rother Valley also referred to ownership. I stress that it is normal international practice for generators of nuclear power to own the products of their reactors. Therefore, it becomes their responsibility and their cost. At present, plutonium derived from United Kingdom generating boards' fuel is stored at Sellafield, and that is likely to continue to be the practice after privatisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Havant and the hon. Member for Pontypridd were particularly forceful about transportation. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to the comments that have been made.
Column 1134Nuclear materials in transit are subject to very rigorous international safety standards and regulations laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Those international regulations require substantial safety margins to be built into containers so that they can withstand even the severest accident without causing a significant public hazard. A recent study by the advisory committee on the safe transport of radioactive materials concluded that the safety and security risks in transporting nuclear materials were negligible. BNFL and other nuclear operators have been transporting nuclear materials, including plutonium, safely and securely for over 30 years.
I re-emphasise that the Government are committed to retaining nuclear power to provide essential diversity in fuel supplies. The Government's proposals for electricity privatisation should secure a healthy future for BNFL, at least until the end of the century. BNFL's prospects in the longer term will depend on how competitive it can make the services it offers, including reprocessing. The Select Committee's report is relevant in that context. Negotiations are currently under way between the company and the generating boards on new fixed price trading arrangements. That will undoubtedly mean increased risks for BNFL, but it will enable the company to reap the benefits of improvements in efficiency and revised work practices which it is introducing.
From the Government's point of view, it has been an interesting debate. We shall further consider the technical and detailed points and certainly give full attention to the Select Committee's report, which reached us only yesterday.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of bills).
Queen's Recommendation having been signified--
That for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Atomic Energy Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise--
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State ;
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund ; and (3) any increase in the sums payable under any other enactment out of money provided by Parliament or out of the National Loans Fund or in the sums so payable into the Fund or the Consolidated Fund, being an increase attributable to any provision of the Act substituting a financial limit of £2,000 million for that imposed by section 2(1) of the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Act 1977 in relation to British Nuclear Fuels plc.-- [Mr. Michael Spicer.]
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the draft Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989, which were laid before this House on 23rd March, be approved.
That the draft Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989, which were laid before this House on 23rd March, be approved.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : The House has an opportunity tonight to debate Namibia, at a critical time for that war-torn and long- suffering country, when the outcome of debates such as this is important, not only in the House but in the Houses of Parliament of permanent members of the Security Council who hold the fate of Namibia in their hands. The outcome of such debates will determine the concerns at the end of the road on which Namibia has been set under resolution 435. The debate is important when we have seen waged a battle which has not only included the usual combatants--soldiers, guerrillas, troop carriers and guns--but is also very much about public relations. South Africa has waged a relentless public relations war against SWAPO. It is important that we should think of the human casualties and consequences of what is happening in that country.
I have in mind a young boy whom I and my German parliamentary colleague, Professor Dr. Klaus Osswalld, who recently travelled with me to Namibia, saw in the military base-airport--for it is both--of Oshikati. That little boy did odd jobs and ran errands and, by that means, supported himself, his parents and his grandparents--a whole extended family--in that region which, of late, has come to be entirely dependent for its economy on the presence of the military. The old traditional basis of Ovamboland's economy has all but disappeared and the area has become absorbed in the great military battle that is taking place in that area.
The little boy supported his extended family by running errands for the soldiers who guarded the airport--perhaps getting them a cold coke from the only refrigerator for miles around--and they would give him the odd cent or two and, during the course of the day, doing such little jobs as he could, he would collect sufficient rand to meet his needs and those of that whole family, who no longer had their land, their traditional means of support, to sustain them.
I wonder as we discuss Namibia what has happened to that little boy and his family in Ovamboland, in an area of the country which has become in certain parts a free fire area for the South African defence force. One suspects, if the little boy is still there, that he is making more rand than ever because of the extent of troop movements in the area and the many hundreds of troops now based around the airport there. He is probably still running errands for them, if he is there and if he has the heart--bearing in mind what might have happened to his family--to continue his efforts. As we debate this issue, we must have in the forefront of our minds the future of that young boy and his family. What sort of future will he have in an independent Namibia? While it is important for us to consider current events and what led up to them, our major task must be to ensure that we move forward steadily and with resolution to the satisfactory implementation of resolution 435. We must build up in Namibia an economic and political infrastructure brought about as a result of free and fair elections. Such an infrastructure must be capable of maintaining, supporting and developing a non-racial democracy in that country. That will prove that there is
Column 1136another way, a real alternative to apartheid South Africa, the nation on which Namibia will inevitably have to rely for some time for much of its needs if its economy is to survive.
We have an opportunity in Namibia to create a showcase for the people of South Africa, to show them what life can be like after apartheid. That is why it is vital for us to get it right. But we must be under no illusions about the forces that are working against such a peaceful settlement and the existence of that type of showcase.
I do not want to dwell tonight on what has happened in the past, but the version of events that has been put out by South Africa in recent days--the version of events that, I am afraid, has been reflected here in the utterances of the Prime Minister in replying to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston)--gives cause for concern. It is not enough to pillory SWAPO over the events of 1 April and what has happened subsequently--to put SWAPO in the dock and blind oneself to the reality of what the South Africans have been doing. Mistakes have undoubtedly been made on all sides, but South Africa cannot be proud of its role in this matter. Indeed, its role is worthy of condemnation by the international community.
We saw in the recent events in Ovamboland what was almost the inevitable result of a process that has never sought to include SWAPO in the decision- making. To this day--the recent meeting on Mount Etjo was an example of this--the process has not treated SWAPO as an equal party that must be consulted and involved in decisions about the future of that country.
We are seeing the consequences of not involving SWAPO, of a peace process that all too often has been based on protocols, conventions and understandings which are not formulated in one place, along with resolution 435. It is not possible to put one's hand on a bundle of documents and say, "This is the peace plan and this is what is to happen." The United Nations has not been able to do that, and it seems that nobody is able to look at the whole body of protocols and so on in a combined way, thereby creating the peace plan building on resolution 435. Hence, it is a flaky and nebulous agreement in too many ways, and we should not be surprised at what happened. The version of events given by South Africa cannot be accepted without critical analysis, and that analysis must be based on what we hear and on eye witness accounts of what took place on the ground on 1 April. Those accounts deserve more credence than they have been given. I give an example from a witness of the churches in Namibia. He is from the Evangelical Lutheran church based in Ovamboland. He reported on an incident which occurred about 35 km north of Ongwediva.
Christian pastors who moved into the area shortly after the events I am describing came across five children. Children are the greatest victims of the struggle, not only in Namibia but throughout southern Africa. We must have special regard for them as victims because they are completely innocent, whatever their parents or relatives might be or might have done.
Those five children told of how they had to flee from the bullets, as they described it, and spend the night hiding in a bush. They took the delegation to a site where evidence of fighting was found. The delegation found blood and traces of bodies that had been dragged along the ground. They found items of equipment and foodstuff. They
Column 1137interviewed civilian eye witnesses, one of whom told of how he had spoken to a man--one of a group of 50 men, he said- -who told him that they were from SWAPO and that they were regrouping and had not come there to fight. The witness said that while they were speaking he heard the sound of approaching Casspirs, meaning armoured troop carriers. He said that the guerrilla told him to run away. This is what the witness said then followed :
"All of a sudden people were fleeing, bullets were flying, and the guerrillas took cover. The people who shot first were the SADF"-- that is, the South African defence force. That was the evidence of one eye witness who saw men being fired on, initially by the South African defence force. Those men sought to defend themselves and fired back. The men had not gone there for the purposes of engaging in or renewing a war, but to establish bases and to surrender to the UNTAG troops.
The evidence of that witness was to be repeated in a variety of incidents throughout Ovamboland. One must give that sort of witness some credence. It is no use dismissing it as SWAPO propaganda, as unreliable and not to be believed. We must weigh such evidence in the balance and we must then say, as all fair-minded and honest people do say, that there is some doubt and more than a question about whether SWAPO was there for any belligerent purpose. Indeed, the United Nations Secretary- General made it clear that it was not possible to say that SWAPO were the belligerents in this matter.
However, when the Prime Minister came hot-foot from Namibia to answer questions in the House, she gave the impression to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber that it ws all SWAPO's fault, that they were the ones to blame. In so doing, she lent credence to the South African regime and to its version of events. She provided it with a massive public relations coup, which it has been seeking to exploit ever since.
The Prime Minister must understand when she goes about her travels that she cannot hope to be perceived in the world or in Africa as the midwife of Namibian independence while she continues to act as if she were the wetnurse of apartheid. The two are inconsistent. If the Prime Minister cares about the future of Namibia--one must hope and pray that she does care--it is absolutely vital that she seeks to be, and is, even-handed between the parties.
One does not for one moment suggest that the Minister of State has been anything other than even-handed, but it is for the Prime Minister to give a lead in these matters and we are entitled to look to her for that lead. Only then will Britain be able to play a role in the resolution of this conflict and ensure that we fulfil our responsibilities not only in the Security Council, but our historic role and responsibilities in that part of Africa, which are real, great and heartfelt. We have a role to play and we must play it to the full.
But be that as it may, current events have cast a massive doubt on the sincerity of South Africa's commitment to the peace process. We have read today in the newspapers about massive gatherings of troops outside those areas where SWAPO guerrillas have been told to surrender their arms. Once again, the authorities have turned to the churches for support and have asked them to provide
Column 1138places where people will feel safe to gather. However, the churches have reported today that gatherings of South African soldiers close to the churches have deterred SWAPO guerrillas from going there, as inevitably they would. When one hears the news today from OXFAM representatives in the area that a South African base was established 40 yards away from an assembly point, and that a South African soldier stood at the entrance to an UNTAG assembly point, can one be surprised that the number of SWAPO guerrillas who have surrendered is as small as it is? We have also been told today that four SWAPO soldiers, who presented themselves to a Finnish Lutheran mission at Oniipa, told the mission that they did so because they did not feel able to go to the United Nations assembly points without the missionaries' protection because approaching those points was too dangerous.
That is the reality of what is happening now and it does not say much for the bona fides of the Administrator-General, Mr. Piennaar, who now maintains that he was misunderstood, that SWAPO guerrillas should be interrogated at the time of their surrender and before their removal to Angola. But interrogated by whom? The answer is, by SWAPOL, the South-West African police force. Recently I asked the Minister of State at Foreign and Commonwealth Office Question Time to give us some assurances on this. Clearly, she could not do so then, but I hope that she will be able to tonight. It is believed that up to half the members of that force are former members of Koevoet, which is Afrikaans for crowbar, a notorious, cruel and inhumane paramilitary counter-insurgency unit, which was supposed to be disbanded under resolution 435 but which, it would seem, has been integrated into the ordinary police force of the territory. Yet SWAPO guerrillas are supposed to surrender themselves for interrogation by those people. It beggars belief that that can be the basis of any genuine peace or trust between the parties in this conflict. We need a practical assurance on the role of SWAPOL and Koevoet within it--and on that of battalion 101. At one stage in the debacle that followed the events of 1 April, when UNTAG was caught unequipped and unprepared in terms of its military numbers and any form of strategy--we are told that its members did not even know how to contact SWAPO because the lines of communication did not exist--the number of UNTAG forces in the region was such that things came to such a pass that it was necessary to use battalion 101 to police the conflict. Battalion 101 is another hated and loathed offshoot of the South African army.
None of that inspires trust or confidence. It does not hold out any hope for a lasting peace or for a smooth and steady transition, through the electoral process, to ultimate independence. We want some signs of the bona fides of the Administrator-General and South Africa in this matter. South West Africa territory force members should be confined to their bases and UNTAG should be increased to such a level that it can be relied upon to police the settlement.
The situation demands a re-evaluation of the Security Council's initial response to the requests from the Secretary-General for 7,500 soldiers to form part of UNTAG instead of the 4,650 that he was ultimately allocated. That allowed a saving of $284 million in a budget which was cleared only on 1 March. When, on 31 March, my German parliamentary colleague and I asked
Column 1139when the force would be operational, the director of the special representative's office, Mr. Cedric Thornberry, said that it would take six weeks.
There is a clear argument for increasing the forces at the disposal of the special representative and we look to the British Government to give the clearest possible indication that that is the line which we should be pursuing in the Security Council. Someone must make that demand and we look to this Government to make it. That demand is eminently reasonable and vital if we are to move in the right direction.
We need those assurances from the Government and we look to the Minister of State to provide them to the House and to the country tonight. However, we must also reflect on what we expect UNTAG to do. We must reflect on what we expect those men, women and soldiers to do in Namibia and what we expect the dedicated international civil servants to deliver. We must consider what attitude and approach is required of them in the implementation of resolution 435. We can envisage no way forward in that territory which requires UNTAG to perform a reactive role or to act simply as a court of appeal, distanced from the hurly-burly and day-to-day resolution of conflict, without a hands-on approach which is proactive as well as reactive. If the special representative, Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, does not adopt that approach, UNTAG will not have the confidence of the people and it will be obliged to rely on the Administrator-General, Lois Piennar, for support and assistance.
How can we ask the United Nations in Namibia to perform the task which the international community has set it, namely to take Namibia out of the clutches of apartheid and from the control of South Africa, using the same office which for all these years has kept Namibia in the thrall of apartheid? That is not on. There must be a willingness to be proactive and get out and actively engage in the issues and resolution of conflict which will inevitably present themselves daily to the parties in Namibia given the difficulty and delicacy of the task.
I hope that all hon. Members appreciate the delicacy and difficulty of the position in Namibia. We are not talking about Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia, where Britain had sole responsibility and where there was a governor-general of the calibre and quality of Lord Soames. We must also recognise that unless we adopt the words "control" and "supervision" which relate to the electoral process contained in resolution 435 and become concerned not simply with supervision but with control, it will not be possible to move Namibia through the electoral process to independence. There must be resources and the political will to control the situation and come out from under the wings of the Administrator-General. That is vital for the confidence of the people in UNTAG and for the resolution of the conflict. Let us consider the task which Mr. Ahtisaari set himself when he arrived on 31 March. He detailed what he described as the essential preparations. First of all, he said :
"All Namibian political prisoners and detainees, wherever they are held, must be set free."
That is a requirement of resolution 435. However, there is an immediate problem there. I have met lawyers involved in human rights cases in Namibia and I have met representatives from the Churches responsible for ministering to the families of detainees. I have been told--and I believe this to be true--that