HL Deb 19 May 1986 vol 475 cc17-23

3.35 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on the South African incursions into Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe which is being made in another place by my honourable friend the Secretary of State, Sir Geoffrey Howe. The Statement is as follows:

"As the House knows, a number of locations in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe were attacked early this morning. The South African Defence Forces have acknowledged that they were responsible for these attacks, full details of which are not yet available.

"My honourable friend the Member for Wallasey has already summoned the South African Chargé to ask for an urgent explanation. She expressed to him our grave concern. Our Ambassador in South Africa has been instructed to seek an early call on the South African Foreign Minister.

"Our High Commissioners in Gabarone, Lusaka and Harare have been instructed to convey to their host governments the British Government's concern at these attacks, and to seek further details about them, including any indication of casualties

"We have always made plain our opposition to cross-border violence and have consistently condemned the resort to force by South Africa against her neighbours. Today's attacks by the South African Defence Forces represent a plain violation of the sovereignty of three fellow Commonwealth countries. It is particularly deplorable that they should have taken place while the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons were in South Africa, seeking to promote a process of dialogue which would lead to the ending of apartheid in the context of a suspension of violence on all sides. Today's events underline the urgent need for just such a suspension of violence."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. We note and support the action taken by Her Majesty's Government in conveying their grave concern to the South African Government and in their sympathetic gesture to the affected governments. I should like to ask the noble Baroness two short questions. She referred to the Group of Eminent Persons. Would she not agree that this deplorable action could undermind the efforts of the group and that President Kaunda is right when he said today that these raids by South Africa could well be the object of the exercise? Secondly, could she give an assurance that these criminal acts of violence will be borne in mind when Her Majesty's Government discuss what further action is to be taken in concert with other Commonwealth governments when the six months from the date of the Nassau conference expires next month?

Lord Kennet

My Lords, we entirely endorse what has been said by the Leader of the Labour Opposition. The reaction of the Government to these raids is obviously absolutely right. They have asked for an urgent explanation, expressed grave concern, expressed opposition to the cross-border violence, which is the correct general point, and have called it a plain violation of sovereignty.

The South African Government of course carried out these raids because they thought that the premises they intended to strike were being used for terrorist actions inside South Africa. Whether that is right or not we cannot tell, but it is only six weeks since another government carried out armed raids on premises in the capital city of a foreign country and they did so from bases in this country. They were not subject to protest or reproof. The American ambassador was not sent for. When will the Government overhaul their double standard in this matter, because they are becoming a laughingstock around the world?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for the way in which he has received this very serious Statement, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for what he said on the British Government's reaction to this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raised two questions in particular. As regards the Group of Eminent Persons, they are of course a group of eminent individuals operating independently, so it will be for them to decide how these raids affect their mission. However, as I have made clear, the fact of the raids underlines the importance and urgency of working for a peaceful settlement in South Africa.

On the noble Lord's second point about any action that might be taken in addition to the measures that were introduced after the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nassau last October, following upon that we are of course not committed to any further acts at all. I have no doubt, however, that the raid will have been noted and will be considered.

I cannot accept the point that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made about double standards by the Government or indeed in the activities of the United States. Libya was a case on its own. There was the plainest possible evidence that a government was promoting and defending terrorist attacks on innocent targets. There is no evidence that violence by the ANC in South Africa is sanctioned, still less directed, by the authorities in Botswana, Zambia or Zimbabwe. Indeed, Botswana has close contacts, which are still continuing, with the South Africans on joint control of terrorism. Therefore, there is no comparison at all.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, have the Government considered consulting other members of the Commonwealth and making a joint protest to the South Africa Government?

Baroness Young

My Lords, this point has not been considered, but I note what the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, says.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, in view of the Statement, which we on this side much appreciate, may we take it that if the three countries concerned take this matter to the Security Council, Her Majesty's Government will support them? Secondly, does the noble Baroness, the Minister, recall that just after the last raid on Gabarone there was a mission from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of which I happen to be a member? When I asked to see the wounded terrorists in Princess Marina Hospital in Gabarone, I found there a little girl who was five years' old and who had a hip so injured that the doctors think that she will never walk again. I found her in a state of total shock because she had witnessed her little brother and grandfather being killed; her grandmother was wounded and in the same hospital. That was the total bag of the terrorists.

When the noble Baroness is having discussions with South African representatives, will she emphasise to them that when they attack built-up areas of cities, like Gabarone, it is impossible to avoid killing and injuring innocent men, women and children? Not only is this morally outrageous, but it is totally counterproductive from their point of view. Not only does it alienate all civilised people, but it means that any remnants of moderate black opinion in Southern Africa are completely destroyed.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. I am quite sure that the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, makes about the sufferings of people as a consequence of these raids is very true, and as she said as a member of a CPA delegation in Gabarone she will have witnessed it herself. It is for those reasons, as well as the political reasons, that the Statement is couched in the very firm language that it is.

On the first point that the noble Baroness made about Security Council resolutions, she will be aware of course that raids in earlier years by the South African Government into neighbouring territories have been the subject of Security Council resolutions, and that the British Government have of course condemned these raids.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that it does South Africa's neighbours no service to equate them with Libya?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, I am glad to confirm that and to make yet again the point that there is no comparison in these two cases.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I have had long contact with each of the three areas—not just the countries—that have been bombed during the past few hours? Is the noble Baroness aware that the Statement she has made will sound very mealy-mouthed to the people who have now been suffering for years from this kind of naked aggression? It is not an incursion, which is the word used in the Statement. Is it not an insufficient word to state that Her Majesty's Government are "concerned" about these raids? Do they not utterly condemn them?

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness whether she is able to answer two straight questions. First, does she not agree that this naked aggression should be met by Her Majesty's Government using their influence as a member of the Commonwealth to call an immediate meeting of Commonwealth representatives to consider calling off immediately the activities of the Group of Eminent Persons? Secondly, can Her Majesty's Government tell the House today what military assistance has been offered to the three Commonwealth countries that have been attacked by a foreign power? Finally, agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who never suggested that the three Commonwealth countries could be equated with Libya, is this not an example, not of state-supported terrorism, but of state-responsible terrorism?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I cannot accept that this is a weak Statement. As the noble Lord will see when he has the opportunity to read it in full in the record, the Statement in fact says: We have always made plain our opposition to cross-border violence and have consistently condemned the resort to force by South Africa against her neighours". That seems to me to set out very plainly our position.

As regards the Commonwealth, as I have already explained to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, the Group of Eminent Persons is acting independently and it would not be for the Government to instruct them. We accept that it is their strength that they are acting independently, and in the light of today's events, it will be for them to take a decision as to what they might or might not do. So far as military assistance is concerned, we have not been approached by any of the three countries involved for military assistance.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether there has yet been time to receive a report from the High Commissioner at Harare about these events? In all the circumstances, would it not be better to treat this very serious question in a conciliatory, temperate and quiet manner for the time being?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, my noble friend is quite right; we have not yet received the detailed information from any of our High Commissioners in the three countries involved. Nor indeed have we heard from our Ambassador in Pretoria. No doubt when we have the full information we shall be in a better position to assess what actually has happened.

Lord Pagel of Northampton

My Lords, regarding the Group of Eminent Persons from the Commonwealth, have they not already received the advice of Mr. Botha to mind their own business? Secondly, is there any doubt that when a country—whether it be Libya or anybody else—entertains terrorists for the purpose of chivying their neighbours, the neighbours are perfectly entitled under international law to take the action which South Africa very properly took today?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the first question that the noble Lord, Lord Paget, asked, the Group of Eminent Persons has, we believe, had opportunities to talk to a great many people in South Africa, including members of the South African Government, as we believe this to be a valuable exercise. So far as his second point is concerned, may I make it clear that we oppose violence in South Africa wherever it may come from, but we cannot condone the attacks by South Africa on three sovereign states.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty's Government will, when considering their feelings and attitudes to South Africa, bear in mind the fact that South Africa was, is, and I hope will be, a staunch ally of the Western alliance? Will my noble friend remember the part that South Africa played under the leadership of General Smuts, that wonderful man, and not ignore the assistance that has been given by South Africa in the past to this country?

Will the Government also bear in mind that there are many countries at the moment in the world which perpetrate other acts which offend human principles; not least one may say the rape of Afghanistan by the Russians? If everything can be borne in principle and in balance, perhaps we might not be carried away too much by emotive issues on certain things which South Africa, for various reasons of their own, may feel they have to do although they may offend some principles of your Lordships' House.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I take the point that my noble friend makes about the past history of South Africa. We are, however, in the situation in which these acts of aggression have in fact been committed by the South African Government, and I would only say to him, out of consistency, that we have completely condemned the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, as of course we deplore the Israeli raid on Tunis, and our attitudes have been consistent in this regard.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Baroness clear up a couple of points in her answer to me? First, is it not the case that it was the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference which appointed the Eminent Persons Group? Would it not now be quite consistent for the Comonwealth representatives to meet immediately in this crisis in order to suggest that that group can no longer perform its task, and that if it continues, it would appear to be following Her Majesty's Government's line of appeasement of South Africa? Secondly, while I hear the noble Baroness say that Her Majesty's Government have received no requests for military assistance, what I asked was whether Her Majesty's Government have offered any military assistance to three Commonwealth Governments being attacked by a foreign power?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the idea of a Group of Eminent Persons was one of the results of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, but of course the fact that it was set up, the fact that those in it act as individuals operating independently, means that it is for them to decide what attitude they will take in the light of the raids today. The answer to the noble Lord's second point is that we have not been approached for military assistance, but, as I am sure the noble Lord will be aware, Botswana is one of several African countries which benefit from British training schemes for their armed forces.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, surely there should be some evenness in all this? We object to American delegations going over to interview the IRA and then telling us how to govern our territories. Are not the South Africans in exactly the same position with this alleged Commonwealth group? Secondly, how on earth do we distinguish America's action against terrorists in Libya, with which we collaborated, from the South Africans' action against terrorists in Southern Africa? Both were sovereign countries. Surely the law is quite the same in both?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to make it clear that the United States Government do not support the activities of the IRA—and I think that we should make that quite clear—and have condemned those activities.

Lord Paget of Northampton

Groups of Americans did.

Baroness Young

My Lords, we are talking about the United States Government. No doubt individuals within that country have differing views, as they do in any democratic society. On the second point of the noble Lord, as I made clear, Libya was a case of its own; and we do not accept that Article 51 can properly be invoked in the case of the South African actions.

Lord Soames

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when I visited Zimbabwe in the early part of this year there had recently been a mine explosion just over the border in South Africa? This made both the Prime Minister and the Government of Zimbabwe extremely angry, because they have said consistently both in private and public that they did not wish their territories, nor did they intend to allow their territories, to be used for raids on South Africa.

I am astonished to hear that in the view of the South African Government this has happened recently. When my noble friend is in touch with our ambassador in Pretoria perhaps she will be so good as to ask him specifically whether the raids were made out of Zimbabwe recently; apparently this is considered by the South African Government to be a reprisal.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Soames for that helpful intervention. He speaks with great knowledge, and recent knowledge, of events in Zimbabwe. I shall certainly see that the point that he has made is conveyed to my right honourable and learned friend. I was of course aware that the Zimbabwean Government had denied the use of their territory by terrorists.