Sharpeville Six

– in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 17th March 1988.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 3:32 pm, 17th March 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on whether any reply has yet been received from the South African Government to the representations made by Her Majesty's Government that President Botha should see fit to exercise the prerogative of mercy in respect of the Sharpeville six.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I have nothing to add to the answer that I gave the right hon. Member yesterday. I am informed that the Supreme Court has ordered a stay of execution until 18 April. Full details are not yet available.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

May I first thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting this private notice question, which, of course, you considered before the latest developments regarding the Sharpeville six.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that we welcome the news that these obscene hangings will not take place tomorrow, but that the shadow of the gallows still hangs over those six people, as it has now for more than two years, and even if the stay of execution is maintained they may face the prolonged ordeal of a second trial?

Has the right hon. Lady seen that President Botha said yesterday, after his meeting with Archbishop Tutu, that he might consider a reprieve if something new emerged from the court process? Clearly, something new has emerged from the court process.

A few minutes ago the Prime Minister said that full and correct representations for clemency had been made by President Reagan, as by her. Is the right hon. Lady aware that yesterday Secretary of State Shultz followed up those full and correct representations by making a personal telephone call to Pik Botha asking for clemency?

Will the Prime Minister now follow that laudable example of President Reagan, whom she called in aid a moment ago, and herself pick up the telephone and ask President Botha once and for all to end the agony of the Sharpeville six?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The granting of this stay of execution until 18 April is to enable the lawyers to lodge an application for the case to be reopened. Whether the right hon. Gentleman is right is saying that something new has emerged, I cannot tell him at the present time, and I would not have thought that he had had the evidence either. Whatever telephone calls were made to President Botha or anybody else, we shall continue to make representations just as we have done and to bring to the notice of the South African Government at every possible opportunity the need for clemency in this case. Of course, we are glad that the stay of execution has been granted.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Every hon. Member has a right to be heard in the House.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North

Will my hon. Friend agree that there are two lessons to be learned from this sorry affair? The first is that if the west had been more sympathetic to the understandable difficulties that South Africa face there might have been a more sympathetic response from President Botha; and, secondly, it is none of our business anyway.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

We have been over all this ground before. I do not think that there is anything to be added.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Joint Leader, Social & Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Party, Joint Founder, Social & Liberal Democrats

Does the Minister's earlier answer mean that once the court proceedings are finished Her Majesty's Government will not resume their masterly inactivity but will continue to make representations at the highest level possible; a failure to reply to the British ambassador is surely not acceptable?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

There has been constant activity, not masterly inactivity. The right hon. Gentleman has his facts wrong, yet again. We shall continue to make sure that the views of the House and this country and of the free world are well heard in South Africa.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

Will my right hon. Friend appreciate that the countries which are behind this Government in the submissions that they have made to the South African Government pleading for clemency in a situation where justice has obviously gone awry will continue to maintain those pressures? The world will be watching South Africa, hoping that it will give some indication of fairness in this matter, and we hope in other matters as well.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Is the Minister aware that, far from this not being part of our business, it would indeed be a bad and disgraceful day if the House of Commons was ever indifferent to the racial situation existing in South Africa, where the overwhelming majority of the population continue to be denied the right to vote or to take part in their government? Is it not the case that if the hangings had gone ahead tomorrow it would have been just a few days before the 28th anniversary of the day when a large number of Africans were put to death at Sharpeville by the South African authorities?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I am very well aware of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I have really nothing to add to what has already been said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and by myself.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stortford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to proceed in this terrible matter is quietly, by diplomatic means, and by firm and constant purpose to bring to the attention of the South African authorities the abhorrence of us all? Does he further agree that dramatic measures such as lifting telephones and other actions that have been suggested are very likely to be counter-productive? I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on their conduct of the matter.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I have many times sought to point out to the House that we shall try to take the most positive steps to make sure that the needs of the Sharpeville six are well heard. I believe that some of the suggestions that we have heard from the Opposition Benches would go positively against the interests of the Sharpeville six.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng , Brent South

Given the Minister's commitment to diplomatic means, and the use of the British ambassador for the Government's purposes in South Africa, will she now reconsider the decision not to recall the British ambassador from South Africa, so that he can apprise her at first hand of the current situation in South Africa, not only in relation to the Sharpeville six but the equally serious matter of banning all democratic means of presenting a real alternative for the creation of a non-racial southern Africa?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that we are working through dialogue for non-racial representation in South Africa We have constant daily contact with our ambassador in South Africa and I believe that that is the right way to proceed. We can get information from him at first hand. He is on the spot and able to get information in Pretoria or Cape Town at first hand. That is the best way to proceed at present.

Photo of Mr Roger Knapman Mr Roger Knapman , Stroud

Would my right hon. Friend agree that we are far more likely to have influence over the South African Government because we do business with that country than we would have if we had introduced sanctions?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is the Minister aware of the absolute hell that the six condemned prisoners and their families are going through at the present time, and that this is likely to continue for at least another month? Will she not now, once again, absolutely and emphatically demand of the Government of South Africa that they drop the charges and release those prisoners? Will not the Government take some concrete action, such as imposing economic sanctions or withdrawing our ambassador, to demonstrate that they are serious in their condemnation of the racism of the South African Government?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

We are absolutely serious in our condemnation of the South Africans in their pursuit of apartheid, but the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman makes simply receive the answers, no, no and no again.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I remind the House that we have business questions and a further statement, followed by a very heavy demand to take part in the Budget debate. I will take one more question from each side.

Photo of Mr David Ashby Mr David Ashby , North West Leicestershire

Will my right hon. Friend convey to President Botha that the independence of the South African judiciary is not in doubt, but that what is in doubt is the sentence — not the conviction, but the sentence? Will she convey to President Botha that no civilised country indulges in hanging and that it is that which is so wrong, the hanging?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

Whatever one's individual views may be, it is up to the Government of South Africa to decide on their own judicial penalties. Now that the application for the case to be reopened has been made, we hope that the facts will come to the fore and that a sensible, fair and just decision will be reached.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

Given the Prime Minister's correct description of the regime in South Africa as an evil regime, and given that the victims of that regime, the black people of South Africa, cannot take even the most elementary step of casting a vote in order to change that regime, and given that the international community has either failed or refused to implement effective pressure, including sanctions, on that regime, what would the Minister or her colleagues do, if they were black South Africans, to change the regime and prevent the bloodshed that stares everyone in the face?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

We shall continue to work through dialogue and to open the channels for dialogue to change the totally unacceptable situation in South Africa. There is no other way to change a system which we find repugnant and detestable, and we shall go on working to that end.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Vice-Chair, Labour Party

I thought that everybody had the right to be heard. Does that only apply to—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I am not having the hon. Gentleman shouting at me like that.