HC Deb 08 February 1989 vol 146 cc971-4
8. Mr. Allen

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will review the Government's policy towards South Africa in response to the representations made to him by the World Council of Churches delegation led by the Reverend Canaan Banana, the first President of Zimbabwe.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I explained to the delegation, our objective remains the replacement of apartheid through peaceful means by a non-racial, representative system of government. We do not believe that punitive sanctions against South Africa would help achieve this.

Mr. Allen

Will the Foreign Secretary concede that that answer—like the Government's policy on apartheid—is inappropriate and unacceptable in a developing situation which is getting worse by the day? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the World Council of Churches delegation—the most high-powered ever assembled—felt that it had had a poor reception from him? Yesterday, it issued a press release in which it said: With the exception of Great Britain, we found a willingness on the part of the governments we visited to listen to the delegation and to consider some form of economic: pressure. When will the Foreign Secretary respond? Who is he prepared to listen to on this issue?

Hon. Members

Not the hon. Gentleman

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Certainly not the hon. Gentleman.—[Interruption.] I listened to him with attention but I do not respond to him, because believe that his advice is misconceived. I listened to him, as I listened for an hour and a quarter to the delegation. I listened attentively and. with respect to what it said. It did not, however, in any sense diminish my conviction that the imposition of comprehensive mandatory sanctions would create an economic wasteland and contribute nothing to the ending of apartheid. I drew the delegation's attention to the fact: that the Anglican bishops in South Africa have recently called for carefully selected and targeted forms of pressure to be chosen which would avoid, as far as possible, the creation of further unemployment". That formulation drives a coach and horses through the case for punitive sanctions.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will my right hon. and learned. Friend accept that many Conservative Members will be delighted that the Foreign Secretary gave a poor reception, to members of the World Council of Churches, because: many of us are worried and suspicious about where the funds of the World Council of Churches are going? Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that much of that money is going to terrorist organisations—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members may not all agree with what is being said, but the hon. Gentleman has a right. to say it.

Mr. Carlisle

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that much of that money is going to terrorist. organisations, both inside and outside South Africa? The people who religiously give money every Sunday to church collections should be told the facts.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I listened to the case being made by the delegation, because it was representative of a wide range of opinion from around the world. I pointed out to it, however, a recent comment by the Reverend Stanley Mogoba, who is a member of the executive committee oil the South African Council of Churches. He said: those who advocate sanctions as a panacea for all the problems of South Africa have had that myth exploded in their faces". I hope that the delegation will reflect long and hard on that message.

Mr. Alton

Having called to his aid the South African Anglican bishops, will the Secretary of State consider taking up the case of Charles Bester? He is an 18-year-old South African who was gaoled for six years for failing to join the South African defence force on the ground that, as he was a Christian, he could not join that force as a matter of conscience. Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman seen early-day motion 176, which has been signed by more than 80 hon. Members from all parts of the House? Is he aware that some 55,000 people in this country have signed a petition calling for Charles Bester's release?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand, as anybody must, why some young South Africans refuse to do military service, and one must respect the strength and sincerity of their views. Decisions on that matter, however, are for the individuals concerned and we have no locus to intervene on their behalf in such circumstances.

Mr. David Nicholson

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say what representations he has received from the World Council of Churches or, indeed, from the Reverend Canaan Banana about acts of repression carried out by black African countries?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Not without notice.

Mr. Anderson

The Foreign Secretary quoted the South African bishops' call for selective and targeted sanctions. Does he agree with that call? Is he happy with the efforts of the Department of Trade and Industry to promote British exports to the Mossel bay development, which is designed to avoid the oil embargo, and its efforts to promote computer sales to the centre of military research in South Africa? Will he have a word with the DTI about that?

In the light of the British attitude to exports to South Africa is it any wonder that the eminent persons group of the Churches came back with such a negative view of the British Government, alone of all the Governments that it met, and that this Government are perceived throughout the world as the best friend of apartheid South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman's views on this matter remain stuck in a time warp more firmly than anybody else's—

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's views remain stuck in 10 Downing street.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My views remain stuck on the firm foundation of common sense. The fact is—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) may not like it—that no voice arguing the case for change in South Africa is heard with more attention than that of the Prime Minister of this country. There are two simple reasons for that—our opposition to apartheid is unqualified, but our opposition to sanctions is equally unqualified. In our judgment the imposition of sanctions would make the matter a great deal worse and not better. I invite the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) to reflect on the words that I quoted from the Anglican bishops of South Africa. To call for carefully selected and targeted forms of pressure, but then to go on to say, that they must take care that they avoid, as far as possible, the creation of further unemployment". is to commit oneself to a nonsense. The Anglican bishops are driving a coach and horses through the case for sanctions.

Sir Ian Lloyd

I warmly welcome the replies that my right hon. and learned Friend has just given. Has he noticed the astonishing similarity between the position of Mr. Gorbachev and the present President and his successor in South Africa? Both inherited political systems that are entirely indefensible by modern, western, democratic criteria, both are endeavouring to mitigate the consequences of those systems and both are staging slow and painful retreats from them. Can he see any logical consistency in the idea that the western democracies should give full support to the former, but should give no support to the latter? In view of the astonishing human rights record of Zimbabwe, has President Banana any right to come here and preach to western democracies about how they should handle the South African Government?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am interested, as always, in my hon. Friend's well-informed views on this matter, but I hesitate to join him in a precise parallel between one president of one state and another. It is clear that we have welcomed the steps that have been initiated by President Botha to promote the reforms that we all agree to be necessary. We hope that Mr. de Klerk, in his capacity as party leader, will lead his party, and so South Africa, on the road to reform. That is our common objective and we want to move towards it as quickly as possible.

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