HL Deb 30 April 1986 vol 474 cc342-80

9 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what political arrangements they would like to see in South Africa consistent with economic progress and security for all population groups.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to start by thanking those members of your Lordships' House—noble Lords, noble Baronesses and the right reverend Prelate—who have indicated their intention to speak in this debate this evening. It is a subject which is particularly close to me as I have lived all my life in South Africa. For that reason I hope that I am able to make some contribution to the debate this evening and that I shall be able to add some increased understanding to the crucial issues in South Africa.

At the outset I should like to indicate my position in South Africa in the sense that I am a member of the opposition. I am opposed to the racial and social policies pursued by the successive national governments. But I would submit that much of the opposition to the South African Government's policies that comes from abroad is based on an excessively simplistic critique of the situation. We all regret the escalation of unrest, the deaths and the violence that have occurred in the townships, but I would submit that in the last year there has been a rather one-sided view of the situation in South Africa.

I have phrased my Question to include the words "population groups". I have done this because of the rather diverse and unique society in South Africa. It is a society that is divided by ethnic backgrounds, languages, religions and political affiliations. The population of South Africa amounts to approximately 33 million. It is made up of 24 million blacks, 5 million whites, 3 million coloureds and 1 million Asians. Among the black population there are approximately 10 black population nations—otherwise called tribes—the two major population groups being Zulus and the Xhosas. The Zulus number approximately 8 million and the Xhosas 6 million.

This evening I wish to devote a few words to the make-up of the various white cultures and more specifically to the Afrikaaner. The Afrikaaner's striving for an identity and a desire to be separate has been in essence the root cause of apartheid. I suggest that a threat to the breakdown of their culture has been the biggest obstacle to change. However, more changes have taken place in South Africa in the last two-and-a-half years than have taken place in the last 30 years.

These changes have come about as a result of a number of different factors: first, there is the escalation of the urban and rural unrest; secondly, they are due to the pressure exerted by the business community; and, thirdly, these changes have been influenced by international pressure.

I wish to dwell on the issue of international pressure initially and to mention the three threats which international pressure has posed to the South African Government. There is no doubt that the Gleneagles Agreement, the sporting boycott against South Africa, has brought about positive change in the sporting policies of South Africa. Although initially I supported the agreement, and indeed I still do, I claim that it has been taken to ridiculous extremes, a recent example being the banning of the South African paraplegics from competing at Stoke Mandeville.

One other issue that needs to be mentioned is the threatened imposition of economic sanctions. Although I agree that it is important to exert pressure on the South African Government to change their racial policies and that there is a need for the total repeal of the apartheid legislation, I contend that the imposition of sanctions will be counterproductive rather than constructive. Many arguments have been put forward on the pros and cons of this issue, and I am sure that other noble Lords will mention the arguments this evening. Among the points raised will be the loss of jobs and the possibility which President Botha has raised of retribution and the imposition of sanctions on the front-line states. I shall not delve further into the pros and cons of economic sanctions. Rather I shall turn to the measures of reform that have taken place.

The Wiehahn Commission some three or four years ago resulted in the emergence of trade union rights for Africans. I spent two years in England in 1982 and 1983 and during my absence from South Africa I noticed one positive move, which was the emergence of a black middle class. The trade union movement in South Africa will indeed gain in momentum, grow in strength and pose a real threat to the South African Government. There has also been the scrapping of the racial job reservations. The wage gap between blacks and whites has closed. There has been recognition of blacks in positions of commercial management, such as in the large chain store Pick and Pay, which has 40 per cent. of its management in non-white positions. There has been the demise of petty apartheid and the repeal of the racial clauses of the Immorality Act and the Mixed Marriages Act. The list of reforms continues.

However, the major stumbling block to a total repeal of the apartheid laws remains the Group Areas Act. It is this Act that I, as one who has lived in South Africa, wish more than anything else to be repealed. An example of the repeal of the Group Areas Act can be seen in South West Africa. This has made no difference to the lifestyle of the South West Africans. It is the reluctance of the Afrikaaner to relinquish the Group Areas Act that I feel has been a major source of the criticisms of South Africa. But of late, we should all welcome the repeal of influx control—more specifically, the pass laws. I also welcome the Commonwealth Eminent Persons group, which has played an invaluable role in promoting dialogue in South Africa.

I do not wish to dwell on all the issues as I am sure, as I said earlier, that many noble Lords and noble Baronesses will be mentioning these, but I wish to touch on a few of what I feel are the real problems. How does one curb the escalation of urban violence? Even if Nelson Mandela were to be released and the apartheid laws totally repealed I sometimes wonder whether this really would do away with the violence in the townships.

Another problem is the escalation of unemployment, now standing at 12 per cent. for the African population. High inflation is one major cause of the escalation of violence in the townships. There is also the need to raise black educational standards. Indeed, a unified Department of Education is vital. I would also submit that the tricameral legislature, the black local councils and the homelands policy are totally out of date. The tricameral legislature excludes 72 per cent. of the population of South Africa.

I would submit that the root problem in South Africa is the Africans' mistrust of the sincerity of the Nationalist Party reforms; and equally the mistrust by many whites of the African National Congress. I regret the move to radicalism which has been expressed of late by Mrs. Winnie Mandela. I myself have always sympathised with Mrs. Winnie Mandela, but the call for violence through necklacing is abhorrent.

The final problem I wish to underline is the loss of human rights in the state of emergency. We all regret the escalation in the townships, but I can state that in Capetown there was a time when one could not travel through any of the coloured townships without the threat of one's car being stoned. The state of emergency helped matters. I would not support the state of emergency but I would submit that its temporary imposition assisted matters.

From here I wish to state the threats to South Africa—the inability to curb the escalation of urban violence and, equally, the threat of a white backlash, more specifically by the more radical Afrikaaner. At the outset of my speech I mentioned the population groups. The reluctance of the Afrikaaner to do away with the vestiges of apartheid and to give up his identity has been the root cause of many of our problems. Should the violence escalate into the urban areas there exists the very real threat that the more radical Afrikaaner will exert pressure through violence, as occurred in the vigilante experiences in Kagiso in the Transvaal. Another threat is the increasing disinvestment in South Africa through lack of confidence in the economy and political situation.

In conclusion, what would be the requirements for a peaceful South Africa? At the root of my speech this evening is a desire for evolutionary change rather than revolutionary change. First is the need to abolish the vestiges of apartheid, and more specifically the Group Areas Act; second is the release of Nelson Mandela; third come negotiations with the leaders of the Opposition, which must include the African National Congress; fourth is the need for a Bill of Rights with effective protection for minorities.

I conclude by stating a few of the possible solutions to South Africa. Recently in Natal, as a result of the Buthelezi Commission Report of 1982 an Indaba solution has been suggested for unification of the Natal and Kwazulu, with a multi-racial government. The Opposition have suggested a federal system decided on geographical not racial lines. I would, however, support the supposed Canton system which has been outlined in the book The Solution by Louw and Kendall. I know that my noble friend Lord Monson will be making a few remarks on this issue.

Above all, what is needed is cessation of the escalation of violence and a move to evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. I look forward to hearing what noble Lords, and indeed the Minister, have to say on possible solutions that Her Majesty's Government would like to see, consistent with economic progress and security for all population groups.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, has, I believe, started the debate on a very constructive note with a balanced and very well-informed speech. I should like to thank him for it.

I feel diffident in following the noble Lord. I do not know South Africa particularly well, though I spent a month there this winter. I must confess that it was only my fourth visit. But what a kaleidoscope of a country it is, especially in the past few weeks. The sudden ending at one dramatic stroke of the pass laws is very remarkable indeed because at one stroke it removes the biggest grievance of non-whites. President Botha has been as good as his word with regard to that. But it will take great courage and skill to sweep away all discrimination under the law on grounds of race or skin colour as to where people may live, where they may work, where they may be educated, or how they can join in the government of the country at all levels. What a formidable task, my Lords.

We now hear with pleasure that the Group Areas Act is not a sacred cow. Those were the words of President Botha. We note that forced removals are frozen—and about time too. We note that freehold title is promised for urban blacks. That is another potential large step forward. But sweeping away apartheid will have many dangerous side-effects. We must not oversimplify it. Let us give credit where it is due, however late in the day these root and branch changes are coming, and noting in particular the furious reaction of the extreme Right-wing parties which contrasts strangely with the scepticism and even cynicism of so many who can hardly believe what is happening.

With apartheid hopefully on the way out the way will be open to negotiation and reconciliation in which the drafting of a new constitution, based presumably on universal franchise within a federal or confederal system, must be rooted. I have only, one comment to make on that because I am not a constitution-maker. Surely it would be a great mistake—and the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso referred to this—to try to extend what I believe has been called "co-optive domination" to blacks, by trying to build on the failed experiment of the tricameral parliament. I certainly think so myself.

The South African Government have a daunting task ahead of them. President Botha said that he intends to build a new South Africa. Those again are his words. This means that he has to face up, with his government, to harsh, unpalatable facts which have been blithely ignored for far too long. Good luck to him, my Lords.

I want now very briefly to turn from the general to the particular with a few specific criticisms that I developed when I was there this winter. I wish that we could hear a lot less of the communist bogey. I have sometimes been accused of always seeing Reds under the beds, partly because I happen to have written three books on Marxism. But the communist bogey is always being trotted out by the South African Government. We are told that nearly all the ANC leaders, and the Pan-African Congress leaders are Marxists. There are of course many different kinds of Marxists, as we know every well in this country. Some in South Africa have turned to Moscow in despair. But with regard to the commmunist bogey, there are more than 50 countries in the African Continent and not one can properly be described as a Soviet satellite. Perhaps two are almost that, but both of them are suffering from terrible civil wars.

I noticed the lack of government commitment to equal provision of education facilities for all under a single ministry. Of course it cannot happen very quickly, but the disparity between expenditure on black and white education is really fantastic: it is about one to seven in financial terms. There is a hugh imbalance. I hope that some target dates for correcting that situation will be published soon. I noted as well the failure of the Government to give a lead to the rest of the country, to other employers, through black advancement in the top-heavy public sector. I hope that that will fairly soon begin to put right.

My final criticism is that I was deeply shocked by the police methods used. The police seemed to be a law unto themselves, and that must be taken firmly in hand. They have an extremely difficult task. Incidentally, I know from personal experience in Palestine before the war that there is nothing harder than what are called "duties in aid of the civil power" and we know that very well from what is going on in Ulster. However, the very first rule is to apply the minimum force. I am sorry to say that rarely have the South African police done that.

I should like to turn to some of the encouraging matters that have struck me. I noticed a very healthy ferment of discussion among anybody who cares about South Africa which I had not found previously. People were living in a cocooned way and were turning a blind eye to what was going on around them. Now everybody is talking about it, and that must be good. The noble Lord, Lord St. John, referred to the steady growth of the African middle class, and that is good. He also mentioned—and, therefore, I shall leave the subject aside—the development of African trade unions which are much too politically inclined in the present atmosphere, and that is regrettable. He also referred to the growing number of Afrikaaners involved in industry and commerce. They must have a vested interest in stability and in restoring foreign confidence. All those three matters are on the plus side.

Another interesting matter struck me, and I hope that I am not being unduly hopeful in this respect. Now that two Right-wing parties have broken right away from the National Party—and therefore the Broederbond, to whose tune successive South African governments have had to dance since 1948 is no longer nearly so significant as it used to be, and may be quite unimportant in the future—there must be a possibility that the substantial moderate wing of the National Party will get together with the Progressive Federal Party, because they have a great deal more in common than is generally or openly admitted. I see the Conservative Party and the HNP as a natural opposition to what the South African Government are now trying to achieve. It would be excellent if that could come about.

Finally, under this heading I wish to say a brief word about Kwazulu. It is very encouraging that the Buthelezi Plan for multi-racial joint executive and legislative authorities in Natal may at last be on the way after some four years of dithering on the part of the government. I like to think that that will be the way forward for the province, if not a blueprint—and I certainly do not think that it is—for the whole country. It is so important because it cuts clean across the apartheid principle of separate "own affairs" and "general affairs". That simply must be done.

Kwanatal could show that something well short of "one man one vote once" in a unitary state can work, and that making the country ungovernable through violence is self-defeating. I pray that it will show that.

Finally, I wish to say a few words about British policy towards South Africa. How can it be argued—and it often is argued—that the more we trade with the Soviet Union (COCOM rules apart) and the more cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges we have with the Soviet Union, the sooner will the Marxist-Leninist system (responsible for denying self-determination to nine formerly independent countries in Eastern and Central Europe and for flying in the face of the Helsinki Agreement) be broken down, but that apartheid will wither away if trade sanctions are applied and all such exchanges, even in sport, are restricted or banned? I simply do not begin to understand. As the noble Lord, Lord St. John, has said, we must get off the Gleneagles hook somehow. We cannot even play ping-pong against South Africa if the Marxist president of the Seychelles says that we should not do so. That is the sort of hook we are on. I am sure that this needs entirely fresh thinking.

So far as sanctions and South Africa are concerned, the Government are right. Sanctions would mean more jobless in South Africa, more unrest, more violence and more poverty. I hope that the Government will not be diverted from their present course, which I believe to be entirely right. Related to this is the mandatory United Nations' embargo on the export of arms to South Africa. I see no reason for change here. I do not believe the Government do either. But how effective is the embargo, with Israel openly defying it and being South Africa's largest supplier? This is a question which must be asked, and I cannot understand why nobody ever points the finger.

I want to say a word about the British Council. I am a great admirer of the British Council. It is surely a matter for us to decide, having taken careful account of the views of our allies and friends, what the British Council should do in South Africa, and how it should be restricted in its work. Out of some 5,000 exchanges between this country and African countries last year, there were only 200 or so with South Africa. The British Council's tiny staff of 14 is grossly overworked.

The staff in other significant African countries is double or treble that number. Yet training black South Africans is an investment in the future in what is, after all, a developing country. We should of course do nothing at all to support or condone apartheid. But is there not a strong case for many more exchanges as our contribution towards the ending of apartheid? What is sauce for the Soviet gander in these respects is surely sauce for the South African goose as well. Are some people perhaps indulging in a false piety?

I have one other brief point about the BBC. I made enormous efforts to listen to the BBC every day, and I had the greatest difficulty in getting it. Moscow and the Voice of America were booming out the whole time. There is an urgent need to improve the BBC's short-wave signal and coverage, perhaps with a transmitter in Lesotho, and also to speed up the sluggish work on the transmitting station in the Seychelles.

What is really needed here is a medium-wave transmission from a neighbouring state. I was shocked to hear that it may be three or four years before that happens. For quite small expenditure we could have a medium-wave transmission. That is what people want to listen to. South Africa for the BBC is a peripheral zone, and this must be wrong. The BBC is beating the air. I hope my noble friend can comment on that.

I conclude by reminding noble Lords that the Queen's Speech spoke of the need for "fundamental change" in South Africa. I believe that the need for it has the solid backing of all parties in your Lordships' House, and not least my own party. There are bound to be honest disagreements about means, but few, if any, about ends.

The Rubicon was only a small stream when Julius Caesar crossed it and committed himself to an irrevocable course of action. There was no looking back. I pray I am right in thinking that that is just what President Botha has done. This may be naive; it may be over optimistic. Perhaps it is. I hope it is not. But how much better to cross the Rubicon before it becomes a turbulent torrent, perhaps even unbridgeable, and before the country sinks inexorably into a revolutionary situation, which it is on the very brink of today.

9.29 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St. John, for putting down this Unstarred Question not only because it has enabled me to withdraw my own Motion, which was similar, but because it is healthy that this Chamber should hear the genuine voice of South Africa, and this is the genuine voice of the South African liberal. It was only a few years ago that a notable Lord from the opposite Benches used to speak in complete favour of apartheid. Thai was valuable too, because it enabled noble Lords here to hear what are the true views of South Africa.

When I say that the noble Lord, Lord St. John, has put forward a classic South African liberal case, he starts off with the breaking up of the population into different ethnic communities. I shall not go into detail about this tonight. But I remind him that if one looks at the African National Congress, at the United Democratic Front or at any other of these organisations, one finds that they are totally intra-ethnic. They cut right across ethnic boundaries.

The second point I make to the noble Lord is that it is simply not enough to talk about repeal of the apartheid laws. To Africans, to coloureds and to Asians the prospect of returning to the pre-apartheid conditions in South Africa—to those before 1948, which were deeply discriminatory and had been so for over 200 years—does not appeal and never will appeal again. It is not enough to repeal the apartheid laws. It is the basic discrimination of the whole system that existed long before the word "apartheid" was ever invented that has to he changed if there is to be peace and co-operation within that country.

Finally. I would say to the noble Lord that what he has failed to do is to explain to this House why the two main leaders of the main opposition party—the main liberal party, the party financed by the Oppenheimer group, Van Zyl Slabbert and his colleague—both resigned from Parliament. They had become convinced, after years of endeavour in Parliament, that they would never get the kind of democratic South Africa they were looking for through parliamentary means. That has not been explained and I think it is an omission from a South African liberal speaking in this House.

So far as the case that the noble Lord has put forward and so far as the case that the Government have so far put forward whenever I have inquired, they are based on the belief that South Africa is in a process of reform and that what President Botha says at different times should be believed. I assure your Lordships, although I have not been to South Africa since 1959, through no fault of my own, that that is not accepted by the vast majority of black South Africans and a large minority of whites as well.

Let us look quickly at the reforms that have been listed. There is the constitution. It is a new constitution which omits the representation of over 70 per cent. of the population. There is the restoration of citizenship, but it is the restoration of citizenship without a vote. There is the legalisation of trade unions. But, despite the legality now of black trade unions, when the trade unions act and call a strike the state still comes in with its police and its military forces, and the big employers which support the liberal element among the whites in South Africa, dismiss those workers. This is the recognition that the trade unions get. Then there is the dropping of the emergency—but with the accompanying news that the security forces will have new draconian powers and that something similar to the previous emergency can be declared under another name.

Finally, there is the question of the pass laws. I accept that the promised dropping of the pass laws is an important move forward. I hope that it goes forward genuinely, but already it is conditioned by the Government's announcement that there will be passes for everybody, not just for blacks, and that the dropping of the pass laws and the new influx control laws that will be introduced will not apply to the homelands. The blacks will not accept that because they have never recognised, as the noble Lord rightly said, that the so-called homelands are any solution to the South African problem.

The reforms appear to be cosmetic and phoney, as they have done before. We wait to see; but the Africans will not wait to see and they are not waiting to see: and there is no reason why they should. They have been waiting for 250 years. What they see is that these are certain sectors of life, vital, crucial, essential sectors of life, which the South African President does not mention as being reformed. He does not talk about an integrated education system; in fact, he repudiates it. He does not talk about a reform or an abolition of the Group Areas Act. The noble Lord said, quite rightly, that this was an essential element in the South African situation.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I should have stated that the Government are at present looking at the revision of the Group Areas Act. That is being done.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the Government are certainly looking at the revision of the Group Areas Act on the advice of their counsel but the President, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Intelligence have all declared that the Group Areas Act will never be altered in essence.

Finally, once the President's words are taken at their face value by his own Foreign Secretary, who expresses the view that there may at some time result from these reforms a black President, immediately President Botha denies it and contradicts his own Foreign Secretary. Those are the kinds of matters that you cannot ignore and they have to be put alongside the so-called reforms about which we hear a great deal more. What I suggest to this House is that we must face this situation. Peaceful means of change, of removing discrimination, have been tried. I participated in many of them myself—the days of protest, the days of prayer, the freedom charter. They were all killed by the power of the state, the brutal, ruthless power of the state. It was only when constitutional means had been destroyed and when the black Africans saw that there was no possibility of getting reform through peaceful means that they adopted the means of violence.

Violence for what? Counter-violence to state violence. But those modifications that have been made in the apartheid system have been made by what means? They have been made by sporting sanctions; they have been made by the financial sanctions of the banks of the world last summer; they have been made by the counter-violence, the rising counter-violence, of Africans to state violence.

Where do Her Majesty's Government come into this situation? First, I hope that tonight the noble Baroness can assure the House that when the Eminent Persons Group reports, that report will be published not later than 30th June; because although the report was only to take six months and although the start was postponed until the beginning of this year—which takes us through to 30th June—there are suspicions that there will be pressures to postpone the publication of that report so that there are not debates in this House and in another place before the long Recess.

Secondly, Her Majesty's Government now have a duty to start talking, not to President Botha, whom they have talked to before, or Pik Botha, the Foreign Secretary, but to black representatives. And they can start with the African National Congress, with the United Democratic Front. They can start with Bishop Tutu. They can talk to genuine representatives of the African people, because over the past few weeks Her Majesty's Government have been put in a position of extra responsibility.

For the last few years her Majesty's Government, whether it be in South Africa, in Namibia or in Angola, have left the leading role to the United States. The United States have now ruled themselves out of any position of negotiation within South Africa. They have done so by openly supporting the rebels, the guerrillas, in Angola, by supporting Savimbi there, and by supplying him with the Stinger anti-aircraft missile. They have ruled themselves right out, because their policy of discussing with the South Africans has led them to supporting the rebel movements in Angola, thus associating themselves with the South African state both in its continued occupation of Namibia and in its invasions of Angola.

Therefore, Her Majesty's Government are in the hot seat, and in the international world only Her Majesty's Government are in a position to conduct any kind of mediation in the internal situation of South Africa. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will recognise that it is not only Colonel Gaddafi who supports state terrorism; it is also the United States Government in Southern Africa. Have Her Majesty's Government protested about this and used their influence to stop President Reagan from supplying Savimbi and UNITA with these weapons and intervening in the affairs of a sovereign state, which affects the whole of Namibia and affects the situation in South Africa?

I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able tonight to state that they adhere totally to the principle that in every state in which they have any influence every citizen has an equal right to participate in the determination of the kind of society in which he lives. The British Government have called for the release of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. I hope that the noble Baroness will repeat this tonight. It also means Her Majesty's Government, in answering this Question, should be able to say publicly that they believe in universal adult suffrage in South Africa. That does not necessarily mean on the Westminster model, which is for them to decide: but universal suffrage does mean that Her Majesty's Government recognise the basic democratic principle that in every society every citizen has an equal right to participate in the determination of the form of society under which he lives.

9.44 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the cause of the present violence in South Africa is the fact that the very large African majority of the population in that country has no say in its own government. It has no vote; it has no power whatever at the national level to shape the society in which it is the preponderant element so far as numbers are concerned; no power to organise the police who condition its daily life, and so on. That is the cause. The cause remains untouched by the whole spate of reforms which President Botha has brought in in the last year or two, up to and including the promised abolition of the pass laws. In particular, this cause will remain untouched by the abolition of the Group Areas Act, for a reason which was mentioned in passing by Lord St. John, about which I should like to say a little more.

If you go to Namibia today, you can see a country where the Group Areas Act was repealed—I forget how many years ago. But it is quite long enough for any effect it was going to have to show up. If you travel through that country you see the white townships, all neat, large, white and clean; you see the coloured townships, all neat, middle-sized and clean; and you see the black townships which are all small and as clean as they can possibly be, given the poverty there. Nothing has changed. The reason is very easy to seek. A black person is now perfectly free to go and live in a white township. But he needs to have seven (or is it twelve?) times the income in order to be able to pay the rent or the purchase price. Maybe he could do that if he were to get a job which would pay it to him, but he cannot get that job because he is not educated for it. And he is not educated for it because the education system in Namibia has not changed and will not be changed, in that country or indeed in South Africa of course, until there is the majority power to change it. That is the cause, we can be sure, of the violence, and that is the remedy. It already expresses itself.

We, the rest of the world, have to decide what to think about the bitter and terrible rounding by Africans on those Africans who have agreed to accept service, as it looks to us, in the system of local government. But it has been imposed on the populations without their agreement and without their having any choice in effecting it. That is a kind of demoralisation that we are seeing which is intrinsic in the withholding decade after decade, of power from a population, which ardently desires to have it and has a right to it.

A word about violence in a tyranny—the old chestnut of European political philosophy. We have heard a lot in this House in recent weeks about terrorism and violence. I suppose we might agree on the whole that acts of indiscriminate violence against a population in any society are to be condemned unconditionally, that acts of violence against the government of a free society—a democracy—are to be condemned unconditionally, but that acts of violence against the government of a tyranny require further examination.

A subsidiary question has to be asked: how likely was this act of violence to change the nature of the tyranny, to get rid of the tyranny? That has to be referred to a rather refined touchstone: what was the loss of life, or what is the likely loss of life beforehand, weighed against: what is the likelihood of effecting a change in the nature of the tyranny? This is the question which people who live under tyrannies have to ask all the time. We, fortunately, do not, and we sometimes lose sight of these realities.

There was an opinion poll carried out last year in South Africa. It asked a very simple question of a sample of the population: who would you like to settle matters for you? Who has your vote for the negotiation on a future regime in this country? If you add together those who favoured the 30-year-old African National Congress, those who favoured the three year-old United Democratic Front and those who favoured Bishop Tutu, who appears to count as a kind of political party in himself—a one-man force in politics, as indeed he is—you get 61 per cent. and if you throw in Chief Buthelezi and lnkatha you get another 8 per cent., making 69 per cent.

I think that all British people, and indeed all people who do not live in tyrannies anywhere in the world, must have an especially affectionate eye on Chief Buthelezi, who stands for just the same things as all the others do, but who unconditionally rejects violence as a means to their achievement. I think, on the other hand, it is impossible to deny that the time for that is now past. That was pursued for decades with hope. The hope died out some years ago, and what would happen is happening.

The demand of the South African Africans is simple enough. It is for direct negotiations with those who they say "really lead" them. That means the freeing of Mr. Mandela, as so many noble Lords have said, and it means negotiation about the direct and immediate transfer of power from the hegemony of a small minority to the majority. That is what they want and it is clear that that is what they will get in time. The question is, how much blood in the meantime? As to the form of the delightfully open question asked by the noble Lord, Lord St. John about what the Government would like to see, it does not matter a bit what the Government or any member of this House would like to see. It will be settled by the play of national political forces in South Africa. The political structure which holds the majority in political helotry has to change. The demand is to change it. What it is changed to, as several noble Lords have said, is something about which we have no right to hold opinions.

Let us look for a moment at external relations. There have been United Nations resolutions galore about South Africa and Namibia. After a time of failure to get anywhere, the international community responded to an American suggestion that they should have a go. We in this country backed away from our earlier association with the Front Line States in an attempt to find a solution, and left it to the Reagan Administration. Somebody in that Administration had the bright idea of using that attempt as a lever to get the Cubans out of Angola, not realising that he was presenting to the South African Government a pretty good excuse for doing nothing for another four years. That of course is exactly what has happened.

The time of the American leadership is now over. We can see that in two ways. First, it has proved necessary for the Commonwealth to send the Eminent Persons, who cannot operate in dual harness with any particular American initiative and, secondly and even more powerfully, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, the commitment of the United States to send weaponry to the Savimbi guerrillas against the Angolan Government has made it as impossible that the United States should have any part as a mediator in that part of the world, as it is impossible that they should have any part as a mediator in the Middle East, given their wholehearted support of Israel.

That has gone one stage further than the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, mentioned. The Angolan Government has formally requested the United Nations once again to act as principal mediator in its affairs, and in doing so has claimed a specific breach by the United States of an American-Angolan agreement, which has hitherto not been published, made at a place called Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands. That agreement contained an American pledge not to back Savimbi.

I come now to the subject of sanctions, which must be uppermost in everyone's minds. It is clear now that a majority of the South African Africans want sanctions of some sort. Of course, they are worried about the economic penalty which would attach to them, and differ about the kind of sanctions. Perhaps not all understand what can be done by sanctions and what cannot. That is where the British Government and Parliament must come in. There was a complete isolation of Britain at the last Commonwealth summit. There is the undoubted fact, which I think is accepted on all sides of the House, that Britain has "a historic responsibility" in that context. Britain is one of the two European powers which fashioned that strange society. We may be glad that it was not us who introduced the most lethal element of it; but we played a role. From time to time we handed power to this party or that, and that was a formative element in the history of South Africa.

In the SDP a year ago—I mention a historical fact which is interesting not merely for party reasons—we adopted a policy about financial sanctions. We said that if possible there should be Community legislation to ensure that there would be no new loans from European banks except for special projects devoted directly to the good of the African people; that there should be a prohibition on Community banks taking a portion of any existing loan, and that the Community countries should deny South African firms access to the European Capital markets. Of course, a fortiori, this we would all want to see done by a British Government if there were not a Community agreement on it.

The interesting thing is that this is all, more or less, happening now, in any case and without any special pressure from governments. The bankers have done this for economic reasons, and because they know which side their bread is buttered. The argument now is not about new loans, taking a portion of old loans, or denying access to the capital markets. The argument now is about rescheduling existing loans.

Is it thinkable that there should be government bans on rescheduling? It is unlikely that the governments of the capitalist North are going themselves deliberately to bring about a default in any of the large southern debtors. But, if not, we have in time to face up to the question: can we go on treating South Africa and Brazil—South Africa with its deplorable record by almost any index you can think of, and Brazil with its excellent record, given that it once got into debt—as if they were the same?

The identification of Her Majesty's present Government with the views and interests of the English speaking business community in South Africa is comprehensible. But it is a form of tunnel vision and it is possible to hope—and I very strongly hope—that they will soon abandon it and consider the interests objectively, and the views sympathetically, of the majority of people destined to live and die in that unhappy country.

9.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, the tone of this debate is thoughtful and sombre and I think there is an appreciation on the part of all those who have spoken so far of the desperate urgency of the situation in South Africa, and also an appreciation that the problems of South Africa will be solved inside that country and that what can be done from outside is necessarily limited. I am not sure that the appreciation is general among us, though, that many of the things which have featured prominently in the debate in recent years about the iniquities of apartheid are now beginning to disappear from the scene as major factors, and that what really is at stake is a struggle for power, a struggle for human freedom, a struggle for dignity.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John, who started this debate, said his hope was for evolution rather than revolution. But many people would believe that the revolution has in fact begun, that there is a revolutionary struggle going on; and of course there is a tremendous amount of bloodshed by any standards and a great deal of suffering taking place daily. So it is right that we should be conscious in this debate which we are having now—those of us who live outside South Africa and a long way from it—of the sufferings people are going through, mainly among blacks, in that country at the present time.

I believe also that we ought to recognise our own responsibilities here. This is the point at which there will be a real and genuine difference of opinion in this Chamber, because I hold very strongly that this country is morally responsible, along with other Western countries, for its failure to bring more effective pressure to bear on South Africa over the years, on its internal policies and also on Namibia. I believe that the damage which the Prime Minister did by her remark after the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of State, when she said how she had resisted the demand for sanctions, saying "We have only moved a teeny-weeny bit over krugerrands", did very great damage to Britain's reputation internationally; and I think it was heard in South Africa by many blacks as showing that Britain was putting its own economic interest first. Your Lordships may consider this unfair, but I believe that is how it was heard.

I listened with great interest to the very thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, on these matters. He drew a parallel between sanctions against the Soviet Union or communist countries over trade and why we were not pressing for these while pressing for sanctions against South Africa. The answer surely lies in that old, well-worn phrase, "Horses for courses". The point about sanctions against South Africa is that we have a long historic involvement with that country, we have the biggest economic involvement with that country, and also the judgment needs to be made as to whether these are going to be effective in that situation.

This may be a quite different judgment from that which would be applied over the Soviet Union, although I supported sanctions of some kind against the Soviet Union at the time of the Afghanistan invasion. It is noticeable now over Libya and what has come up on the question of state sponsored terrorism that there are those who are prepared to consider sanctions there. They see that the alternative may be something leading to greater violence. I believe that we have not taken this question seriously enough in this country. Many major British companies are morally responsible over this, as also are our Government. All of us have a share in that responsibility.

During the years in which I have had, necessarily, to give some attention to the South African situation I have noticed a great change of view, for what it is worth, among the British churches. I served for 10 years on the division of international affairs of the British Council of Churches. When I joined that body majority feeling was against the imposition of sanctions on South Africa. When I left the feeling was overwhelmingly in favour. This steady change was brought about because it was a body with people constantly coming and going between South Africa and here and having constant contacts with leaders of all shades of opinion and particularly black nationalist leaders in South Africa. It may also be worth noting that on his recent return from South Africa where he had been to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury, the new Bishop of Coventry who, as former general secretary of the Church Missionary Society, has wide international experience, was quoted last week as saying: I come back reluctantly convinced that sanctions, carefully applied, are needed now". More important is the view of Bishop Desmond Tutu, to which reference has been made. Bishop Tutu said before he was elected as Archbishop: I have no hope of real change from the Government unless they are forced. Our children are dying. Our land is burning and bleeding, and so I call on the international community to apply punitive sanctions against this government to help us establish a new South Africa, democratic, participatory and just. This is a non-violent strategy to help us to do so". It is significant that although that statement was thought by some to have cost Bishop Tutu the election, so to speak, as Archbishop of Cape Town, he was elected. It seems to me that this is yet another indication of the way in which opinion in South Africa has moved, especially among black nationalist leaders.

The question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and others, about the effect of sanctions on jobs and matters of that kind in South Africa. Do we suppose that this has not been carefully considered by people caught up in the situation there? Of course it has. But they see that the real danger now facing them is that the moderate leadership of people like Desmond Tutu is rapidly being outflanked.

Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord St. John, to the statement of Mrs. Winnie Mandela. I would not wish to defend her language or the threat, especially that terrible reference: We shall win liberation with our matches and our necklaces". That sends shivers down all our spines. Yet the starkness of that language is a sign of the situation into which we have now moved. Massive violence is being used on the part of the South African Government. It is being responded to by violence on the part of many black nationalists, some of whom are outrunning the leadership that they have had up to now. Be it noted that Dr. Alan Boesak and Bishop Desmond Tutu risked their lives in front of angry crowds to rescue people who were threatened with a necklace execution.

The Question on which the debate takes place refers to the future of South Africa consistent with economic progress and security for all population groups. None of us can really see what the future holds in that troubled and unhappy land. It is important that all of us should realise that underneath a race situation—this is so in all countries with race problems of this kind—are social problems of deep poverty and inequality. As time goes on and as South Africa gets over to some extent the race problems that have dominated its history over 250 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, says, the social problems underneath—the problems of great poverty and great inequality—will become more dominant.

What we will begin to see emerging are African black leaders who will make their appeal to those who essentially are the "haves" in that society. That is why I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who said so much of great sense in his words to the House tonight, in his reference to Chief Buthelezi. I suspect that Chief Buthelezi's appeal will be partly to a tribal power base, but also partly to that section of blacks who now have a stake in a certain form of prosperity. Very quickly such situations tend to polarise, where one gets the genuine nationalist movement that still represents to a great extent those who are the poorest in the country, whereas others represent more an emergent middle class.

If that comes about in the South Africa of the future, I hope very much that we in this country will be sensitive to the emergence of that social struggle too, and not simply assume that those who are leading the poorest sections of the community are those who are not to be taken account of and are to be opposed. Very easily the kind of social system that we have in our country, and especially in the United States, tends to produce sympathies with those who are the "haves" rather than with those who are the "have nots" in such societies; sympathies with those having wealth and power over and against those who do not.

In regard to the question of population groups and the different ethnic groups that make up South African society, reference was made—I believe by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood—to co-optive domination of blacks; I think that was the phrase that was used. One is dealing with a society there in which for hundreds of years there has been a deliberate attempt to divide society and to increase the divisions, not least by the creation of the Bantustans, which really is an intolerable political solution; it is no solution at all.

In the years ahead it will not be easy for the peoples of South Africa to be able to get over the divisions thus created. Yet, surely there is no real security for the future in continuing to emphasise the differences between ethnic and population groups in that country. That is why what has been said about the movement towards a society of individual democratic rights is so important.

In the end the security of racial minorities will depend on the goodwill of the majorities among whom they are placed. All of us in your Lordships' House should have the greatest sympathy with whites caught up in that siutation. They have been and are defending one of the highest standards of living of any racial group anywhere in the world. That is something that cannot go on, as we all know, in that particular form. Any group taken from this country and put into the position of South African whites would undoubtedly behave in the same way. That is why we have no right to point the finger at them, but we should look on their situation with humility and some sympathy.

At the same time we should point them forward to the only possible security in the years ahead, which is the goodwill of the black majority and a society that is fundamentally based on individual rights. It may be necessary to make some interim arrangements but, as has already been said, that is an aspect that will have to be worked out within the country itself. However, in the years ahead that must surely be the direction in which South Africa must move.

Let me close at this late hour by quoting a parable used by Bishop Desmond Tutu at a meeting recently of the South African Council of Churches. I believe he took it from a film called The Defiant Ones, which concerns two escaped prisoners—one black and one white—who are handcuffed together and who, in one impossible situation, find themselves desperately trying to get out of a pit. To begin with they struggle and trample each other down, and fight with each other. In the end they find that only co-operation can get them out of that desperate situation. It should be our hope and prayer that that is what will happen in South Africa. However, I believe that it can happen only if more help is given by us from this country.

10.10 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, for putting down this very interesting Question. Perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest, inasmuch as I was born in South Africa and lived there for 13 years as well as in Southern Rhodesia before returning to this country during the war in 1944. I therefore did not experience life under the first post-war Nationalist Party Government, who were elected in 1948 and who have been in office ever since, though petty apartheid was very evident, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, in his speech.

I have returned to that beautiful country on a few occasions since the war, and my most interesting experience was in 1969, in the company of six Conservative Members from another place, led by the then Mr. Oscar Murton, a Deputy Speaker and now a Member of your Lordships' House, when we visited South Africa as guests of the South African Foundation. This enabled us to meet senior civil servants and members of the Government and gave us an opportunity to try to probe the minds of those representatives of apartheid and come to some conclusion as to where they were leading their country.

More than anything else, what struck me was their unfailing belief in their doctrine and their complete lack of flexibility in meeting other people's points of view halfway. As has been mentioned by other noble Lords, since that time there has been a marked change in attitudes, as I was to discover on my return to South Africa eight years later. We are now another eight years further on and change is accelerating all the time.

The question arises of how fast this change is taking place, and, as the noble Lord asked in his Question, what political arrangement would we like to see in South Africa which is consistent with economic progress and security for all races, or should I say population groups?

There was an extremely interesting article in The Times about a month ago by the well-known South African writer and journalist Mr. J. M. Coetzee, entitled "On the Lip of a Volcano". It gave an insight into the minds of ordinary, hardworking Afrikaans people in the Cape who believe in progress toward a multiracial society in South Africa but who have slight reservations and favour a restricted pace in their attitude toward genuine change. There was an article opposing this view in the Review section of the Observer last Sunday and a really disturbing article appeared in the Financial Times yesterday. It is my honest belief that if outside pressures are brought to bear too harshly on the economy of South Africa in order to achieve a political end, the Afrikaaner laager mentality will come to the forefront again with possible re-establishment of Boer republics, as advocated by Mr. Eugene Terre Blanche of the new AWB party, which will be followed by an exit of liberal whites with alternative passports, to the detriment of the majority black population who in themselves are tribally divided.

I submit that it is to this possibility that Her Majesty's Government have to give serious thought in their attitude toward future developments in South Africa.

10.14 p.m.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I seldom find myself rising to support our present Prime Minister, but when I hear the right reverend Prelate trying her for taking regard to British interests I feel a little inclined to remind him that that happens to be her job. It also happens to be our job. At present, as I see it, there is only one relevant and important issue. Is there to be a white government or a black government in the Union of South Africa? Which serves our interest primarily, for that is what we are here to look to; and, secondly, which serves Africa's interest? I have no doubt at all that it is the same.

It is a question of a white government or a black government. There is no compromise. African history has made that quite clear. No constitution in Africa can protect a loser. At least we must learn that. While terrorism rages we must not be fobbed off by liberal theology. Theology always gets bogged down in semantics. We hear chat about democracy. What does democracy mean? Does it mean one man one vote, winner take all? If that is the idea, I am most emphatically not a democrat. To my mind democracy is far more concerned with the "outs". In democracy the "outs" are free under one law: free to organise, free to argue, free to fight an election, free even to win. Noble Lords should remember one thing. No African Government have ever lost an election. Democracy in any real sense simply is not an option.

What we must all be concerned with is an effective government. Can the blacks provide this? Just look at the record. If fascism means a system under which a dictator rules a one-party state and no opposition is permitted, 28 of the 34 Bantu and Sudanese states have chosen fascism. But they have not been successful even as fascists. I doubt whether one of them is solvent, in the old and simple sense of the word, capable of paying its debts as and when they are due. In spite of having had the advantage of very substantial aid from other countries and a green revolution which has increased agricultural potential by a factor of three, production of foodstuffs in Africa is below what it was before the war under colonialism. Africa was then an exporting country that could afford to export food. Now it is importing food on a very large scale and it is still starving.

Just consider whether they are capable of governing. What has happened to Nigeria? In spite of oil and great wealth it is a collapsed economy and its people are for the first time in memory suffering from hunger as a result of the economic condition. Then consider Zimbabwe. In spite of sanctions and a war the Smith Government held the Zimbabwean economy in vastly better condition than it is in today. Zimbabwe is having trouble in feeding its people.

Just consider to whom the liberals are proposing to give South Africa, under a principle, I suppose, that all men are created equal. They obviously are not. They are created very different indeed. The Bantu are among the most backward of the human race. They never domesticated an animal. Not one African animal has ever been domesticated. They never used a wheel. They never measured time; they never built a stone house; they never achieved a written language. On all things African, the Cape Kaffirs were always regarded as the most backward of all.

Evolution is a slow process. We would be highly optimistic if we imagined that in 30 generations they would be ready and capable of governing a highly complex modern state like South Africa. These are the realities. It is no use "kidding" oneself with a liberal truth of revelation and ignoring the observed facts as we know them. If we had a black government in the Cape it would be not only the economy of South Africa which would collapse but the economy of all the adjoining states, which are highly dependent on her. It would be a worse situation than the Zulu invasion which she suffered a couple of centuries ago.

What do we do? We know very well that we need a white government in South Africa and that South Africa needs a white government because that is the only kind of government that can administer it or run its economy. Surely those people deserve our support. We should make it clear to President Reagan that this is where you find Communist terrorism. What we are facing in South Africa today is the appalling terrorism of the "necklace", the crowds and the burning of the policemen. This is the kind of terrorism which one cannot give in to. Libyan terrorism is trouser buttons compared with that. Terrorism must be crushed: there is no other alternative. One cannot argue liberalism with people who are burning policemen. The violence must be crushed. It is pure weakness to be merciful at a point like this.

When the Zulus were on the rampage 140 years ago I have noted down the proclamation that we issued: Hear ye and listen with both ears. Whereas from your youth up you have been taught to consider a man's life to be the property of the Chief and that the Chief in this district is the Lieutenant Governor representing the English Queen…". That is how it began. That is what they understood; and it worked. That is the kind of level of ethics with which we are dealing.

I repeat that there can be no compromise with terrorism, and least of all in Zululand. As with anywhere else in the world—and this we want to say to President Reagan very firmly; we have to be consistent in this—terrorism must be crushed. It is only then that we can begin to think of new arrangements. But they must not be arrangements which imperil white rule, because that is necessary to Africa.

10.24 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I find myself in agreement with much of what the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, has said this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, talked about the resignation of Van Slabbert. I was in South Africa at the time that Van Slabbert resigned, and it may interest him to know that the papers were full of criticism of him—and these are the liberal newspapers—and that there was also great criticism by his own party.

Talking to any black parent in South Africa, their paramount ambition is to improve the education of their children. I should like to refer to the educational facilities available to black people in South Africa and to mention that in 1985 98,000 black youngsters obtained matriculation, as against 10,000 in 1981. Noble Lords may say "All right, there is a long way to go"; that is quite true. However, those results will increase rapidly and as such are an achievement to university entrance. Moreover, with the present graduates and undergraduates, together with the increasing number of matriculants, the pressures to consider some form of qualified vote to the blacks—and I do not think that this has been mentioned by any noble Lords this evening—of which education should be one qualification, will mount.

Surely approaches to South Africa should be made along such constructive lines by Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I want to ask here a quick question. When defending the system of black education in South Africa today, does she approve of the segregated system both at schools and at universities?

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I was not approving or disapproving of the education; I was merely stating the facts about the increasing success of youngsters in black education. My inquiries during a recent visit to South Africa elicited that there is much agreement on improving education. Consequently, anything that Her Majesty's Government can do would be of great help and assistance at this time.

While all civilised people deplore any segregation of ethnic groups, the condemnation must be based on an understanding of the total situation and not on individual matters. Sadly, criticism appears generally in the form of biased and ill-informed statements which help no one. Over the past few years I have spent some time in South Africa, and I have been aware, especially recently, of the healthy criticism of the government in both the English and Afrikaan newspapers. That has increased enormously, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord St. John, will agree with me.

While I was in South Africa, I was encouraged to learn that many blacks are starting up their own businesses in all spheres—factories and small businesses—and they are receiving the necessary financial backing. Indeed, I spoke to various banks on the matter. As other noble Lords have said, there is an increasing number of wealthy blacks, as evidenced this time I was there by their large cars. It is a very good thing. I saw them around Cape Town. It is a very different picture from the one which I saw a few years ago.

We all deplore the exploitation of people, but a single phase of 40 years in the history of a country should be considered in the light of how help can be given, rather than what we can gain from the situation.

10.28 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I must start by congratulating my noble friend both on his initiative and on his admirable speech. Unlike the rest of us, he actually lives on the spot and therefore he has a personal interest and an up-to-date knowledge of the country about which we are talking. I congratulate him, too, on phrasing the Question in the way he has. It is up to those governments and those individuals who criticise South Africa to do so constructively, bearing in mind that it is not they who will have to suffer the consequences if the changes which they urge turn out to be disastrous when put into practice.

When I landed in South Africa in February last year, after a gap of 20 years, a rather sour joke was circulating around Cape Town. It went something like this: Question: Define a foreign "expert" on South Africa—Answer: A foreign expert on South Africa is somebody who has overflown that country at a height of 30,000 feet during the hours of daylight—the last five words being italicised.

Therefore, although unlike 95 per cent. of those who rant and pontificate about South Africa, I have actually been to the country—three times, and, what is more, one of those times was extremely recently (because conclusions drawn even 18 months ago may well be totally invalid today, as my noble friend pointed out, so rapid is the pace of change)—I speak with some trepidation.

Two distinguished authors wrote magnificent books about South Africa following extensive and thoroughly investigative (if I may use a modern term) journeys round the country made 40 and 20 years ago respectively. The first author was H. V. Morton, and the second was the American author Allen Drury. Though both their books were very different in style and in content, both arrived at the same conclusion—namely, that the more you travel round South Africa arid the longer you spend there the more you realise the complexities of the situation and the less certain you are that you know all the answers, or even some of the answers. This is an additional reason for most of us to speak with some hesitation.

There are perhaps three ways in which the views of an outsider might be of some assistance in this context. First, an outsider occasionally may—I say "may" and not "can"—be able to see the wood at a time when the insider is totally preoccupied with the trees. Secondly, an outsider may—again I do not say "can"—be in a better position to draw upon historical or contemporary parallels which may either help to resolve the problem or at the least help to clarify it. Thirdly, possibly the most important role an outsider can play is to help to interpret the situation to the outside world, which is bemused by so much highly selective, and sometimes positively misleading, media reporting.

Let me give a striking example of this. The other day a distinguished senior European diplomat was astonished when I mentioned that some inhabitants of Soweto ran BMWs. He was obviously under the impression that all South African blacks are barefoot and penniless individuals clad in tattered rags. If somebody of his position thought that, what must the great mass of the public think? We might start the educative process here.

Nine days ago I bought two tabloid newspapers just west of Johannesburg. One cost 10 pence and the other 13 pence. Here they are. The first is called the Sowetan and caters, as you might expect, for the black inhabitants of Soweto. On the cover is a photograph of a wedding, with the groom dressed in a white dinner jacket, a black tie, a stick-up collar, and white gloves. The bride is wearing a lovely wedding dress such as you might see in the pages of the Tatler. My wife and I saw several smart black weddings in Durban, the receptions often taking place in the four-star hotel where we were staying.

Page 9 of this issue of the Sowetan contains a full-page advertisement for electrical goods, ranging from an Electrolux twin-tub washing machine at £285 to a large upright fridge freezer at £323 including tax. Turning to the page containing advertisements for second-hand cars one sees a 1982 Audi 100 advertised at £2,640; a 1984 Escort 1300 GL going for £3,050; a 1983 Opal Commodore, five-speed, said to be in immaculate condition, for which £3,810 is being asked.

It is true that the Citizen, the tabloid which caters for the English speakers of Johannesburg, as well as including second-hand cars in that sort of price range, includes a great many more expensive ones ranging up to a 1985 Mercedes 380 SE, ex-demonstration, at £26,000. It would be foolish to deny that the standard of living of the whites, particularly in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, is not a good deal higher than that of the blacks. The difference in the standard of living between the Afrikaaner and the Portuguese inhabitants of Johannesburg on the one hand and the blacks is not nearly so marked, but certainly the English speakers are much better off.

The point is that the inhabitants of Soweto are well enough off so that literally millions of blacks from other parts of Africa cross into South Africa voluntarily, both legally and illegally, so as to share in that standard of living.

I wish I had time to enlarge upon the aspects of the growing black middle class to which my noble friend has referred: for example, the attractive, elegantly-dressed, highly-professional Zulu newscaster. I wish I could give other examples of the voluntary help which in so many quiet and undemonstrative ways so many whites are giving to blacks educationally and otherwise. Many whites, including a widow, a friend of ours, took teenagers from Soweto into their homes for three weeks and drove them to and from school so that they could sit for their matriculation exams. This was done because the thugs and intimidators had threatened to beat them up or even pour petrol over them and set them alight if they dared to sit their exams.

My wife's godson is a doctor in a black hospital. He told us of a black nurse who was detemined to get to work. When the thugs threatened the driver of the bus taking her to work she walked 40 kilometres in to work rather than be intimidated. I think it is time that this courage among those moderate blacks received more recognition from people in this country.

I wish I had time to defend Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda, the first three of which I have visited and the first of which, at any rate, is run by people of the very highest calibre. Naturally I defer to my noble friend's much greater experience, but I wonder whether he is right in putting so much emphasis on a total repeal of the Group Areas Act, rather than its gradual modification. What works in Windhoek—which despite its peculiar charm remains the one-horse town it essentially was when I first visited it 21 years ago—would not necessarily work without a great deal of friction in the much more crowded area of the Vaal triangle. The Act would certainly help Indians and coloureds; but there are already many de facto grey areas, as I am sure your Lordships realise. In other words, the Act is not in practice enforced: Indians and Portuguese are living together in the west of Johannesburg.

I believe that the blacks would be much more interested in the repeal of the oppressive restrictions on starting new businesses in black areas—minicab businesses, for example, which require very little capital to start. All one needs is a clean driving licence and a bit of initiative. These restrictions at present impinge particularly unfairly upon black entrepreneurs: it is much easier for whites to start a business. That is the kind of thing that the Government ought to do without delay, because there would be no question of any backlash if they were to implement such a change.

At the end of his balanced, thorough and very sensitive book A Very Strange Society, published in 1967, the author Allen Drury lists 20 points in mitigation of what might roughly be called the white South African position. He balances this with 10 strong condemnations of laws and administrative practices for which he can find no justification in any circumstances. It is pleasing to note that of the 10 matters of which he was so highly critical, at least 8½ have been remedied. I think that the Government should be given some credit for this.

A number of noble Lords have given their reasons for the current unrest, most of which I agree with, some of which I do not: I shall not go into that. But nobody has talked about the one further reason, which is our old friend, or enemy, the revolution of rising expectations. There is, to which I shall return in a moment, the unhappiness and poverty resulting partly from the recession, partly as a result of the boycott and disinvestment. We must bear in mind that 300,000 new people are coming on to the labour market every year. Our Government cannot find work for 30,000, let alone 300,000. How the South African Government can be expected to find work for all these people if disinvestment is being pressed, I do not know.

The police have been mentioned. No one defends the conduct that we have seen, but it ought to be borne in mind that the South African police force is unusually small by international standards. They have only one-twentieth of the police per head of population compared with East Germany. East Germany is a special case, it may be said. Very well, but they have less than half the number of police per head of population compared with France and less than two-thirds compared with Scotland. When numbers are small, you have to have recourse to weaponry much more quickly than if you can swamp an area with numbers. Undoubtedly the education and training levels of the police are not as good as they ought to be, but this is not something that can be remedied overnight.

This brings us to my noble friend's extremely important point. What new political arrangements can there be consistent with security for all population groups? At the beginning of August 1954, Pierre Mendes-France told the European and Sephardic Jewish population of Tunisia, who then comprised 8½ per cent. of the total population, that not only they but their children and their children's children would have a secure and prosperous future in an independent Tunisia. There is no reason to suppose that M. Mendés-France was either insincere or dishonest. Yet within 10 to 12 years 90 per cent. of the Christian and Jewish minorities had been eased or squeezed out. Wherever their children or their children's children are it is certainly not Tunisia; and Tunisia is one of the most liberal and tolerant of Arab countries.

This is all part of the great mass movement of minorities in their millions out of the African continent which has been taking place over the past 30 years, starting with the eviction of the Greeks, the Maltese and the Jews from Egypt, then the flight of the pieds-noirs from Algeria and then the exodus of the Asians from Uganda, Tanzania and to a lesser extent Kenya and some of the central African countries. Then look at Angola and at Mozambique !

If anyone should happen to take a wrong turning when driving out of Lisbon airport on the way to the centre of Lisbon, as I did a few years ago, he may come across a street lined with dwellings which are little more than glorified packing cases, packed full of miserable "Ritornados", as they are called; people expelled from Angola and Mozambique, most of them white, quite a few of them of mixed race and a few blacks. They amount to something like 10 per cent of the entire population of Portugal.

Even in Zimbabwe, where race relations are said to be quite good—and from my brief experience there three weeks ago they certainly seemed quite good—at least 70 per cent. of the Europeans have left. Although some are returning, many more would leave if they could get their money out, which they are not at present allowed to do.

The exodus of which I speak has not, in general, taken place because of outright persecution. It has taken place because of the massive population explosion that has occurred in Africa, as it has occurred in some other continents. There are far too many people chasing too few jobs. When this occurs, preference is naturally given to members of the dominant ethnic or cultural group. It is said that Europeans in a one-man, one-vote, unitary South Africa would still be wanted and valued if only for their skills. I wonder! I can well imagine certain categories being wanted, for the time being, that is. For example, they might include doctors, dentists, vets, chartered accountants, agronomists, airline pilots, mining technicians, university lecturers, some judges, large-scale highly capitalised farmers and captains of industry, assuming that a free enterprise system still prevails.

On the other hand, I wonder what sort of a future would await the following: taxi drivers, shop assistants, bank clerks, airline stewardesses, small farmers, market gardeners, coalminers, goldminers, commercial travellers, railway signalmen and assembly-line workers. The latter group is larger than the first yet, given the population explosion, I would not give them much of a long-term chance in a unitary state. It is the first group whose skills are internationally marketable; it is the latter group who have literally nowhere else to go.

Then there is the vital question which my noble friend also raised of the maintenance of economic prosperity, so vital for all the people in South Africa, whatever their race, and for Africa as a whole. The vast fields of maize, sugar cane, tobacco, citrus groves and sleek cattle look impressive, and they are. But they are not easy to grow or to raise. Most of South Africa suffers from an endemic water shortage, exacerbated by the population explosion and by continuing industrialisation. In the east of the country where rainfall is adequate the topography and the particular rainfall pattern means the soil suffers from severe leaching; in other words, agricultural productivity cannot be taken for granted. The land requires a lot of attention and would not long survive a decline in standards.

There is no need to remind your Lordships that South Africa is the industrial powerhouse of Africa. It would be disastrous for Africa as a whole if anything went wrong there. I leave aside all questions of conservation, both nature conservation and architectural conservation, at which South Africans are so skilled and into which they are currently pouring so much effort. How shocking it would be if all this first world efficiency, order and creativity were to crumble into the third world chaos and corruption so graphically described by the Trinidadian Indian writer Shiva Naipaul. He writes of the, lusts that disfigure African societies", and of the (substantiated), tales of bribery, embezzlement, extortion and corruption that … signal a collapse of self-control verging on collective derangement". Universal suffrage is in itself no guarantee of justice or freedom. Universal suffrage, after all, led to the Nazis coming to power in Germany and the Marxists coming to power in Chile. Universal suffrage in a unitary state can only work satisfactorily when virtually all inhabitants of the state share common assumptions; when they are on the same beam, as it were.

The treatment of news items by the two newspapers I mentioned earlier, the Sowetan and the Citizen, shows the size of the gulf which has to be breached. The Sowetan totally failed to mention the horrible necklace murder—we have all heard of the petrol-filled tyres put round somebody's neck—of a black policeman, nor the fact that a black softball player is in intensive care after being badly beaten up for daring to play softball with whites, against the order of the thugs. Apartheid works two ways, you see.

On the other hand, the Citizen, the paper catering for English-speaking whites, totally, fails to record the story of the off-duty black policeman in civilian clothes who was walking home quietly at night and was beaten up by policemen, both black and white, who had mistaken him for an ordinary member of the public. The editorial content of these papers shows the gulf even more starkly, with the Sowetan describing Colonel Gaddafi as a "hero" and as one of the "children of light". These two papers are aimed at the relatively moderate in each community. The gap between the extreme positions is obviously very much greater.

Although both Botswana and Bophuthatswana have Bills of Rights which are widely acclaimed as models of their kind, both are thinly populated states with mainly rural economies. I do not think you are likely to get any highly populated, industrialised state on the African continent which equates to our conception of a liberal Western multi-party democratic society for a very long time, if ever.

It is interesting to peruse a leaflet published by the United Democratic Front which I picked up in Johannesburg the other day: the United Democratic Front is generally thought to be the mouthpiece for the banned African National Congress. After talking a lot about freedom and democracy in a unitary state it goes on to deny that, should it come to power, the cultures of different groups would be thrown overboard. However, it says that cultural values which are "reactionary or divisive" will have to be outlawed through legislation—ominous words, indeed!

So far, we have done no more than cover the philosophical gap between the westernised and semi-westernised uban groups. When you consider the rural areas, the gap is often much greater. When I was in Natal in March last year the papers carried a report of two Indian boys of 12 and 13 who had bicycled out to buy some sweets. When they did not return a search party was sent out. When their bodies were found they had been ritually sacrificed and horribly mutilated. The murderers have not so far been found, but one can be certain they are neither other Indians nor Europeans. The point is that this sort of thing happens the whole time: it is a very common occurrence. How can one create a democratic unitary state out of such material?

So long as the mineral wealth of South Africa is fairly shared, surely a federation is the right answer. A federation, after all, is consistent with the universally acknowledged right of self-determination. As Leon Louw and Frances Kendall say in their excellent and stimulating book advocating a cantonal system for South Africa, which I wholly commend to your Lordships although it is a little optimistic for a congenital pessimist like myself: Any future political dispensation for South Africa must clearly be based on a system which ensures that all her disparate groups can live without fear of domination by any other group. They go on to say: For this country"— that is, South Africa— to have any prospect of enjoying peace and prosperity all the major groupings need to see light at the end of the tunnel in terms of their own perspective. It is these considerations that Her Majesty's Government should bear in mind in their dealings with South Africa.

10.51 p.m.

Lord Colwyn

My Lords, I can see the look on your faces—"Thank heavens he's the last one in!"—and probably I am the least qualified to speak in our debate this evening, never having been to South Africa, although I have plans to visit there next year to see my brother and his family. He is a housemaster at the Diocesan College in Capetown and was responsible for some part of the education of the noble Lord, Lord St. John, to whom I am grateful for initiating our debate this evening. My brother's enthusiam and belief in the future of South Africa are quite remarkable, and it is under pressure from him that I have been persuaded to make a few comments this evening. I promise to be brief.

Debates on South Africa, wherever they take place, are usually worded to give encouragement to the underlying assumption that some outside force or external factor could be motivated to bring about beneficial change, either by somehow compelling the government to behave in a certain way or by strengthening the oppressed to obtain a more desirable state of affairs. The idea that this external factor, whether it be at government level, business level or some other special interest level, such as Church, university or sporting body, might be able to influence the government to behave in a different way, is fundamentally incorrect. But it is ironic that those who believe that changes can be brought about by external pressure often dismiss the resultant changes as inconsequential and cosmetic.

Anyone who pursues an external factor can always find an enthusiastic audience with guaranteed media coverage. Fighting apartheid from outside has become a growth industry. I watched the recent documentary by Sharon Sopher, and was appalled by what I saw—incontrovertible evidence of beating and torture of detainees, a large number of them children. I saw clear evidence of police brutality and indiscriminate firing of weapons into crowds, to the extent that I began to wonder whether what I was seeing could possibly be true. The cameras and film crew did not appear to be hidden, and yet the police and soldiers seemed not to care what was recorded on film.

In this country we are used to seeing violence in Ulster and are aware that anyone on television film automatically becomes an actor—to the extent that, in my opinion, it becomes impossible to evaluate the importance and reliability of such pictures. In my rugby-playing days we used to wait for the right moment—when the referee was not looking—before we punched a member of the opposing team.

These television films are obviously causing trouble in South Africa, as can be judged by the restrictions placed upon the reporting of unrest situations. I hope these will soon be ended. The freedom of the media in South Africa is a vital precondition for the expansion of democracy and an important factor in the Western view of South Africa.

For many years the United Kingdom has maintained its position as one of South Africa's five major trading partners. Direct and portfolio investment is estimated to be in excess of £11 billion—almost one-half of all foreign investment in South Africa. Up to 250,000 jobs in the United Kingdom depend on these trade links. Wherever one goes in this country there is always someone who has family and friends in South Africa. Many people will have been there. As a result, the British people have a great deal of goodwill for South Africa. They are concerned that things should go right.

Relations between the two countries, although strong, are under strain. There are three reasons for that. The first is the state of the economy and the weak rand. British business is not getting the profit and dividends it is used to, and it is aware of the growing international pressure, especially from the United States of America.

Secondly, our perceptions at all levels have become deeply influenced by the unrest and continual visual impact of the unrest and police action. Thirdly, there is a general impression of turmoil and disorder coupled with uncertainty as to where the South African Government's political reform programme is leading, which has shaken confidence that peaceful answers are possible.

Ten years ago politicians and analysts could debate whether South Africa might fundamentally transform itself peacefully or whether violence would occur. That issue has been superseded by how much violence is likely to occur and whether it can be limited. In short, is South Africa in the early stages of civil war, and could a revolution take place?

The belief that the revolution has begun and that the destruction of white power is within sight is widespread, especially among young black militants in the townships and within the African National Congress. However, I feel that the existence of those organisations and the violence which they have caused does not yet warrant the description "revolutionary". Individual acts of sabotage—the targeting of black local government representatives, of police and of others described as collaborators, are exceptions. It is a course of planned, deliberate action aimed at weakening the foundations of the state with a view to causing its ultimate collapse.

Regrettably, the violence has been greatly aggravated by the extraordinary lack of expertise on the part of the police in dealing with demonstrators. In many cases the police have behaved provocatively and with an apparent lack of control, and the results have been appalling.

Violence among rival black organisations accounts for 30 per cent. of all deaths. Relations among followers of rival bodies have intensified as the political temperature has risen, with fatal consequences, and the organisations have been unable to keep control over their members. That is due partly to the bannings, detentions and even killings of leaders, which not only heightens the level of tension and anger but destroys the ability of a national leadership to keep its followers in check.

Despite all those difficulties, are there any real prospects for a negotiated settlement, or is South Africa destined for degenerative collapse? The Government have given repeated commitments to the principle of negotiation provided that the parties to the negotiations renounce the use of violence. The ANC has never rejected negotiation, but it refuses to renounce violence.

A problem in initiating negotiation is the suspicion among black groups that in seeking their participation the Government are in fact trying to inveigle them into apartheid structures. No credible black organisation will even consider negotiation until apartheid is fully and completely abolished. Changes that have already occurred have stopped short of eliminating the core principle of apartheid—that people are to be allocated compulsorily by statute to population groups. For the majority black opinion the ending of apartheid is not a factor for bargaining: it is the precondition for the initiation of negotiations.

The basic issue is power, and it boils down to the question: who ultimately is going to rule? The cruelties of apartheid and its debasement of human dignities must not blind us to multiethnic-multiracial societies. No ruling minority will ever hand over or share power unless it is forced to do so by massive pressure.

The splendid rhetoric of Mr. Botha on 31st January this year provided a comic parody of the reality of life in South Africa; but I hope that, with the admitted recognition that the present system's days may be numbered, there might be the possibility of compromise between majority rule and whatever kind of group-based participatory scheme emerges from the principles laid down by Mr. Botha.

It is reasonable to assume that whatever happens in South Africa a large proportion of the white population will have to stay. The slogan "We have nowhere to go" will prove true, if only because there are few, if any, countries in the world likely to accept large blocks of white South African immigrants. Probably the next decade will see the emigration of significant numbers of professional or skilled white South Africans, most of them English-speaking, and also large numbers of the so-called coloured and Indian categories who do not all view the prospect of majority rule with equanimity.

Even an organisation with clear majority support will find it has to offer safeguards to minorities. A variety of safeguards are available under the constitution and these will be needed in a post-apartheid South Africa to help the minorities which will exist to share power. The world is full of unhappy, wretched and persecuted minorities and it would be naive to suppose that constitutions alone can afford them adequate security, as in the final analysis their security depends upon their usefulness to majorities.

As always in discussions on South Africa, the basic issue reappears: would the nationalistic government ever contemplate genuine power-sharing and would the ANC accept such a compromise, even as an interim stage? These questions are unanswerable but are worth striving for, perhaps, I hope, with the help of the international community.

As I said 10 minutes ago, I have never been to South Africa, and so I am particularly grateful for notes I have received from the office of Ambassador Dr. Denis Worrall and for a text from David Welsh, whose thoughts and ideas are of great help to me. I shall look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister has to say, in the hope that any encouragement she can offer will be very welcome to those of us left here this evening and also to South Africa itself.

11.1 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, for enabling us to have this debate, though I am not sure that this is the appropriate time or the occasion to debate a subject which is so important and so crucial. Certainly the House, at the end of a long and tiring day, should not be expected to deal with so significant a subject as this. However, we must do the best we can.

We all know that the instability of this huge area of Southern Africa is caused partly by the failure of a substantial section of the white population properly to comprehend that a failure to abandon apartheid must end in disaster, and partly, too, because the decolonisation of the countries to the north has accelerated the demand for a radical change.

As the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, has just suggested, no one who knows the area—and I must confess that I have not been to South Africa for seven years or so—and its problems would argue that there are any easy solutions. There are deep complexities. There is a great fear and suspicion and as the conflict continues so the gulf between white and black politicians widens, anger turns into hatred and extreme elements on both sides achieve more power and influence.

Racial and religious conflicts, if they are not resolved quickly, always develop in this way, as this country knows to its cost. Nor must we forget that feelings run deep in South Africa, because the roots of the Afrikaaner population also go deep—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord St. John. They are no longer Dutch with grandparents in Amsterdam. They are as South African as New England Americans are American or, dare I say it, as Ulster Protestants are Irish. We know the implications of that very well and the intransigence of the communities involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Paget, and I have been friends for more years than I care to count and we agree on many things, but I must say now that I must disagree with him fundamentally in his views about the developing countries and their rights. In deference to our friendship I shall say no more about that this evening.

The noble Lord's Question is prudently phrased because he asks what political arrangements the Government would like to see. Although we had long historical connections with the area until fairly recent years, there is very little that Britain can do alone to influence the course of events. But, united with our friends and allies, we could do a great deal. The noble Lord's debate is timely because the unrest in South Africa, far from dying down, is becoming more acute. More than 1,100 people have been killed since the autumn of last year, and there were 171 deaths in March, according to the Economist of 12th April, which describes it as the bloodiest month so far.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John, has more local knowledge and experience than most of us. It seems, however, that many white people including businessmen—the noble Lord referred to them—are seeking desperately for some easement by way of a solution. The so-called Natal option has been revived as a possible basis for a solution. But that seems to me impractical. The debate is also timely because the six-month period agreed at the Nassau Commonwealth conference for the ending of apartheid shortly comes to an end. I do not believe that many people would be satisfied that Mr. Botha has moved significantly, although he has made some proposals, from the hard core of apartheid. A decision will have to be taken by the Commonwealth and thus by Britain as to the further steps that may be thought necessary. The noble Lord dealt with the modest reforms of Mr. Botha. The point that he made about the Group Areas Act is an important one. Its repeal would be a substantial step forward, but I see no early likelihood that that will take place. Even if that were to happen, profound and major obstacles would remain to be dealt with.

The Economist the other day made a fair comment. I was very impressed with what the correspondent said. It was this: Despite the relentless array of injustices still afflicting black and brown South Africa, it is untrue to say that nothing has changed or that Mr. Botha's reforms are meaningless. Though they mean almost nothing to blacks, to whites they are pregnant with meaning. Since whites have power, that is not irrelevant. What has changed dramatically is that white ideology has collapsed". That is a very interesting point. The article states that there is no physical threat to white power, and we can understand this. But the Economist asks the 64,000 dollar question. It is this: is it wise to assume that because white physical power is unchallenged, the white will to govern will remain constant? Not any more. It is the will, not the physical strength, that is under question. It is the will that is undermined by the collapse of ideology". If there is no settlement and no attempt to move forward to a real understanding, the future is bleak indeed.

I return to the Commonwealth initiative that Her Majesty's Government supported and here I assume that the Government are waiting, with others, for the report of the group of eminent persons that includes the noble Lord, Lord Barber. I believe that they are awaiting an answer from the South African Government and the noble Baroness will perhaps be able to tell us more about the expectation on this point.

The noble Lord's Question also refers to economic progress and security for all population groups. These two do not necessarily go together. South Africa has achieved economic progress in the post-war years without political development towards what we would regard as a civilised system. I believe that we and the Government are at one on the objective, but not perhaps on the means whereby it may be achieved. Mr Malcolm Rifkind, when a Foreign Office Minister, summarised the objective on 20th November in another place. He said, at col. 266: We are working for the total elimination of apartheid and for rapid progress towards a genuinely non-racial democracy in South Africa". We agree with that statement, but we differ from the Government on what action should follow. I fear that the uncertain British response at Nassau may not suffice next time. If we have to choose between constructive disengagement and drift, if we have to choose between effective economic sanctions in concert with our friends on the one hand and an ineffective stance on the other, I believe that we must choose positively for clearly defined action.

I do not believe that we can stand still. If we act then there will of course be economic consequences for us, and the noble Lord, Lord St. John, referred to that aspect. There will be consequences also for a section of the black population. But those consequences will be small by comparison with the slow drift into civil war over a period of time; with the suffering that will ensue; and with the deaths that will follow. It is also worth bearing in mind that the people in the homelands—called by the Economist "ten rural cesspits"—are suffering the most grinding poverty at the present time.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, when he says that economic sanctions would be understood and would be supported by the great majority of the black population. That is certainly the intelligence that I have received from all those who have visited South Africa recently.

Like the noble Lord, Lord St. John, I would like to see security for all population groups—white, coloured and black. There is room for them all in that large country with its great resources. Let us look at the reality of the situation in South Africa. It has a population of 32½ million. The total black population is 24.1 million. The coloured population is 2.8 million. The white community—Afrikaaner and English-speaking—is 4.8 million. Therefore, as night follows day, the big majority must sooner or later engage in government in South Africa. There can be no doubt about that and no argument about it—it is going to happen. The question is: when? Progress must be real, because as delay and conflict increases the bitterness also grows and makes the emergence of an anti-white, anti-Western government the more likely.

The noble Lord's "economic progress and security" depends on stability, not on a bloody civil war. Like him, I think that Mr. Nelson Mandela should be released. I think also that Mr. Mandela and Mr. Oliver Tambo understand the realities well enough. They want stability; they do not want civil war in their country.

There are two other factors. First, one cannot move 5 million white people, most of whose antecedents go back 300 years. Secondly, even if one could, South Africa would be infinitely poorer without them. The answer to the noble Lord's Question is therefore clear. The only political arrangement that will work in the longer term is the one that recognises the inevitability of majority rule and which plans for it in co-operation with all sections of the community in South Africa.

As I have said, that would involve the release from prison of Mr. Nelson Mandela, which is something that the Government have called for, and which the noble Lord, Lord St. John, indicated that he also supports. It would involve also a readiness to hold discussions with the ANC. Some may regard that as impractical and some may regard it as undesirable—but they should know that unless such a step is taken now, there will be a far less desirable outcome in due course. Does it not take a long time for countries to realise the inevitability of that and of the result of failing to take action in good time? It is because of the failure to understand that fundamental historical point that the country has lived through agonies and despair.

The noble Lord made a constructive speech and he made some important proposals. I believe that we should all like to see evolutionary change and not bloody revolution, but it must take account of some fundamental factors. The noble Lord will know and respect—and I understand that he is a lawyer—the basic principles of the common law of this country. They concern freedom under the law; the rights of the individual regardless of colour, creed or race; the evils of detention without trial; and the political freedom that gives every man and woman a vote. That is where I must disagree fundamentally with my noble friend. Those are the only principles that hold out permanent hope for South Africa.

I have always hoped that, to avoid chaos, South Africa would evolve step by step. But the steps must be substantial and they must end in majority rule—though with the safeguards that the noble Lord, Lord St. John, has mentioned. Time is running out, and, as the right reverend Prelate said, revolution is menacing the scene. Experience over the years has taught us not to be too optimistic—but that should not deter us from trying and from hoping.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, for asking this Unstarred Question this evening. We all listened with great interest to his thoughtful and balanced speech, which, if I may say so, contained a great deal with which we can all agree. My only regret, and it is one that I share with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is that at such a late hour it is difficult to do justice to the very large subject that the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, has introduced.

Sadly the level of violence in South Africa has continued to increase despite the lifting of the state of emergency on 7th March. One hundred and seventy-one people died in unrest incidents during March, which is the highest monthly figure since the start of the recent unrest in September 1984. The violence has taken a number of different forms, not only clashes with the security forces but also faction fighting, vigilante action and the "necklacing", with burning tyres, of alleged government collaborators. Large numbers of buildings and vehicles in black areas have been destroyed. Your Lordships will, I am sure, join me in rejecting violence from whatever quarter. We must all wish to see an early end to the repression and violence in South Africa, and the beginning of a genuine political dialogue that will lead to a peaceful, prosperous and just future for all its people.

I have noted with interest the various views that have been put forward this evening. At the same time I hope that your Lordships will understand that it would not be right for Her Majesty's Government to prescribe particular political and constitutional arrangements. It is for the people of South Africa—all the people—to find their own solution. The problem is complex, as many of your Lordships have said. What we ask is that the search should be peaceful and that the solution should command the support of the people as a whole. For us to try to tell them what constitutional outcome is best would invite the response—and rightly—that it is they, not we, who will have to live with the consequences. That is why it is the people of South Africa who are best placed to decide what is mutually acceptable.

As I have said on many occasions, the Government start from the position that we utterly condemn apartheid. It is quite unacceptable that there should be legislated discrimination which keeps the majority of people in an inferior position and allocates power and privilege to a small minority solely on the basis of race. Such discriminatory legislation cannot just be modified; it must be completely removed from the statute book.

We recognise that the South African Government have embarked on a programme of reform, which is a point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, and my noble friends Lord Chelwood and Lord Colwyn. Last year they abolished the Mixed Marriages Act, the Political Interference Act and Section 16 of the Immorality Act. This month they have taken the important step of tabling legislation to repeal the old pass laws and of issuing a White Paper that foreshadows a major easing of influx control. Proposals have also been made for the reform in this parliamentary session of citizenship legislation and the granting of freehold rights for blacks. Those reforms should be widely welcomed. They do not go far enough, but they have contributed to the momentum for change.

Moreover, President Botha has said that he is committed to negotiating, a democratic system of government which must accommodate all legitimate political aspirations of all South African communities". The implications of this and other principles that he outlined at the opening of Parliament in January are both fundamental and potentially far-reaching.

What is now needed is for the South African Government to move quickly to turn their promises into reality. The need is twofold. On the one hand there must be further steps to abolish all discriminatory legislation, including such key instruments as the Group Areas Act, which was a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso. On the other hand, every effort must be made to open genuine dialogue with the acknowledged representatives of the black population. Failure to act and act soon in this way will only increase the frustration, the disappointment and the violence.

The British Government have on a number of occasions outlined the sort of steps that we believe could create the climate of confidence that is so urgently needed for political dialogue to begin. We have called for them ourselves and with our European and Commonwealth partners. On some of them, for example, the lifting of the state of emergency and repeal of the pass laws, the South African Government have taken action. On a number of others, they have yet to do so. These include the unconditional release of Mr. Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, an end to detention without trial and the unbanning of political parties.

In the course of this evening's debate, noble Lords have raised a number of specific points. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, made certain allegations about Israel's breach of the United Nations arms embargo against South Africa. I cannot comment on those allegations. They would be a matter for the Security Council Arms Embargo Committee. I can say, however, that the British Government, for their part, comply fully with Security Council Resolution 418 which forbids the sale to South Africa of arms and related material and calls on states to refrain from any co-operation with South Africa in the manufacture and development of nuclear weapons. We believe that all other UN member states should similarly comply with this mandatory embargo.

My noble friend also raised the question of the reception of the BBC External Services in South Africa. The Government are aware of the poor audibility of the BBC External Services in that country and measures are being taken under the current audibility programme to improve reception there by the introduction of additional equipment in the Ascension Island relay station. We are also examining other ways of boosting the signal to that area without any deterioration of coverage of Central Africa. The possibility of medium-wave transmissions is being considered as part of this study, as well as broadcasting in the tropical bands.

My noble friend Lord Chelwood and the noble Lord, Lord St. John, raised the question of sporting contacts with South Africa. As your Lordships will know, the Government's policy is to discourage such contacts, in keeping with their obligations under the Gleneagles Agreement. They advise individual sportsmen or sporting bodies of government policy. It is then up to the sporting bodies and individuals to make their own decisions. Other Commonwealth countries have to reach their own decisions on how they deal with sporting contacts with South Africa.

My noble friends Lady Sharples and Lord Chelwood also asked about education, in particular about the role of the British Council in South Africa. The council administers in that country both programmes from its own budget and a major proportion of ODA's educational aid programme to black South Africans. The total budget for 1986–87 is £1.7 million, an increase of nearly 16 per cent. on last year. A further £500,000 is also being made available this year for aid to black South Africans from funds arising out of the saving on our UNESCO contribution. The British Council is likely to play a key role in administering some of those funds also.

A number of noble Lords have referred to the Government's policy on economic sanctions. I refer in particular to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. As your Lordships know, the Government, together with our European and Commonwealth partners, have adopted a number of measures designed to send a political signal to the South African Government without damaging the livelihoods of the South African people. We are, however, opposed to more general economic and trade boycotts since we believe that those would only stiffen white resistance to change, while increasing unemployment in Britain, among black South Africans and in neighbouring African countries. Far from promoting peaceful change in South Africa, we fear that such boycotts would only make matters worse there.

A number of noble Lords referred to the development of the Durban Indaba on the KwaZulu-Natal proposals. On that, we welcome all moves towards peaceful reform in South Africa and we are pleased to see the efforts being made to reach agreement between the races on political advance. It is not for our Government to prescribe what form that advance should take.

I should like now to return to what I have referred to earlier—the urgent need for a political dialogue between the South African Government and the acknowledged representatives of the black population of South Africa. That is a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and many others who have spoken this evening. The Commonwealth Heads of Government in Nassau last October established a group of eminent persons with the object of facilitating such a dialogue in the context of a suspension of violence on all sides. The British nominee to the group, which acts quite independently of governments, is the noble Lord, Lord Barber, whose great ability and experience are well known to your Lordships. The whole group visited South Africa in March and met with a broad spectrum of South African opinion in its search for ways of getting dialogue started. The group is meeting again in London today and tomorrow to assess the progress made.

Wisely it has maintained a high degree of confidentiality. We believe that it has won a great deal of respect and co-operation on all sides. It has already achieved more than many predicted. Its credibility is reinforced by the broad base of international support which it now enjoys. It would be wrong to underestimate the difficulty of its task. But the mission represents much the best prospect at this time for a positive international contribution to a settlement in South Africa. It is now at an important stage. The British Government will continue to give all the help and support we can, using our longstanding links with South Africa to best advantage.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, asked that the report of the group should be published not later than 30th June. I can only say to him that it must be for the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, which acts independently of governments, to decide when to submit its report.

To conclude, if progress is to be made, the aim must be to prevent further polarisation in an already grievously divided society. Economic progress and security for all population groups in South Africa, to which the noble Lord wisely referred in his opening Question, are important elements in building the mutual trust needed for a lasting political solution. What we need to see is a suspension of violence on all sides, together with further action by the South African Government to show that they are genuinely committed to fundamental reform and to the establishment of a non-racial democracy in South Africa.

If only the necessary vision and statesmanship can be shown on all sides, I believe that the way could yet be found to the just and peaceful outcome that we all so earnestly desire for that country.