HC Deb 08 June 1988 vol 134 cc825-7
1. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the Government of the Republic of South Africa for the release of Nelson Mandela.

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

With the Commonwealth and our European partners, we have long called for the unconditional release of Mr. Mandela and other political prisoners. The issue was most recently raised with the South African Government last month.

Mr. Pike

As the Minister is aware, Nelson Mandela will be 70 on 18 July. I am sure that there will be a massive show of support in Britain for demands for his release on his 70th birthday. Will the Government give an assurance that they will identify themselves in every possible way with the demands that the South African Government release Mr. Mandela at the earliest possible date?

Mrs. Chalker

Our continuing long-standing support for Mr. Mandela's immediate and unconditional release will again be voiced if there is not the most welcome 70th birthday present for Nelson Mandela. We would welcome his release.

Mr. Burns

Will my right hon. Friend comment on any moves within the EEC to bring pressure on the South African Government to resist the introduction of new restrictions on externally funded aid programmes—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is really about Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Winnick

Would not sending birthday greetings to Nelson Mandela show that the Government understand and appreciate that he is the most outstanding South African of his generation? Has he not dedicated his life to fighting racial oppression and tyranny in South Africa? If the Government genuinely believe in human rights, do they not think that those rights should apply in South Africa as well as in the Soviet Union?

Mrs. Chalker

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is yes. As I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), the Government would very much welcome the immediate release of Mr. Mandela and other political prisoners. We hope that that will happen as soon as possible, perhaps without even waiting for 18 July.

I must say to the hon. Gentleman and the House that there are many outstanding black South Africans. We wish that their common sense could be brought to bear on the untenable position of apartheid that still remains.

Mr. Forth

Is not my right hon. Friend just a little unhappy about any suggestion that countries should intervene in the judicial processes of other countries? Is there any end to that? What would be my right hon. Friend's reaction if the South Africans or any other Government approached Her Majesty's Government demanding the release of prisoners in this country?

Mrs. Chalker

My hon. Friend has posed that question many times and the answer remains the same. We do not attempt to intervene in any case unless we believe that there are political grounds—indeed, very particular political grounds. We have said that on many occasions. The Government's policy on Nelson Mandela has been consistent and we do not intend to change it.

Mr. Kaufman

In response to the Minister's hon. Friend—if she can cal l him that—the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), does she agree that if a 70-year-old man had been in prison in Britain for more than 25 years on trumped-up political charges, it would be perfectly right for other democratic countries to protest?

Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is appropriate that the House sends its congratulations and good wishes to Mr. Mandela on his birthday in support of her demand that he be released? Does she further agree that while the release of Nelson Mandela is essential, the ending of the filthy system that has put him in prison is even more necessary?

Mrs. Chalker

The right hon. Gentleman knows me better than to put those slightly barbed questions. I believe that it is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, whether the House should send greetings to any individual. However, on the occasion of Mr. Mandela's 70th birthday, I sincerely hope that the request of all EC countries and of Governments throughout the world for his release will be granted. I may add that that is the Government's policy and not just mine as an individual, and the right hon. Gentleman should take care to make that distinction.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's policy is robust and clear and that it is supported on both sides of the House? Will my right hon. Friend do what she implied in her earlier answer and give publicity to others who are not as well known as Nelson Mandela but who are incarcerated with him or still on Robben island, and consider a further collective EC initiative to publicise that tragic and criminal act of continuing incarceration?

Mrs. Chalker

With my right hon. and learned Friend, I shall consider with great care the comments of my hon. Friend. We have always called for the release of all political prisoners and have not restricted that call only to Mr. Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Steel

Following the previous question, does the Minister agree that Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday provides an opportunity for Her Majesty's Government, as the biggest single contributor to the European Community's programme of support for the victims of apartheid, to protest vigorously against the legislation that is passing through the South African Parliament and which may bring an end to that programme?

Mrs. Chalker

We do not have to wait until 18 July for that to occur; we are making that protest continually and repeatedly. We shall go on doing so for as long as may be necessary.