I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her reply. I trust that she will keep the House informed of any response that comes from the South African Government.
I am sure that the right hon. Lady will be aware that the response of the international community to the threatened executions has been overwhelming and unprecedented, and that today the European Commission has called in the South African ambassador to that body and asked for clemency and the abandonment of the executions. I understand that the United Nations Security Council will consider this issue later today. May we have the right hon. Lady's assurance that the representative of the United Kingdom will both speak and vote for a clemency resolution?
The House greatly welcomed the Prime Minister's firm statement yesterday opposing the hangings, and the Minister of State herself has rightly declared that if the South Africans ignore international appeals we must be sure that we have done all we can. In that spirit, may I ask her to urge the Prime Minister this afternoon to pick up a telephone and speak directly to President Botha, urging him personally to stop the hangings?
One of the condemned people, Theresa Ramashamola, has said that Jesus died for the sins of others and that she is ready to die like Jesus. In what the Prime Minister herself has described as the very unusual circumstances of this particular case, will she make that telephone call to prevent the martyrdom of Theresa Ramashamola and her five fellow victims?
We are playing a constructive role in the United Nations Security Council in securing a suitable text which we expect to emerge shortly.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we have done everything in our power to help. In early 1986, our then ambassador expressed to the South African Deputy Foreign Minister our concern at the allegations, made in the course of the original trial of the Sharpeville Six, of torture being used against three of them to extract confessions. Once their appeals had been rejected, we took bilateral action with the South African Government on several occasions — at least three formally and several others informally. We also supported representations made by the German presidency on behalf of the European Community, as well as the statement by the President of the Security Council in December 1987. I cannot add any more to what my right hon. Friend told the Leader of the Opposition in the House yesterday.
While hoping unequivocally that clemency will be exercised and that the defence lawyers' last efforts will be successful, may I nevertheless draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the appeal court judgment, a copy of which I have recently obtained? It contains assertions and facts not yet reflected, to the best of my knowledge, in the United Kingdom media. I hope that the House and you, Mr. Speaker, will bear with me—
I cannot comment on that. I believe that the House already knows that it is our long-held policy to make representations only in cases that are clearly political when there are extenuating circumstances and strong humanitarian grounds for such action. Our appeal is on humanitarian grounds, and such an approach has the best chance of success.
Does the Minister agree that the humanitarian grounds are not simply strong; they are overwhelming? Surely she agrees that there is no precedent for any country claiming to be civilised to put to death six people who have not directly committed the crime with which they are charged? In view of what has already been said by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), will the Minister urge the Prime Minister to follow the example of Chancellor Kohl, and lift a telephone and ask President Botha to change his mind?
The Chancellor of the Federal Republic is acting in his role as President in Office of the European Community. I believe that the overwhelming nature of this case is what prompted all the appeals that have been repeatedly made for clemency. I do not think that, in the particular circumstances of the case, any more can be done. All that could be done is being done now.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, while it is understandable that humanitarian views have been expressed, in the House today and when the matter was raised with the Prime Minister, we should be slightly careful about interfering with another country's system of justice when a criminal case is before the courts? If that happened in Britain, people in this country would understandably resent it very much.
I understand what my hon. Friend has said. It was because we were aware of the continuing efforts by lawyers on behalf of the Sharpeville six that I did not comment further.
Surely the Minister can take from the House this afternoon the point that is being repeatedly made by the Opposition. The Prime Minister has made it clear that she is a friend of South Africa, in that she does not wish to impose sanctions. Surely that is the best reason why she should be the one to pick up a telephone and suggest that President Botha should exercise clemency.
Sanctions have nothing to do with this case. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has expressed her hope that President Botha will see fit, even at this late stage, to exercise the prerogative of mercy, and that is exactly what the South African Government have been told.
I find it deplorable that the Opposition should seek to turn this human tragedy into a party political issue.
Is this really any of our business? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the judicial procedures of every country in the world? Will she seek to intervene where she is not satisfied with those procedures in any other country, for example, in Africa? Has she sought to intervene in the recently reported execution for fraud in the People's Republic of China? Where will this end? Is not my right hon. Friend a little worried that in singling out a case such as this she is setting a precedent for gratuitous interference in the judicial processes of many other countries?
I refer my hon. Friend to what the Prime Minister said in this House yesterday. It is the particular circumstances of the case that have led my right hon. Friend to express the hope that
President Botha will see fit, even at this late stage, to exercise the prerogative of mercy." —[Official Report, 15 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 991.]
I will not comment on the internal judicial and legal procedures of other countries.
Since it is quite clear that the South African apologists on the Conservative Benches do not support the Prime Minister's representations to President Botha, would it not perhaps strengthen her representations, in her own interests, were she to make it clear that she and her Government will now contemplate the imposition of sanctions?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the actions of the Prime Minister in these extraordinary circumstances are to be warmly welcomed? Is she also aware that if, sadly, the executions take place on Friday they will lead to revulsion and horror throughout this country and the world and will make a mockery of the word "justice"?
I cannot believe that the entire South African Government are not already aware of the revulsion throughout the world at the impending sentences of death on the Sharpeville six. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to welcome the Prime Minister's statement given in answer to a question from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. We have all along taken the stance outlined in my right hon. Friend's statement, and we sincerely hope that the prerogative of mercy will be exercised.
Will the Minister make it clear to the Prime Minister that she should tell the South African Government that if they are not prepared to concede clemency in this case, in response to worldwide demand and the demands of our ambassador, even she will find it necessary to cease to maintain normal diplomatic relations with them—given that they are not prepared to take any notice of such relationships?
As somebody who opposed the Soviet movement into Afghanistan, who has consistently supported the rights of the Czechs to freedom, who supported the rights of the people in the Soviet Union to have free trade unions, who supported the fight against dictatorships in Chile and elsewhere, and who does not have double standards regarding the rights of freedom for people throughout the world, and accepting that the Prime Minister has done a good job in getting our ambassador to make representations, could she not nevertheless, even at this late hour—I am not trying to blame her — put pressure on Botha to whom she apparently still talks? Could that not be done as a last-minute effort to try to save these people, four of whom I understand are supporters of the justice and peace movement of the Roman Catholic church?
We shall continue to do all in our power to get the South African state President to respond to the worldwide, widely shared appeals, which are supported by practically every person in this House, for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the communication that most hon. Members have received today contains none of the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter)? Is she further aware that, although I support capital punishment, I am fully behind my constituents in backing the Prime Minister in seeking clemency for these people?
This is a very special case, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, and it bears no relation to the other matters that my hon. Friend mentioned. I have not seen the round robin letter that was sent by the South African embassy, but I am not surprised by what my hon. Friend has said.
The Prime Minister has used such phrases as "do all" and "do everything in our power". Does the right hon. Lady believe that the use of those phrases is accurate if the Prime Minister will not take the basic step of lifting the telephone and making personal contact with President Botha, thereby doing what the families of the Sharpeville six want her to do?
It has long been the case that diplomatic channels are always used for representations of this kind. A senior official of the Prime Minister's private office saw relatives of two of the Sharpeville six yesterday and made it quite clear that we would use all the proper channels, and that we are doing.
Order. I must have regard to the fact that there is great pressure on the Budget debate and that this is a private notice question. I shall call two more hon. Members from each side of the House.
Like many hon. Members, I am sure, I have written to the South African ambassador to urge clemency. Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who have resisted the blandishments of the Left to wreck the South African economy by imposing mandatory sanctions will nevertheless find it increasingly difficult to support evolutionary change in South Africa if this step towards barbarism is taken and those six people are executed, apparently as a warning to those who might indulge in riotous assembly?
I sincerely hope that even at this late stage common sense and understanding will prevail in South Africa. Whatever happens, the process of evolution in South Africa is one for which everybody must work. We hope that that will be done through dialogue and not through violence.
Will the right hon. Lady completely repudiate the suggestion that was made twice by her hon. Friends, that the proper representations made by the Government amount to an interference in the affairs of South Africa? Will she state, having regard to the extraordinary failure of the South Africans to reply to the representations made by the Government, what further steps she proposes to take to avert this incipient tragedy, which would appal the vast majority of hon. Members?
I must say to the House, with some regret, that I do not think that the questions being asked are helping the Sharpeville six. What is helping them are the representations that are being made and will continue to be made for as long as it is necessary. I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's point about some of the views that have been expressed. The Government, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday, sincerely hope that in this particular circumstances the state President in South Africa will see fit to exercise the prerogative of mercy. It is to that end that we shall work unceasingly.
As one who is opposed to judicial murder at any time, in any place or in any country, I hope that the appeal for clemency will succeed. Should we not make it clear to the President of South Africa that we are appealing not only for clemency for those six individuals but for him to show clemency for the reputation of his country?
What is the good of maintaining diplomatic or trading relations with a regime that conducts itself in the way that the South African regime is threatening to do on Friday?
A phrase that was once used was that talking is far better than anything else. I believe that that is right. All I hope is that there is listening as well as talking. Without listening by the South African Government to the views of the whole world, there will be no respect whatsoever for that country.