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South Africa

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of Her Majesty's Government's policy towards ending apartheid in South Africa.

Our policies are those most likely to be effective in bringing an end to apartheid. We recognise that fundamental change is very slow, but acknowledge that it must be stimulated from within South Africa.

The Minister will understand that that was no answer to the question. When will she also understand that the Government's self-proclaimed policy of hoping to end apartheid in South Africa is a fraud and a sham? When will she begin to understand that since the declaration of the state of emergency 30,000 people have been detained in South Africa, that the use of torture is widespread and that children receive the most appalling treatment? Should not the Government accept that the horrors of apartheid are increasing daily and that their abject failure to oppose it brings shame to our country throughout the world?

First, the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said. Secondly, our repeated objection to the state of detention and the way people and particularly children are treated in South Africa is in no doubt so far as the South African Government are concerned. They are in absolutely no doubt about that. As we take positive measures in southern Africa in general, at the same time we will take up all the representations that he and many other hon. Members wish us to take up. However, the point of the hon. Gentleman's question was how we can speedily bring an end to apartheid. The only way in which we can do that is to encourage dialogue within South Africa among all the groups in South Africa and by voicing our total objection to detention without trial and the other inhumane methods that the South African Government are using against their black people.

Will my right hon. Friend note that many hon. Members welcome the Government's resistance to the introduction of economic sanctions against South Africa? Will she note in particular that those sanctions are unproductive? For example, Barclays National bank did more than any other company in South Africa to bring on black management, which is the way to the future for a multiracial South Africa.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The point is that, as my hon. Friend said, sanctions are beginning to deny black people in work in South Africa the opportunities that were afforded prior to disinvestment. There is growing recognition within South Africa, and within the black community there, that they are being deprived of opportunities by the detachment of some companies — and indeed, some politicians across the world—from that active and concerned interest in the future of black people in South Africa. Anything that we can do to provide positive help to the black population in South Africa should be encouraged, and I hope that it will be.

In view of the communiqué from the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa—I have a copy and I am sure that the Minister will also have a copy—will the Minister assure the House that the British Government will do nothing to sabotage the efforts of that committee?

There is no way in which the British Government will attempt to undermine positive work to bring an end to apartheid. I repeat that I do not believe that a study of the impact of existing sanctions and proposals for tightening those sanctions will help one iota. The restrictive measures that we implement scrupulously are a political signal, but there is widespread recognition within the Commonwealth of the value of a positive contribution. There is growing awareness and concern at the negativism of the sanctions policy that some advocate.

In making any assessment on behalf of the Government, will my right hon. Friend make quite certain that she has private discussions with black trade union leaders in South Africa, who will tell her that they are in favour of sanctions only if their own trade unions are excluded from the effect of such sanctions?

My right hon. and learned Friend and I seek to have as many discussions as we can with black South Africans, when they are here or when we meet them in other places, to bring about the dialogue that is so urgently needed. I understand exactly what my hon. Friend said, but whoever we meet we have to balance the pressures that those people may face within South Africa and ask why they make those comments. It is understandable that in calling for sanctions some people wish to be excluded. Such a policy simply would not work, any more than punitive and negative sanctions will help to bring about the end of apartheid that we seek.

Why did the Government boycott the meeting in Lusaka of the Commonwealth committee on southern Africa? This is the first time that Britain has declined to participate in an important Commonwealth committee. Could they not have sent the Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), so that he could have spoken out against the way in which South Africa is oppressing its black population, in the way that he spoke out in Gaza last month? Will the Government at any rate agree to participate in the intensified arms embargo decided upon in Lusaka, or does the Government's opposition to South African apartheid amount to hypocritical words rather than positive action?

There is no question of a boycott of the meeting of eight Commonwealth Foreign Ministers. At the Vancouver summit the British Government agreed with the vast majority of policies. However, we did say that we saw no point in joining that particular committee, which is a further sub-group, but we shall continue to work with all Commonwealth countries in the constructive ways that we identified in Vancouver— in particular with aid to black South Africans and to the neighbouring countries. There is no precise information about what has been proposed by those eight Ministers who met in Lusaka. We shall, of course, consider carefully any ideas that are put forward. We continue to follow carefully the proceedings of the committee in Lusaka. We have enforced the arms embargo, and we shall continue rigorously to do so. As to sending my hon. and learned Friend there, it is easier for those who have to concentrate on one area of the world so to do. The hon. Gentleman need have no doubt that I shall be just as forthright and equally as tough on the South African Government as I was in December when I made quite clear to the Deputy Foreign Minister in Pretoria exactly what we thought of South African Government policies.