HL Deb 22 March 1979 vol 399 cc1261-5

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 the speech made by Sir David Scott, British Ambassador to South Africa, in Port Elizabeth on 21st February 1979, represents their own policy towards trade with South Africa.


My Lords, Yes. As Sir David Scott made clear, the United Kingdom and South Africa are of considerable economic importance to each other, but he also drew attention to the dangers of over-dependence on any one market, and referred to the growing volume of trade with the rest of Africa. As the Ambassador said, some 10 per cent. of our direct investment overseas is in South Africa and he said that it might be logical for us to try to reduce our commitment.


My Lords, will my noble friend accept that when I tabled this Question originally the full text was not available and I fully accept his interpretation of this speech? But would he not agree that there is some anomaly in the Government's ban on the sale of arms to South Africa and the apparent encouragement of trade which enables the South African Government to purchase arms elsewhere? Has he observed the history of sporting contacts with South Africa, where for 50 years in the friendly contacts between this country and South Africa separateness and aparthied have only increased, and that only when international action was taken did this decrease—

Several noble Lords

Speech! Order!


Can my noble friend reconcile the speech of our Ambassador to South Africa—

Several noble Lords

Out of order —reading!


My Lords, the noble Lord is asking a question quite legitimately.


May I ask my noble friend whether he can reconcile the speech of our Ambassador to South Africa with that made in London in January by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who said that it is the Government's policy to reduce our economic links with South Africa?


My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's repetitive use of the word "reconcile", which is entirely the preferred policy of Her Majesty's Government, in South Africa as elsewhere. There is no difference of intention and meaning between my right honourable friend's speech the other day, in which he indicated our very strong economic links with South Africa, and also Sir David Scott's same reference, to which he attached the proper suggestion that in view of the possible instability of South Africa because of its aparthied régime it would be well for this country to consider how best and to what extent to reduce its over-dependence on its economic links with that country. As I said in this House the other day, the extent of our links with South Africa is a power behind the influence which we are gradually exerting on the régime there, to improve its policies towards its black population.


My Lords, did our Ambassador point out how dangerous it is—and one only has to look at the situation in Iran—to put all one's eggs in one basket? Did he not further correctly remark that our trade with South Africa had slipped to fifteenth position in the British export league table, so that it is now behind our trade with Nigeria? Does this not indicate the risks to our trade with the rest of the world of undue dependence on that with South Africa?


My Lords, it is true that, relatively, our trade with South Africa has slipped down in order of magnitude. Nevertheless, it is still very considerable and, as I pointed out the other day, in content it is of immense importance as to our imports of vital raw materials to this country and indeed to the Western democratic world. I think the House would wish to be reminded of the general figures of trade in Africa as a whole so that the Government's thinking is better understood—and it is not, of course, entirely the thinking of the Government alone.

British exports to South Africa in 1978 were £667 million sterling; British imports were £767 million sterling: that is, an adverse balance against us of some £100 million sterling. British exports to black Africa in 1978 were £2,047 million; British imports from black Africa in 1978 were £1,239 million, a favourable balance to this country of about £800 million.


My Lords, is it not clear that it is somewhat ungracious to attack a civil servant in this Chamber where he cannot defend himself? If the noble Lord had chosen to attack the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary, we might have supported him.


My Lords, I think Sir David Scott, as his name might imply, is well able to sustain the attacks even of my noble friend.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the case of Iran. Is not the real lesson of Iran that we should be very careful to guard against a change of Government in South Africa which would deprive us of supplies vastly more vital to our economy than any that came from Iran?


My Lords, we must be equally careful that the prevention of a proper change of Government and of policy in countries like South Africa does not in itself in the future tend to deprive us of vital raw materials.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that his reply will give great satisfaction to those of us who know the difficulty of making speeches as an Ambassador in a foreign country when in the home country doubt is thrown on the compatibility of what one has said with statements of one's political masters in this country? Is the Minister aware of the particular pleasure it is to hear him say what he has said about Sir David Scott, who perhaps has done more for this country in that particular place than anyone else in the world?


My Lords, my noble friend, who preceded Sir David Scott in the highest possible position on behalf of this country in South Africa, and whose words I very much appreciate, will, I know, agree with me that what we have tried to do is to emphasise the urgent need for a swift and orderly change of policy in regard to apartheid in South Africa, which in itself would make it much easier for us to continue our very strong and growing economic links with that country.


My Lords, is it not a fact that in all these discussions of figures and comparisons of trade it is dangerous not to realise that the figures—for instance, those which have just been quoted—refer only to visible trade? We in this country in dealing with total trade always mention our invisible trade, but in respect of all the figures quoted invisible trade with South Africa was not mentioned. The total of the visible and invisible together exceeds by a good deal the figures the Minister has quoted.


My Lords, I will certainly analyse these figures in the light of what the noble Lord has suggested, and with the leave of the House and, in response to a Question in the usual manner, I will seek to give further information. But I do not think that the general picture will be very different from that which I have tried to describe to the House this afternoon.


My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that British trade and investment have contributed to the situation which now exists wherein the per capita income of blacks in South Africa is between two and six times the per capita income of blacks in other so-called free countries?


My Lords, that may well be so, and we all rejoice in that and pay due tribute to those in South Africa of all nationalities who have contributed to that. But that is no substitute for other satisfactions the lack of which instigate action, not only in South Africa but in other parts of the world. It is not enough to secure economic justice. There must be social and what I would call subjective satisfaction to attend it.


My Lords, when discussing trade with South Africa will the Minister bear in mind the great importance not only of raw materials that come from South Africa but of raw materials that come to this country around the Cape?


Yes, my Lords, I think that normally raw materials from Southern Africa would come to this country around the Cape, would they not?

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