HL Deb 18 February 1991 vol 526 cc384-406

8 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what criteria they will use for the removal of sanctions on South Africa.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I very much welcome the fact and indeed I am honoured that the noble Lord, Lord Acton, will make his maiden speech in the debate. When I was at Cambridge I was an avid reader of his grandfather's works. I look forward very keenly to hearing his contribution.

Let me start by making two cardinal points around which the whole of what I ask is centred. The first is that we all welcome unreservedly the statements made by the President of South Africa last year and this year. We particularly welcome the statement made on 1st February in which he announced that his government would be removing the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act and the Land Acts. Those are the three remaining legislative pillars of apartheid. We are glad that the president has shown both courage and foresight in announcing their removal. We note —as expressed by ministers of the South African Government, including the president —that one of the factors leading to this revolution in the political history of South Africa was the imposition of sanctions. Another factor was the internal pressure organised among the African majority population.

The second point that I want to emphasise is that so far it is the intention that has been announced. We await its completion by the removal of the three Acts. We hope and expect that they will be removed before long. But when they are removed the African population of South Africa will still have fewer political rights than it had when first I visited South Africa in 1950. At that time the Africans in the Cape had a limited vote in elections; the Africans throughout the country had a limited vote for the senate. So when those important legislative pillars of apartheid are removed, South Africa will still not be politically back at the stage that it had reached in 1950.

I want to emphasise yet again, as I have done so many times in this Chamber, that the removal of what is commonly known as apartheid does not mean a democratic society in South Africa. Long before the word "apartheid" was coined there was a discriminatory society in South Africa. There will still be a discriminatory society in South Africa when those Acts are removed. I ask the Government: what are the criteria that are being used and will be used? Only this weekend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers have been meeting in London. They are to meet again in New Delhi at the end of April and will no doubt be preparing for the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Harare at the end of October. I hope that the Minister who is to reply will not simply read a Foreign Office brief but will answer the specific points made this evening. We are entitled to know the criteria that the Government will use.

I wish to make some suggestions. In the first place it cannot be emphasised too strongly that the political situation in South Africa is paramount so far as concerns the accepted objectives of the imposition of sanctions. At the United Nations, in the Commonwealth and in the European Community it has been emphasised from the start that the object of sanctions was to produce a democratic situation in South Africa which would be irreversible. It will not be irreversible until the majority within South Africa has the, vote. That is the only final test of its irreversibility.

It is the political constitution which will determine whether or not that section of South Africa's society which comprises those forces still existing in South Africa which oppose the reforms initiated by President de Klerk is still able to turn back the tide which at the moment is flowing in the right direction. I remind noble Lords of a number of statements made on behalf of both the Government and the South African Government. I start with the statement by the Foreign Secretary in another place on 14th February 1990 that, There is no question of reviewing the arms embargo or associated military sanctions until there is a full democratic constitution in South Africa".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/2/90; col. 283.] That is clear and unequivocal. Later—last July—the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, in an interview in The Star newspaper of Johannesburg, said that South Africa would be accepted back fully into the international community, once a new democratic constitution is in place and the remaining apartheid legislation is removed". That again, it seems to me, is an unequivocal assertion that until the constitution is changed so that it is democratic and based upon one person one vote, the object of sanctions has not been achieved. To reinforce the views of those two members of the British Government, Gerrit Viljoen, the former head of the Afrikaner Broederbond and the chief negotiator of President de Klerk, said: Apartheid will only be gone when the new constitution is implemented". That is the burden of my case.

Sporting sanctions have a special importance in South Africa. I say to politicians, "Keep off". Political interference over the readmission of South African sports to the international community could be fatal. It could be desperately counter productive. South African sporting associations are today engaged in talking to each other, forming new organisations and trying to weed out the remains of the apartheid system within the different sports. Let them get on with the job. When those associations are satisfied that their sport has become genuinely non-racial let them apply to the appropriate international organisations. Do not interfere politically!

If white countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand try to force the pace and start to issue invitations —the point is apposite to both rugby and cricket, the two main sports in South Africa—the result will be a backlash among those of all races now trying to get rid of discrimination and prejudice and create non-racial sporting relations.

The central issue remains. Last summer it was believed that the reforms which President de Klerk had set in motion were likely to be achieved in the near future. A number of conditions that were accepted by both the government and the African organisations at that time have not yet been fulfilled. There is still a state of emergency, detention without trial and political execution. There are still exiles who have not returned. Some who did return have been arrested. There are still political prisoners in South African gaols. The Internal Security Act remains. Above all, it is the white government and the white security forces which are still in control of every form of life in South Africa. The South African parliament addressed by President de Klerk did not have a single black African in it. Nelson Mandela, now an international figure, does not have a vote. He still cannot live wherever he wishes in his own country.

I am glad that the Land Acts are to be abolished. They go back to 1913. However, that will not return the land which was stolen from the Africans to African ownership. There has to a great economic revolution as well as a political revolution. There must be a political revolution which states directly and unequivocally that every South African, whatever the colour of his or her skin, has an equal right to determine, and to participate in, the future of the society in which he or she lives. Until that becomes established in a new constitution the reforms will not be irreversible, the trend will not be irreversible, and the South African population will continue to live in a discriminatory society.

Until the society becomes democratic I strongly suggest that it is essential for the international community to maintain sanctions. As specific moves are achieved, and specific rungs of the ladder are stepped upon, it may be felt that sanctions can progressively be reduced. However, until that democratic society has been established within the constitution, sanctions will still be necessary. If we are concerned to safeguard our belief in democracy, it will be necessary to retain economic sanctions, not for punishment, nor for impoverishment, but to enforce and to reinforce political will. Sanctions have begun to do so. They cannot be removed until the process has become final.

8.16 p.m.

Lord Acton

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, for asking this important Question on the criteria that the Government will use for the removal of sanctions on South Africa, thereby giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I should like to thank noble Lords for the very kind welcome that I have received from all sides of the House since the day I took my seat. I realise that for the most part this kindness stems from the generosity that would be shown any newcomer. However, I like to think that a part results from the nomadic course my family has taken in your Lordships' House. My great-grandfather sat as a Liberal. My grandfather sat on the Labour Benches. My father was a Conservative; and now I am a Cross-Bencher. My family has at least had the opportunity to make friends on all sides of the House.

I was brought up in Rhodesia and after independence lived for a time in Zimbabwe. Inevitably, South Africa has been part of my life since my childhood holidays. In 1966 I worked in Durban for six months and thus was given the opportunity for a close-up view of apartheid. I disliked it intensely. Little did I realise that at the same time the South African Government were taking a close look at me, and apparently disliked me with equal fervour. Soon after I left South Africa I was declared a prohibited immigrant by that country. No reason was ever given.

From that time I have closely followed events in South Africa and have been a strong supporter of the international sanctions campaign as an alternative to what looked like inevitable bloodshed between the races. During the sterile years of Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha I often despaired of the future of South Africa. When President de Klerk came to power with his talk of reform I took a cynical view of him. He has proved me totally wrong and I wish to pay tribute to the truly remarkable statesmanship that he has shown during the past year.

It is almost unbelievable how much has been achieved. I refer to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and his senior colleagues, the legalisation of the ANC, the PAC and other banned organisations, and the regular contacts between President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, the government and the ANC. Legislation has been repealed enabling hospitals to be opened to all races, and segregation outlawed in public facilities such as swimming pools and libraries.

I submit that President de Klerk has already made sufficient progress to warrant the lifting of some sanctions; possibly sporting sanctions would be the most suitable. Thereafter, I should like to see a step-by-step approach. President de Klerk has recently promised to repeal the Group Areas Act, the Land Acts, and the Population Registration Act; they are the cornerstones of apartheid. When these repeals take place more sanctions should be removed to encourage still further reform.

President de Klerk and the ANC have just reached an agreement on the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles to South Africa. When these pledges are fulfilled more sanctions should be removed. There will then remain the great issue of a new constitution and the franchise. President de Klerk has repeatedly promised that he will put any constitutional agreement to the white voters, either in an election or a referendum. It is crucial that he win that test of opinion against his Conservative opposition. It is crucial that the white voters have been encouraged to reach that stage by the progressive lifting of sanctions. It is equally crucial that some sanctions remain to help persuade white voters to back the new constitution, thus leading to the final removal of all sanctions.

President de Klerk has set South Africa on a new course. I hope that Her Majesty's Government, together with their European Community and Commonwealth partners, will use the raising of sanctions to assist him with this historic task.

8.22 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, for introducing the debate and for having given my noble friend Lord Acton the opportunity to deliver a fine maiden speech on this most topical issue. Apart from concurring with the content of my noble friend's speech, I am delighted to have another colleague who has spent so many years in southern Africa. After his schooling in what was then Rhodesia, my noble friend completed his education at Oxford. Later he returned to Zimbabwe as the legal adviser to the Ministry of Justice. With his experience in the legal profession, the manufacturing industry, the banking profession and currently as an historian in the United States, my noble friend is truly an all-rounder. Now that he has opened his innings in your Lordships' House, I hope that we shall hear a great deal more from him on his special interest of foreign affairs.

I had hoped that after the restriction order on the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, was lifted last year he would have visited South Africa to see at first hand the dramatic developments unfolding in that country. I returned this morning from a two-month visit to South Africa, where I met members of all political parties and business and trade union leaders. If ever there were any doubts on the irreversible nature of the reform programme the state president's speech made on 1st February put the record straight. It outlined his manifesto for the new South Africa.

Like my noble friend Lord Acton, I warmly welcome the proposed repeal of the last vestiges of legislative apartheid. This has laid the foundation for a multi-party conference to be convened to negotiate a constitution that will provide for a truly democratic South Africa. I sincerely believe that that is achievable in the foreseeable future. Therefore, I find it hard to accept the calls of Nelson Mandela and the ANC for the international community to remain steadfast in its stand on sanctions. Surely, as my noble friend said, now is the time to ease sanctions. Equally, I too do not support the total lifting of sanctions; I call only for their phased lifting.

With the ANC's call for a constituent assembly and an interim government I cannot help but feel that the goal-posts are being moved. So why are the ANC executives so adamant about sanctions? I put it to your Lordships that for most black people in South Africa life in the townships since 2nd February last year has steadily deteriorated. Perhaps I may repeat a few of the demographic statistics of the country in order to make my point. More than 60 per cent. of the people in South Africa are below the age of 23. In excess of 40 per cent. of the economically active population is unemployed. There is a shortage of 1.2 million housing units in urban areas, mostly among black people. The squatter problem has risen to about 7 million and overcrowding is rife. That, coupled with inadequate education and healthcare, has been in part the catalyst behind the tragic escalation in violence in the townships where last year more than 3,500 black people were viciously killed. With a population growth rate of a little more than 2.3 per cent. and negative economic growth rate, that will place increasing pressure on the infrastructure in South Africa.

I believe that the greatest challenge facing the new South Africa is the enhancement of economic growth. Reducing poverty and economic disparities to tolerable levels is the priority. If the growth rate remains at 1 per cent. per year, close to the average since 1980, South Africa will on average be 23 per cent. poorer by the end of the 1990s. The easing of sanctions by the international community would have a profound effect on the creation of new jobs. I take as an example the steel industry. South Africa is one of the world's lowest cost producers and therefore is very competitive in steel production. Two of the three biggest markets in the world—that is North America and the EC—have been closed to South Africa. With access to those major markets the business can be expanded providing the much-needed extra jobs. That, together with the demise in the gold price of late, has meant that many marginal mines have had to be closed resulting in many redundancies.

Calls by the liberation movement in South Africa for an equitable redistribution of economic wealth must therefore be coupled with economic growth. All too often I hear the call for distribution through growth. That is a recipe for disaster. There must be distribution and growth. If there is no economic growth redistribution will only increase racial and other tensions without ensuring that the living standards of the whole population continue to rise.

My real fear for South Africa is that the aspirations of the so-called emancipated are far higher than any government—be it PAC, ANC or nationalist party—could possibly achieve. It is noteworthy that the South African Government are directing more of the state budget towards social services. Last year that amounted to 26 billion rand. From just over 30 per cent. of total state spending in 1985–86, the comparable figure is now 40 per cent. In addition, two development funds have been established for extra spending on social infrastructure needs. Those funds have been complemented recently by additional moneys from the business community within South Africa.

I welcome the most recent and successful visit of Her Majesty's Government's development Minister, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, to Southern Africa. Her constructive dialogue with the ANC and other political parties as well as Her Majesty's increased contribution to development aid in the region are most necessary. Obviously I welcome also the recent meeting between Chief Buthelezi and Nelson Mandela. We all hope that this will be the start of a cessation in the violence of the townships. However, I feel that those meetings must be on a regular basis and there will need to be a joint commitment of all parties—not just political parties—for there to be a continued stability in the townships.

On the issue of sanctions, the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles have been quoted as preconditions to the easing of international sanctions. The recent accord between State President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela last week on activities related to armed action should expedite the release of the remaining political prisoners. It is likely that an accord on exiles will soon be reached. With the easing of sanctions, South Africa's export trade will improve considerably, thus enhancing much needed economic growth. The removal of financial sanctions, allowing South Africa to obtain foreign loans, is also integral to the growth programme.

Clearly, even if sanctions were to be lifted now, it is unlikely that international investors would invest in the country until there is stability both in the labour markets and the townships and until an economic policy is agreed clarifying the issues of nationalisation and repatriation of dividends.

Disinvestment has led to irreparable damage in South Africa. I believe that few of the companies that were forced to leave will ever return. On a rather bleak note, I believe also that should international sanctions not be eased, there is a very real risk that the extreme Right Wing may destabilise the reform programme in the country. Only last week I visited Armscor and was astounded to find that South Africa is one of the largest arms-producing nations in the world. We all know of the presence of Right Wing elements in the police force and army. I do not for one moment say that there is a risk of a military dictatorship but there is always a risk that, should the international community refuse to ease sanctions, the Right Wing may lose patience with State President de Klerk.

One of the greatest challenges facing the erstwhile liberation forces in South Africa is to transform themselves from resistance movements to effective party political machines. The debilitating effects of decades of apartheid-driven disempowerment of popular mass-based structures, such as the ANC, are only now starting to become clear. Far from being well structured and efficient political machines, the liberation movements are suffering severe structural, leadership and infrastructural shortages. That is hardly surprising.

Having said that, I am extremely optimistic about the potential of a new democratic South Africa. I am confident that a constitution agreeable to all political parties will be attained. Compromise and co-operation are needed. With a well established infrastructure, South Africa will play a vital role in the uplifting of the Southern African region.

In summary, what is needed is an all-party agreement involving trade unions and business and political organisations on the question of a post-apartheid investor code which will jointly promote economic growth. For these reasons, I fully support the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the easing of sanctions in recognition of the reform programme.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hatch for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject this evening. I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Acton, on his maiden speech which was first class.

I am glad that I am speaking at this stage because the first two speakers are banned persons in the South African setting and therefore illustrate the political problems of South Africa and the reasons that it was necessary to impose sanctions. The third speaker, the noble Lord, Lord St. John, gave us the economic and social case for removing sanctions. In effect, we must balance the two sides.

I have here the Commonwealth Accord on Southern Africa. That called on the South African Government to take five specific steps: to declare that the system of apartheid will be dismantled, and specific and meaningful action be taken in fulfilment of that intent; to terminate the existing state of emergency; to release immediately and unconditionally Nelson Mandela and all others imprisoned and detained for their opposition to apartheid; to establish political freedom and specifically lift the existing ban on the African National Congress and other political parties; and to initiate, in the context of a suspension of violence on all sides, a process of dialogue across lines of colour, politics and religion with a view to establishing a non-racial and representative government.

What we need to do—and I hope that the Government's criteria will be based on this—is to decide to what extent the South African Government have achieved those objectives and therefore whether it is now time to lift sanctions. It is fair to say that when the group areas Act, the population registration Act and the Land Acts have been repealed, and when the negotiations between the government and the other elected organisations—the ANC and other political organisations—have started, then the South African Government will have met those conditions.

Therefore, I suggest a programme. Nothing whatever must be done until those Acts have been repealed. However, when they are repealed, certain sanctions should be lifted. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Acton, that the first and easiest action to take is as regards the sporting links. That measure is the easiest to monitor and to use in order to influence what goes on. The conditions can be laid down that the ban on any sports links with South Africa will be based on the South African sport being non-racial. Therefore when South African sport is non-racial, a ban on it can be lifted. That would be a good first step when those Acts have been repealed. There are others, such as cultural bans; those can be easily monitored and should therefore be lifted at the same time.

The important next stage is when financial sanctions and the ban on investment are lifted. We cannot wait until South Africa is a democratic government before lifting financial sanctions. Financiers invest where they believe there is opportunity for a good return. It is easy to continue sanctions for too long. When the democratic government is elected the habit of not investing in South Africa may be too strong to be changed. There is a balance to be found and one needs to find it. My own view is that we should say that when the dialogue is taking place, if the members around the negotiating table agree among themselves that we should lift those sanctions, then they should be lifted.

That is my programme: that sports and cultural sanctions should be lifted when the group areas Act, the Land Acts and the population registration Act have been repealed. The other sanctions, particularly the financial ones—the arms embargo and so forth can wait, I do not believe that there is any need to worry in that regard—should be lifted when those people taking part in the negotiations agree that it is time to do so. What is more, we should indicate that that is the programme. In other words, we state that the sporting and cultural bans will be lifted when those Acts have been repealed. We state that when we are asked to lift the financial sanctions by those negotiating the new situation in the country, we shall take steps to lift them.

I regard that as the correct programme. In the meantime, we do not need to wait for the removal of sanctions to take certain actions. The most important matter at this moment is for the Commonwealth to provide a programme of education and training which would enable the disadvantaged people in South Africa to be able, when the time comes, to take advantage of the new opportunities. That is something that the Government can emphasise at Commonwealth meetings. Unfortunately, the Government have played their cards very badly on this issue in terms of the Commonwealth, and may not have the influence that they should have in the matter. However, that ought to be attempted. I am certain that there are sufficient places of learning in all the Commonwealth countries to absorb the large number of intelligent and able black South Africans so that they are ready and able to take over when the situation arises. The situation could be dealt with in that way, keeping in reserve the arms embargo and so forth. There may well be other actions that we need to take, but we need to find the balance.

I end as I began. We need a balance. We need to indicate that as the political situation improves, we are prepared to remove some of the barriers. However, the situation must improve before we do that. We also need to show that we are willing to help in the development of South Africa so that it can play its full part in the life of the community of nations.

8.46 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Acton on a splendid and well-balanced maiden speech, the more so given that an inevitably nerve-racking occasion becomes more fraught the longer it is postponed to a late and uncertain hour. It was also pleasing to hear from my noble friend Lord St. John with his extremely up-to-date—one might almost say "hot off the presses"—analysis of the situation on the ground in South Africa at this moment.

Given the lateness of the hour I shall not take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, on a number of points, which I should dearly like to do at some future date. However, I agree that he is correct in pointing out that apartheid to a large extent merely codified in an obsessive bureaucratic form what was already existing long-standing practice. He is right in pointing out that the Land Acts are 78 years old and persisted throughout the time of the British Empire and the much-revered General Smuts. Therefore not every ill in South Africa can be laid at the feet of the National Party.

Now to sanctions. I shall not mention sports sanctions: frankly, spectator sports are something I can take or leave. I find it difficult to put myself in the position of someone who would change his political allegiance in order to watch a rugby football match. However economic sanctions, in contrast to a voluntary boycott—to which no one could object—are a decidedly hostile form of action, falling only just short of war. From the point of view of consistent abstract principle I ask why sanctions are continuing to be applied to South Africa at this time, when so much has improved, while not being applied to the numerous other countries whose governments we disapprove of and whose current human rights position is far worse than that pertaining in South Africa.

It cannot be due to the absence of a true universal-suffrage multi-party democracy governed by the rule of law. If that were so more than half the member states of the United Nations would have sanctions applied against them. In Hong Kong we are at the moment deliberately retarding the introduction of true democracy at the insistence of the communist Chinese. It cannot be due to disparities of wealth, which are as great or greater in many African, Asian and Latin American countries. It cannot be due to the tiny degree of residual official discrimination. There is one Commonwealth country which officially discriminates against its Chinese minority and another which officially discriminates against its Indian majority.

It cannot be due to residual racial classification. Her Majesty's Government recently made it compulsory to classify oneself by race in the forthcoming census. Indeed it will be a criminal offence to list one's race incorrectly.

It cannot be due to the fact that South Africa—not recently but within the past five years or so—sent its armed forces into neighbouring countries in hot pursuit of guerrillas, sometimes killing innocent civilians in the process. After all, Israel does this the entire time, and bombs Arab villages as well on the supposition that Arab guerrillas are hiding in the villages, without falling foul of sanctions. It cannot be due to the belief that matters are remorselessly getting worse for the black population of South Africa because precisely the reverse is true.

The first time I went to South Africa was in 1965 in the course of a long journey throughout southern, central and part of east Africa. At that time the position of the black population was quite appalling. They were poor, although admittedly not quite as poor as in most neighbouring countries, badly dressed, sullen and suspicious, with good reason. Wage disparities were enormous; there was grossly unequal pay for equal work, particularly in state industries; it was not so bad in private enterprises.

Apartheid penetrated into every nook and cranny of everyday life. One might be taking a walk in a large forest remote from anywhere and suddenly come across a clearing with a bench and table and a notice saying in English and Afrikaans: "Picnic place. Whites only". Needless to say, there were no corresponding picnic places for people of other races. It was a breath of fresh air to get out into Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique and Kenya where people were perhaps slightly poorer but certainly freer and much more cheerful. Yet at that time sanctions were minimal. Indeed I understand that Mr. Denis Healey was actively engaged in organising the selling of arms to South Africa.

When, somewhat hesitantly in view of my previous experience, I returned to South Africa 20 years later the situation was totally transformed. Africans were cheerful, well-dressed, affluent, self-confident, and their real standard of living had risen by leaps and bounds. A lot of apartheid had disappeared officially, and what still remained officially was largely disregarded in practice. Yet sanctions seemed to be becoming more rigorous the more things eased up, which seemed totally illogical and wrong.

The continuation of sanctions cannot be justified on the grounds that millions of people either have escaped the country, as from Afghanistan, or would like to have escaped the country, as from Eastern Europe prior to the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Although there are said to be 40,000 ANC exiles, against that there are 1.6 million black Africans who have come of their own free will to live and work in South Africa. In other words 40 times as many want to come in as want to leave. Contrast that with communist countries, with Haiti and other countries where precisely the reverse situation applies. Indeed, the figures there are probably 1,000 wanting to leave for every one who wants to enter.

Anyone who opposes double standards—and I am sure that all of your Lordships oppose them—is forced to the conclusion that continuing sanctions have no basis in abstract morality. What other reasons can there be for maintaining them? There is horse trading, there are considerations of domestic electoral advantage and considerations of trade advantage. It appears that South African coal is becoming too competitive with Australian coal for the likings of some Australians.

In the case of the United States there is an additional consideration. When I was periodically in the United States in the 1940s and the early part of the 1950s, there was far more discrimination in many American cities, including the capital city of the United States, Washington DC, than there was in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban in the latter half of the 1980s, and with far less excuse since American whites were never seriously in danger of being numerically overwhelmed as are South African whites. I believe that for Americans the maintaining of sanctions is a form of atonement for their past misdeeds. South Africa plays the role of a useful sacrificial goat. I can say this, being part American myself.

I suppose that the main reason for upholding sanctions is two-fold. The first is a genuine misreading of the current situation, which is understandable in people who have not set foot in the place recently. The second is the supposition that, even if there is no moral basis for sanctions, their maintenance is effective from the purely practical point of view of securing a peaceful future for South Africa. However, such notable longstanding opponents of apartheid as Mrs. Helen Suzman, Chief Buthulezi and Mr. Gavin Reilly of Anglo-American, think quite the opposite. I suggest that their combined economic expertise is greater than that of the ANC leadership.

It is far too easily assumed—and here I think I may have to disagree with my noble friend Lord St John—that the South African economy is a crock of gold or a milch-cow to be plundered without fear of medium or long-term consequences. In fact, the South African economy faces a great many problems. With the gold price at under 370 dollars per ounce—and it looks as if it will stay there —25 per cent. of the gold mines are running at a loss. Several million people are dependent on employment in the gold mines.

In my view, although others may disagree, there are very few things that South Africa can manufacture that South East Asia cannot manufacture just as efficiently and probably more cheaply. There is a world surplus in many agricultural products, including, for instance, wine. Many of my South African friends assume that South African wine does not sell well in England because of sanctions—but one can buy South African wine almost anywhere. The point is that it is non-competitive with Australian or Chilean wine on the basis of value for money.

There is a chronic water shortage, which will become more acute as the population grows and as industrialisation proceeds. As has been touched upon by my noble friend Lord St John, there are between 1½ million and 2 million angry, relatively unskilled, relatively poor whites who are terrified of the future, who do not have internationally marketable skills which they can use in other parts of the world as the more educated whites can, and who may resort to violence. Even if they do not resort to violence, it has been said that a general strike of whites could cause South Africa far more economic damage than could a general strike of blacks. Last on my list is the massive population explosion which we all know about and with which it is very difficult to cope.

Then—getting into a rather narrower field—the word "empowerment" is much used by sociologists and others. The end of sanctions would mean more black prosperity, which would lead to more black financial muscle, which in turn would lead to more black political muscle. I think that that answers some of the points of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch. As people used to say crudely in the old days, money talks. When I first went to South Africa the idea of a black consumer boycott was a joke because after paying for the essentials of life the blacks had nothing left over with which effectively to boycott anything. Twenty years later it was a very different matter, when black consumer boycotts caused great hardship to many white traders and caused them to revise their political opinions.

I suggest that there are at least 10 unsuccessful multi-cultural countries in this world for every successful one. Indeed, success in this field is only remotely possible in conditions of reasonably full employment and reasonably growing expectations of prosperity. As the noble Lord, Lord St John, said, we have to cope with the revolution of rising expectations. The removal of sanctions is a prerequisite for this, although in the present conditions of world recession almost certainly that will not be enough.

Finally, I should like to put a question to the Minister. If by some misfortune—we hope it will not happen, but who can tell?—a future black or largely black government were to become an oppressive tyranny eroding human rights once again, would sanctions be reimposed by Her Majesty's Government, by the Commonwealth and by the European Community? I do not expect that I shall get a concrete answer to that, but I think it is worth asking the question all the same.

9 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, to anyone trained, as I was, in the Cambridge history schools, Acton is a hallowed name. The best compliment I can pay to the noble Lord is to say that his speech was one which could have been expected from an Acton. I only add that I hope before very long the noble Lord will recognise the political wisdom of the greatest of the Actons —the first—who sat on these Benches.

The subject today is one of the greatest importance and topicality. My party agrees with many speakers who have spoken this evening that the time is not yet ripe for the abolition of sanctions. We have to wait until the promises have been turned into firm legislation and the legislation is being put into practice. However, we agree with the majority of tonight's speakers that when that time comes, what is required is a gradual step by step elimination of sanctions.

The changes that have to take place in South Africa will not come all at once. They will come stage by stage, and to match those stages there should be the diminution of sanctions. There are a number of reasons why that diminution of sanctions should take place, preferably—though it may not be possible—with the full agreement of all parties in South Africa. But even if that agreement cannot be reached, that step by step process must go on.

It must go on because we must recognise that President de Klerk has been extremely brave and far more successful than many of us dared hope. But he cannot yet be secure. He cannot be sure. So many disastrous reversals take place in politics, as we all know and as we have seen again and again in only the past 12 months. The process may not go ahead in the future as well as it has gone in the past. He needs to be able to show results. He needs to be able to show to the no doubt wavering and uncertain members of his own party—let alone the people who have left his party and joined the parties of the extreme right—that he is achieving results which in one way or another will bring benefits to all concerned. The lifting of some sanctions on a step-by-step basis will give him reinforcement and encouragement—the reward for the courageous actions which he has undertaken. It must have been extraordinarily difficult for President de Klerk to pull his party out of the mood and the stance it has occupied and to bring about the reversal of so many of the attitudes that have bedevilled South Africa for so long.

There is another reason why I think we have to use the gradual elimination of sanctions as a tool for getting the results we all want to see in South Africa. We have only to look at the experience of the past few months in the USSR and in Eastern Europe to realise that political change and economic improvement are inevitably interlocking and that political progress will not go ahead unless it is matched by some degree of economic advance. We all know that at the moment the hoped for changes in the USSR are teetering on the brink of collapse because of failure on the economic front. The same may well be true in South Africa. If in that great country there is to be real anti-apartheid, and if there is to be anything like approaching equality of opportunity, let alone equality, there has to be economic progress and success. We have heard some figures which show the enormous demands that will be made on that economy. To raise educational standards and to give the blacks anything like the educational opportunities that they need and which the whites take for granted—that surely is a great basis of any genuine movement towards equality—will alone cost an enormous amount of money. The needed improvements in housing, social security benefits and health, will, as we all know from our own experience, run up enormous bills. If we want to obtain and to maintain political change in South Africa it has to be accompanied at the same time by economic progress. The gradual lifting of sanctions is probably the most effective way immediately in which we can play our part in the improvement of the economic position of the country.

Perhaps first and foremost the country needs trade. No great country can flourish without the opportunity to sell its goods overseas, but sanctions prohibit that. The country also needs loans for the development of new economic ventures. Finally, it needs investment. However, as other noble Lords have said, that investment will not be forthcoming unless would-be or possible investors can see the prospect of economic stability and economic progress in that country. I would claim that the case for a gradual lifting of sanctions, as we see progress on the political front taking place, is a very strong one indeed for those combined political and economic reasons. If we are to avoid a reverse on the political front there must be a strengthening on the economic front. We very much hope that the Government will do all in their power to see that those economic developments move in the right direction.

9.7 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby has initiated an important debate and expressed the strong views that we know he holds on the subject. Other noble Lords who know South Africa well have also made interesting contributions to the debate. I am sure that we all appreciated the thoughtful maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Acton, based on his experience of Southern Africa. We hope to hear from him again frequently; that is, if he can manage to get here, given that he lives well to the west of Wales.

Significant changes have taken place since we last debated the problems of South Africa in this House. They have been due to a number of factors, including the continuing and persistent pressure for reform from within the country itself, the effect of sanctions and the pressure of public opinion in the international community and, lastly, the response of a new leader, President F.W. de Klerk, to the crisis facing his country. Like the noble Lord, Lord Acton, when he was elected to succeed President Botha I did not believe that Mr. de Klerk would be the liberal and reforming leader which he has proved to be. In a short period of 12 months, the scene has changed dramatically. I believe it is right that we should join my noble friend Lord Hatch in paying a warm tribute to Mr. de Klerk for the courage and initiative that he has shown.

The release of Mr. Nelson Mandela 12 months ago after his long years of captivity was also an historic event, and the dignified and moderate way in which he has resumed his leadership of the ANC is immensely to his credit; there has been no recrimination, no malice and no talk of vengeance in his public utterances. He is a leader of the highest quality. He and President de Klerk have had meetings in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I believe that they have the qualities to achieve a solution within a reasonable period of time. The objectives of this and other governments should be to encourage and help them to complete the task.

We know that that task will not be easy because there are forces, both radical and conservative, on the extremes of the political spectrum which will conspire and fight to destroy a settlement. Those of us who have been in politics for a long time know how destructive those forces can be. The brutality of clashes between the ANC and Inkatha supported, as has been said, by the police, has shocked everyone. There is deep concern that the police may have intervened on the side of Inkatha. I hope that that is not true. I do not know whether the noble Lord is able to help the House on that issue, but it would be very depressing and upsetting if there were any evidence in favour of that belief. As the noble Lord, Lord Acton, said, many thousands of blacks have died in this violence. There are also the Right-Wing paramilitary groups and the unyielding party of Mr. Andries Treurnicht. We are told that these are not too significant in size or influence, but one hesitates before dismissing them out of hand.

We must recognise, and sympathise with, the political difficulties facing both leaders. On the one side, Mr. Mandela's ANC, which is crucial to a settlement and which has been faithful to its cause over many years, is not well organised and is blamed—to a large extent unfairly—for a rocketing crime rate: on the other side, Mr. de Klerk is finding it hard to negotiate on the question of the release of political prisoners and the release of exiles.

One thing is clear; namely, that the future depends on a continuing mutual trust between the two leaders and also a better relationship between Mr. Mandela and Chief Buthulezi. But we must not allow these very real obstacles to cloud the progress which has been made. In their speeches noble Lords have dealt with the president's historic statement on 1st February committing himself and his party to repeal the three remaining pillars of apartheid legislation—the Land Acts, the Group Areas Act and, most important of all, the Population Registration Act, the cornerstone of all statutory racial discrimination.

I was glad to note the optimistic tone of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso. Like him, I think that Mr. de Klerk made a very impressive speech to the South African Parliament. He announced the release of a, manifesto for the new South Africa", designed to unite the whole country behind, a common set of values and pursue the goals of peace, prosperity, progress and democracy". He then added that, the basis of a new South Africa should be justice". It was at that point in the proceedings that the Conservative Members of Parliament marched out of the Chamber. They did so because the effect of the scrapping of the legislation will be very far reaching. For example, it will mean the end of the special legal privilege granted to whites to own 87 per cent. of the country's farmland without threat from black purchasers.

The House knows that the world reaction to that speech was favourable. It was in fact welcomed by the African National Congress, although it believes that sanctions should remain in force until real democracy has been established in South Africa. Of course, that is the nub of my noble friend's Question. Will the repeal of the legislation be sufficient to justify the abolition of sanctions, or should they be retained until the further crucial step is taken? My noble friend was quite right to say that returning to the status quo of 1950 is not enough. I believe that President de Klerk understands that perfectly well.

As noble Lords know, that issue has been the subject of debate in a number of organisations over the past few weeks. The European Community at its meeting on 2nd February made a positive response, stating that sanctions will be removed only when reforms are formally tabled and that: these reforms opened the path towards the complete and irreversible abolition of apartheid and the establishment of a united, non racial and democratic South Africa". The African front line states and the OAU took a much more cautious line at their meeting on 10th February, saying that sanctions should be lifted only when there is a clear mechanism to transfer power to a democratic order. The ANC took a similar decision. Finally, on Saturday last, the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers concluded that sanctions should be loosened only after the implementation of reforms, and that it was not yet the time to relax economic sanctions. We noted that this country was not represented on that committee at the time.

The scene is therefore clear: a general welcome for President de Klerk's proposals, and, as my noble friend Lord Pitt suggested, a desire to see them on the statute book before sanctions are modified or lifted and, further down the road, a refusal to concede on sanctions until a democratic system, based on one man, one vote regardless of colour or creed is clearly in the process of implementation.

I say again that I admire President de Klerk and welcome his initiatives, but I too believe that it would be a mistake to abandon sanctions at this moment. They were reviewed here in London on Saturday, and they should continue to be reviewed as matters develop in South Africa, but Mr. de Klerk himself will not be helped in his efforts if pressure for the one essential reform is seen to slacken. Furthermore, I hope that the Minister will agree that it would be wrong for this country to take unilateral action. We must move with our friends and allies and take particular note of the views of our Commonwealth colleagues. Later this year, the Commonwealth summit will be held in Harare, and no doubt this subject will once again top the agenda. Our policy there must be clear, reasonable and practical, and in framing that policy we must not forget that this country has been fighting for democracy for more centuries than any other country. We must hold firmly to that principle in Harare.

It is also a time for international statesmanship. Both Nelson Mandela and Mr. de Klerk need our help and encouragement. I have great admiration for Donald Woods who recently returned to South Africa after 12 years of exile. In an article in the Observer, he describes the changes which have taken place during his absence and what he calls the, massive sea change in white attitudes". He takes the view that the new constitutional formula cannot be long delayed, as delay in the process harms the National Party and the ANC equally.

The following words by Mr. Woods must be taken seriously: The longer they take to achieve a settlement, the more their support will erode the more extreme groups, and both de Klerk and Mandela are aware of that danger". We cannot expect to see the economic growth referred to by the noble Lord, Lord St.John of Bletso, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, unless there is political stability in South Africa. In their different roles, both men deserve our constructive support, for the hope of achieving a stable society in South Africa depends upon their ability to reach agreement over the next few years.

9.18 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, for giving us the opportunity to discuss South Africa. It is a country where a remarkable process of reform has gathered momentum since President de Klerk came to power in September 1989. I have listened to the debate with great interest. I shall try to deal with the points that have been raised, but where I fail to do so, I shall write to noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said that he hoped that I would depart from my brief. He can of course live in hope, but I am here to speak for the Government and I welcome the opportunity to set out briefly the Government's approach and their record on the question of sanctions.

President de Klerk began in 1989 to restore most of the conditions of normal political life. In 1990, he unbanned political parties, lifted press restrictions, ended the state of emergency and released Nelson Mandela and other prominent political prisoners. He removed the legislative basis of "petty apartheid". He and the ANC agreed on the phased release of political prisoners and return of exiles while the ANC suspended its "armed struggle". All that in little over one year.

Then this year, on 1st February, President de Klerk took another historic step forward: he announced the repeal of legislation determining land ownership and residence on racial lines. He plans also to abolish the Population Registration Act under which everyone in South Africa has been classified according to race. These steps will mean an end to statutory racial discrimination in South Africa. We hope that, with other measures, they will pave the way to early negotiations towards a constitutional settlement.

The latest agreement between the South African Government and the ANC announced in Capetown on 15th February is welcome news. It provides for a sensible implementation of the ANC's undertaking last year to suspend armed action. It recognises the ANC's right to demonstrate peacefully in support of its views. If properly implemented, the agreement will greatly facilitate progress towards negotiations.

At the same time, the South African Government announced that they had released 262 political prisoners so far and that examination of a further 760 cases was at an advanced stage. Over 2,000 exiles had already received indemnity enabling them to return to South Africa. The two sides are now closer than ever before to an agreement on the removal of all obstacles to negotiations.

Our policy towards South Africa—shared by many others, of course—has always been based on an abhorrence of apartheid. It was morally wrong; it did not work; and the sooner all traces of it are swept away, the better. So our aim has been to encourage a peaceful transition to a pluralist, non-racial, democratic and economically successful South Africa.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Acton, for recalling in his exceptional maiden speech his own direct personal experience of apartheid. We are all here tonight because we agree that apartheid must go. His voice added authority to our arguments.

To this end, we have consistently maintained a policy of pressure and encouragement. We agreed to a series of international measures in the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Community. But we also used our contacts with the South African Government to persuade them to adopt reforms. We opposed all-out economic sanctions on two grounds: first, that they would impoverish the very people we wanted to help, the black community; and secondly, that they would entrench white opposition to reform.

We believe that our consistent policy has paid off. We have retained influence both with the National Party government and with the black political groups, notably the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. I do not want to exaggerate our role, but we have been in a position to work for the good of South Africa as well as for the good of our own interests. I should say in passing that our interests in South Africa remain considerable. There are well over 300,000 British passport holders in South Africa. Our exports to South Africa increased to £1,000 million last year and our invisible earnings were also well over £1,000 million. We need to play a substantial part in encouraging the new South Africa to emerge. We hope that we are well placed to do so.

As part and parcel of this approach, our policy since President de Klerk began his remarkable reform process has been to use the lifting of sanctions as a means of encouraging further progress. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Acton, said. There is scope for the repeal of some sanctions now and thereafter there should be a step by step approach.

We lifted the voluntary measure discouraging cultural and scientific agreements in response to President de Klerk's 1990 speech. We responded to the release of Nelson Mandela a year ago by lifting the voluntary new investment ban and the voluntary Commonwealth ban on the promotion of tourism. We persuaded the European Community also to begin the process by lifting the ban on cultural and scientific agreements at the same time.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I know that he is not responsible for inventing the phrase, but can he tell me what Her Majesty's Government mean by "voluntary ban"? There could be a voluntary boycott as opposed to a boycott enforced by intimidation. However, one cannot have a voluntary ban. A ban is either compulsory or it is nothing.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I believe that the ban was voluntary in the sense that there was no legal obligation behind it. Then, in June last year, the European Council agreed at Dublin that there should be a gradual relaxation of restrictive measures in response to further progress towards reform. The European Council accordingly decided at Rome in December to lift the new investment ban it had agreed in 1986. Heads of Government also agreed then to respond to further reforms by lifting the other 1986 measures. Now that President de Klerk has announced repeal of the Group Areas and Land Acts, the Community is to respond to the tabling of the repeal legislation by lifting the other two 1986 measures which cover iron and steel and gold coins.

The European Council lifted the investment ban in December to encourage further reforms. But the Community also wanted thereby to help combat unemployment and improve the economic and social situation in South Africa. Future relaxations of restrictive measures should, we think, take account of their probable effect on the South African economy. Financial and economic sanctions have, with other factors, curbed South Africa's economic growth in recent years. Lifting them is, in our view, now essential: without growth, the people of South Africa may not perceive the benefits of the transition to non-racial democracy. The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, has arrived hotfoot from Africa and has radiated across the Chamber the reflection of the African sun. He put his finger on the fact that there needs to be economic growth. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, also reflected the view that political reform requires economic underpinning.

As Nelson Mandela recently argued, peace and stability will depend on visible social and economic progress for which foreign investment will be essential. This is why the Government are in close touch with the United States Government to explore opportunities for returning South Africa to a normal commercial and financial environment. We are also urging the Commonwealth to take account of President de Klerk's remarkable achievements by agreeing to begin lifting sanctions. Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed in 1989 at Kuala Lumpur that the Commonwealth should investigate how the international financial institutions could mobilise resources for South Africa once it has achieved clear and irreversible change. Now is the time for that study to be completed.

President de Klerk has set an irreversible reform process in motion. In our view it is no longer necessary to maintain all sanctions. It would be too late to wait until the new constitution is in place. The population is growing at nearly 1 million a year. Some 320,000 extra school places are needed each year. To deny South Africa economic growth would leave any future South African Government with an even more daunting task.

I should like to turn now to the question of sporting links with South Africa. In the Commonwealth, we stand by the Gleneagles Agreement of 1977. The organisation of sport is a matter for non-governmental bodies and for individuals. We have accordingly discouraged sporting contacts. But now some sports' governing bodies are racially integrated in South Africa. More will follow. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister wholeheartedly welcomed the Australian Prime Minister's suggestion that, where integration has been achieved and recognised by international sports bodies, it no longer makes sense to apply the Gleneagles boycott. We will accordingly encourage our Commonwealth partners—and international and national sports bodies—to catch up with the remarkable progress South Africa is making. It would be absurd to continue to behave as if nothing had happened.

Sadly, the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers which met on 16th February was unable to begin lifting sanctions immediately. The Foreign Ministers put off that decision until after 30th April. They in fact went only a little further than the wait-and-see approach adopted by the Organisation of African Unity meeting in Harare on 7th February.

The UK is not a member of the Committee of Foreign Ministers. We had nonetheless hoped that the committee would adopt our approach which will benefit the black community in South Africa. We will continue to argue for early action to begin lifting Commonwealth measures, especially in trade, finance and sport. We hope for progress well before Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in Harare in October.

I wish to respond to some of the points that were raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, asserted that Africans have no political rights. At present the Africans do not have the vote. However, they enjoy the right of assembly; the right to demonstrate to express their views, and the right to join or form political parties.

The noble Lord also asked what criteria we would use to determine whether democracy had arrived. The details of the new constitution and of the method of its adoption are matters for all South Africans to decide. We welcome President de Klerk's proposal of a Bill of rights which he made on 1st February. The adoption of such an instrument would be a major sign that South Africa had embraced the principles of democracy.

The details of the new constitution would be a matter for the South Africans themselves to decide through free negotiations in an open and peaceful political climate. However, we do not see how in the modern world one can have stability except where all adults have the vote. Hence we were glad to see in President de Klerk's speech of 1st February a commitment to universal adult suffrage.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, quoted from the report of the Eminent Persons Group of the Commonwealth. We welcomed the report and we are grateful for having been reminded of it.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I did not quote the Eminent Persons Group but the Commonwealth accord on South Africa.

Lord Reay

My Lords, with our European Community partners we have begun to dismantle sanctions before the repeal of all the apartheid laws, but in other respects we share the emphasis placed by the noble Lord on early action on sport and on financial sanctions.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked me a very hypothetical question concerning what would happen if a black government became a tyranny and whether sanctions would be reimposed. No political system is immune from change, sometimes for the worse. I could not be drawn into speaking on behalf of the whole of the Commonwealth or the European Community, as he invited me to do, particularly on such a hypothetical matter. We prefer to look forward to the very real hopes that many share for the establishment of freedom in South Africa.

The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition asked me if there was police bias in favour of Inkatha. Individual policemen may be at fault, but we do not believe that there has been any officially supported campaign. Prime responsibility for the maintenance of law and order rests with the South African Government; but all parties must play their part in helping to end violence between their supporters. With other noble Lords we welcome the ANC-Inkatha agreement of 29th January.

I can tell the noble Lord that we do not propose to abandon sanctions now. Our policy, with our European Community partners, is to promote change by gradual action. We hope that the Commonwealth will subscribe to that principle and act without waiting for the Harare meeting of heads of government. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall maintain our international commitment scrupulously, and we are proud of our record.

I hope that I have said enough about the way forward on economic and financial sanctions and in the Gleneagles sphere. I have outlined our policy of a measured response. That does not mean that all sanctions will go quickly. As the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, quite rightly said, there is no question of reviewing the arms embargo or associated military sanctions until there is a fully democratic constitution in South Africa.

Before I end, I should like to remind your Lordships that we have taken positive as well as restrictive measures to mitigate the effects of apartheid and to prepare the generation that we hope will inherit a post-apartheid South Africa. Our bilateral aid currently amounts to more than £8 million annually and we make a further £4 million annual contribution to the European Community programme for the black communities in South Africa. We shall continue to take a series of measured and balanced steps to contribute to a peaceful solution in South Africa.

House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before ten o'clock.