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South Africa (Sanctions)

Volume 82: debated on Wednesday 10 July 1985

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3.44 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish machinery to impose economic sanctions on trade with South Africa subject to conditions relating to the system of apartheid operated in South Africa.
It is extremely unfortunate that the subject of sanctions against South Africa has to come before the House of Commons in the form of a ten-minute Bill. The people of this country would have expected the Government to have given time for a full debate on what is an extremely important issue.

The Bill has five main elements. The first is to give the Secretary of State, by order, the power to control the import and export of goods to and from South Africa. That is a general provision. Secondly, there is a power to stop the import or export to or from South Africa of oil or products derived from it, coal or products derived from it, uranium and all militarily strategic goods of a description included in groups 1 –4 of part II of schedule 1 to the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1985. Thirdly, there is the element that gives the Chancellor of the Exchequer power to prohibit and regulate transactions between the United Kingdom and South Africa relating to individual residents in or bodies corporate registered in South Africa, directly or indirectly, of gold, currency payments, securities, debts and the import-export transfer and settlement of property. Fourthly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall prohibit the import of Krugerrands, dealing in gold and currency, the payment of any capital moneys, directly or indirectly, to any person resident in South Africa or body corporate in South Africa. Fifthly, there is the power to request Her Majesty, by Order in Council, to effect the United Nations Council on Namibia decree No. 1.

The position in South Africa is deteriorating daily. I have heard and seen that on the radio and television today. Over the past nine months there have been over 500 deaths in that country, the vast majority of which have been at the hands of the security forces or the police.

In the past week the South African Government's think-tank report proclaimed that apartheid has failed to solve South Africa's racial problems, and warned that attempts to enforce it would only exacerbate racial tension. That long-awaited report from the Government-funded Human Science Research Council recommended talks with the leaders of all races and the establishment of a democratic system open to all South Africans. The report also noted that nearly 66 per cent. of the black population favoured the use of violence to bring about change. I and many people believe that that shows that the level of repression in South Africa is such that the majority of blacks are prepared to resort to violence to secure basic freedoms.

One of the report's most striking points is the acknowledgement that the security legislation, whilst theoretically designed to ensure the security of the state, has, in practice:
"been largely employed to deal with persons and organisations engaged in extra-Parliamentary opposition to Government racial policies."
The report concludes that the security legislation is
"a threat to the security of the state … the mistrust of a legal system is one of the strongest incentives for revolution."
That comment is made in a report on the internal problems of the country funded by the South African Government. The South African authorities clearly break and disregard international law with their illegal occupation of Namibia and by acts of international terrorism — we have heard some prominent people talking about international terrorism — such as their bloody incursions last month into Botswana, when a number of innocent men, women and children were killed, and the attempted sabotage of an American oil installation in Angola.

When South African subjects carry out illegal acts in the United Kingdom—as the Coventry four trials have shown; the results are in this morning's newspapers — the South African Government openly defy the British Government's request for the return of South Africans who were involved in that illegal act, although the bail conditions were underwritten by the South African embassy in London. The bail amounted to some £400,000. The decision not to return those people to stand trial in the United Kingdom was a political decision by the South African Government.

The British Government's response to acts of international terrorism, which resulted in bloody slaughter within a Commonwealth country, is to call in the South African ambassador and to slap his wrists. I asked a question about the number of visits the South African ambassador has had to the Foreign Office and the reply states that there have been seven since August 1984. There is a path between Trafalgar Square and the Foreign Office where from time to time one might bump into the ambassador for South Africa. The Government did not even recall their ambassador from South Africa for consultation, which would at least have shown some visible signs of disapproval. Even the Americans recalled their ambassador. Against this background of growing tension and conflict the international community are taking steps in one form or another to bring pressure to bear on the South African authorities to introduce fundamental reforms to give the majority of people in South Africa their basic democratic rights and freedom.

In the United States over 20 Bills have been submitted through Congress with Republican and Democratic support and in the next few weeks the President of the United States of America will have to make a decision either to continue with his policy of constructive engagement or to support the majority decisions of the Congress. In Canada, only this past weekend, a package of economic sanctions against South Africa has been announced as part of the international action aimed at getting Pretoria to abandon apartheid.

The Nordic states have acted jointly to halt flights to South Africa. The Swedish Government, in June, recommended severely curtailing contacts with South Africa. A seven-page Foreign Ministry report urged that cultural, scientific and sports contact with Pretoria be avoided so as to express Sweden's disapproval of apartheid. France has announced measures against South Africa. The European Parliament in April, agreed a resoulution which outlined actions that should be taken against South Africa and called on the Council of Ministers to act forthwith.

Only yesterday in London the Commonwealth Committee on South Africa fully supported the Security Council resolution No. 566. These are only an illustration of what is happening on the international front. All these countries and organisations are rejecting the theory of constructive engagement. The only country that is openly advocating the status quo is our own, leaving us in total isolation and apart from the rest of the international community, which can be clearly seen as siding with the apartheid regime. The United Kingdom has a very important role to play in bringing about change in South Africa. Since 1979, when the Labour Government left office, we have invested something over £300 million each year. That is an increase since 1979 of 600 per cent.

On the question of trade, the Government have openly encouraged trade with South Africa, spending over £600,000 of taxpayers' money in promoting 85 trade missions since 1979. We are the biggest international prop to the system of apartheid. The arguments we have heard from the Foreign Office against the limited boycott of South Africa are twofold. First, it is said the blacks in South Africa are divided about sanctions. It is a bit difficult to take a Mori or NOP poll in South Africa on this question, particularly when the answers one may give could land one in jail and up until recently carried a minimum sentence of five years' imprisonment. The South African Council of Churches stated in a six-point recommendation that disinvestment was, and I quote
"one of the few remaining methods to achieve justice without violence".
The second argument put forward by the Government is that sanctions do not work, but when pressed to apply limited sanctions, such as no new investment, they argue, because one has conceded the principle of sanctions, further actions and measures would be required if the limited sanctions do not work.

We have the sports boycott through the Gleneagles agreement. We have the arms embargo through the United Nations. I challenge the Government, in the face of mounting international pressure to say that this will not work. I repeat the words of Bishop Tutu when he appealed to the people of the United Kingdom at St. Pauls' last November to
"ensure that your country exerts political, diplomatic, but above all economic pressure on the South African Government to persuade it to go to the Conference Table of a National Convention with the authentic leaders of all sections of our community, and for us blacks it would mean our real leaders, now in jail or in exile."
I ask the House to reject the argument from the hard line Members on the Conservative Benches. We want to rid South Africa of 20th century slavery, which is what segregation and apartheid means, and to stop the United Kingdom from becoming isolated in the international community. I ask the leave of the House to bring in this Bill.

3.54 pm

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I sat and listened to the epistle read out by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) with a certain amount of interest, but a certain amount of sadness.

Yes it does. Will the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) tell the House whether he has any interest in South Africa?

Order. If the hon. Gentleman has a financial interest, no doubt it will be in the Register of Member's Interests. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman has hardly begun.

The predictability of the Opposition in their usual question to me is answered in the Register of Members' Interests, as you say, Mr. Speaker. I have nothing further to add. I was tempted to ignore the squalid introduction given to the Bill by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central. Perhaps if it had not been for his emotive language, the ignorance that he displayed and—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said that no doubt the hon. Member would declare his financial interest. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Register of Members' Interests, but how can we know what is in that register at this stage, and how can the public know? As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman has conceded the fact that he has had a number of free trips to South Africa. He has a duty and an obligation to make it clear that he has been to South Africa at the expense of the South African authorities.

Order. It is a matter of honour for hon. Members to declare any interest in the Register of Members' Interests. If the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) has any other interests, I am sure that he will declare them.

The hon. Member for Walsall. North (Mr. Winnick) has put that point many times and obviously does not remember much of what he says in the House, which is of benefit to us. He should know, as I have declared to the House, that I have no financial interest in South Africa.

The House has been asked to hear the usual parade of conscience by a member of the anti-apartheid movement, supported by Labour Members. It is a conscience that they see fit not to parade when they talk about human rights in other countries.

I will concede, as I have always done, that I find apartheid a violation of human rights, and I abhor the system. I have always said so publicly and I repeat that assertion today. However, the House has to ask itself whether the introduction of the Bill will be of any benefit to those whom it is intended to benefit—that is, blacks in South Africa—and what effect those sanctions would have upon the blacks in South Africa and the many other people in South Africa who should also be remembered.

What the Opposition and those who advocate sanctions do not understand is that they will create an enormous loss of jobs in South Africa. A 20 per cent. disinvestment by the west would see a loss of 90,000 jobs for the whites within the South African economy and the loss of 350,000 jobs for the blacks. I should not wish to advocate that for a policy.

The second effect of sanctions on South Africa is the fact that many foreign workers, of whom there are about 1 million in South Africa, would have to leave the country and that is understandable, given the unemployment position. The third effect is perhaps one of the most telling and sad facts about this Bill. It would halt those reforms that have recently taken place in South Africa.

As usual, Labour Members have jeered ironically, and I would admit that those reforms are inadequate in terms of western ideals. We must recognise that reform there has been, and the advancement of the black in South Africa has been considerable in South African terms over the past five to 10 years. This measure would halt those reforms in their tracks, and I remind hon. Members that the changes that took place in the United States and advanced the blacks in America occurred in conditions of economic prosperity and not in the conditions that Labour Members want to see, of economic depression.

The last effect that this Bill and disinvestment would have upon South Africa is that they would undoubtedly increase violence in that society. I suspect, and I say no more, that there are many Opposition Members who would wish to see that violence increase against the elected South African Government, whether that Government be elected by the whites alone or by the whites, and the coloured and Indian populations. The case is severely undermined by the violence in that country perpetrated by the ANC and others who would, of course, welcome disinvestment.

If we are to have some sort of influence—and here I have a genuine sympathy and understanding with the Opposition — upon the South African Government, surely we would be better able to exercise it on the basis of some form of involvement with British companies investing in that country, rather than trying to disinvest and cutting ourselves off from them. The record of British companies in South Africa is extremely good and the wages of 98 per cent. of the black workers is above the EEC code laid down in Europe. We must ask ourselves whether this measure and the measures proposed by the United States Congress will benefit the blacks. I suggest they will have the opposite effect.

Evidence put forward by various commentators against disinvestment is very considerable. The opinions of the hon. Member and his hon. Friends are in a minority, certainly in South Africa as well as in the rest of the world. Prominent people like Alan Paton, who is no supporter of the South African Government, has said there should never be disinvestment. Even Bishop Tutu, who was mentioned by the hon. Member, caused some consternation when he questioned whether disinvestment would have any effect. I leave the house with the words of Chief Buthelezi who leads some one million blacks of the Inkatha tribe in South Africa, whose word I would trust rather more than the ignorant words of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central. Chief Buthelezi says:
"If the West wants to increase black bargaining power it must double up on its investments, not disinvest."
For that reason and certainly for the good of the black people in South Africa, I ask the House to reject the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Richard Caborn, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Mr. Derek Fatchett, Mr. Andrew Faulds, Mr. Robert Hughes, Mr. Peter Pike, Mr. Allan Rogers, Mr. Ernie Ross, and Mr. David Winnick.

South Africa (Sanctions)

Mr. Richard Caborn accordingly presented a Bill to establish machinery to improve economic sanctions on trade with South Africa subject to conditions relating to the system of apartheid operated in South Africa: And the same was read the First time: and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 25 October 1985 and to be printed. [Bill 190.]