HC Deb 22 April 1987 vol 114 cc662-4
14. Mr. Simon

Hughes asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the European Council of Foreign Ministers proposes to take any initiatives on South Africa in the coming months.

Mrs. Chalker

Foreign Ministers of the Twelve will continue their efforts to work to promote peaceful dialogue, with the aim of achieving fundamental change in South Africa.

Mr. Hughes

In the light of the even more oppressive attitudes and actions adopted recently by the South African Government, who have now made it illegal even to pray for the release of detainees, and who have taken further action against the front-line states, do the Government still hold to their attitude that President Botha's regime is a regime of reform? If the National party Government are re-elected on 6 May, will the Government change their attitude, which has left them isolated both in the European Community and in the world at large? Will they work with the European Community to agree a package of effective and tough sanctions that will actually do something to liberate the oppressed majority in South Africa, with a lead being shown by this country for once?

Mrs. Chalker

We all regret the developments that are further repressing the people's views in South Africa, and we follow with concern some of the developments in the white election campaign. However, it is not true that no reforms were achieved under the Botha Government. They were insufficient reforms, but some reforms were achieved.

The hon. Gentleman asked about progress with our European partners. We, with our Commonwealth and European partners, have taken more measures in this regard than have any other Government. We totally condemn apartheid. We seek to take positive action to promote a peaceful dialogue. We seek to help young black South Africans, 80 of whom have just arrived in Britain on scholarships. We are taking a firm line on human rights abuses and making démarches where necessary. We are taking action with the Twelve and with the Commonwealth, and we shall continue to do so, because the measures that we are taking are those that are most likely to achieve change. Sanctions would not achieve the changes claimed for them.

Sir Ian Lloyd

Has my hon. Friend had a chance to ascertain the accuracy of recent reports that Mr. Mugabe has scraped together every penny of foreign currency that he can to acquire a large number of MIG 29 aircraft? Has she had an opportunity to assess the significance of that event for the stability of this very sensitive region?

Mrs. Chalker

I have, indeed, seen reports similar to those described by my hon. Friend, but we have no evidence to show that that has occurred. We cannot imagine how the purchase could be paid for even if the idea is uppermost in the mind of the Zimbabwe Government. We shall, of course, watch the security situation in the whole of Africa with the greatest care.

Mr. George Robertson

What hope can there be for any European-based initiative if the United Kingdom Government continue to veto effective sanctions against South Africa in the United Nations? What conceivable excuse can there be for the craven defence of apartheid represented by the British veto in the UN two weeks ago, given that the package of sanctions proposed was exactly that endorsed by the Congress of the United States of America?

Mrs. Chalker

I have to say that members of the Security Council have always held different views on policies towards South Africa. The common approach needed for a mandatory sanctions resolution does not exist and never has existed. Only one of the six Western Security Council members supported the draft resolution in February. In our action we have been seeking to pursue, as we have done throughout, our view that mandatory sanctions will not bring about the changes in South Africa that will lead to the dialogue that we want and that in turn can lead to a Government who represent all the people.

Mr. John Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend agree that one initiative that could he taken by the Government and the EEC would be to encourage British companies in South Africa to increase their activity? Does my hon. Friend agree further that the prospects of black South Africans are far enhanced by the ability to get a job because of greater economic activity rather than sanctions, which are advertised by the Opposition?

Mrs. Chalker

We are well aware that many South Africans, including black South Africans, have been worried about the disinvestment that has taken place and the punitive sanctions favoured by the Opposition parties. Those people have said in as many words that that will cost them jobs and welfare. It is up to individual commercial companies to decide what to do. The Government will not encourage disinvestment. It is right that British companies, along with many companies active in South Africa, should encourage initiatives from the private sector to improve conditions and to assist changes in South Africa. To that end, we have had discussions with the British Industry Committee for South Africa. We await further details on the scope of any such proposals.