HL Deb 16 December 1983 vol 446 cc389-91
Lord Hatch of Lusby

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their attitude to the South African Government has changed as a result of the constitutional referendum in that country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we continue to attach importance to our relationship with the South African Government. We have expressed the hope that the referendum result will facilitate the process of peaceful change which we all wish to see in South Africa.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord two supplementary questions? First, he refers to the importance of relations with the Government of South Africa. Could he expand on that?What is the state of relations between the British Government and that of South Africa? Secondly, he will recall that in the Commonwealth communiquéthe word "fraudulent"was used to describe the new constitution on which the referendum was based. In another place the Prime Minister objected to the word "fraudulent" and said that she would not have used it. The word was used because the vast majority of the inhabitants of South Africa—the Africans—are not to be represented in the new constitution. Can the Minister explain the British Government's objection to the word "fraudulent"?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I doubt whether anyone's interests are served by extreme language of any kind, particularly in the circumstances that surround the problems of that part of the world. The noble Lord asked me about the importance of our relationship with South Africa. I should have thought that that importance was self-evident, having regard to the fact that we have such long-standing relations of most kinds with that country.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, whatever strategic or commercial advantages some people may see in an improved relationship with South Africa, does the noble Lord agree that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government must always be conditioned by our loathing of the system of apartheid? Is he aware that we fully endorse what his right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said to the Royal Commonwealth Society last month? He expressed some doubt, that the constitutional reforms—to bring the minority Coloured and Asian groups into junior partnership in a white-dominated system— answered the need for a system 'acceptable to the people of South Africa as a whole' ". Will the Minister confirm that that clearly is the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Trefgarne

Indeed, my Lords, the words of my right honourable and learned friend are exactly the policy of Her Majesty's Government, as the noble Lord would expect. We have never deviated from our view that it is for those in South Africa to decide upon their own political development, but we have made it clear that. we are looking for progress towards constitutional arrangements that are acceptable to the people of South Africa as a whole.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, when the noble Lord is considering our attitude to South Africa, will he bear it very strongly in mind that South Africa is on our side?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the views of the noble Lord in these matters are always interesting and sometimes unusual.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Foreign Secretary's statement gives encouragement and a form of hope to black people all over the world, and that any statements to the contrary damage this island race of ours? Will the Government maintain this policy and let the world know that we are in opposition to the degradation of people in South Africa and elsewhere who happen to be born with black skins? Finally, does the noble Lord also agree that it is about time that Namibia had its freedom from this terrorist organisation masquerading as the state of South Africa?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I said earlier, I think extreme expressions of view of any kind are not particularly helpful in this context. I do not think that there has ever been any doubt about the United Kingdom's attitude to apartheid.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, will my noble friend emphasise the fact that the words used by our right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary when he said that he had doubts are very different from the word "fraudulent", which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, wants to use? That word can only be divisive and hinder any approach towards getting an arrangement satisfactory to Africa and to the whole world.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I think it is wrong to imagine that all the right is on one side in this matter.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, as the noble Lord the Minister objects to the word "fraudulent" as extreme, will he take the opportunity to state categorically that in the view of the British Government, and of all the Heads of Government who met in New Delhi, the new constitution in South Africa does not meet the requirements which he has laid down for the development of a democratic system in South Africa? If he is sincere in believing on behalf of the British Government that apartheid is abhorrent, and the British Government are looking for a full democratic system in South Africa, can the noble Lord suggest how the 70 per cent. of South Africans who at present do not have any part in that constitution can gain that participation, other than by acts of terrorism?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid I do not have a formula at my fingertips for a total solution to the problems of that part of the world,and particularly the internal problems to which the noble Lord refers. The new constitution, following from the referendum to which the noble Lord has referred, is a step in the right direction, but a very tiny step, and does not go anything like far enough.

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