HC Deb 05 March 1986 vol 93 cc292-6
2. Mr. Litherland

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will give examples of specific responses made by the South African Government to Britain's diplomatic pressure over the past three years.

10. Mr. Nellist

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Government's latest representations to the Government of South Africa.

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

The full details of our representations and of the specific South African responses must naturally remain confidential. However, we believe that the many representations made during the past three years have helped in modifying actions and encouraging reforms. On 25 February Her Majesty's ambassador raised the enlargement and projected "independence" of KwaNdebele homeland; the shootings in Alexandra; the detentions of Venda community leaders and the case of the Sharpeville Six.

Mr. Litherland

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman seen the article in The Guardian today which states that the Prime Minister has personally blocked a move by the Bermudan Government to introduce limited sanctions against South Africa, even with respect to the import and sale of krugerrands? At the moment, our Government are considering barring the import and sale of krugerrands. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that that smacks of double standards and is a sop to apartheid?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No. It smacks of precisely the opposite — the perfectly rational conclusion that the Government's decisions on measures taken in relation to South Africa should be uniform not only in the United Kingdom but in colonial territories. That is why the position of krugerrands is under consideration in relation to Bermuda as with the United Kingdom.

Mr. Nellist

Are not the attitude and reply of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to these questions mere finger wagging at apartheid? In view of the £11 billion of British investment in South Africa, do not the objections of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Prime Minister have more to do with the profits made by British firms because of apartheid than with these latecomers moralising about apartheid? When will Britain take serious economic action against a system that degrades the people over which it rules?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If it were left to the hon. Gentleman to judge these matters, the result would be more likely to promote the destruction of the South African economy and of the British economy, to the disadvantage of all the peoples living in both countries. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the balanced policy adopted by the Government of making it plain that we wish apartheid to be brought to an end quickly and of supporting that aim by policies and representations is far more likely to be effective in pursuit of the objectives shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Sir Peter Blaker

Is it not clear that many of those who call for a policy of serious economic sanctions have not thought through the implications? For example, would not a policy of compulsory divestment, for which I understand the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is calling, in practice involve the confiscation of part of the property owned by British subjects and its free handover to South Africans?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That would be one of the many perverse effects of the measures advocated by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). I entirely agree with the point made by my right hon. Friend.

Dr. Owen

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman made representations against the selective ban on television reporting? Does he accept that many of us find that quite unacceptable?

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman made representations about the decision to go ahead with United Nations supervised elections in Namibia in August and the fact that they should not be dependent upon and linked to the withdrawal of Cuban forces? Such action would be welcomed by both sides of the House, but I believe that the United Nations resolution should be undertaken anyhow.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have already made representations expressing our regret at the curtailment of the rights of television and other reporters in South Africa. We have welcomed the reaffirmation by the South African Government of their commitment to implement Security Council resolution 435, because we believe that that would offer an opportunity to make early progress on the whole Namibian question and would reduce tension throughout the region. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we do not recognise any formal linkage with any requirement for Cuban withdrawal as part of that settlement. South Africa has made it clear, not only in yesterday's announcement, but many times in the past, that it will not agree to implementation of resolution 435 unless a satisfactory arrangement is found with respect to the Cubans. It is my judgment, having talked about this matter to a large number of people in that part of Africa, that the practical opportunity to implement resolution 435 is most likely to be fulfilled on the basis of United States-led negotiations in the context of the announcement which we now welcome.

Mr. George Gardiner

Will my right hon. and learned Friend, in his dealings with the South African Government, bear in mind the wisdom of encouraging as well as censuring—using a carrot as well as a stick? To that end, would there not be some value in saying that steps to broaden the base of government in South Africa might be reflected in an early relaxation of some of the provisions of the Gleneagles agreement on boycotting sporting contacts?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not immediately see the connection between my hon. Friend's specific point, which is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and his more general point. However, I agree that we should be ready, not only to criticise where criticism is due, but to offer encouragement where that is due.

In addition to welcoming the announcement about the implementation of resolution 435, I am also glad to welcome the announcement about the lifting of the state of emergency, which is a matter that has been addressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that that action will help to ease the tension and assist the promotion of dialogue, which is so urgently needed. That is what we must all hope for.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Has the Foreign Secretary read the remarks of Chief Johnathan, in which he makes it clear that it was the refusal of the British Government either to offer proper support to the state of Lesotho or to make adequate representations to the South African Government that led to the downfall of an elected Government in that state?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have seen reports of certain remarks made by the deposed Prime Minister of Lesotho, Chief Johnathan. It is not true that Britain was in any way involved in his overthrow. In response to Chief Johnathan' s request for assistance, we immediately asked the South Africans to lift border restrictions and to talk to Lesotho.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that British diplomats attended the funerals in Alexandra today? Will he also say whether diplomats have been similarly instructed to attend the funerals of black policemen murdered by fellow blacks?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall bear in mind the points made in the last part of my hon. Friend's question. It is true that our diplomatic post, together with the posts of other Western Governments, was represented at the funerals today.

Mr. Healey

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House why Her Majesty's Government have failed to carry out the undertaking they gave nearly five months ago at the Commonwealth summit to ban the import of krugerrands, especially as the United States Administration have found no difficulty with the general agreement on tariffs and trade in banning krugerrands, even before the Commonwealth summit?

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that there is something lacking in British influence when, according to Amnesty International, 8,000 persons have been detained—many of whom have been tortured and murdered in prison—and nearly 800 people have been murdered by the police as a result of South African policy? Of those detained and murdered, a quarter were children. How can the Foreign Secretary excuse breaking his commitment at the Commonwealth summit in the face of those facts?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that one of the many reasons why we wish to see an end to apartheid is that that would help us to reduce the adverse impact on human rights in South Africa. The United Kingdom is not the only country that has found it necessary to consider the general agreement on tariffs and trade implications on the proposed ban of krugerrands.

Sir Anthony Grant

Has it occurred to my right hon. and learned Friend that our relations with South Africa might perhaps have been much better, and certainly the whole beastly business of apartheid, which we all deplore, would perhaps have been avoided, if power had not been handed over to the Afrikaners in 1907 by the Liberal Government?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend has brought his characteristically penetrating rhetorical insight to the subject.

3. Mr. Lofthouse

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the Council of Ministers will next discuss progress in South Africa on ending apartheid.

11. Mr. Loyden

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the European Economic Community Council will next disucuss its policy towards South Africa.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

Foreign Ministers of the Twelve have had frequent discussions about South Africa both in the Council of Ministers and in political co-operation. No date has been set for their next discussion.

Mr. Lofthouse

Will the Minister of State make it clear to the South African authorities that the lifting of the state of emergency will be meaningless if all the detainees are not released and if the restrictions on media coverage and political meetings are not lifted?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman heard the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on the subject of the media refusals. He knows full well that we are opposed to detention without trial. We shall remind the South African Government of that when and as it becomes necessary to do so.

Mr. Loyden

In September the Council of Ministers agreed to sanctions on oil exports to South Africa. When will it consider the regulations necessary to impose those sanctions?

Mrs. Chalker

The question of oil was considered at a recent meeting. I cannot from memory say whether it was on 27 January or the following week. The United Kingdom has never sold oil to South Africa. Under the 1979 guidelines, the sale of North sea oil is confined to the European Community and certain other countries. The measure does not apply to petroleum products. The guidelines apply to indirect as well as to direct exports, so, in relation to this country and our partners, the hon. Gentleman need have no worries.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Will the Government seek to persuade the Council of Ministers, which has great influence in these matters, to distance itself from the anti-apartheid movement whose regard for the truth is becoming of almost legendary inaccuracy? Does my hon. Friend agree that the approach to apartheid should discriminate and distinguish between those features which are unique to aparthied and those, perhaps of an illiberal regime, which are shared by some 90 other member countries of the United Nations? Is there not a great danger that in relation to South Africa our attitude tends to sweep both aspects together so that we expect to impose standards of achievement in public life which in a sense are almost unattainable, or at least have not been attained, in 90 other countries of the United Nations?

Mrs. Chalker

I think that my hon. Friend forgets why we totally oppose apartheid and favour its total elimination in that country. Many people there have no vote, and all black people are unfairly treated. I do not seek to teach my hon. Friend, but our concern about the denial of human rights is clearly shared by every one of the Twelve, and we must stand against that denial. In that situation, there is no way in which we can differentiate, as my hon. Friend seeks.

Mr. Dykes

As a large number of South African citizens have been murdered by the South African police and army and the number of such murders is growing, will my hon. Friend make representations to her colleagues in the Council of Ministers to ensure that the Council repeatedly emphasises to the South African Government the need to discontinue that murderous policy and to release the detainees forthwith?

Mrs. Chalker

That has already happened, and. I assume that it will come up again next time we discuss the matter.

Mr. Anderson

On 1 July this country assumes the presidency of the Council of Ministers. Previous Presidents have met the African National Council at ministerial level. Will the Government, consistent with their present policy, continue to refuse to meet the ANC at that level after 1 July?

Mrs. Chalker

We expect to maintain contact at official level at all times. We shall have to see what progress has been made before reaching a decision when we assume the presidency of the European Community.