Sharpeville Six

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th May 1988.

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Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley 12:00 am, 4th May 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the Republic of South Africa with regard to the case of the Sharpeville Six.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

A defence application for a retrial is currently under consideration. We continue to follow the progress of the case closely and with great concern.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

As only two of the Sharpeville Six cases hinge on the evidence, which is now suspect, of one witness, will the Government continue to make it clear to the South African Government, and especially their President, that the execution of any of the six will be condemned in the strongest possible terms by the British Government? Will that also be accompanied by a plea for mercy to be shown by the President of South Africa?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I think that it would be helpful to the House if I stated where we now stand on this issue. The legal process has been reopened. The Transvaal district attorney has stated his intention to oppose. The stay of execution has been extended indefinitely. I do not rule out further representations, but I believe that we should await the outcome of the current legal process, which I understand is proceeding.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when the Government will apply the same standards and principles to their relations with other African countries, most of which are non-democratic, one-party states, as those to which they seem to apply in their relationship with South Africa?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I have described the situation of the Sharpeville Six on many previous occasions. We believe that the Government of a nation—we recognise states, not Governments—should bring about humanitarian rule. We protest when non-humanitarian actions are taken by the Governments of any countries. Executions in South Africa have meant that we were prepared to consider joining appeals for clemency, but only in cases which were clearly political and in which there were strong humanitarian grounds. That is why we have pursued this path with the Sharpeville Six. I have said this before, and it may be that I shall have to say it again. Matters that come before the courts of South Africa are for the South African Government, but where there are strong humanitarian grounds we have a right to make our views known.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Will the Minister explain why there are so many Conservative Back Benchers who seem not to care whether the Sharpeville Six hang or do not hang? Will the right hon. Lady explain why this is the position of so many Conservative Back Benchers?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I am not responsible at the Dispatch Box for Government policy on these issues. It may be that some of my hon. Friends have their own views, which have been formed as a result of their visits to various parts of southern Africa. In trying to make a judgment on these most difficult issues, I shall continue to try to base all my comments and answers on the facts that are before me.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

Has my right hon. Friend congratulated the South Africans on the patent independence of their judiciary? In the light of her previous comments, has she made a list of all the states and Governments which execute people for political reasons? Has she led the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in making vigorous representations to all those countries along the same lines as those that she has described in the context of the Government's relationship with South Africa?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

When a country has a legal process, we expect it to be followed. That applies to South Africa and to any other African or other country in the world. I am glad that the South African Government followed the due legal processes of their country, but the issue has not yet been fully resolved. I say to my hon. Friend that it is easy to stand on the sidelines and to criticise; but it is much more difficult to form a view on the facts of a case and the situation that exists in individual countries, which vary so much. These are matters that warrant much more careful study than some Members of this place sometimes give them.