HL Deb 12 February 1990 vol 515 cc1114-21

4.3 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to a Private Notice Question being given in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on government policy towards South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela. The Answer is as follows:

"We warmly welcome the release of Nelson Mandela. He symbolises the aspirations of millions of South Africans for a non-racial democratic South Africa.

"Since he has become President, Mr. de Klerk has transformed the policy of the South African Government. He has initiated a series of steps, including the commitment to abolish much of the remains of so-called petty apartheid, the unbanning of political organisations and now the release of Nelson Mandela. All these steps have been demanded time and again by the British Government, by the international community and by this House. Taken together they create a completely new climate in South Africa —a climate in which dialogue can begin about the massive task of dismantling apartheid peacefully. This new climate presents a decisive challenge to those, black and white, who wish to maintain the old orthodoxies of confrontation.

"We urge the ANC, the PAC, the Inkatha Movement, the various white parties and all other political organisations in South Africa to rise to this challenge, end violence and enter negotiations.

"It is vital to send a signal to the white community that President de Klerk's steps will find a response from the international community. That is why the British Government believe that it makes sense to stop discouraging investment and tourism in South Africa."

That concludes the Statement.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Answer to the Private Notice Question in another place. We most warmly welcome the release of Mr. Nelson Mandela. It is both a joy and a relief to us all. Mr. Mandela re-enters the public life of his country after more than 27 years of captivity and takes his place as the undoubted leader of the overwhelming majority of the people of South Africa.

We must also welcome President de Klerk's constructive action in securing Mr. Mandela's release and in lifting the ban on the ANC. We note that Mr. Mandela in his speech yesterday called Mr. de Klerk a man of integrity.

We further welcome Mr. Mandela's words that his objective is a democratic, free and multi-racial society. We welcome his commitment to peaceful solutions.

It is clear, however, that the next few weeks and months are critical. The structure of apartheid still stands virtually intact. The state of emergency still remains and the prospects of constitutional change and free elections are, to say the least, uncertain at this moment.

In those circumstances can the noble Lord say what constructive action Her Majesty's Government now propose to take? Is he aware that the raising of sanctions at this moment would be totally unhelpful? Is it not the case that the Commonwealth, the European Community and the United States believe that it is premature to withdraw sanctions now? Can the noble Lord say whether any country supports Her Majesty's Government's policy against sanctions and their efficacy?

Bearing in mind that the Community Foreign Ministers meet in Dublin later this month, does the noble Lord not consider it necessary to seek agreement for a united course of action upon which all the governments of the Community can agree? Will he not accept that the withdrawal of sanctions at this time would not achieve the unity which is so necessary now?

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating the Answer to the Private Notice Question in another place. We too on these Benches would like to welcome sincerely, wholeheartedly and with unqualified relief the release after 27 years of Nelson Mandela, one of the most charismatic, courageous and extraordinary people of our epoch.

I should like to ask the noble Lord to help us in certain respects, much on the same lines as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. Is he aware that the apartheid state has not yet been dismantled in any way? There is still a state of emergency; the Group Areas Act is still in place; the Population Registration Act is still in place; the secret service police are still active.

Does the noble Lord not agree that once more the Prime Minister is isolating this country from the rest of the world and from our friends? Can he explain the curious discrepancy between her attitude towards South Africa and her attitude towards countries in Eastern Europe? Countries in Eastern Europe are rushing towards democracy, are to hold elections on a fair and free basis, have disbanded their secret police and are entering a new phase. In response to those developments the Prime Minister urges caution. She tells us that we must be careful and wait to see what emerges. She says that our armaments must be increased next year. Yet, when the secret police are still in place in South Africa and we still await free elections and democratic politics there, she tells us that we should remove the pressures which can be argued to have brought about the changes that we all welcome.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and Lord Bonham-Carter, for their remarks. We believe that the time is now right to start to consider lifting some of the measures imposed by the international community. We shall discuss the issue with our Community partners. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition asked whether any other countries supported us in that regard. Other governments have indicated that they believe the time is fast approaching when it would be right to reconsider sanctions. It is therefore a matter which we shall discuss with our Community partners.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, reminded us that apartheid has not been dismantled and that the state of emergency, among other things, is still in place. We urge the South African Government to lift the state of emergency as soon as possible. We hope that it will eventually be possible for apartheid to be dismantled completely.

4.9 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I believe that I speak on behalf of all the Churches in this country in expressing our rejoicing that Nelson Mandela is free. I am thankful for President de Klerk's courage and statesmanship. It is an astonishing step forward which we could not have imagined a year ago. I hope that the next step may be the complete lifting of the state of emergency and the putting in place of a negotiating framework as outlined by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons' Group.

Together with my brother in Liverpool, Archbishop Worlock, I went to South Africa last May for three weeks. We spent a good time in more than a dozen townships. We saw the main pillars of grand apartheid firmly and oppressively in place. At the same time one of the abiding memories that we brought away was the amazing forgivingness of black people and their longing for a united, democratic South Africa.

Main-line Church leaders and community leaders whom we met repeatedly said to us, "Please tell them in England to keep up the pressures from outside". They know that they have to work out matters within South Africa, but they also know the heavy pressures that there will be on President de Klerk from those who want to keep white dominance wherever possible. Last night Mr. Mandela asked the international community to keep up the isolation of the apartheid regime until there is root and branch change to allow all South Africans to share fully in their country's future. As we praise him, should we not listen to what he says? We continue to pray for South Africa in this moment of hope and courageous risk.

Lord Reay

My Lords, in reply to the right reverend Prelate, perhaps I may say that we believe that the urgent need now is for negotiations to get under way. President de Klerk has gone a long way towards making that possible and has promised to do more. I can only repeat what I said in my original reply; namely, that we believe that it is extremely important to send a signal to the white community that the steps taken by President de Klerk will find a reply from the international community. That is the basis of our position.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, adverting to what the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter referred to as a discrepancy, is not the difference between what is going on in Eastern Europe and what has just happened in southern Africa that President Gorbachev's term of office has lasted for five years and that Mr. de Klerk's has lasted for about one year? Is not the inconsistency between those who wish to praise and apply the carrot to Mr. Gorbachev and the stick and complaint to Mr. de Klerk? Is it not the truth of the matter that both are engaged on what is one of the most difficult and perhaps dangerous exercises in the whole of international politics; namely, to unscramble a highly authoritarian regime based on a false ideology? Should not both be given our wholehearted support?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble and learned friend.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords,—

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords,—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, could not see behind him, but the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, tried to speak before the noble Lord rose to his feet.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Perhaps I should declare a personal interest. As some noble Lords know, I worked with Nelson Mandela, Waller Sisulu and Oliver Tambo in the 1950s and, for my pains, I was banned from South Africa 31 years ago. That ban remains today. It is therefore with a great deal of personal poignancy that I viewed the release of Nelson Mandela from one prison yesterday. But Nelson Mandela has not been freed. He has been released from one prison and he enters another. In South Africa —the South Africa that he has entered today —he is not free to live where he wishes; he has no vote and his children and grandchildren will go to schools designated by the South African state.

In his Statement the noble Lord spoke about sending a signal to the white community. What about the black community, which is four times as large? Yes —we should send a signal to the white community. Some of us have sent signals to the white community for many years in the sanctions and boycotts which have been effective. Apparently, it is only the British Prime Minister who believes that they have not played a major part in the recent loosening of the South African white regime's policies. Even President de Klerk has admitted that the economic pressures of sanctions have been a major factor in changing the situation. What signal are the British Government sending to the black people who have now been without the vote for 200 years? What signal are they sending to the black people who still live under the Group Areas Act and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said under the Population Registration Act and who still live under the state of emergency? What signal are the British Government sending to them?

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool said, there are in South Africa many strong forces who will use every means, including sabotage and possibly murder, to change the lines laid down by President de Klerk. I salute him for his courage, at the moment in words, but, as Nelson Mandela said last night, we are still waiting for actions.

Is it not the case that the effect of removing sanctions tomorrow would be to sabotage the pressure from black Africans and white South Africans who would like to see President de Klerk's words put into action and a genuine non-racial democratic society created in that unhappy country? Until those actions to remove discrimination from South Africa are seen to be irreversible, sanctions should be kept as a pressure on the South African white community to end the discrimination that has existed for 200 years between white and black. Is that not the response that should be made to the release of Nelson Mandela after his 27 years of martrydom? Is that not the message that the British Government should be sending to the people of South Africa, white and black alike?

Lord Reay

My Lords, President de Klerk has met virtually all the demands which EC Ministers called for when imposing restrictive measures in 1986? the release of political prisoners, the unbanning of political organisations and the lifting of the state of emergency. We believe that the bold and courageous steps which have been taken by President de Klerk to end apartheid require a response and that this is a response which can be appreciated by all in South Africa.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not worth bearing in mind, when speaking about sanctions, that Zambian Airlines now advertise that it is the only airline that flies direct from New York to South Africa, this in spite of President Kaunda urging for an increase in sanctions? Is it not true that the Indians import vast quantities of diamonds from South Africa through companies in Mauritius? Is there not an immense amount of hypocrisy and humbug involved in the entire sanctions issue? Is it not the case that in order to produce a much more free and liberal government, the South African Government will need the help of everyone, black and white?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we believe that the future of South Africa will not be determined by sanctions but by what happens in that country. In that respect we hope to see the development of a dialogue and the abandonment of violence.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government use what influence they have with President de Klerk to see that the police force in South Africa is brought under control? The evidence of brutality and the scenes that have been witnessed may lead one to feel that no black person could believe that negotiations would be effective while this kind of thing continues. Will the noble Lord ask his right honourable friend the Prime Minister to use her influence in that direction?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord says and I will take it back to my right honourable friend.

Lord Monson

My Lords, we should all be delighted if a stable, prosperous, liberal, incorrupt, non-racial, multi-party democracy could be created in South Africa. Would the noble Lord acknowledge, however, that such a democracy is an extremely rare phenomenon on the African continent and that we should not therefore entertain excessive expectations? Secondly, would the noble Lord agree that African tribal minorities and Asian and European minorities have fared extremely badly on the African continent over the past few decades? Despite the undoubted good faith of Mr. Mandela, is it not the case therefore that minorities have every reason for apprehension, however groundless their fears may be considered to be by people sitting comfortably, thousands of miles away?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we utterly condemn apartheid. It has always been the objective of Her Majesty's Government to bring about the end of apartheid and we have repeatedly made that objective clear to the South African Government and to Mr. de Klerk. We believe that sanctions would worsen the situation. Undoubtedly the task ahead is massive, but we hope that that objective will acquire the support of all reasonable people.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am sure that the support that President de Klerk has received from all sides of this House and another place will encourage him to continue the process of bringing real democracy to South Africa. A comparison cannot be made between what has been going on in central Europe and South Africa. No one can recognise a communist by the colour of his skin. The "offence" of millions of human beings in South Africa is not that they are communists or liberals, but that in some terrific scheme of the Almighty they were given a different skin pigmentation to that of most people in this House and another place. That must no longer be a crime; otherwise our democracy becomes a total farce.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I repeat, we utterly condemn apartheid.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I should like to clarify one point. The noble Lord stated that a number of governments feel that the time is coming when sanctions can be abandoned. Could the noble Lord answer the question that has been put to him from both Front Benches? Does any other government agree with the British Government that the time has now come when sanctions should be abandoned?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I believe that the Dutch Government, the United States Administration and the Australian Prime Minister have indicated that the time is fast approaching when it would be right to reconsider the question of sanctions.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I too should like to praise the courage of Mr. De Klerk in doing what he has done. However, I think that we should also note the dignity and restraint of the South African black leaders and their followers. Does it not behove all of us, especially the Government, who should be taking the lead, to ensure that their restraint and diplomacy is matched by every other country, particularly the Commonwealth?

Lord Reay

My Lords, as I stated in my original answer, we urge all political organisations in South Africa to rise to the immense challenge of ending violence and to enter into negotiations.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, whilst President Bush, the Prime Minister of Holland and Mr. Hawke of Australia have welcomed the action of President de Klerk, none of them have said that their governments are proposing to lift sanctions now.

Lord Reay

My Lords, we believe that the time has come to consider lifting some of the measures that have been imposed by the international community. We propose to discuss this matter further with our partners.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer the question? Is there any other country which believes that now is the time to lift any sanctions?

Lord Reay

My Lords, one of the purposes of the discussions that we are having with our partners is to discover their position.