HL Deb 19 October 1984 vol 455 cc1191-3

11.12 a.m.

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 what policy they are following towards those opponents of apartheid who took refuge in the British Consulate in Durban.

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

My Lords, we made clear that we would not require the three South African citizens in the consulate to leave against their will. However, our mission in Durban is one of the smallest in the Diplomatic Service and the problems created by the sit-in are immense and increasing. The increasing disruption of the consulate's work is becoming intolerable. We have therefore strongly urged the three to leave voluntarily.

We have stressed to the three that the use of the consulate's premises to make political statements is unacceptable. We sought an assurance that there will be no repetition of the clandestine ITN interview of 7th October. Such an assurance has not been forthcoming. Yesterday's statement by the three is a further instance of their abuse of our premises. We take a grave view of it. We are urgently considering its implications. We must emphasise now that Her Majesty's Government cannot countenance any demands from the three; nor can we accept any conditions for their departure.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that that statement will bring very grave disquiet, not only to people in this country but to opponents of apartheid throughout the world? In relation to the British Government's policy towards these three very brave opponents of apartheid, may I ask the noble Lord two specific questions? Can he assure the House that no coercion has been or will be used to remove the three opponents of apartheid from our consulate in Durban? Can he give an assurance that the British Government will use all their influence with the Government of South Africa to ensure that the conditions laid down in the statement yesterday, which are surely acceptable to any civilised society, are met by the South African Government?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid that compliance with whatever demands have been made on the South African Government is for that Government and not for the British Government. As I said in my main Answer, we very much deplore the fact that the statement was issued from the consulate premises (or in effect from the consulate premises) in Durban, which is not a proper use of those premises. We hope that such use will stop forthwith.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, while we appreciate the difficulties caused to our consulate in Durban, the principles involved far outweigh any of the difficulties caused? Is he aware that we welcomed his initial statement that Her Majesty's Government are not proposing to evict the three from the consulate? Nevertheless, is he further aware they are making it extremely difficult for the three to stay there? Would he not agree further that the detention without trial which awaits these three if they are caused to leave the consulate is odious in the extreme to every Member of this Parliament? Would he agree that it is something about which protests should be made directly to the South African Government and through the United Nations if necessary? Finally, I notice that in the newspapers this morning the South African ambassador visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday. Can the noble Lord indicate to the House what was said to him?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course we deplore apartheid and all the machinery that goes with it, including the detention without any form of trial which was at the heart of the noble Lord's question. We have on many occasions made clear our opposition to that matter. The noble Lord may be aware that the European Community Foreign Ministers made a further declaration in that vein only a few weeks ago, when they met in Dublin. I am afraid that the resolution of this very considerable problem—and it is becoming a very considerable problem for our consulate in Durban—is the voluntary departure of these people. We hope that that can be achieved.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the noble Lord's statement intended to encourage or discourage those in Russia, beyond the Iron Curtain, who attempted to follow the heroic example of these three and take over our consulates there, or even possibly those who heroically dislike President Reagan in America and propose to take over our consulates there? Does the noble Lord encourage them or discourage them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid the resolution of the problems to which the noble Lord refers, in many cases deep-seated, is not to be found by seeking to take over diplomatic missions of other countries.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether a request for political asylum in this country has been made; and if such a request were made, can the noble Lord give a reassurance that it would receive an affirmative answer?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I understand that no such request has been made. If it were to be made it would of course be considered on it merits.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, it is one thing to pass resolutions and make speeches; it is quite another—

Noble Lords


Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it is a totally different matter to deal with those who are personally involved in the opposition to apartheid? Would he agree that in the statements that he has made this morning there is a danger of revealing a very wide gap between words and actions? Do the British Government consider these three opponents of apartheid to be political refugees asking for asylum, or do they consider them to be intruders into the consulate? Will the noble Lord further tell the House whether the British Government are prepared to put what he has said about the reference to the United Nations into action, and not to wash their hands of it but to use their influence with the South African Cabinet to see that these three are given the opportunity to appear before the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we have made our views known to the South African Government very clearly indeed, but what we are not prepared to do is intervene in the legal processes of that country.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, despite the questioning to which he has been subjected, most reasonable and unbiased people looking at this problem accept the line being taken by the Government, as outlined by my noble friend in answer to questions, as being both reasonable and sensible?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am greatly obliged to my noble friend.