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South Africa

Volume 128: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1988

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11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met the South African ambassador to discuss human rights in South Africa.

I last met him on 25 February. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have made plain to the South African Government on numerous occasions our concern at human rights abuses in South Africa.

Would the Minister care to reflect on the fact that if recent events in South Africa, such as the arrest of religious leaders, had been taking place in the Soviet Union, the Conservative Benches would have been filled with hon. Members jumping up in indignation and demanding action? Today we have heard nothing. Will the Minister tell the House whether recent events in South Africa have altered the Government's position in any way? Have the Government moved at all—even a "teeny weeny" bit or even a smidgeon? Is there any change at all?

Whatever the hon. Gentleman may think he sees, I can assure him that all my hon. Friends are at one in condemning the action in South Africa [Interruption.] There is no way that we should take hasty and ill-judged actions on the very serious move by the South African Government last week and their further failure at the weekend to intervene in a very nasty march towards the Parliament building. We are having discussions, and at that I shall leave it for today.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of the organisations that had their activities controlled and curtailed—[Interruption.]

Order. It very frequently happens that we hear things in this Chamber with which we may not all agree.

Order. This is disgraceful behaviour. Every hon. Member has a right to speak.

To those who say that the hon. Gentleman is always called, I must reply that I seek to balance opinion in the Chamber. Mr. Carlisle.

At the fifth attempt, may I remind my right hon. Friend that some of the organisations that have had their activities curtailed by the South African Government were nothing more than respectable fronts for those perpetrating violence? Does she agree that Archibishop Tutu, having deliberately got himself arrested, is now advocating illegitimate acts as a form of protest?

All Governments are entitled to protect law and order, but in the Government's view the recent suppression of peaceful political activity is totally wrong. My hon. Friend tried to say that some of the organisations affected by last week's ban advocated violence. I have no proof that any of them adopt violent means. I believe that they have sought to follow the legitimate path of civil protest and peaceful political activity, and that some of those organisations are primarily humanitarian. Furthermore, we are completely opposed to the suppression of protest by Church leaders. I do not believe that Archbishop Tutu was going along to create trouble as my hon. Friend sought to suggest. I have to say to my hon. Friend that, knowing people who were at that church service, I think that the story is very much more serious than he perhaps appreciates.

Leaving aside the contemptible remarks of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) —[Interruption.]

Leaving aside the contemptible remarks of the hon. Member for Luton, North, who prostitutes the House of Commons by his remarks, is the Minister aware that the Opposition accept her sincere intentions regarding South Africa? They are in no doubt whatever, but is she aware that, unhappily, there is a feeling that although the British Government, the Foreign Secretary and herself, condemn the actions of the South African authorities, they are not willing to take any effective measures? Is it not time that the British Government realised that the only way to make the South African Government recognise the strength of feeling in this country is by the use of sanctions? Will the Government therefore recognise that sanctions are essential if we are not to condemn South Africa by words alone?

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the spending of £45 million for projects through the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference, the pledge to provide 30 per cent. to the new Commonwealth special fund for Mozambique, the continuing scholarship programme for black South Africans, and other help, are not positive measures to help Southern Africa, he is living in a very peculiar world.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if she continues to speak out firmly against the abuses of human rights, be the victims unknown blacks in Soweto or leading clerics in Cape Town, she will have the support of the vast majority of the people of this country? Secondly, does she agree that the best way of communicating with the South African Government is through diplomatic channels, which should remain open, and by using every other form of contact, including commercial contact, available to us?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. I made it quite clear in the debate on Monday, if anyone could hear what I was saying in the end, that we shall not close the diplomatic channels, which provide us with the most important information from all sectors of the South African people. We shall certainly continue those contacts far and wide.

In view of the deteriorating situation in South Africa, the gravity of which the Minister appreciates, will the Government consider making mandatory the sanctions to which we have agreed in the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the EEC, and if not, why not?

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that if the measures already taken were made mandatory the front-line states would suffer in a way that they themselves consider they could not bear. Otherwise, why have some of them not taken the sanctions to which they committed themselves in name? They believe that for the economic future of their own people they should not take that action, and I believe that they know more about the situation than does the hon. Gentleman.

In the frequent representations that the Government have so rightly made on this matter, has my right hon. Friend made it clear to the South African Government that if they persist in their lamentable record on human rights they will increase the rate at which private companies disinvest, which cannot be in the interests of the black community?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The effect of disinvestment by foreign companies has meant that many shares were picked up cheaply by Afrikaners, who will not continue the social programmes and the education and health programmes which have been helping the black community to advance. We want to see more ways in which the black community is helped by business to advance. I believe that companies with interests in South Africa can help the black community to further not only their experience but their opportunities.