HC Deb 12 December 1984 vol 69 cc1039-41
6. Mr. Ian Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to visit Africa.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I shall be visiting Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya between 5 and 12 January.

Mr. Lloyd

The World Bank, in its challenging and perceptive series of reports on sub-Saharan Africa, has pointed out that the key issues are the better use of investments and the adequate existence of management capacity in Governments. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, despite the well-meaning but misguided observations of certain bishops and others, the one thing we must do is to continue support in that area, especially where investment in South Africa is concerned, since, despite its many faults, it remains the country which most fulfils the World Bank's conditions and is the only country which is well placed to ensure that there is not a massive disaster south of the equator? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the observations of President Reagan yesterday that we shall continue to give unswerving support provided that South Africa continues to address the imperatives of constructive change?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of continued investment throughout Africa, and that that investment should be well managed, and in many places better managed than it is. I also agree with him about the importance of continuing freedom to invest in South Africa where that investment can contribute to the economic and political stability of that country, which has a wider significance. I would rather not agree selectively with parts of President Reagan's observations on South Africa, but I have noted them with interest.

Dr. Owen

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this is perhaps the best opportunity that there has been for six years to obtain a Namibian peace settlement along the lines of the United Nations resolution? The hardening of Republican Congressmen's attitudes and President Reagan's change of position are now coupled with the Angolan President's offer to withdraw Cuban troops from the Namibian border and to send some Cuban troops home. Will the Foreign Secretary take the initiative, with the other four of the original five countries, to push a United Nations settlement in Namibia?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the changes to which he referred, especially the change in the position of the Angolan Government, give greater encouragement to the chances of a settlement of the Namibian problem. As he will know, we have been pursuing this matter through the existing negotiation arrangements for a long time. We shall continue to do that, and I shall consider whether the original Contact Group can do something more in this context. We must give every encouragement to that process.

Mr. Hayes

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend and the House will join me in expressing sympathy with and offering condolences to those British people who lost relatives in last week's Gambian ferry disaster. Will he assure the House that he will do his best to give information to those families, who at present do not know what is happening? One of my constituents does not know whether his brother is alive or dead. Will my right hon. and learned Friend go so far as to say that he will assist with the funeral arrangements at the earliest possible opportunity so that my constituents—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] Mr. Speaker, Opposition Members do not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into detail on a rather broad question.

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, but may I finally ask my right hon. and learned Friend to do everything in his power to ensure that the right information is provided to my constituents on this extremely serious matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House will join my hon. Friend in expressing sympathy with the Gambian Government and people at the sinking of the ship Chilele Jawara on 7 December when it was carrying 73 Gambians and 25 Britons. We especially extend our sympathy to the families of the three Britons who are missing, feared drowned. Only one body has been recovered, and the search continues for the other two. I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxiety on behalf of his constituents, and I assure him that our consular department is in contact with the next of kin and is, through the high commission, keeping them informed of developments. It will continue to do so.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that today there is a lobby of Parliament, jointly organised by the Namibia support committee and the anti-apartheid movement, demanding Government action on independence for Namibia? Will he take to the rally that is being held immediately after Foreign and Commonwealth Questions a message that the Government will now act and speak on behalf of the Namibian people, instead of behaving like a surrogate of South African intransigence, as has hitherto been the case?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman has offered a characteristically misguided insight into the scene. The Government have been exercising the most strenuous endeavours to help to bring about a settlement of the Namibian question. We have been taking an active part, not only in discussions with the South African Government, but with the Angolan Government, the Front Line states and our other partners in the Contact Group. We regard the settlement of this dispute in accordance with resolution 435 as a matter of importance, and we shall continue to press for this.

Mr. Lawrence

While he is in Africa, will my right hon. and learned Friend visit Bophuthatswana, from which I have just returned, which is an independent, free enterprise, democratic, multi-racial and harmonious state, lacking only the recognition of Britain and other countries?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am familiar with my hon. and learned Friend's views, which he propounds with such tenacity, on Bophuthatswana. I fear that I shall not have an opportunity to visit it in the near future. It will have to bask for the moment in the glory of his own recent visit.

Mr. Anderson

The Foreign Secretary knows that we applauded the courage shown by his Minister of State in his attitude to Solidarity when he visited Poland. Will he show a portion of that same courage in denouncing the legal tyranny in South Africa, which charges with treason men who involve themselves in democratic activities? Will he also learn from the President of the United States and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the tune has changed and that it is now respectable to denounce apartheid?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not fully familiar with the fact that, on many occasions, we have expressed our abhorrence of the system of apartheid. We have expressed our views strongly about many manifestations of that, and most recently in the pronouncement that we agreed with our partners in the European Community on 11 September. There was also the speech by the presidency in the General Assembly only three weeks ago. There is no doubt about our position.

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