HL Deb 20 March 1979 vol 399 cc995-9

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will summon an early conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers to consider the advisability of mandatory economic sanctions against the Republic of South Africa, in order to persuade the Government of South Africa to abandon the policy of apartheid and the violation of human rights which apartheid involves.


My Lords, Commonwealth Heads of Government will meet in Lusaka in August: no doubt Southern Africa will be among the matters discussed.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he recall that we had a second World War because we failed to impose diplomatic sanctions on Japan over Manchuria, as proposed by Lord Cecil; because we failed to impose oil sanctions on Mussolini, as proposed by Sir Austen Chamberlain; because we failed to impose economic sanctions on Hitler? Does my noble friend recall that Sir Winston Churchill said in 1944 that the war could easily have been prevented, if the League of Nations had been supported with loyalty and resolution?


My Lords, my noble friend deploys a very powerful historical case, based on experience, for the effective substitution of diplomatic and economic sanctions for the usages of armed conflict in the solution of international disputes. I am sure he will agree with me that the refinement and the perfecting of this revolutionary policy of sanctions, instead of armed force, must take a great deal of time, experiment and determination.


My Lords, following the reference to the last war, can the noble Lord tell us on which side South Africa fought?


Yes, indeed, my Lords; South Africa sided with the democracies in opposition to fascism. It is a little daunting that since then it has practised its own form of fascism.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether this proposal is not now reaching the agenda of practicality? Did not Sweden last week restrict investments and trade to South Africa? If the present Namibia negotiations fail, though I am glad to say that they began promisingly yesterday, will there not be great pressure from Commonwealth countries for sanctions against South Africa?


My Lords, I would hesitate to prophesy whether pressure will be all in one direction, even within the Commonwealth. This is one of the considerations that Her Majesty's Government must bear in mind when they consider, in any connection, the position of economic sanctions. It is a substitute for war, but one which must be considered only in cases of extreme gravity. Other considerations which this country, like any other country, is entitled to take into account, are that, indeed, we are dependent on South Africa and Southern Africa for many of our vital raw materials, that we have an investment interest there amounting to about £5,000 million sterling, and that on the preservation and, possibly, expansion of the proper political as well as economic conditions of those interests may depend the prosperity, and indeed the employment, of many hundreds of thousands of our workforce.


My Lords, leaving aside for the moment the very powerful arguments which the noble Lord has just used against the imposition of economic sanctions, will the Government bear in mind, when they are thinking about this issue, the possible effects of economic sanctions on those very people whom the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, is trying to help?


Yes, my Lords, certainly. I am quite sure that my noble friend has that very much in mind. I am sure that he is looking to the end result of stability and peace precisely for those countries in Africa, as well as for the rest of the world. Indeed, Botswana, Lesotho and others would be involved if we came to the point of applying mandatory economic sanctions in this case. What I am saying—and I am very proud to associate myself with what my noble friend has said—is that we must constantly consider actions such as this in appropriate situations, admittedly of the utmost gravity, but always weighing them against the proper considerations which I have tried to outline to the House this afternoon.


My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that every reputable African leader inside South Africa and in territories adjacent to South Africa has called for sanctions—

Several noble Lords



—and has expressly stated that their people are prepared for the short-term hardship which that would entail, in order to weaken the forces of apartheid which are now oppressing them?


My Lords, I cannot confirm what my noble friend has said about the consensus of feeling in Africa. It is perfectly true, however, that there are very profound feelings about apartheid, not just in the intellectual West, but among the African populations and indeed across the world. We cannot give the South African Government a blank cheque to continue along the road that it is insisting on following, without warning it that it may at some point come up against the conscience of the world, and perhaps against action which, admittedly, will harm the rest of us, but may prove to be inevitable in the circumstances.


My Lords, for clarification and in pursuit of the question which has been asked by my noble Leader may I ask this: With regard to his replies to this Question and to several other Questions which have recently been asked in the House regarding this matter, does the Minister understand that the insinuated requirements include the early establishment of a black majority Government? If so, does the Minister feel that so complicated an industrial complex, and so technologically advanced a country, could be run by an inescapably insufficiently sophisticated Assembly without resulting chaos which would cause terrible damage to our trade and our investments in South Africa?


My Lords, that is a matter of assessment and opinion. I should certainly not wish to compete with the noble Lord in a technological assessment of how one Government more than another would run the economy of any given country in Africa. We have had examples of warnings of that kind being given in similar circumstances and being proved afterwards to be absolutely baseless. I hope there will be a solution on the basis of majority rule in Rhodesia which will be quickly followed by the full co-operation of at least the Free World with that country and with that Government in order to enable that country to run its economy at the highest point of efficiency. As to the other noble Lords who wish to intervene in this short debate, perhaps my noble friend the Leader of the House will wish to apply his own brand of sanctions.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that to call for sanctions is about the easiest thing in the world to do and that many African countries do it continuously in the United Nations, but that to implement sanctions is one of the hardest things to do in the case of a big and powerful country like South Africa?


My Lords, I welcome that interjection. This is not the time to go into the philosophy of all this. It is as easy to call for drastic sanctions as it always has been to call for war. The implications in both cases have to be very carefully considered before finally a decision is taken.


My Lords, is it not a fact that South Africa is the prime supplier of the Free World's manganese and vanadium? Is it not also true that 85 per cent. of the Free World's supplies of platinum and 80 per cent. of the Free World's supplies of chrome come from South Africa? Therefore, have not those who advocate sanctions an obligation to consider what is going to happen to the Free World's supplies, to industry in the Free World and to the Free World's defence industries if sanctions are applied against South Africa? Have not alternative sources to be developed and made available?


My Lords, the policy of Her Majesty's Government is to ensure the continuous supply of vital raw materials to this country, its industry and its workforce.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I sense the feeling of the House. I think it is for the noble Lord who asked the Question to ask his final question. Then we should go on to the next Question.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his answers. May I hope that the Government will consider that sanctions are the alternative in South Africa to mass killing, and that if killing happens it will not be the blacks who leave Africa, as Field-Marshal Smuts said to me the last time I saw him before he died.