HC Deb 30 March 1988 vol 130 cc1076-9
9. Mr. Fearn

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the use on 7 March of the British veto on a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for sanctions against South Africa.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We vetoed the draft resolution because it included a call for mandatory economic sanctions.

Mr. Fearn

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the recent laws passed in South Africa will now prevent funds going to South Africa from organisations such as Oxfam that collect in this country? Has he any advice to give to those charities that are providing funds for that country? Is this not the time to consider effective sanctions against South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have made it plain that we condemn many of the restrictions recently imposed by the South African Government. We believe that they suppress legitimate political activity and that they will promote conflict and a move in exactly the wrong direction. It is too early to conclude that they will necessarily interfere with all forms of humanitarian relief. As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, our position remains the same. We totally condemn apartheid, but we do not think that its ending will be brought about by any step in the direction of mandatory economic sanctions.

Sir Peter Blaker

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Government were absolutely right to use the veto on this occasion? Is he also aware that such people as the late Percy Qoboza, the late Steve Biko, Alan Paton and Helen Suzman, while being vigorously opposed to apartheid, have also been strongly opposed to economic sanctions being imposed on South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My right hon. Friend makes a very telling point, drawing on arguments that have appealed to people with deep experience of South Africa. I entirely agree with him. The whole of our experience since the imposition by other countries of punitive sanctions demonstrates that they do not make the situation better. They make a bad situation worse.

Mr. Winnick

Has it not been the case in recent weeks that, far from accommodating the point of view of the Western democracies and the United Nations, the South African Government have been much more concerned with those to the right of themselves, and the electoral successes in by-elections of the Conservative party?

Will the Foreign Secretary consult as quickly as possible with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that ANC representatives in this country are given adequate police protection, in view of the assassination yesterday of an ANC representative in France and the clear fact that the South African authorities are operating murder squads to ensure that their opponents are put to death?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman's substantive question first. Obviously, the whole House will condemn the murder in Paris of Miss September, because we are implacably opposed to violence and terrorism from any quarter. It is far too soon, however, to offer any view on who was responsible for her death.

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering representations on the safety of ANC personnel in London. I understand that members of the office were on an earlier occasion given advice by the police about their personal security.

Mr. John Carlisle

My right hon. and learned Friend enjoys considerable support on these Benches and throughout the country for his robust opposition to economic sanctions. Will he now consider following the same policy in regard to sporting links with South Africa? Will he give the House an undertaking that no extreme political pressure will be put on any British rugby players who may consider touring that country in the future?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Our position on that is as stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House yesterday, when she clearly reaffirmed our support for the Gleneagles agreement, under which we try to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa. My hon. Friend will know that the English Rugby Football Union has already stated that it will try to dissuade England players from going to South Africa. We do not yet know whether the other rugby unions will follow suit.

Mr. Pike

Does the Foreign Secretary not recognise that, despite the Government's oft-stated opposition to apartheid, the blacks in South Africa still have the feeling that the Government are soft on the issue? Will the Foreign Secretary at least give an undertaking that the Government will look positively at making existing sanctions work? Is it not possible for them to go one stage further and at least stop direct flights, which will have no effect on the black population of South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall not accept the hon. Gentleman's advice on any extension of measures against South Africa of the kind that he has described. However, I would welcome his help if he would join me — and many others — in making plain to the people of South Africa that the Government have formed their opinion on the wisdom or unwisdom of sanctions on the basis of a conclusion on the best way of bringing apartheid to an end. There should be no doubt in his mind, or in anyone else's, about the vigour and firmness with which the Government condemn apartheid.

Mr. Watts

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is no such thing as effective economic sanctions and that, in particular, the disinvestment by overseas companies has achieved nothing but the transfer of businesses, at knock-down prices, into South African ownership, which has made them more insular than they would otherwise have been?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Punitive sanctions would merely make a bad situation worse. We continue to follow a realistic policy of pressure, persuasion, advocacy and firmness. There is no justification for any belief that sanctions in the more extreme form would have any effect.

Mr. Kaufman

Is it not a fact that the Government use words to condemn apartheid, but, when action is required, do nothing whatever? Their actions therefore belie their words and make them sound empty. That applies both in the Security Council and to sport.

Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity not to echo the empty formula that the Prime Minister carefully devised yesterday, but to say clearly and without equivocation that the Government are totally opposed to British rugby players taking part in the "rest of the world" tour in South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I repeat what I have already said and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. We remain committed to the Gleneagles agreement and we shall continue to seek to discourage sporting contacts with South Africa.

On the earlier question, the hon. Gentleman must understand our view, which is upheld by many of the witnesses cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), that comprehensive mandatory sanctions would be an ineffective means of ending apartheid. They would hurt those whom we seek to help and they would prolong conflict. Punitive sanctions of that kind imposed by other countries have already failed to speed up reform, reduced external influence and strengthened Right-wing politicians in South Africa. The experiment has been seen to fail, and it is for that reason that we adhere to our view.