HC Deb 27 March 1975 vol 889 cc714-24

Question again proposed.

12.44 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I looked at the annunciator and saw that my parliamentary colleague and geographical neighbour, the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), was on his feet and so I came into the Chamber. It is important, if only for a few minutes, to make my position clear.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member was not here when I said that this debate will finish at 1.15, and there are other hon. Members who have signified their wish to share in the debate.

Mr. Johnson

As an old and disciplined Member, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I accept that willingly, and therefore I shall shorten my speech to one of less than four minutes.

I shall not say anything about apartheid, because I am sure the Minister will deal with that. The position of the Labour Party on Humberside is well known, and I want to refer only to the post-1964 situation.

At that time, we were committed to selling 30 Buccaneers to South Africa. We stopped that and explained our position as supporters of the Government. We stopped at the 14th plane because of our distaste of the behaviour of South African whites towards the blacks. It is true, of course, as the hon. Member for Haltemprice said, that that did not deter our amoral—not immoral—neighbours in the EEC, such as France, from stepping in and supplying South Africa's needs.

If we wish to maintain work at Hawker-Siddeley at Brough, the job of Members of Parliament and of the Government is to provide other work to take the place of the Bucanneer if and when it is phased out. The HS146—

Mr. Price

It has been cancelled

Mr. Johnson

Not yet. We can still fight for a civilian plane such as the HS146, but we can also fight for a share in the work on the jump-jet or any other plane which the Government decide to build.

It is not enough to say that these men will lose their jobs because we are refusing to supply planes to a régime which we regard as alien to our way of life. Our duty and obligation is to tell our shop stewards that it is not impossible to find other planes to build to take the place of work now being done on planes which may be phased out.

That is our position, and it is an honest and decent one. It is our job to find work for our men in civilian or other spheres, and not to sell planes to South Africa.

12.48 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Fox (Shipley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on introducing this Adjournment debate. It is no secret that recently six of us returned from a visit to the Republic of South Africa. The visit was welcomed by the Conservative Members, but the considerable criticism which it attracted while we were there was directed to the three Labour Members who had the courage to go to see for themselves what the situation was.

There ought to be a reappraisal of our policy towards South Africa and an acceptance that things have changed there. In the best traditions of the House I hasten to add that we went to South Africa at the invitation and expense of the South African Government, but we drew up the programme that we wanted. We met trade unions, we met black, coloured and white people, and we encountered all shades of opinion. I looked at textile areas, and we considered wage rates. There has been a discreditable campaign to attack certain companies in South Africa and the South African nation because of wages rates. I found acceptable the conditions under which I saw the Bantu working in the mining and steel industries.

Is our record on the continent of Africa such that we can say that we know how things should progress? It is reasonable to say that any progress the South African Government make must be within the framework of law and order. On my short visit I recognised that law and order were being maintained and I saw the relaxations mentioned by my hon. Friend in the practice of apartheid and the greater opportunities given in industry to black Africans. It is surprising that much of the hostility to black advancement in jobs comes from white trade unionists. In many industries employers would be happy to provide them with more responsible jobs, but objections come from surprising sources. Economic pressures will ensure that the advancement we want to see will continue.

We are all looking to the Minister to say that there is change. We should give credit where it is due. For too long we have heard from the Government side of the House criticism of South Africa. Let us look forward to a period when apartheid will be lifted and advancement in industry will be made by black and coloured workers. What we all want to see, namely, increased friendship and trade with every nation, will then come about.

In my constituency there are textile and engineering industries, and I want to see all my constituents in work providing the goods which South Africa wants. I regret that Left-wing members of the Labour Party seek to make party political points on every occasion when South Africa is debated. I can think of two Ministers who are guilty of this—I do not know whether they took part in the debate yesterday but they are of the female sex—one in the hon. Gentleman's Department. The other one shall be nameless. I am sure that the Minister is a man of sincerity, and I look forward to his reply.

12.52 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on initiating the debate. I wish to comment on one aspect, which is that British policy towards South Africa should accord with British interests. In a debate of this sort it is necessary to strip away inessentials and get down to British interests. What are British interests? The Republic of South Africa is an extremely valuable trading partner for Britain and we cannot ostracise that country and still expect trade with it to grow. There is a great future in that part of Africa for the raw materials and food which a prosperous world will require in increasing quantities in the future.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend on the need to co-operate with South Africa in the maintenance of peace on the Cape route. One has only to look at a schoolboy map to understand its importance. The aircraft, weapons and maritime equipment which we know are required by the South Africans and which, to be fair, successive British Governments have failed to provide, cannot be used for internal purposes. It is hypocrisy to pretend that Buccaneers, frigates, submarines and Nimrod aircraft can be used for internal purposes, whether or not one agrees with the internal purposes.

The Simonstown Agreement is a joint agreement, and the South African Government have kept well their side of it. I say with the deepest possible regret that the way in which successive British Governments have kept their side of the Simonstown Agreement leaves a great deal to be desired.

I pay tribute from my past life to the South African Navy. In recent years I have visited its huge maritime headquarters and seen what an extremely careful eye is kept on what occurs on that vital trade route. If the South African Navy did not do that, no one else could. From the maritime headquarters a watchful eye is kept on unidentified submarines which come in close to the coast, a few hundred yards off shore, for what purpose no one knows. To prevent war, which is our function, we must know what is going on.

To sum up, I believe that our policy towards South Africa should be reasonable, sensible, generous and unbiased. We should remember Lenin's remark that if we control the tip of Africa we control the world.

12.56 p.m.

Mr. Peter Maker (Blackpool, South)

I add my voice to those of my hon. Friends who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on initiating the debate. As always he spoke with great knowledge of southern Africa, and this has been a valuable debate.

I believe that Mr. Vorster is making a determined effort to promote détente in Africa, which is vitally necessary if bloodshed is to be avoided in the southern part of the continent. As a consequence of Portugal's departure from its overseas African territories, the wind of change is blowing harder than ever before. Nevertheless we should bear in mind the diffi- culties faced by Mr. Vorster and the South African Government. They have to try to calm a tense situation and at the same time retain the support of the European population, who, naturally in the present situation, have fears and uncertainties. I agree with my hon. Friends who said that there are encouraging signs of change in Southern Africa. No one has referred to the conciliatory speeches made a few weeks ago by President Kaunda and Mr. Vorster, which were significant.

There are encouraging signs of change in South Africa itself. Change is coming about in the Republic. Voices in the Dutch Reformed Church have spoken up in favour of mixed worship. The Synod of the Church has resolved that there are no theological grounds on which to base the immorality laws. Non-whites have been sent as representatives to the United Nations. The Afrikaaner newspapers have urged the need for a swifter change in connection with multiracial sport. Above all, the demands of a modern economy are placing strains upon the system of apartheid.

We are glad that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in his recent tour of Southern Africa included a visit to the Republic, as we urged before he went. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said, we have important trading interests in South Africa, and that is one reason why we think that visit was valuable. The value of our exports in 1974 was £526 million but we have to put against that the fact that the value of our exports to other independent countries south of the Sahara in 1974 was £609 million.

No one should underestimate the benefits which the Simonstown Agreement brings to Britain and the free world generally. I endorse what has been said about the value of the agreement by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester and others, some of whom have greater knowledge than I have. The Simonstown Agreement is recognised by the independent Governments of Africa to be a strategic agreement designed to safeguard the sea routes.

The idea that it is incumbent on this country to choose between the Simonstown Agreement and good relations with black African countries is false. I do not think we are faced with that choice. I am not convinced that there is a strong demand in the black countries of Southern Africa to that effect except to the extent that the idea has been put forward by Left-wing members of the Labour Party. It was never necessary, and it is not necessary, for us to make that choice.

Next, I wish to say a few words about South West Africa, or Namibia. The South African Government have made it clear to the United Nations that they are prepared to negotiate about the future of South West Africa with the people of that country. It is in everybody's interest that a just and peaceful solution should be reached.

I turn lastly to the question of Rhodesia. For a peaceful solution, for which we on this side fervently hope, as I think do hon. Members in all parts of the House, both sides must make very big concessions. If the British Government have a rôle which can be clearly identified in the present situation, it is to encourage both sides to approach the dialogue in a meaningful way. The Government have spent some time in encouraging the black African countries and the nationalists. I am confident that their encouragement has been along the lines which I have suggested. But I know of no sign that they have been encouraging the white population of Rhodesia along similar lines. I hope the Government realise that there is a serious need for them to give encouragement and reassurance to the white population. By doing that, they would make what could be a key contribution to the cause of peace in Southern Africa.

1.2 p.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. David Ennals)

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) always makes a thoughtful contribution when he speaks on Rhodesia. He speaks from long experience. Today he has spoken about the question of détente, and the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) has spoken about change.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice paid tribute to the rôle which had been fulfilled by the Presidents of the African States in seeking a solution of some of the major problems of South Africa. I, too, pay tribute to the Presidents of the African States, and add a further tribute to the helpful rôle played in this context by Mr. Vorster, the South African Prime Minister. We would support him in anything he did to promote détente, and certainly anything which he did to promote change for the good in South Africa. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), I do not believe that the supplying of Buccaneers or Nimrods is the sort of contribution which is needed for détente or for the process of change.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Haltemprice has gone on record, in the House and elsewhere, as recognising the inevitability of majority rule in Rhodesia and has said that the basic question is of the timing of the transfer of power from white to black. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that there is no other way. It is an unfortunate fact, nevertheless, that the hopes of many of us here and overseas have received a severe setback from the return of the Rev. Sithole to detention on 4th March and the murder of Mr. Hubert Chitepo on 18th March. I was sad that the hon. Gentleman did not even express a word of regret about his murder.

It would not be helpful for me to speculate on the detailed background of these events or to try to assess responsibilities or attribute blame for them, but they show a fundamental malaise in Rhodesian politics and seem only too likely in themselves to constitute further obstacles to the search for a just and peaceful solution. There have been failures in the fulfilment of the Lusaka Agreement, and those failures have been on both sides. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that the most important thing now is that the negotiations should be resumed at the earliest possible opportuniy. There should be a cessation of hostilities and a release of political detainees.

Fortunately, the signs are that all concerned—the South African Government, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana and the African National Council—are persevering in their efforts to get matters moving again. I hope that Mr. Smith will respond. I agree that an agreement in Rhodesia can be reached only by concessions, which will need to be made by both sides. But there can be no concession about whether the aim for Rhodesia must be majority rule with full and equal rights for people regardless of race. We recognise that time is not on our side.

I agree with the hon. Member for Haltemprice that the choice is between peaceful change and bloody war, and the danger is that hostilities will be resumed unless the move for a peaceful settlement and negotiation is resumed. I was sorry that the hon. Gentleman chose to read—I think that he had some difficulties in reading the print—a newspaper article which criticised my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. No doubt one can read the Press and glean criticisms of the Foreign Secretary's visit, but—

Mr. Wall

It was Zambia Radio.

Mr. Ennals

No doubt one can find criticisms. My impression is that my right hon. Friend's visit was warmly welcomed by the leaders of Zambia and that his continuing interest and exchange of information with them are also recognised.

It is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to intervene in any way which would do other than promote the discussions. We recognise that eventually there will have to be a constitutional settlement. This House will have to determine the matter. The decision will lie here. There is no point in discussing where a conference should be held or who the chairman should be. That is not for us. It is important, however, that the two parties—those who represent the régime and those who represent the African National Council—should discuss not only those issues but some of the substantive issues so that there is a basis for a move forward.

There is no doubt about where Her Majesty's Government stand in the situation. We envisage tremendous changes. Who would have believed a year ago that the events in Mozambique and Angola would have taken place? This makes me feel not only that there are great pressures for change but that South Africa has the resilience to absorb change. We are in for times of great change in Africa.

But Rhodesia is not the only problem. There has been reference to Namibia. This is another touchstone of the South African Government's good intentions. They have already hinted that there will be changes and we have left them in no doubt that they must get into action and fulfil the expectations which have been aroused.

Reference has been made to the difficulties of achieving a unitary State. One thing which must be made clear is that Namibia's future must be determined by the free choice of its inhabitants. No solution can be imposed on the Namibians which they do not want. That applies to any attempt to split the territory of Namibia in accordance with policies of racial discrimination. The constitutional structure of a future independent Namibia should be left to Namibians to decide. If we say that it is not for South Africa to decide, we must also say that it is not for us to decide.

The next stage is for the administration in Namibia to negotiate with the freely-elected representatives of the inhabitants so that an early start can be made to the democratic process leading up to independence. Reference has been made to the debates in the United Nations. An important helpful resolution was passed by the Security Council which was supported by the British Government. It is important that there should be a response from South Africa in terms of a declaration of intent. I hope that there will be such a response from the South African Government.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox), following his visit to South Africa, referred to conditions there and said that he wished that sometimes credit would be given when advances were made. I take this opportunity of expressing our warm welcome for certain changes which have been made in the petty apartheid restrictions. However, these are improvements which do not go to the heart of the matter, which is the whole apparatus of apartheid. Nevertheless, any progress that is made is to be welcomed, as long as it is progress towards recognising the equality of people, whatever their colour.

The hon. Member referred to sporting embargoes. We welcome the fact that there is now a willingness for white and coloured people on occasions to engage in sport together. I believe that is due largely to South Africa's feeling of being isolated, and this results from pressure on the part of the rest of the world, including the sporting world which was not prepared to be involved in apartheid sport. I say more power to those who express their views to this effect, for apartheid in sport is as loathsome as apartheid in any other form of human behaviour.

The Simonstown Agreement and Britain's supplying of arms to South Africa have been referred to. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect us to change our policy, which we believe to be right, that it does not help to secure an end to apartheid for Her Majesty's Government to continue to supply arms to South Africa. Our position has been stated and restated. I will try to restate it in the remaining time at my disposal. We have announced our intention to enter into negotiations with the South African Government to terminate the Simonstown Agreement.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) continues with his opposition to the Government's policy in this respect, but I believe that we are right. The agreement is nearly 20 years old and a number of its provisions are no longer relevant to the present-day situation. The time has come to end it and we hope that these discussions will begin shortly. I do not accept that our decision here is likely to worsen our relations with South Africa.

As for ordinary economic relations, we have not said that we should not have businesslike dealings with South Africa as we do with other countries irrespective of race, colour or ideology. This applies to our trade policy in the non-military sphere.

Mr. James Johnson

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to Tory Members that we are nauseated by their constant reiteration that the Left wingers of the Labour Party forced the Government to adopt their present policy in relation to Simonstown? Will he make it clear that it is the policy of the Labour movement as a whole—of all of us, moderates or not?

Mr. Ennals

This is a policy which has been enunciated by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. It is supported by the Labour Party and it is a view which is deeply held in the country.

I was interested in the argument of the hon. and gallant Member to the effect that the only consideration which should determine the policies of the British Government is British interests. Of course we must never forget British interests, but it is part of British interest to show that we have concern for people in other parts of the world in terms of aid, in the battle against racial discrimination, and in their striving for freedom. These issues run deep in the hearts and minds of the British people, not just in the hearts and minds of those whom the hon. Gentleman pleases to call the Leftish elements of the Labour Party. It is in this spirit that we are concerned with the plight of political prisoners in South Africa. This is why we voted in December for United Nations Resolution 3342C calling for the release of people who have been imprisoned for non-criminal political activities. The resolution was approved unanimously, although we stated our disagreement with parts of it. The resolution was an important expression of international opinion.

I believe not only that the Prime Minister of South Africa has shown statesmanlike behaviour in relation to Rhodesia but that he is conscious of pressures from others parts of the world. South Africa cannot remain isolated. World feeling on these issues is beginning to be taken into account not only in South Africa but also in Rhodesia. If we were to remain silent on these issues of principle we should not be contributing to that expression of world opinion which will make a contribution to the final settlement of the issues we have been debating.