HC Deb 09 July 1986 vol 101 cc294-7
8. Mr. Sedgemore

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now make a statement on the Government's response to the report of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.

Mrs. Chalker

We are considering very carefully what response we should make to the report by the Eminent Persons Group and look forward to a full discussion of the way ahead with Commonwealth leaders at the review meeting in August. We believe that the group's objective of promoting dialogue in the context of a suspension of violence remains valid.

Mr. Sedgemore

Bearing in mind that black people in South Africa and in the front-line states, the Eminent Persons Group and decent people in Western democracies want sanctions because they believe that liberty, freedom and democracy are more important than short-term material comforts, who does the Minister support—the civilised people of the world, or her shrivelled Prime Minister with her Judas mentality?

Mrs. Chalker

I did not think that the hon. Gentleman would sink so low. I have to remind him and many other hon. Members that the measures already in place are being lost sight of. We have been taking measures, positive as well as negative, for years. Prior to the agreement last year with our European partners, Britain had a policy of not trading with South Africa in arms or paramilitary equipment. not co-operating with them in military and nuclear spheres, not selling oils to South Africa, not selling computer equipment to the South African police or armed forces and discouraging sporting contacts. We made further agreements with our European partners at Luxembourg last year and, following the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit at Nassau last October, we ended Government-to-Government loans, ceased funding trading missions and agreed to ban the import of gold coins. Those measures are already in place. What we are discussing with our European partners, the Heads of the economic Seven and the Heads of the Commonwealth is what could be effective in making South Africa bring about a real end to apartheid. We shall go on doing that. It is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is working for, as well as the rest of the Government and Conservative Members.

Mr. Gow

To what extent, if at all, is British foreign affairs policy still based upon the principle that we should not interfere in the internal affairs of other states and on the basis that we should not enter into discussion with terrorist organisations or organisations that have not repudiated terrorism?

Mrs. Chalker

I fully understand my hon. Friend's anxieties. I have to say that in South Africa, which is no longer a member of the Commonwealth, there are many British passport holders and many British people. There are also long links with South Africa. I do not think that in the efforts we are making we are in any way telling South Africa how the non-racial democracy that the whole world has been calling for should be brought about. That is for South Africa to agree with all its people.

On the subject of meeting groups that have been involved in terrorism of one sort or another, I have to say that my right hon. Friend, now the Home Secretary, met the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1982–83 in an effort to bring about understanding. I believe that we must meet groups to understand the situation if we are ever to resolve the differences that have led to the lack of dialogue and the totally unacceptable situation in South Africa.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does the Minister accept that the Prime Minister's interview on Canadian television last night did the greatest disservice to the report of the Eminent Persons Group? Does she accept that that was quite unconvincing — [Interruption.] There are those who might seek to thwart free speech in South Africa, Mr. Speaker, but I am sure that you will not allow that to happen in the House. The Prime Minister said that she could not carry other countries with her on sanctions. Is that not unacceptable, given that she has introduced a veto in the Security Council?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman surely knows that the reason why we have not been able to accept chapter 7 mandatory economic sanctions is the very fact that we believe that they would have a very deleterious effect and would not bring about the result which I believe the hon. Gentleman genuinely seeks in South Africa, which is an end to apartheid, the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela and other detainees, the removal of the ban on the African National Congress and other political parties and a start to dialogue and negotiation. If one considers that, and considers in full what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said rather than taking up partial comments, which is all that I have heard in the House today, one realises that one has to work as hard as one can for dialogue and an end to violence. That is exactly what we are doing.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my hon. Friend accept that, like the more responsible members of the Eminent Persons Group, that great British leader, Sir Winston Churchill, believed fervently in "jaw jaw" rather than "war war", whether it be about military or trade sanctions? Only the Soviet Union could benefit from trade sanctions. Will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that while our right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is in southern Africa, he will see Bishop Makoena of Soweto, who represents 4.5 million black Christians and Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, who represents 6 million black Africans? Both those distinguished leaders of black South Africans believe that sanctions will be damaging and do not wish the British Government to support sanctions against their country.

Mrs. Chalker

My hon. Friend and I. as well as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, are united in believing that general economic sanctions would not be in the best interests of the black people in southern Africa. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will do his best to meet as many people like the gentlemen whom my hon. Friend suggested, and many others. It will be a question of time, and of what can be fitted in, but we are willing to listen to representations from all such people.

9. Mr. Meadowcroft

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received from Her Majesty's ambassador in South Africa on the situation in the townships since the imposition of the state of emergency.

Mrs. Chalker

Her Majesty's embassy continues to keep us fully informed on all aspects of the situation in South Africa, including reports on visits by the ambassador and his staff to the townships.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Given the intolerable censorship imposed by the South African regime, how far do our diplomats have to conform to that censorship? Is it not important that the Government should be able to assist in the dissemination of genuine information from within South Africa, and how far would the hon. Lady assist that process?

Mrs. Chalker

As far as I am aware, Her Majesty's ambassador and his staff have not been stopped from going about their lawful business of travelling within normal restrictions in southern Africa. They have certainly reported on what they have found, on a confidential basis. Whether all that information could be verified at present it is impossible to know, because of the state of emergency. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that that state of emergency is brought to a speedy end at the earliest possible time so that free reporting may start again in South Africa.

Mr. Jim Spicer

My hon. Friend will know of the magnificent work that is being done by the Urban Foundation in the townships. Is there any reason why Her Majesty's Government should not make a direct grant to the Urban Foundation for the work that it is doing in improving the lot and conditions of the people who live in the black townships?

Mrs. Chalker

I have been informed that the Urban Foundation was getting a great deal of finance from business in South Africa, which is absolutely right. We ourselves have added a further £15 million of new assistance over five years for southern Africa, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House on 1 July. That is in addition to some £22 million already committed, much of it going to South Africa and the neighbouring states for the very reasons that my hon. Friend would wish. I do not know whether it is feasible to fund the Urban Foundation in the way that my hon. Friend says, but I know that all the resources that are being used for helping black people in southern Africa are there to help their education and training, and the re-establishment of homes and schools. I believe that all offers will be welcome wherever they may come from—Government or the private sector.

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