HL Deb 26 October 1989 vol 511 cc1562-74

3.40 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be convenient if I repeat a Statement on the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government held in Malaysia from 18th to 24th October which I attended with my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. A copy of the final communiqué of the meeting has been placed in the Library of the House.

"Apart from the customary debates on global prospects and on current international political and economic matters, the Heads of Government themselves dealt with five main issues: The global environment, Southern Africa, the future of the Commonwealth, drugs and the choice of a new Commonwealth Secretary-General to succeed Mr. Ramphal in July next year. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the enormous contribution which Sonny Ramphal has made to the Commonwealth during his 14 years as Secretary-General.

"I shall deal with the main subjects in order. First, I shall deal with the environment. The meeting agreed a statement, the Langkawi Declaration, setting out a Commonwealth programme of action to deal with the main environmental problems facing the world. Particular points to which I would draw attention are: The commitment to take more account of environmental considerations i n reaching economic decisions; the support expressed for existing international environmental organisations, especially the United Nations environment programme; the endorsement of the United Kingdom's initiative calling for the negotiation of an international framework convention on global climate change; and the encouragement given to the developing countries to improve the management of their rain-forests. That is very important to arrest the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"Our particular concern in the debate on these issues was that any additional resources should not go to creating new bureaucracies but directly to measures to protect and improve the environment. This concern is fully met in the Commonwealth's statement.

"The Langkawi Declaration is a major achievement for the Common wealth and particularly for our Malaysian chairman, Dr. Mahathir, on whose initiative it was drafted.

"Secondly, I shall discuss Southern Africa. Heads of Government issued a statement entitled Southern Africa: The Way Ahead which marks a significant step forward on a number of points from earlier Commonwealth statements. It recognises that important changes are under way in South Africa; that sanctions ought not to be punitive; and that, if sufficient political progress is made in South Africa, the process of relaxing some of the international restrictions against South Africa should begin. This is the first time that the entire Commonwealth has adopted this approach. I am grateful to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary for the skilful manner in which he negotiated these improvements.

"The Commonwealth statement also contains four main points with which the United Kingdom does not agree. Our disagreement is explicitly stated on the face of the document itself but without explaining either the view we take or the reasons for it. It was to fill this gap that my right honourable friend and I decided to issue a separate statement setting out Britain's views on these points. A copy of the statement has been placed in the Library of the House.

"We believe that the approach set out in our document is the more positive and constructive one and takes more account of the significant changes which are actually happening in South Africa, including the decision taken by the South African Government during the Commonwealth meeting that a major ANC rally may be held for the first time in 30 years and may be addressed by Mr. Sisulu. In the light of this and other recent steps, our aim must surely be to reward progress and encourage South Africa further down the path of reform rather than to respond with more punitive sanctions.

"We make clear in our statement that, instead of making a financial contribution to the proposed agency to report on South Africa's international financial links or to the continuing work of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa, we shall make available an equivalent amount of money for additional help to black South Africans. I remind the House of the substantial sums which the United Kingdom is already making available for such help, as well as to the front line states.

"Our statement also announces our willingness to provide financial help to an independent Namibia as well as, if asked, military training for Namibia's armed forces after independence. We of course give similar help to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and many other Commonwealth countries in Africa.

"Thirdly, Heads of Government had a discussion on the Commonwealth in the 1990s and beyond. They decided to set up a group of Heads of Government, of which Britain will be part, to identify the enlarged roles which the Commonwealth might need to play. We welcome that.

"Fourthly, we discussed the problem of drugs, recognising the very serious threat which they posed in all our countries and the consequent need for training, particularly for smaller states, in customs procedures, in law enforcement, in methods of detection, in education and in treatment of addicts.

"I expressed the hope that by the time of our next meeting in 1991 a large number of Commonwealth countries would have concluded bilateral agreements on freezing and confiscating the assets of drug smugglers. Britain has taken a lead both in the Commonwealth and more widely in concluding such agreements. We have now signed 10 of them, the last one of which was in Malaysia.

"Fifthly, the meeting elected Chief Emeka Anyaoku as the new Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. He has lived in Britain for many years and is a great friend to our country. The whole House will wish him well.

"I draw attention to four further points in the final communiqué: First, a most welcome reference to the importance of Hong Kong's continued success and a commitment to assist in any way possible in promoting the continued prosperity of Hong Kong. This was a major British objective at the meeting and will, I believe, offer welcome reassurance to Hong Kong's people. Secondly, I draw attention to the reaffirmation of the need for speedy action to deal with the problem of Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong, including as a matter of priority the return to Vietnam of all those who do not qualify as genuine refugees. Thirdly, there is a recognition of the need to increase aviation security worldwide—this is particularly important in the wake of the Lockerbie disaster—coupled with a strong denunciation of terrorism in all its forms and a call for the immediate safe release of all hostages. Fourthly, there is a call on all Commonwealth governments to accede to or ratify international covenants on human rights, which a surprising number have regrettably not yet done.

"Mr. Speaker, despite the difference of views on South Africa, this was a valuable and successful meeting and its success owes much to the very skilful chairmanship of Prime Minister Mahathir. We have disagreed before on South Africa within the Commonwealth, indeed many times, but this has not damaged our relations with individual Commonwealth countries or the institution itself. The Government will persevere with their present policy on South Africa because it offers the best prospect of peaceful negotiations and of achieving a new South Africa which will inherit a strong economy".

My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.

3.48 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. On behalf of my noble friends, I support the well deserved tribute paid to Sir Sonny Ramphal and wish the new Secretary-General every success.

The Commonwealth Conference in Kuala Lumpur reflected a range of views on a number of subjects. There was remarkable unanimity, particularly on the main issues, with one unhappy exception. There are some who say that the Commonwealth is a useless talking shop and that it should be abolished. It is at times like these that such remarks are made. But surely there is a strong argument for preserving and developing an organisation whose members are bound by a history of close association and who, for all their differences, have many interests in common. It is better for us to meet and talk than to be isolated.

It is also right to look at the working of the organisation from time to time and to find out whether reforms are needed to bring it up to date. Therefore, we warmly welcome the proposal to set up a Commonwealth group, including Britain, to look at ways of protecting human rights and strengthening democratic institutions throughout the Commonwealth and to address the question of whether the organisation should be expanded to include countries like the Cameroons and possibly other countries as well.

I noted that the Prime Minister said: No one doubts the Commonwealth has a role; the question is how to focus that role more effectively". I am glad that Mrs. Thatcher takes that view because her own performance in Kuala Lumpur gave me no great confidence that she was there to preserve the Commonwealth.

We know that the right honourable lady holds unyielding views on a range of topics, but there are times when it is in the national interest for politicians —and for that matter for their personal advisers—to consider the consequences of what they say. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister demonstrated a curious inability to do so, with the result that she is now as isolated in the Commonwealth as she is in the European Community. First to agree the official communique and then, an hour later, produce a critical and contrary statement is not the way to gain friends and influence people.

The question arises as to why the Prime Minister and Mr. John Major did not express their reservations at the meeting when the communique was agreed unanimously. They had the opportunity to do so then. The House will, I know, be grateful to the noble Lord if he will say why that obvious and natural course was not taken and why it took more than an hour for the right honourable lady the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to come back with a critical statement which could damage our relations with all the other members of the Commonwealth.

We know the Prime Minister's views on sanctions, and we have disagreed with them because we do not believe that they are realistic. Nor indeed are they consistent with her attitude to sanctions elsewhere. The Prime Minister is entitled to her own view. However, in my opinion she was mistaken to say, as she did yesterday: If it's one against 48 I am very sorry for the 48 Neither Lloyd George nor Churchill would have gone as far as that.

The general reaction to the Prime Minister's remarks is very different from the impression which this bland Statement seeks to create. For example—there are many more examples—Mr. McEwen the diplomatic editor of The Times—which as we all know is sympathetic to the Government; and I do not complain about that—said yesterday: It was a rough and tumble conference marked by underhand British tactics, cutting remarks, bitter infighting and wounded egos". Despite this, the general view of the 48 seems to be that this conference has strengthened the Commonwealth while weakening Britain's position within it, temporarily at least. Against that background, will the Minister be good enough to say what role Britain expects to play in the study group investigating the role of the Commonwealth?

Other matters of interest, including the global environment, drugs, and the plight of the Vietnamese boat people were discussed. In the light of those discussions the Minister may like to answer some brief questions. I apologise for not dealing with other matters, but I want to be brief With regard to the global environment, can the Minister say why the Prime Minister rejected Mr. Rajiv Gandhi's initiative to create a planet protection fund? Secondly, what precisely do Her Majesty's Government intend to do with respect to the Vietnamese boat people, and what possibility is there of the Government seeking international co-operation to find a rather less drastic solution than forced repatriation of all those people?

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. I should like to associate myself with much of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, on the matter.

It strikes me that in the course of the conference a number of positive measures of agreement were reached. That only goes to show the importance of the Commonwealth as more than a tea party or talking shop. The Commonwealth has an extremely important role to play in the world. I have been surprised to read a barrage of articles in the Conservative press recently suggesting that we should leave the Commonwealth and that the Commonwealth is a talking shop which is valueless. The orchestration of those articles makes one wonder whether they are not inspired from somewhere in Downing Street. The very fact that those achievements were acknowledged by the Prime Minister should perhaps be taken into account by some of her supporters. However, the net result of the conference seems to have been against the reputation and the interests of this country.

There are in particular three aspects of that conference to which I should like to refer. The first concerns Hong Kong. The position in Hong Kong is of the utmost importance to its inhabitants and to this country. The main bargaining counter we have to deal with the Chinese Government at the moment is the prosperity of Hong Kong. The prosperity of Hong Kong depends on the people of Hong Kong staying there. The people of Hong Kong will only stay there if there is some guarantee that, should the worst happen, their right of abode will be guaranteed.

It has always been my view that this country should take the lead in doing that, not by saying that it would take the lot but by calling on the Commonwealth, the European Community and other countries to share the burden. Owing to the ill-will which the Prime Minister managed to generate at the conference the declaration on Hong Kong must surely be far less than we had hoped for. I regard that as one of the central failures of the conference from our point of view.

Secondly, I should like to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said about the Vietnamese people in Hong Kong. Although I fully recognise the problem that faces us and the disappointment at the unwillingness of other countries to co-operate in dealing with it, I cannot believe that this country would commit itself to forced repatriation. I cannot believe that that is a policy which the people of this country would support.

Finally, I come to the matter of South Africa. It is truly an astonishing achievement on the part of the Prime Minister to generate so much where there was so much general agreement. Her view on sanctions is one that is held by a number of people. It is held by a number of liberal South Africans. It is a view which can be held. It is held, on the whole, by the United States of America. Yet by the way in which she holds it and the language in which she expresses it the Prime Minister has given the impression that this country is a supporter of apartheid. The United States, holding an almost identical position, has managed to achieve a reputation as a great opponent of apartheid. One is a diplomatic achievement, the other a diplomatic failure. That must be faced.

That being so, I feel that the question of the communique and the Prime Minister's response one hour later has put this country's reputation in a very poor light. It is very sad when the mild and moderate Prime Minister of New Zealand says that it would not be good for the Commonwealth to turn into an organisation which, orchestrates hymns of hate against the United Kingdom". That is what he said. He is not a prejudiced observer; he merely observed the scene. That is what the Prime Minister achieved. I believe that at that conference she not only humiliated her new Foreign Secretary, having dismissed the previous one, but also humiliated this country.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, in thanking both noble Lords for their remarks on the Statement, perhaps I may start by picking up the final words of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I think that what he has just said flies in the face of all the evidence as a result of this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The participants at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting all thought it a great success. The Secretary-General is quoted as saying to the press: It has been a tremendously successful conference". and the chairman told the press that it was an "eventful and fruitful conference".

I also disagree absolutely fundamentally with both noble Lords when they criticise my right honourable friend. Indeed, I differ fundamentally with both noble Lords when they appear to disregard what is in the Statement which reflects eight areas. There are four main areas, which are set out at the beginning of the Statement, in which great progress was made. The fifth area was the good news of the choice of the Deputy Secretary-General to succeed Sir Sonny Ramphal. The Statement then goes on to refer to four other areas, of which one was Hong Kong, where there were most supportive statements made by our colleagues in the Commonwealth.

I beg both noble Lords, who are habitually fair-minded, to recognise what the facts of the meeting show. Both noble Lords have every right to ask me why my right honourable friend and my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary issued a statement. The statement that they issued builds on the Commonwealth statement and sets out how we see the way forward. It is not a rival statement, but my right honourable friends felt that it was essential to have the opportunity both to state their views and their reasons for their views.

Where they differed from their colleagues in the conference meeting, it was not possible to put in the communiqúe exactly what their views were and what the reasons for their views were. Perhaps I may say one thing in that respect. I know that my right honourable friends felt very deeply that it is important that the new South African Government should have a clear signal of the fact that, if they go down the road of reform, there is a positive prospect of sanctions being lifted in a way which is certainly mentioned in the Commonwealth communiqué, but which my right honourable friends felt it was important to mention more positively. In addition, there were four areas in the Commonwealth statement where we disagreed. If any noble Lord wishes to ask me about those, I shall say a word about them.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me two direct questions. The first was why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister did not agree to a special environment fund. That question is answered very swiftly: we do not see a need for a new protection fund. We prefer to use the existing bilateral and multilateral channels for environmental assistance, adapting or improving those channels as necessary. For example, earlier this year, we offered India a £40 million environment grant principally for forestry projects. I also had in mind the enormously good work done by UNEP. We again feel that that is the sort of organisation which needs to be used without having a new one.

The noble Lord asked me a second question which the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, also asked. That was about the Vietnamese boat people. Voluntary repatriation is not sufficient to cope with the huge numbers of non-refugees who are now involved among the many people who are to be found as boat people in Hong Kong. We shall work for arrangements which will ensure their return to Vietnam in safety and dignity. Nothing that I have just said cuts across what was very supportively said by the Heads of Governments in Malaysia a few days ago. I think that that is all that I should say to both noble Lords in answer to their remarks.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, on behalf of the SDP, perhaps I may join in thanking the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister's Statement. There is much in it with which all sides of the House will agree and which they will endorse. But perhaps I may ask what the Leader of the House is doing coming here and pretending that the South Africa story was not a disaster. I imagine that most Members of the House will have seen the Prime Minister on television a couple of days ago, saying with a strange exultation in her voice: If it's one against 48 I am very sorry for the 48". The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, was charitable in censoring the word "very". He just said, 'I am sorry for the 48'". What I heard the Prime Minister say was: I am very sorry for the 48". Is it not the case that over the past two years the Prime Minister has succeeded in alienating all three of the principal groupings of our natural friends in the world'? I refer to NATO and the short-range nuclear force replacement; to the European Community about the social charter and European monetary union; and now to the Commonwealth.

Will the Leader of the House convey the opinion of many of us on this side of the House to the new Foreign Secretary that we wish him well in his job, and hope that he will soon become as skilful as Sir Geoffrey Howe in sweeping up the crockery, and that perhaps in time he will become so skilful as to be able to keep the Prime Minister at home altogether?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, casts doubt, to put it very mildly indeed, on the motives of both my right honourable friends in issuing their statement. Without in any way trailing through the statement, perhaps I may say just one thing in reply. It is said within that statement that Britain believes that the Commonwealth can help a new South Africa to emerge in much more positive ways than those set out in the Kuala Lumpur statement. All the rest of what is said, except for the four areas where we disagree and where there are obviously terms of disagreement, is put very positively to try to plan ahead for the future for the removal of apartheid which we utterly condemn.

Perhaps I may just answer the noble Lord who suggested, as I think did the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that friends of this country are at variance because they are at variance with the Prime Minister. It is a fact that no one at all among the Heads of Government—in fact no one at all—complained to my right honourable friend about the British statement. Two Governments—Canada and Australia—chose to raise it in the meeting itself. No African Government raised it at the meeting either. My right honourable friend had separate meetings with the Heads of virtually all the African delegations and not one of them made any mention of the British statement at all. However, they all wanted to be sure that we would continue our aid and our military training and our same excellent relations. That is the real world.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, perhaps I may put a slightly less critical note to my noble friend than has so far been put. I think that from 1974 onwards I have probably attended, at a much lower level than Heads of Government, more Commonwealth gatherings than most people—law ministers, speakers and members of the legal profession. I have always been very much disturbed by the vituperative attitude taken by some Commonwealth countries against this country and I am not surprised that the Prime Minister was nettled by it. I preferred to remain in total and, I hope, dignified silence when it was done, but I resented it deeply.

I should like to ask my noble friend whether it is not obvious to anyone who reflects upon the matter that there is nothing more difficult in the world than the process of moving from an authoritarian and unjust regime to a free democracy? Is there not something very inconsistent about those who welcome glasnost and perestroika in the Eastern part of Europe when it involves a change from a Communist to, I hope, a democractic regime; yet who, by contrast, when they see in power in South Africa at last a regime that is trying to get itself out of the corner into which it has painted itself in the past 40 years, view it with increased severity? I regard that as a hypocritical attitude. I am sorry that so many people have taken that part.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for his remarks. The reason for my particular gratitude lies in his final words. He mentioned that my right honourable friend may have felt nettled. That is the one point with which I am at variance with my noble and learned friend. My right honourable friends' attitude at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference so far as South Africa was concerned came precisely from the fact that, as my noble and learned friend said, one is talking about the enormously difficult transition of a country from an authoritarian regime to what we hope will be a democracy of the future.

One of the four points on which my right honourable friends disagreed with the Commonwealth communiqué was on the question of sanctions. They said that they did not agree that sanctions had the political effects claimed for them in the communiqué. My right honourable friends said that while sanctions certainly weaken the South African economy, the political effect of sanctions is to increase resistance to change rather than to encourage change. I must say that when I read those words I said to myself, "I suppose that is absolutely true". Then I remembered that over the past two years we have moved from a situation in which after the 1987 elections in South Africa the Progressive Federal Party lost its position as the main opposition party to a situation today in which the people of South Africa have given Mr. F. W. de Klerk a mandate to negotiate for the future.

One of the reasons why that has happened has been because over the past two or three years, with the leadership of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, we have not been trying to tighten sanctions. That is difficult. But my noble and learned friend is right, and I was grateful to him, when he said that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is trying to put forward a valuable point of view and it is not easy to do.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, with regard to the question of refugees which was raised by the previous speakers, is the Minister aware that it seems incredible to many people in this country that a country of over 50 million very rich people and a Commonwealth of well over 100 million people cannot find room for 40,000 refugees? Will he give a guarantee that if the worst comes to the worst and they cannot genuinely be voluntarily repatriated they will be found somewhere to go in the world and will not be forcibly repatriated?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, one difficulty, of which I am sure the noble Lord is well aware, is that there are some 55,000 refugees in Hong Kong at the moment, of which the very large preponderance consists of those who are not thought to be genuine refugees. Of course one has sympathy for them in the tribulations they have faced in crossing the seas; but the difficulty is that this is an ongoing process which will never end. I am sorry but I cannot go further today than to say that most countries repatriate illegal immigrants; so far we have only repatriated on a voluntary basis, but voluntary repatriation is not sufficient to cope with the huge number of non-refugees who are now involved. That is why we are working to make arrangements which will ensure their return to Vietnam in safety and dignity.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, some of the contributions which have been made tend to divert us from the real problems that were created in this Commonwealth conference. There are times when I have been nettled in the same way as the noble and learned Lord. I totally share the views that he put forward about democracy. However, we are speaking about the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other democratic countries.

What the noble Lord has not adequately explained to the House is why the minority report, which was issued until an hour after the main communiqué, was not brought up at the original meeting. He has not explained why that was not done. The Prime Minister and Mr. John Major are experienced politicians. By not doing so, they created a problem. It was they who damaged Britain's reputation within the Commonwealth and deprived us of the strong leadership that we should give.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the position and reputation of this country within the Commonwealth have not been damaged. I hope that I have made that absolutely clear. With respect to the noble Lord, the answer to his question is contained in the original Statement that I made. For the record, perhaps I may simply repeat that the Commonwealth Statement contains four main points with which the United Kingdom does not agree. Our disagreement is explicitly stated on the face of the communiqué because the document itself did not explain either the view we take or the reasons for it.

The Commonwealth communiqué simply states on each of those occasions that Great Britain disagreed. My right honourable friends felt that they had not only the right but the duty to make clear their view and give their reasons.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, why then did the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia register so strong a protest? They were there and the noble Lord was not.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I have also answered that question. The Prime Ministers of those two countries raised the matter in the subsequent meeting. No other head of government raised it at all either informally personally or at the meeting afterwards. I have been at great pains to make the point thay my right honourable friend the Prime Minister reported that all her bilateral relations in the meetings that she had in Malaysia were of the very warmest.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that during the period of government of the party opposite they repeatedly and consistently opposed sanctions even at a time when there was a government in South Africa that was showing no signs of amending?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is probably the case, and I am grateful to my noble friend for saying it. I wonder whether this matter is perhaps a hare that we have now chased just about as far as we can.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House is being naive, and dangerously so, when he tells my noble friend Lord Cledwyn that there were no objections raised to the British statement in the meeting. Does he not know that there were no further statements made after those made by Canada and Australia because the chairman closed down the discussion? Subsequently there were open and public statements made condemning the action of the British Government.

The noble Lord talks about the political effects of sanctions. Has he forgotten or was he not at Blackpool? Did he not hear the Prime Minister claiming that she virtually single-handed had changed the face of eastern Europe from dictatorship to democracy? Did she not use sanctions there? It has already been said that the British representative in Malaysia, the Prime Minister, has done a grave disservice to the international reputation of this country, in particular in the Commonwealth.

I should like the noble Lord to answer my question but first I quote from Clause 9 of the Commonwealth communiqué: In considering what further steps they might take to advance the prospects for negotiations, Heads of Government expressed the view that this was not the time to consider any relaxation of existing sanctions and pressures. That would have to await evidence of clear and irreversible change. In the meantime, they agreed that all existing sanctions and measures should be maintained, and they called upon the wider international community to do likewise". The Prime Minister signed that communiqué. There was no reservation from Britain on that clause. Yet an hour later a British statement was issued which described the sanctions policy as fruitless. That statement was made without the knowledge of the Foreign Secretary, and when the Foreign Secretary in fact was having drinks with the new Secretary General of the Commonwealth. He knew nothing about that statement until after it had been issued.

Is that the way for either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary to conduct Britain's foreign policy? Is it right for the noble Lord the Leader of the House to come to this Chamber and say that the reputation of Britain in the Commonwealth has not been besmirched? I submit that the Prime Minister dislikes the Commonwealth, has shown that she dislikes the Commonwealth and has been treating the Commonwealth with contempt.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if the noble Lord had put his finger on a paragraph with which my right honourable friends disagreed we might have been carrying this exchange further forward. However, he refers to paragraph 9, which is not one of the four points of disagreement. The points of disagreement were paragraph 8, where the statement is that sanctions have begun to influence South African policies, and I have dealt with that; paragraph 10, which states that existing sanctions should be tightened; and paragraph 11, which states that an international agency to review South Africa's international financial links should be set up. We opposed that saying that our money for such an organisation—and indeed lastly, in paragraph 27, for the running of the Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa—should go directly in practical ways to help black South Africans to whom at the moment Britain is giving some £10 million a year.

If the noble Lord will forgive my saying so, when he asks why we have disagreed with paragraph 9, the answer is that we did not.

Perhaps I may also beg to differ when the noble Lord says that my right honourable friend is wholly wrong. We must agree to differ on this. But let me put this finally to the noble Lord. Sanctions will not change South Africa's politics. Our way holds out the best prospect of achieving political progress in South Africa and ensuring that a new South Africa, which we all wish to see, inherits a strong economy.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, in view of the fact that so much media coverage on the Commonwealth Conference has concerned South Africa, can my noble friend assure me that attention wil be paid to the very important aspect of rain-forests? It is an aspect of the Commonwealth Conference that has received very little attention, and it is of great importance to humanity as a whole.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for picking up that point. It has an enormous bearing on the amount of CO2 which we discharge into the atmosphere, which in its turn has an effect on global warming. That is a matter about which everyone is thinking in environmental terms at the moment. My noble friend is spot on.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal accused my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter of flying in the face of the evidence. If my noble friend's view is flying in the face of the evidence, perhaps the noble Lord can explain why so many people have expressed that view in the past few days. I would have taken the evidence that the noble Lord quoted against that view, and the Secretary-General's Statement in particular, as face-saving courtesies. However, is not taking face-saving courtesies for approval of substance one of the characteristic errors of a regime which has been in power too long?

Lord Beistead

My Lords, I can only repeat what I said earlier in these exchanges. I think it strange that the noble Earl, who is normally extremely shrewd and probing in these matters, seems to have overlooked the fact that the participants at the conference all seemed to think that the conference was a great success.

Lord Monson

My Lords, despite the criticisms of the Prime Minister emanating from the Opposition Benches, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that one cannot blame her for losing patience with Commonwealth double standards? So many of the Commonwealth's member states are either dictatorships, one-party states with poor human rights records, as was revealed in Amnesty International's report earlier this week, economic rivals of South Africa or, in one case, a state which officially discriminates against its large ethnic minorities in the fields of job opportunity and access to university education.

Perhaps I may remind the House that I was one of the first to press for the admission of a modest number of South Vietnamese refugees in the spring of 1977—at that time my suggestion went down like a lead balloon in all quarters of the House. With regard to the Vietnamese boat people .in Hong Kong, does the noble Lord agree that the great majority do not come from South Vietnam but from North Vietnam? Does he agree that they are economic refugees and with very few exceptions are not political refugees? The suggestion that they will face political persecution if they are repatriated will not therefore hold water.

Lord Beistead

My Lords, that is an important point. I know that it is assessed that only about a quarter of the refugees in Hong Kong at the moment—I am speaking in rough figures—are refugees in the absolute sense of the word. The others are refugees of other kinds, for instance economic refugees. But that is not quite the point that the noble Lord put to me. He suggested that a majority are economic refugees. Therefore I disagree. But nonetheless he has brought up an important point.