§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of the Bill is to modify existing legislation in order to place South Africa on an equal footing with other Commonwealth countries, following South Africa's resumption of Commonwealth membership on 1st June last year. This has been welcomed not only in this House and on all sides of it, but throughout the length and breadth of our country, in the Commonwealth and, not least of all, South Africa itself. That was emphasised to me only today by the Deputy High Commissioner, Mr. Gert Grobler.
The Bill involves purely technical amendments to a number of Acts, in order to apply them to South Africa. It deals with South Africa's relationship with the Commonwealth Institute; it reinstates the right of the Government of South Africa to appoint a trustee to the board of the Imperial War Museum. It makes some amendments to our legislation so that South African forces are included in the definition of Commonwealth forces with implications for their legal status when, for example, training in this country. It makes provision for the exercise of command and discipline when British forces and Commonwealth forces are serving together and for attachment of members of one force to another.
The immigration and electoral implications of South Africa's return to the Commonwealth have been dealt with separately by an Order in Council made on 22nd 1236 June last year. That order added South Africa to the list of Commonwealth countries included in Schedule 3 to the British Nationality Act 1981.
The return of South Africa to the Commonwealth after an absence of some 30 years is a cause for celebration in all Commonwealth countries.
These have been long years for South Africa, years of isolation: isolated from the West because it affronted democratic values; isolated in Africa because of its treatment of Africans and others. But South Africa was never forgotten. It was never out of our affections. We knew that change must come. Her return is a reminder both of the gulf that opened up between our two countries after 1961 and of the closeness of our historical ties with all the peoples of South Africa.
Britain has a formidable relationship with South Africa. Almost 1 million people of British descent live in that country. Our peoples are inextricably linked in all manner of public and private relationships: in business, and through cultural, sporting, scientific, military and political ties. Britain also has a very substantial economic interest in South Africa. Our investment there has an estimated market value of over 40 million rand—greater than our investment in the whole of the rest of Africa combined. It shows the depth of Britain's national commitment to South Africa. But that commitment is not one-way. The United Kingdom is South Africa's second largest supplier; Britain is South Africa's second largest export market.
I believe that we can now truly say that we are re-united: re-united in the Commonwealth as true democracies; re-united as trading partners; and re-united in seeking solutions for the problems of Africa.
I commend the Bill to the House and trust that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Inglewood.)
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for introducing this short and mainly formal Bill. But the House would not wish to let the occasion pass without our joining the noble Lord in expressing once again our very sincere joy at the re-entry of South Africa to the family of the Commonwealth, and our desire to support the new government in all its daunting tasks to the extent of our ability. Her departure from the Commonwealth was self-imposed; and the mad and hateful imposition of apartheid led to exclusion and international ostracism. The momentous historical change that led up to the formation of the first truly democratic parliament and government of the republic has been welcomed throughout the world. The new government's early application to rejoin the Commonwealth was acclaimed by all members. A vital limb of the Commonwealth was cut off when South Africa left. It is now restored.
Noble Lords will, I hope, allow me to go back in time to the distant days before the war when there were only five full Commonwealth members, and, after 1947, eight. In the Commonwealth then, the Dominion of South Africa played a full and active part in 1237 Commonwealth counsels and her steadily expanding resources put her in a unique position south of the Sahara. This is not a mere historical reflection, for her role and influence then in the Commonwealth and in international affairs illustrates the immense potential role of South Africa in the continent in the challenging years ahead. South Africa's notable military contribution in the war and her constructive contribution in the post-war Commonwealth counsels meant, as I said, that a void was left.
I once had to convey to Field Marshal Smuts at the Paris Peace Conference in 1946 a very awkward last-minute request to execute a U-turn over our policy regarding the future of Libya. It put him in a most embarrassing position vis-à-vis his colleagues. He nevertheless accepted without demur and at once simply to help the British Government. South Africa carried international weight then and the new pluralistic democracy can and should achieve still greater international influence again and make a unique contribution throughout Africa south of the Sahara.
Of course South Africa faces great difficulties, especially in meeting as —I expect the noble Lord, Lord St. John, will remind us—the unrealistic expectation of a miraculous transformation of the quality of life of the great mass of unemployed and deprived in the shanty towns. We pay tribute to the courage, wisdom and readiness to put the past behind that President Mandela and Vice-president de Klerk have shown. They have demonstrated consummate leadership in the face of daunting challenges.
As has been asserted on a number of occasions in recent weeks in this House, it is an obligation on this country to do everything we can to support the priority goals of the South African Government, with emphasis on education and health in public sector aid, but also to give assistance in the fields of public administration, police reform and small business development. I hope that the earmarking of the initial £100 million for bilateral help may soon be increased. In the private sector every facility should be given to British business to play the maximum part in new enterprise and investment. That clearly requires the maximum stability. Any ways in which the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth can help must command our support. The Commonwealth Secretariat is no doubt playing its part.
The vast stakes involved go far beyond even the enormous bounds of South Africa itself. The whole of Africa south of the Sahara has been in racial turmoil and economic decline for years, with only a few recent bright beacons of hope such as Ghana's impressive resurgence. I look forward to the day when the new South Africa will join hands with other Commonwealth governments south of the Sahara to supply guidance and resources perhaps in new forms that may be harbingers of an entirely new and more hopeful dawn of greater stability and expansion throughout the continent. As a flight of fancy, I like to imagine what co-operation between 100 million in a restored Nigerian democracy 1238 and the human and material resources of South Africa could give in pilot projects of social and economic value. I believe that we cannot exaggerate that.
The first building blocks must probably be mainly in education and health. New methods of accelerated education may be forged in the social pressures of the new South Africa. Any such initiatives must receive every possible support from this country. The potential for transformation of the continent under South African leadership is almost infinite. We send our sincere good wishes to her Government and people: to her leaders and to all who are engaged in the many urgent tasks. And we take this opportunity again to record our desire to give support.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, I too approach this debate with a sense of joy. A few years ago the possibility of the readmission of South Africa into the Commonwealth would have been unthinkable. But here we are in a new and exciting situation. Over 30 years ago Harold Macmillan, as Prime Minister, spoke of the wind of change blowing through Africa. That wind of change has finally blown away apartheid.
The event was celebrated in the sermon at the special Commonwealth service in Westminster Abbey by the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as symbolising the return of the prodigal son. However, as with the return of the prodigal, one should not assume that all is well in the immediate family. True reconciliation can only take place once the truth is known. The injustices of the past that are manifested in the pain of today will not disappear. They cannot be swept under the carpet. The readmission of South Africa to the Commonwealth is not only a question of drafting the appropriate legislation, although clearly that must be done; it is an opportunity for us to think creatively of the way in which we can today help to right the wrongs of the past.
The visit of Prime Minister John Major to South Africa occurred in happy circumstances. During that visit the Prime Minister explicitly encouraged investment in the country. That is of the highest importance. The tremendous step of transition to a democratic society which is no longer based on the principle of racial discrimination requires a sound economic and financial basis. Therefore, it is to be welcomed that, on the one hand, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are viewing sympathetically the claims of South Africa, and that, on the other, in the private sector, firms are seeking to invest in people and projects.
I have to utter a word of caution. While welcoming both public and private investment, that should not reinforce the inequality between the races. The South African Council of Churches and other organisations have sought to establish a code of conduct for investors, laying down the principles for investment. Such a code seeks to encourage investments that will serve to build up the country rather than perpetuate the divisions and the inequality that continue to exist. 1239 There is now widespread support from all sections of the population, including much of the white community, for the reconstruction and development programme of the South African Government. Much more, though, is needed in terms of inward flows of capital to fund that programme. The government have, as has already been mentioned, a massive task, particularly in the fields of housing, education and employment.
It is to the Churches that the Minister of Education in South Africa recently appealed. The new South African Government plan to provide adequate education for all South African children, black and white. Historically, the Churches have sought to increase educational opportunity for all. Their efforts reach back to a time long before the distortions of apartheid education. The current needs for education are far beyond the resources of the new government and the Churches put together.
Recently, Archbishop Desmond Tutu's main educational adviser visited the Churches and aid agencies in Britain to place before them the needs and opportunities in the educational sector. The South African Churches have, as an urgent task, the further formulation of a detailed programme to complement the leading responsibility of the government. The assistance and expertise of other governments, including our own and those of our partners in the European Union, will be required.
In the six months leading up to the first truly democratic elections in South Africa, I had the privilege of seconding one of my senior diocesan staff to Natal as part of the international church monitoring team. He saw for himself the enormity of the task that lies ahead: the need for rebuilding homes, the education system, a police service rather than an armed force; and, most importantly, building trust and reconciliation between groups that have been at war with each other. Those tasks and opportunities are tremendous.
I believe that we must do all that we can, bilaterally and multilaterally, through the European Union, to support the reconstruction of post-apartheid South Africa. That can be most effectively achieved through the European Programme for Reconstruction and Development so that the massive task of overcoming the legacy of the past 45 years is addressed as thoroughly and effectively as possible. Support should also be given to the educational programmes of local non-governmental organisations which are currently facing funding difficulties.
Let me make one final point. I believe that, as well as supporting South Africa, it is vital to the future of the whole region that Her Majesty's Government should support the reconstruction of South Africa's neighbours who were victims for many years of the destabilisation programme of the South African Government. Only by promoting peace and prosperity in the region can we hope to achieve in the long term all that is needed for the people of South Africa.
The new South Africa needs all the prayer and practical support we can provide. I urge your Lordships to support with open hearts the democratic republic of South Africa, remembering the pain of the past but 1240 embracing the real hope for the future of that beautiful country and, as Archbishop Tutu calls his fellow citizens, "the rainbow people of God".
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord Blaker
My Lords, every one of us rejoices at the return of South Africa to the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, paid an eloquent tribute to Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. In the interests of brevity, I say simply that I endorse everything that he said. Under their leadership, not only have we seen a remarkably peaceful general election, but also we have seen emerge an assumption that the redress of ancient grievances should be looked for not through violence but through the institutions of government. That is an enormous step forward.
There are bound to be problems—for example, over the pace of progress with the reconstruction and development programme—and there may be tribal rivalries. But I want to mention some grounds for hope. First, there is a leadership dedicated to parliamentary democracy and human rights. Secondly, South Africa has the most powerful economy in Africa and a strong private sector. It has immense natural resources. Thirdly, apartheid has been crumbling for some time. It was not simply a matter of a sudden and shallow-rooted decision by the white government in 1990 that Nelson Mandela should be released from prison and that there would be a totally new course—although the white leadership at that time deserves credit for taking the decisions that they took.
One needs to look further back. In the 1980s, apartheid was already dissolving in practice. Despite laws about segregation on the sports field, in factories, in offices, on trains and in restaurants, apartheid was crumbling. The process has been compared by a writer for the South African Institute of Race Relations, Mr John Kane-Berman, to the Industrial Revolution which ushered in democracy in England. I give one example of what was happening. In 1988 the five-star Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg reported that 50 per cent. of its weekend packages were purchased by blacks.
With the biggest economy in Africa, South Africa has a particular role to play in helping to develop the economy of the whole of southern Africa. The right reverend Prelate referred to that important point. South Africa has already been welcomed as a member of the Southern African Development Community. With peace now in Zimbabwe and Namibia, which are both members of the Commonwealth, in Mozambique and one hopes soon also in Angola, there is a new opportunity for economic progress in the region which can be led by South Africa.
We should not underestimate the extent to which South Africa looks to this country. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood remarked, she has a million residents of United Kingdom descent. It is significant that she has sought from this country a training mission for her defence forces. I welcome also the aid which we have been giving and plan to give to South Africa. For years we have been developing projects in townships and rural areas, planning for a future after apartheid. British investment in South Africa is greater than in the whole 1241 of the rest of Africa put together. We are South Africa's second largest supplier and her second largest export market.
Our Government are right to be building on these links. They are good for South Africa. They are good for us. If she is to surmount her problems, South Africa needs the help and encouragement of her friends. They in turn will benefit from relations with her. It is not only right that South Africa should return to the Commonwealth. She will be to it an ornament and a strength.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
My Lords, I join in welcoming this Bill and the provisions relating to South Africa's readmission as a member of the Commonwealth. Having recently returned from that country, I should like to take this opportunity to make a few general observations.
I have tabled a Motion for short debate on South Africa and hope that the House will soon have an opportunity to discuss recent developments there at greater length. There is a tendency to believe that, following the successful transition to democracy last year, South Africa is no longer a pressing international issue, but it is important to appreciate the invaluable role which that country can play and is playing, both in its own region and within the Commonwealth, and that it will require constant foreign assistance to realise its full potential. With help, the country will grow and reward goodwill and investment. To paraphrase the words of the former United States President, John F. Kennedy, South Africa won't simply ask what the Commonwealth can do for it; it will ask what it can do for the Commonwealth. As a fast-developing power at the southern tip of Africa, with many first-world strengths— roads, rail and high technology—the country is well placed to give as much as it takes.
The new South Africa is barely nine months old, but the evidence of astounding progress is there for all to see. There have been teething problems and many obstacles, but the fledgling nation has astonished the world by the collective warmth of its reconciliation. As I witnessed myself last month, there is an awe-inspiring determination that the new dispensation should work. Everyone feels involved, and the resolutely positive approach is discernible in every walk of life.
High school students in the townships, who until a few years ago were boycotting exams and joining protest riots, told me how they felt so much more positive about their future, feeling at long last as though they were being given a genuine chance. Then there were the deeply conservative Afrikaners, who had once feared the worst, relating how President Mandela was, after all, really not such a bad guy.
During a one-day cricket international played between South Africa and Pakistan at the Wanderers' stadium in Johannesburg two weeks ago, a streaker dashed across the field carrying the old South African flag. It is a measure of South Africa today that public outrage in the media the following day was directed not 1242 at the man's naked indecency but at the fact that he should have persisted in displaying a flag which is widely regarded as part of the past, not the future.
Of course, there have also been recent setbacks: the death of Joe Slovo robbed the nation of a Minister who was energetically tackling the urgent need for improved housing and then there was the recent controversy over indemnities offered to members of the security forces shortly before last year's general election. ANC Justice Minister Dullah Omah announced that the indemnities would not apply. Deputy President F. W. de Klerk objected in the strongest possible terms. Soon thereafter a meeting with President Mandela was swiftly arranged and last week, in the spirit of national unity, another crisis was narrowly averted.
Against this firmly positive background, the Government in South Africa must perform a balancing act: on the one hand, as my noble friend Lord Thurlow has already mentioned, it must meet the raised expectations of the majority; and on the other, it must constantly reassure the white minority on whom economic and social prosperity depend.
I should have liked to speak further on the South African Government's reconstruction and development programme and their bold initiatives in the key areas of unemployment, education, health care and land reform, but I appreciate that these issues lie beyond the terms of this Second Reading debate. My noble friend Lord Thurlow and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark have eloquently put the case forward for greater assistance in education, housing and unemployment. The South African Government have much to achieve at home, but they are also eager to play a full and active role within the Commonwealth. There is a general realisation that, amid the uncertainties of the post-cold war world, the Commonwealth represents a beacon of stability and is a forceful promoter of dialogue, democracy and human rights.
The visit of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh to South Africa in March this year is eagerly awaited and will set a final seal on South Africa's readmission to the Commonwealth. While I have not made specific reference to the provisions relating to South Africa in this Bill, they have my enthusiastic support.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, this Bill completes the formalities in the United Kingdom of South Africa's readmission as a member of the Commonwealth, and so brings this chapter in history to a close. The main thrust of my contribution has been touched upon in differing ways. If I might be criticised for duplication tonight, I would ask for it to be perceived as emphasis.
It might be appropriate to touch on some of the benefits of membership of the Commonwealth to South Africa, and ask what Britain in particular can contribute towards that nation's programme of national regeneration. I believe that the Commonwealth can now play a pivotal role in facilitating South Africa's consolidation as a post-apartheid democracy. Indeed, the Commonwealth Secretariat's long-standing experience with pluralist societies can help South Africa steer a steady course. Fellow Commonwealth states can help 1243 rebuild burnt bridges as South Africa undertakes its enhanced responsibilities, as an upstanding and important member of the international community. A thriving multi-racial democracy would act as an ideal flagship to all countries in the region looking for hope and leadership. She will stand as a living testimony to the Commonwealth's strength of purpose and the timeless validity of its principles and ideals.
South Africa offers a wealth of economic opportunity. The Commonwealth has every interest in exploring all possibilities and should, at once, examine effective measures for human resource development. Indeed, South Africa's economic expansion will be predetermined by the skill and ingenuity of her workforce. Britain and South Africa enjoy a unique relationship that can ill afford neglect. Britain has invested £56 billion into South Africa and, since apartheid's collapse, we have emerged as her premier trading partner.
We have merely scratched the surface. We must take advantage of our specialist business expertise, and build upon this heightened mood of economic confidence. The recent visit of our Prime Minister has consolidated the basis for co-operation. Trade missions form a vital part of this ongoing economic thrust, as exemplified by the Minister for trade's visit last year and an anticipated 14 missions planned for 1995. I ask the Export Credit Guarantee Department and NCM to constantly address availability and competitiveness of their premiums.
We should commit ourselves to greater levels of inward investment with a view to broadening British commercial interests and strengthening South Africa's economic infrastructure. Indisputably, Britain can occupy a commanding position in the technical field in South Africa as the dexterity of her labour market increases. The ODA must rise to meet such challenges with both innovation and vision, in concert with other governmental organisations such as the DTI.
In return what does the new South Africa offer? In a world where regional strife is commonplace we can rely on a reborn South Africa to act as a bulwark against similar unrest in the region. She has a commitment to conflict resolution illustrated by her intervention, for example, together with two other Commonwealth member states, Zimbabwe and Botswana, in the Lesotho crisis. Indeed, a resurgent South Africa can lend support to the Commonwealth's commitment to global democratisation and effective peacekeeping arbitration.
South Africa's nascent democracy has already displayed remarkable signs of maturity. I would like to reinforce the United Kingdom's dedication to her continued growth and wish this Bill a speedy passage.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I must begin by apologising to the Minister that, owing to a slight technical hitch with one of our television screens, I was not in my place to hear the Minister move the Second Reading of this Bill. But like everyone who has spoken, I welcome the Bill and the fact that under its very brief text it reflects an historic event; namely, the return of a multi-racial South Africa to the family of the Commonwealth. 1244 Like others who have spoken, I pay tribute to the courage and vision of South Africa's two leaders, President Mandela and Mr. F. W. de Klerk. The world owes a very great deal to their remarkable joint leadership. The task is now for the countries of the Commonwealth, both through the Commonwealth Secretariat and bilaterally, to do all they can to help with the immense problems of development in South Africa.
The European Union also has a very important role to play. My noble friend Lady Williams wanted to take part in this debate. She has just returned from India. She tells me, for example, that she found the National Human Rights Commission in India very anxious and keen to share with the new South Africa its experience of reconciling racial communities.
In my very few words in this debate I wish to join with the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and the right reverend Prelate in saying a little about the educational situation in South Africa, particularly among the children of the black townships. The challenge is a huge one. About 45 per cent. of the population is under the age of 15. More than a million black children do not attend school at all. Of those who do, I believe that 300,000 reach only standard 2 and another 400,000 leave at the end of their primary schooling. In addition, 20 per cent. of black teachers are unqualified and half of them are too young to have experienced anything other than Bantu education.
Against that background, I very much welcome the Government's support of around £100 million over three years in development aid to South Africa. I hope that a high priority within the bilateral element of that aid will be given to education, particularly to basic primary education and also to adult literacy. More than half the adult population is estimated to be illiterate.
Despite those rather chilling statistics there is much which is positive on the educational front within South Africa. The country has the biggest European minority in sub-Saharan Africa and it is a well-educated minority. That gives South Africa a platform for moving at a more rapid pace than other developing African nations now that racial equality has been achieved. South Africa also has a relatively large black middle class with good professional qualifications and great entrepreneurial skills. It has much material and agricultural wealth and now that sanctions are behind us presumably that can expand at a much faster rate in terms of self-help within the South African economy.
Potentially, in the medium term, I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and, I believe the right reverend Prelate emphasised, South Africa has the prospect, after being a very divisive force in black Africa, of playing a leading constructive role there. In the short term, however, it is the usual problem of people long deprived expecting too much too quickly. That is why the example of President Mandela and Mr. F. W. de Klerk with their great wisdom and very great self-restraint, remains so very important.
In my last few words about South African education, I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Government's overseas development office in South Africa. Perhaps I may quote the words of one of its 1245 officials, Myra Harrison, in addressing a recent meeting of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, in London, with which I am associated. She said:It is probably the most exciting and challenging opportunity in education to be in at the beginning of the reconstruction processin South Africa. She continued:The doors of learning and culture shall be opened—but this time they shall truly be opened to all".
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, it is a new experience for me to be able wholeheartedly to support a government Bill at Second Reading in this House. It is a great pleasure to be able to do so but a pleasure I do not anticipate having very often between now and the general election.
I welcome the Bill because what it marks is so many things that we have yearned for for so long—the end of apartheid, the establishment of democracy in South Africa, Nelson Mandela's just reward of the presidency of South Africa after one of the longest and most courageous campaigns for political freedom this century, and the re-entry of South Africa into the Commonwealth.
Like other speakers, I do not wish to comment on the nuts and bolts of this short Bill. I want instead to comment briefly on the relevance and significance of South Africa's renewed membership of the Commonwealth. It is now nearly 34 years since Hendrik Verwoerd took South Africa out of the Commonwealth in May 1961—in fact, jumping before he was pushed. By then most members of the Commonwealth no longer wished to belong to a club of which South Africa was also a member. At that time, the Nationalist Party was pursuing Afrikaner nationalism and crude racist policies, championing racist divisions based on the vulgar notions of white superiority, but it was firmly in power. Opposition to it was silenced and many South African liberals were forced into exile; others ending up in prison. But by then it was already well down the road to making South Africa an international pariah.
In the years that followed, the one issue on which the Commonwealth was united was its hatred of apartheid and its determination to see its perpetrators dismissed and replaced by a new leadership that would promote racial harmony in South Africa. It was perhaps a little too slow to introduce a complete ban on sporting contacts. It was not until 1977 at Gleneagles that agreement was reached, and even then, regrettably, elements in the Conservative Party opposed the agreement, wrongly arguing that a ban on such contacts was undesirable. However, the Gleneagles Agreement paved the way for economic sanctions. Few now dispute that the political, economic, cultural and sporting isolation of South Africa brought about by sanctions helped to turn round the political situation there leading to the eventual abandonment of apartheid.
President Mandela's decision to return South Africa to the Commonwealth has been widely welcomed in Britain, in the rest of the Commonwealth, and, of course, in South Africa itself. It provides an opportunity to forge new links and to foster contact between South 1246 Africa and other nations which share some of its history. It will mean that South Africa can once again take part in sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games as well as contributing to Commonwealth programmes for young people and to technical co-operation programmes. South Africa will benefit from Commonwealth schemes which provide education and training. That is something to which other noble Lords have referred. In particular, I hope that it will include training for South African blacks to allow them to break into professions and occupations from which they have been entirely or largely excluded.
When the decision to rejoin was made last year, the Commonwealth secretary general spoke of his "special sense of joy". I believe that that is something which we can all share. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark used similar words. The secretary general also said that South Africa could count on Commonwealth support in the task of reconciliation and reconstruction in South Africa. That is a task in which the UK should take the lead, given our historical role in South Africa. We owe it to the South African people. Perhaps the Minister can say whether the UK Government have any plans to increase the contribution to support reconstruction during the coming years—over and above the £100 million to which other noble Lords have referred—which they promised from the existing aid budget last year. Given the pressures on that budget, might not a little extra be found for the special case of South Africa? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, that our contribution should be increased, and with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that education should have a high priority in that spending.
There is still a great deal to be done. The peaceful conclusion to last year's election after the violence that preceded it is little short of miraculous. But the expectations of the black population in the townships are understandably very high. As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, suggested, everything possible must be done to help the South African Government to meet those expectations —in the short term by aid programmes and in the medium to longer term through investment in the South African economy which will help to promote economic growth. The latest figures allow us to be reasonably optimistic after poor growth levels in the first part of last year, although growth in the last quarter was rather less than the South African Government had forecast and hoped for. However, the South African Government's ambitious economic programme has been welcomed for its realism and discipline by many economic commentators.
That a multi-racial government has been so successfully established and that South Africa's social institutions have been adapted so rapidly to accommodate a democratic and multiracial approach is a credit to all its people, but it is the black population in particular whom we must salute. Downtrodden and oppressed for so many years, they have shown remarkable forgiveness. Their lack of bitterness or wish for vengeance following the example of their great leader, Nelson Mandela, is a lesson to us all. In those circumstances, their contribution to the Commonwealth can only be positive. Some of its members have still not 1247 learned how to promote and maintain pluralistic, democratic systems. The new South Africa can perhaps be an example to such countries of the way in which democratic principles can triumph against the odds. Certainly, it will want to play an important part within a Commonwealth framework in promoting, through preventive diplomacy, the avoidance of internal conflicts which can so easily lead to civil wars elsewhere in the Commonwealth and, particularly, in Africa.
The Labour Party greatly welcomes the return of South Africa to the international community and to the Commonwealth. In doing so, it supports the Bill.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, I very much welcome the harmony of the remarks made by all noble Lords who have spoken. I note that we have had contributions from noble Lords who have held various distinguished roles and who have detailed knowledge of South Africa. I should like to return in a moment to some of the specific points that have been raised, but I must confess to having some slight difficulty in the sense that the tune was so similar that it is difficult to draw out individuals from the music that I have heard played. If I have overlooked any noble Lord's contribution, I hope that I shall be forgiven. The Government very much value this exchange and debate—first, so that we can again reiterate our welcome to South Africa on rejoining the Commonwealth; and, secondly, because that is an important event to the Commonwealth as a whole, and to each and all of its individual members.
The themes that ran through the speeches this evening were those of joy, which must be right, and of respect for the leaders in South Africa who have effected a most dramatic and historically significant transformation. I refer not only to President Mandela because it is important to pay tribute to the previous president, Mr. de Klerk, who has played at least as significant a part in the act of transferring power.
Many noble Lords were properly concerned about the need for aid and about what we in this country are doing to help. Reference was made not only to our own country, but also to the European Union and the Commonwealth which also have significant parts to play. As has been mentioned, the Government have targeted £100 million—a very substantial sum—on South Africa. The key aim is to help directly those who have been disadvantaged by apartheid. Particular 1248 emphasis will be placed on health, good governance, education (which has worried a number of noble Lords), enterprise development and land and agricultural development for small farmers.
However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out, it is not only aid but trade which is important. In the first nine months of last year, this country's trade to South Africa increased by 27 per cent. There we have an enormous engine for help and improvement, if it can be harnessed constructively and effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who, I suspect, has more direct knowledge and experience of things African than other noble Lords present in the Chamber, talked about its history and the part that South Africa has played in southern Africa. That was alluded to by a number of other noble Lords. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out, we have already seen the role that South Africa played in the recent Lesotho crisis to try to stabilise that part of southern Africa, which is to the advantage and benefit of us all.
We look towards the future. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark pointed out, the Church has played an enormous role in recent events in southern Africa. It is one which was undeniably contentious, but nonetheless historically and politically important.
It is often said that the Commonwealth does not really matter any more. Yet, in this instance, it is rejoining the Commonwealth which is the significant step for South Africa in the eyes of the outside world. The necessary preconditions were vital to the country itself; but as the sub-symbol of the change in its status, it is the rejoining of the Commonwealth which is so symbolically significant. It is for that reason that the British Government continue to value the Commonwealth as the embodiment of the special ties that we and other member states share.
The Commonwealth has a continuing and serious role to play in strengthening good governance, and we shall continue to support that role wherever possible. There will be no lack of challenges for the Commonwealth in the years ahead, but the Commonwealth is, I believe, better placed now than in the recent past to tackle those challenges. The return of South Africa will strengthen the Commonwealth. I look forward to South Africa playing a full role. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at eight minutes before eight o'clock.