HC Deb 03 December 1986 vol 106 cc916-8
3. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations have been made by Her Majesty's Government to the Government of South Africa regarding the policy of apartheid.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have repeatedly made known to the South African Government our abhorrence of and opposition to apartheid. Most recently on 14 November, with our European partners, we made representations to express our concern at possible forced removals from Oukasie township.

Mr. Pike

In view of the Government's declared continued opposition to the policy of apartheid and the phrase in the Queen's Speech referring to the Government's support for the independence of Namibia, what do the Government intend to do to pursue that policy and to ensure that that independence is secured as soon as possible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We intend to maintain our pressure for the implementation of resolution 435 as part of our overall policy for progress in South Africa.

Sir Ian Lloyd

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted the courageous and ingenious solution prepared by the multiracial conference in the town, known as Indaba? Does he share my regret that it has been rejected by President Botha? Will he offer what ecouragement and support he can to the people of the town to hold aloft the beacons of hope and reason in that country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have followed the progress of the Natal Indaba with interest. When I was in South Africa in the summer I discussed it with the provincial administrator of Natal, whom I have known for many years since we were at Cambridge together. Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the efforts that have been made to reach agreement between all sections and groups in Natal along the lines projected. I am surprised at the move that appears to have been made towards rejection of those proposals.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Foreign Secretary going to congratulate the anti-apartheid movement on the way in which it has persuaded Barclays bank to withdraw its holdings in South Africa? Is he aware that we hope that this approach will be followed by many other companies? Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman any comments to make on the brutal killings last night of a couple in South Africa who were noted for their campaigning against apartheid?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot make a specific comment on that tragedy because I am not armed with information about it, beyond what the hon. Gentleman, no doubt, has already seen. One regrets all deaths from violence in this type of situation. It has been our view that decisions of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman refers must be taken on commercial grounds. A continuation of the present policies in South Africa is not likely to discourage such decisions. We do not think that disinvestment for South Africa is likely in the long run to be in the interests of changes away from apartheid.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that before Barclays pulled out of South Africa the social policies that it adopted played no small part in persuading the South African regime to liberalise as much as it has done? What possible incentive could there now be to the South African Government to continue with those liberalising policies when the more they liberalise, the more they are attacked by Labour Members?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I note the premise from which my hon. Friend is arguing, but the failure to move away fast enough from the policy of apartheid, which the whole House deplores, is one reason why this type of difficult commercial decision is forced on companies in this position. Of course, my hon. Friend is right to commend the way in which British companies, while they remain in South Africa, have been trying to lead opinion in the right way.

Mr. Anderson

Has the Foreign Secretary noticed in the past few weeks that the South African Government have shelved amendments to the Group Areas Act, have rejected the Kwazulu-Natal option and have intensified forced removals and the torture of children in detention? In the light of those movements all one way and his snub during his July visit, does he still believe that he can influence the South African Government constructively, or would he rather congratulate the anti-apartheid movement and the National Union of Students on the Barclays withdrawal, follow their course, and say that he can constructively disengage our Government from South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is making a more than usually convoluted analysis of a situation that is difficult enough anyway. From the view point of both sides of the House, progress towards the removal of apartheid is much slower than we would wish. We make that judgment at the end of a period in which some voluntary disinvestment has taken place and some additional sanctions have been put in place and in which there has been some advocacy of all kinds. None of those had the effect on the scale that we would like. It must be said that some of the recent action by the South African Government, including the deferment of action on the Group Areas Act and the declaration made about the effective organisation status of the United Democratic Front, must be seen as discouraging. We must continue to renew our plea for an unmistakeable commitment to the abolition of apartheid and the commencement of the necessary dialogue.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

As the Kwazulu-Natal plan would have brought about universal franchise and a non-racial Executive for an important province of South Africa, is not the present rejection of that plan deeply disappointing? Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that this is because of electoral considerations and a reaction to the anti-apartheid movement and some of its extreme manifestations, and will he convey to the South African Government our feeling that this is a great disappointment and that we feel that this kind of approach should be supported?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand precisely the point made by my hon. Friend. I cannot help him with an explanation about the reason underlying the apparent lack of enthusiasm for these proposals. However, it must be said that the party on which the South African Government depend was not taking part in the Indaba discussions. The discussions were not fully representative of all those concerned. I am sure that it is right for the South African Government to take note of the points on this topic expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) and for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), sitting as they do beside each other—spiritually as well as physically.

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