HC Deb 29 October 1986 vol 103 cc306-10
1. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the European Economic Community Council will next discuss measures against South Africa.

2. Mr. Eastham

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of European Economic Community measures in relation to the ending of apartheid in South Africa.

5. Mr. Jim Callaghan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the European Economic Community under his Presidency will next consider the effectiveness of the measurs it has taken against South Africa.

6. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further steps he intends to take as President of the European Economic Community Council to seek to end apartheid in South Africa.

9. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further European Economic Community measures have been taken against South Africa since the Commonwealth Ministers' meeting in August.

12. Mr. Barnett

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the European Economic Community Council will next discuss measures to end apartheid in South Africa.

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

Foreign Ministers of the Twelve discussed South Africa on 15 and 16 September and again on 27 October. They will continue to do so regularly. They agreed on 16 September a package of further measures designed to send a strong signal to the South African Government on the urgent need for fundamental change.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Foreign Secretary take a firmer and more insistent position, .not least in regard to the effective exclusion of Namibia and several significant products from the sanctions arrangements? Does not the present situation suggest that the sanctions policies pursued by Britain and western Europe will appear to be merely a rhetorical exercise which, without strict monitoring, could bring the worst possible consequences?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The measures adopted on 16 September do not apply to Namibia, because all but one member of the Twelve consider Namibia raises a separate problem which requires a different approach. The measures were agreed after a great deal of discussion among members of the Twelve and represent a considered arid concerted package designed to achieve the results intended.

Mr. Eastham

Reflecting on the Foreign Office's disappointment at the reaction of the EEC Ministers on the issue of Syria, is it not understandable that the EEC Ministers are disappointed with the representations made by Her Majesty's Government on the question of South Africa? Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the overwhelming feeling of the people of Britain, who are absolutely opposed to apartheid in South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am totally aware of the overwhelming opinion of the people of Britain and of the European Community, condemning apartheid and requiring it to be replaced as soon as possible. On that point there is no difference in any part of the House. On the matter of representations by the United Kingdom, I think that my colleagues in the European Community felt that the mission that we undertook towards southern Africa in July represented a very effective presentation of the case upon which the people of Europe are agreed.

Mr. Barnett

Does the Foreign Secretary recognize that an increasingly serious situation is developing in southern Africa, involving increasing degrees of disorder, with the tragic death of Samora Machel? Does he not feel that he should now respond to the call made recently by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth for an international brigade to defend the front-line states against intrusion from South Africa? Whey does he not give a lead of that kind in the European Community?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I should like to differentiate between the one bad point and the other good points made by the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that it would be sensible or fruitful for the European Community or anyone else to begin thinking about mobilising an international brigade in these circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the increasing gravity of the situation in South Africa. The death of President Machel, however it was caused, is undoubetedly a matter of the utmost regret in all parts of the House. There is certainly mounting tension in South Africa and it is of the utmost importance for the South African Government to summon up the courage to make the leap of imagination necessary to call together leaders of the African people with a view to replacing apartheid as soon as possible. There is no doubt about that, but I do not think that it would be right to follow the hon. Gentleman in the other part of his question.

Mr. George Gardiner

When my right hon. and learned Friend next has discussions with his Community colleagues, will he stress to them how utterly counterproductive sanctions and the threat of sanctions are to the reform process in South Africa? Furthermore, will he explain to them that constructive discussions between the leaders of all groups to reach an acceptable settlement are far more likely to succeed in the context of an expanding economy than in one in which blacks and Cape coloureds are being thrown out of work?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have often made plain our view that general economic sanctions should not be seen as an end in themselves and that we do not regard them as an effective way of bringing an end to apartheid. On the other hand, we equally join our Community partners in underlining the imperative importance of discussions, such as my hon. Friend urges, between the South African Government, the leaders of the black Africans in South Africa set free from imprisonment, and the political parties set free from bans which prevent them from operating. I agree with my hon. Friend, however, that there is no sense in punishing ordinary people here and in South Africa by the imposition of general economic sanctions.

Mr. Ashby

When discussing South Africa with his colleagues, will my right hon. and learned Friend discuss the question of Bophuthatswana and suggest that its position be reconsidered, as it is a multi-racial state which has had a large measure of independence for some 10 years? If the independence of Bophuthatswana is not to be considered, will he consider with his colleagues additional help and aid to that country to improve education and similar facilities within its boundaries?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I know that my hon. Friend has recently visited Bophuthatswana, but I must tell him and other hon. Friends who visited it that, with the best will in the world, it is not possible to regard Bophuthatswana or any of the other so-called independent homelands as having the features of independent states. Our position on Bophuthatswana, as on the other so-called independent homelands, is quite clear.

Mr. Beith

Why does the Foreign Secretary not discuus with EEC Ministers new measures which would give a clearer signal to South Africa, such as ban on direct air flights from Europe to South Africa, which could help the front-line states if they then took the traffic?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Because we do not take the same view about the effectiveness of that measure as the hon. Gentleman and because Community Foreign Ministers have spent many hours of many days of many months arriving at the agreement of September 15 and 16. I have an obligation, as President of the Council of Ministers, to seek a further agreement on the outstanding measure. I have sought consensus on that without success. That is as far as the matter can go.

Mr. Colvin

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that as Britain was responsible for dividing the land of the Tswana people into two at the turn of the century we have a moral obligation to assist its reunification? Does he agree that recognition of the state of Bophuthatswana would be a logical first step towards that very laudable aim?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the legitimate interest that my hon. Friend takes in Bophuthatswana and recognise that there are certain features of it which he and other hon. Friends find it possible to commend. If I remember correctly, however, Bophuthatswana is divided between seven widely scattered chunks—

Mr. Colvin

Now only six.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

So be it — six. It represents a widely scattered fragmentation of the jigsaw board across what we all used to know as South Africa. It is for that reason, among others, that it has not been recognised as an independent homeland, whatever the efforts made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall that, in a recent exchange with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), he was asked why Namibia was excluded from the EEC policy decision in respect of South Africa? The Foreign Secretary gave no answer. Can he correct the omission today?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I answered the question a moment ago. With one exception, our European Community partners do not regard Namibia as appropriate for inclusion in the same treatment as South Africa.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the most damaging things that has happened recently to the ending of apartheid, and sympathy for that end, was the International Red Cross decision to throw South Africa out of an organisation which is meant to be about healing world wide, whether enemy or ally? Will my right hon. and learned Friend make his views clear and say that that is a most reprehensible action from what used to be a wonderful organisation?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not know what effect that decision will have on the prospects for securing an end to apartheid in South Africa, but it must be a matter for regret that the normal pattern of universality of the International Red Cross should have been varied in that way. It is equally a matter of regret that it should have led to the response that it received. One of the outstanding features of the International Red Cross for a long time has been its capacity to maintain its presence everywhere, regardless of politics and local circumstances.

Mr. Faulds

If it is argued that sanctions are unacceptable and ineffective against South Africa, why should they have been deemed necessary against Argentina and now against Syria?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There are three different situations there and I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman, with his perceptiveness, does not acknowledge that. With Argentina there was armed conflict, at the conclusion of which we withdrew the sanctions that we had in place. Argentina has still not withdrawn the sanctions that she has had in place. As for Syria, there has been state abuse of diplomatic immunity and there has been state direction of terrorism. The entire House supported the measures that we took in that respect on Friday. As for South Africa, the problem is one of immense complexity and long standing. It is a matter on which the Government have agreed with our European and Commonwealth partners on taking certain measures designed to give a clear signal to South Africa. The three situations are quite different and I have no doubt about the rightness of our position on each of them.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of a clear signal, but does not all this signalling to South Africa lack precision? South Africans, and some hon. Members, would like to know what exactly the South African Government are expected to do before these measures are withdrawn. What stage of the reform process is supposed to be reached? Will my right hon. and learned Friend define the purpose of his diplomacy a little more precisley?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The position has been made clear beyond any possible doubt, both in the mission that I undertook and in the mission that the Eminent Persons Group undertook. In each case we were pressing the South African Government to be ready to commence a dialogue with leaders of all groups in South Africa, and to create the climate for that to be possible to release unconditionally Nelson Mandela and the other political prisoners, to unban the African National Congress and the other political parties, and to create the circumstances in which all the people of South Africa can make their consent available to constitutional measures acceptable to them all.

Mr. Healey

Now that the United States, in pursuit of the same objectives as the Foreign Secretary has just described, has decided to impose wide-ranging sanctions against South Africa, which go far beyond the shamefully trivial measures agreed by the Community in September, and especially in the light of the fact that Her Majesty's Government have rightly accepted the principal of punitive sanctions by the measures that they announced against Syria yesterday, will the Foreign Secretary, as President of the Foreign Affairs Council, seek to bring the Community into line with the rest of the civilised world by adopting the same measures as the United States has adopted? Moreover, will he go to the Security Council to seek to make those measures mandatory sanctions under the United Nations?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have done that which the President of the Council was required to do in seeking, in two meetings in the past two or three weeks, to promote consensus on the measures agreed on 15 and 16 September. It has not been possible to take consensus further than the measures then agreed, but the Community Foreign Ministers taken as a whole do not see the case for going down the path advocated by the right hon. Gentleman. However, I am sure that the whole House will be glad to welcome this one occasion when the right hon. Gentleman is keen to encourage us to follow the example of the United States.

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