HC Deb 29 October 1986 vol 103 cc311-3
8. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has any plans to meet representatives of the Government of South Africa.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As part of my European Presidency mission, I had discussions with South African Ministers in Pretoria in July. I have no present plans for further meetings with representatives of the South African Government although normal Government-to-Government contacts continue.

Mr. Alton

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that his hand was weakened with representatives of the South African Government because of our Government's reluctant support for sanctions and acquiescence in the imposition of sanctions when some were belatedly imposed? Does he not agree with the findings of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, which said that the deferment of sanctions was one of the reasons why the apartheid system would not be changed?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not agree with that judgment of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, because our view on sanctions is not precisely the same as that of members of that group. I do not think that my hand in presenting to the South African Government the case on which we all agree was weakened. I went there with the backing of a united European Community, the backing of a united Commonwealth, and the backing of the United States Government, on the substance of remedies. One should be dismayed about the fact that, notwithstanding that universal backing and the extent to which it might be thought that I went with some sympathetic understanding of South Africa's problems, the advice that I had to offer was rejected. That is a matter for great regret.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

While my right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to seek the withdrawal of South Africa from Namibia and the withdrawal of the Cubans from Angola, would it not be wrong to make the one conditional on the other? Will he take this opportunity to make it perfectly clear that he believes that any such linkage is a setback to international diplomacy?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The position has been the same for a number of years. We have joined Commonwealth partners and others in rejecting any formal linkage. However, it is not to be excluded that the two questions might be more readily resolved together rather than separately.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Secretary of State condemn continued reporting restrictions in South Africa, which suppress so much of the horror that is going on in that country? Will he support the NUJ's appeal to set up an independent news agency in that country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have joined our international partners in deploring the curtailment of press freedom in South Africa. It must be seen as a consequence of the general state of events in that country. We deplore such press restrictions in every part of the world.

Mr. Dykes

Is my right hon. and learned Friend not seriously disturbed by the ominous stories coming out, with a news blackout, which may be expanded rumours, suggesting that over 20,000 pople have been detained in South Africa, that many have been brutally beaten up in gaol, and that probably well over 1,000 pople have been killed since the reinforced emergency by the security forces began? I appreciate the difficulties, but will my right hon. and learned Friend consider summoning the ambassador to express our grave concern and anxiety about those trends and ominous rumours coming out, and asking him to give us a factual and logical report of the picture in those disturbed circumstances?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House, together with the international community, has condemned many times the continuance of the state of emergency in South Africa arid some actions and measures taken under it. We have taken a number of opportunities to bring that home to the South African Government. It is one of the features that I brought home very clearly during my visit to South Africa.

Mr. Winnick

Bearing in mind what the United States Government have decided to do, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) pointed out, does the Foreign Secretary have any conception of how humiliating it is for Britain to endorse and see in action what he is doing in relation to South Africa? Does the Foreign Secretary not recognise that one has to take sides? One is on the side either of the South African authorities, or of those who fight to liberate the country from the tyranny of apartheid.

Sir Goffrey Howe

I think that most hon. Members have a different view from that of the hon. Gentleman about relative standards of humiliation. The fact is—I cannot underline this too strongly — that there is no dissent whatsoever between the Government and the Opposition about the unwisdom and evil of apartheid and the need for it to be replaced as quickly as possible. The problem is to find the best way of securing its removal. It is the firmly held view, not just of Her Majesty's Government but of many people in this country and elsewhere, that to go down the road of imposing sanction after sanction is to make the prospects of change less likely. The hon. Gentleman should accept that point without qualification.

Mr. John Townend

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets representatives of the South African Government, will he make it crystal clear to them at what stage sanctions will be withdrawn if the reform programme continues? Will he make it clear that the British Government do not demand that there should be a one-man one-vote in a unitary state?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is not the business of the British Government, or that of any Government, to promote precise prescriptions for the replacement of apartheid in South Africa. We wish to see a non-racial representative Government brought about with the consent of the peoples of South Africa, after a dialogue between Government and representatives of the black people, along the lines I have described so many times.

Mr. Anderson

In his dealings with the South African Government, has the Foreign Secretary forgotten about Namibia? Now that the Crocker initiative has effectively been abandoned by the United States of America, does the Western contact group exist in anything but name? When did that group last meet for any substantive discussion? Are the Government prepared to allow the Namibian question to drift, or will the Foreign Secretary take a new initiative and ask for sanctions against South Africa? Surely the case for sanctions in relation to Namibia is even stronger than that concerning the internal position in South Africa.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Our position on Namibia is the same as it has been for some time. We wish, just as the rest of the internal community does, to see a solution of the Namibian question along the lines of resolution 235. It is in that context, as in any other, that we do not believe that sanctions will be an effective way of securing implementation of the resolution. We believe that negotiation still offers the best way of achieving an internationally acceptable solution on the basis agreed by the South African Government. The United Kingdom has maitained a common position of contact with partners in abstaining from recent resolutions calling for sanctions.

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