HC Deb 18 February 1981 vol 999 cc262-4
6. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the current state of United Kingdom relations with South Africa.

Mr. Luce

We have normal diplomatic relations with South Africa. The Government's view has always been that dialogue and contact provide a more constructive basis for our relations with South Africa than do ostracism and isolation. A significant element is the importance we attach to an internationally recognised settlement in Namibia and to peaceful change in South Africa towards a Government based on the consent of all their peoples.

Mr. Brotherton

Can my hon. Friend confirm the impression held by most of us that the reported statement by the Foreign Secretary to the Foreign Minister of Mozambique that the Government had not ruled out sanctions against South Africa was only a diplomatic ploy? Will he confirm that, should the question of sanctions come before the United Nations, the Government would not hesitate to use the veto?

Mr. Luce

I can only reiterate the view that the Government have taken from the time that they took office in May 1979. We do not think that the imposition of sanctions is a constructive way to tackle the problem. Neither independence for Namibia, nor the creation of a so-called just society in South Africa, would be advanced by measures designed to drive South Africa into isolation.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Bearing in mind that the Government, with other Western Allies, have discouraged discussion of Namibia in the United Nations and have prevented sanctions resolutions from being passed, do not the Government feel let down by the South African Government because of the failure of the Geneva conference to reach agreement? Is it not clear that the Government trusted South Africa to deliver the goods and to achieve a ceasefire? What will the Government do now that their trust has been so badly misplaced?

Mr. Luce

I have already tried to answer a number of questions about Namibia. I have made it absolutely plain that we must consider a number of factors. The Administrator-General for South Africa made it plain at the Geneva conference that he thought it premature to reach a final agreement. Elections are to be held in South Africa at the end of April. The American Administration must have time to assess the position in South Africa as a whole. The five Western nations will keep in touch. Therefore, this is a sensible time to pause and to reflect how best to move forward.

Mr. Amery

As the United States, France and Britain are deploying forces in the Indian Ocean on what appears to be a long-term basis, and as the southern exit of the Red Sea is under Soviet control from both the Ethiopian and the Aden sides, is it not becoming urgent that we should re-establish relations with South Africa in respect of naval intelligence, access to South African ports, and the provision of security for the South African coastline? If we do not do so, we shall endanger the lives of both our men and our ships.

Mr. Luce

There is no doubting the strategic importance of the South Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Cape route. My right hon. Friend is fully aware of our obligations under the mandatory United Nations arms embargo. We do not think that it is in the wider interest for Britain to have military collaboration with South Africa. Having said that, there are contingency arrangements whereby NATO nations could, and would, co-ordinate to provide naval control and protection of friendly merchant shipping outside the NATO area, including the South Atlantic, in times of tension and war.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is the Minister aware that the Opposition endorse the recent forthright condemnation of activities in South Africa by the Dutch Presidency of the EEC? When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary visit Washington, will they make it clear to the new Administration that we expect a harder line to be taken towards South Africa than has been apparent from statements made during the election campaign? Will they point out to President Reagan that it is not in the interests of the West to support tyranny and repression, whether in South Africa, El Salvador or anywhere else?

Mr. Luce

I am sure that the minds of the Prime Minister, President Reagan and the Secretaries of State will, in a constructive sense, be looking at the picture of South Africa to see how Britain, the United States and the West can best contribute towards bringing about a peaceful settlement and stability in that part of the world. I am sure that their minds will be concentrated on that question.