HC Deb 13 March 1991 vol 187 cc927-8
1. Mr. John Carlisle

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on sanctions against South Africa.

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

The international community is increasingly recognising that the continued application of sanctions will not help the peaceful abolition of apartheid. South Africa's political transformation needs urgently to be underpinned by economic growth. With the political process now irreversible—a point reinforced by the tabling of legislation yesterday—economic sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible.

Mr. Carlisle

In the week that the English rugby team hopes to win the five-nations championship and consequently the grand slam, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to seize the initiative and abandon all forms of sporting sanctions against South Africa? Would she care to remind the electorate of Neath that the prospective Labour candidate in the forthcoming by-election used to spread tintacks on rugby pitches and made his political career by disrupting rugby matches against South Africa? The electors in that lovely part of the world, who are rugby lovers, should remember that when they vote.

Mrs. Chalker

My hon. Friend has made his point about Neath extremely well and I can add nothing to it. The Government aim to restore normal sporting contacts with South Africa as soon as possible. We believe that sporting contacts should be resumed where and as soon as the sports bodies become integrated. The key is to build on the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers agreement of 16 February that those bodies that achieve unity should be recognised by the international community. Perhaps we can then all enjoy the kind of competition in sport, particularly in rugby, which I know we shall.

Mr. Robert Hughes

While I welcome the statement of intention by President de Klerk, is it not the case that very few political prisoners have yet been released, very few exiles have yet returned home, no one has yet received an indemnity from prosecution as promised a year ago last February and that negotiations for a peaceful change have yet to start? Given all that, would not it be better if the Government continued to put pressure on the South African Government to make progress instead of resting on rather vague promises and very little real action?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman should find out what is happening. The first large groups of exiles, 97 of them, returned on 7 March. They were members of the African National Congress from Lusaka. More are due to return from Zambia and Tanzania, and other groups as well, as the process speeds up. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's other point, President de Klerk's target to remove racially-based restrictions on the tenure of land, which he announced in a White Paper and about which legislation was tabled yesterday, seems to us to be making good progress. I know from my own discussions with him that he intends it to be brought through in the months ahead, and no later.

Sir George Gardiner

Since the South African Government are acting to remove all racially based legislation from their statute book, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is in the interests of all South Africans, especially black South Africans, that we put all talk of sanctions behind us and concentrate instead on how we can build the social and industrial investment that will underpin the new South African democracy?

Mrs. Chalker

My hon. Friend is right. The real inhibition to progress at the moment—it is serious—is an internal sanction—that of violence. It concerns the leadership of the ANC and of Inkatha, and they are trying very hard to get their own supporters not to follow the path of violence. As my hon. Friend says, it is vital to get new investment into South Africa so that the people there may have the benefit of it in terms of jobs, job experience and education. Those opportunities have been missing for black South Africans for far too long.

Mr. Robertson

Why is it that, despite the manifest success that sanctions pressure has had for change on the South African Government, our Government continue to remain out of step with everybody? At the Commonwealth Ministers meeting that our Government chose not to attend, the European Community Foreign Ministers and the United Nations sanctions committee believed that sanctions pressure should not be lifted until the legislation is enacted, not just tabled. Why must we be the only Government in the world to believe that the firm smack of appeasement is the way to deal with South Africa?

Mrs. Chalker

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. He knows full well that ever since 1986 we have not been part of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meetings. It is not just the United Kingdom that has been saying that sanctions should be lifted and that new investment should be encouraged. The European Community was unanimous that we should lift bans on the import of iron and steel and of Krugerrands when President de Klerk tabled legislation to repeal the Group Areas Act. On the Commonwealth, the many discussions that I have had over the past three months tell me full well that the Commonwealth is anxious to restore normal relations and that the southern front-line states have upped their trade with South Africa in no small measure since February 1990. That is to be encouraged.

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