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Commonwealth Conference

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government held in Malaysia on 18 to 24 October, which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. A copy of the final communique of the meeting has been placed in the Library of the House. Apart from the customary debates on global prospects and current international, political and economic matters, the Heads of Government themselves dealt with five main issues : the global environment, southern Africa, the future of the Commonwealth, drugs, and the choice of a new Commonwealth Secretary-General to succeed Mr. Ramphal in July next year. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the enormous contribution which Sonny Ramphal has made to the Commonwealth during his 14 years as secretary-general.

I will deal with the main subjects in order-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is an important statement, which the House wishes to hear.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : They are applauding Sonny Ramphal.

Mr. Speaker : Order. We cannot have a running commentary.

The Prime Minister : First, I shall deal with the environment. The meeting agreed a statement--the Langkawi declaration--setting out a Commonwealth programme of action to deal with the main environmental problems facing the world. Particular points to which I would draw attention are the commitment to take more account of environmental considerations in reaching economic decisions, the support expressed for existing international environmental organisations, especially the United Nations environment programme, the endorsement of the United Kingdom's initiative calling for the negotiation of an international framework convention on global climate change and the encouragement given to developing countries to improve the management of their rain forests, which is very important to arrest the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Our particular concern in the debate on these issues was that any additional resources should not go to creating new bureaucracies, but directly to measures to protect and improve the environment. This concern is fully met in the Commonwealth's statement. The Langkawi declaration is a major achievement for the Commonwealth and particularly for our Malaysian chairman, Dr. Mahathir, on whose initiative it was drafted.

Secondly, I shall deal with southern Africa. Heads of Government issued a statement entitled "Southern Africa : The Way Ahead", which marks a significant step forward on a number of points from earlier Commonwealth statements. It recognises that important changes are under way in South Africa, that sanctions ought not to be punitive and that, if sufficient political progress is made in South Africa, the process of relaxing some of the international restrictions against South Africa should begin. This is the first time that the entire Commonwealth

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has adopted this approach. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for the skilful manner in which he negotiated those improvements.

The Commonwealth statement also contains four main points with which the United Kingdom does not agree and our disagreement is explicitly stated on the face of the document, but without explaining either the view we take or the reasons for it. It was to fill that gap that my right hon. Friend and I decided to issue a separate statement setting out Britain's views on those points. A copy of the statement has been placed in the Library of the House.

We believe that the approach set out in our document is the more positive and constructive one and takes more account of the significant changes that are actually happening in South Africa, including the decision taken by the South African Government during the Commonwealth meeting that a major African National Congress rally may be held for the first time in 30 years, and addressed by Mr. Sisulu. In the light of this and other recent steps, our aim must surely be to reward progress and encourage South Africa further down the path of reform, rather than to respond with more punitive sanctions.

We made it clear in our statement that, instead of making a financial contribution to the proposed agency to report on South Africa's international financial links or to the continuing work of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on South Africa, we shall make available an equivalent amount of money for additional help to black South Africans. I would remind the House of the substantial sums that the United Kingdom is already making available for such help, as well as to the front-line states.

Our statement also announces our willingness to provide financial help to an independent Namibia as well as--if asked--military training for Namibia's armed forces after independence. We of course give similar help to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and many other Commonwealth countries in Africa.

Thirdly, Heads of Government had a discussion of the Commonwealth in the 1990s and beyond. They decided to set up a group of Heads of Government--of which Britain will be part--to identify the enlarged roles that the Commonwealth might need to play. We welcome that. Fourthly, we discussed the problem of drugs, recognising the very serious threat that they posed in all our countries and the consequent need for training--particularly for smaller states--in customs procedures, in law enforcement, in methods of detection, in education and in treatment of addicts. I expressed the hope that by the time of our next meeting in 1991 a large number of Commonwealth countries would have concluded bilateral agreements on freezing and confiscating the assets of drug smugglers. Britain has taken a lead both in the Commonwealth and more widely in concluding such agreements. We have now signed 10 of them, the last one of which was in Malaysia.

Fifthly, the meeting elected Chief Emeka Anyaoku as the new Secretary- General of the Commonwealth. He has lived in Britain for many years and is a great friend of our country. The whole House will wish him well

I would draw attention to four further points in the final communique . The first, was a most welcome reference to the importance of Hong Kong's continued success, and a commitment to assist in any way possible in promoting

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the continued prosperity of Hong Kong. That was a major British objective at the meeting and will, I believe, offer welcome reassurance to Hong Kong's people.

The second was the reaffirmation of the need for speedy action to deal with the problem of Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong, including as a matter of priority the return to Vietnam of all those who do not qualify as genuine refugees.

The third was a recognition of the need to increase aviation security world wide, particularly important in the wake of the Lockerbie disaster-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : --coupled with a strong denunciation of terrorism in all its forms and a call for the immediate safe release of all hostages.

The fourth was a call on all Commonwealth Governments to accede to or ratify international covenants on human rights, which a surprising number have regrettably not yet done.

Despite the difference of views on South Africa, this was a valuable and successful meeting and its success owes much to the very skilful chairmanship of Prime Minister Mahathir.

We have disagreed before on South Africa within the Commonwealth, indeed many times, but this has not damaged our relations with individual Commonwealth countries or the institution itself. The Government will persevere with their present policy on South Africa, because it offers the best prospect of peaceful negotiations and of achieving a new South Africa which will inherit a strong economy.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) : May I first associate myself fully with the Prime Minister's tribute to Sir Sonny Ramphal and offer my congratulations and good wishes to Chief Emeka Anyaoku on his election as secretary-general? May I also take this opportunity to welcome the whole of the constructive communique from the Heads of Government meeting in Kuala Lumpur and regret that the Prime Minister could not do the same thing?

The Kuala Lumpur meeting exposed discrepancies in the British Government's approach. On the environment, for instance, is it not clear that the Prime Minister's professions of concern for the global environment have yet again been equalled only by her resistance to backing that concern with practical commitments? On overseas aid, the Prime Minister pledged in the Kuala Lumpur communique to make "renewed commitment and effort to meet the United Nations aid target"

of 0.7 per cent. of GNP. How does the Prime Minister reconcile that with the Government's record of cutting overseas aid to 0.3 per cent. of GNP during their time in office?

I turn now to the issue of sanctions against apartheid. In Kuala Lumpur, the Prime Minister put her signature to a Commonwealth agreement which her Foreign Secretary helped to compile and which she herself proposed for adoption, which states :

"this is not the time to consider any relaxation of existing sanctions and pressures all existing sanctions and measures should be maintained."

How can the Prime Minister reconcile that with her action a short time later when she put out a statement, apparently

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without reference to her Foreign Secretary, which was hostile to all sanctions and which stated that the effect of such sanctions would be to "increase resistance to change"? Is that not a gross inconsistency? Would it not be more honest if in future the Prime Minister were to sign all international agreements with invisible ink--[ Hon. Members :-- "Rubbish."] No, it is true-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : In the wake of the Commonwealth meeting, is it not clear that it is difficult for anyone to trust a Prime Minister who signs a document at 5 and repudiates it at 6 o'clock? Does the Prime Minister understand that nobody doubts her right to free speech, but what disgusts people is the way in which she exercises that right with a forked tongue? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : Finally, is the Prime Minister aware that the editorial in Tuesday's edition of the South African National party newspaper was headlined simply "Thanks, Maggie"? Does that not say all that needs to be said about a Prime Minister who has moved from being an appeaser of apartheid to being the agent for it?

The Prime Minister : With regard first to the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the global environment, he is aware that this Government have done more to protect the environment than any previous Government ; that we have committed the sum of £2 billion to get rid of sulphur dioxide in coal in power stations ; that this year, for example, we are spending £1.3 billion on improved water and sewerage, whereas the Labour Government cut such expenditure ; that we have the best record in Europe on rivers that flow into the North sea, and so on and so forth. We hosted the ozone layer conference. We are committed to reduce substantially the amount of CFCs and to move to a 100 per cent. reduction, provided that the relevant research has produced proper alternative substitutes. It was our proposal to have a global convention on CO and the greenhouse effect--a proposal which was taken up by other nations. On the environment, the Labour party cannot touch this Government's record-- [Interruption.] --and nor can many other people.

On the right hon. Gentleman's totally inaccurate comments on our document on sanctions, I must advise him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary actually wrote part of that document, so for the right hon. Gentleman to say that my right hon. Friend did not even see it is to be just about as plum stupid as anyone can get. That document was in response to the four parts of the original document with which we disagreed on the face of the document. We thought it best to set out the reasons for our disagreement in writing, so that people could not quarrel with them.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's general proposals on sanctions, I remind him that the Labour party, when in power, said before the United Nations :

"We voted against comprehensive sanctions together with France, West Germany, the United States and some other Western countries because we do not agree that the far-reaching economic measures which the resolution calls for would produce the changes in South Africa which we would all like to see."

That was said on 16 January 1978 by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), and the

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right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The right hon. Gentleman also said, in the Official Report for 7 July 1976 :

"I do not believe that a policy of general economic sanctions would be in the interests either of the British people or of South Africa."--[ Official Report, 7 July 1976 ; Vol. 914, c. 1354.] Moreover, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should read Archbishop Tutu on sanctions when it was proposed that they should be actively imposed on Panama :

"These sanctions have led to the destruction of the country's economy, caused immense suffering on the poorest of the poor, increased unemployment and aggravated social problems. The majority of Panamanians are opposed to sanctions. These sanctions inflict a double oppression on the people of Panama."

Finally, two out of three black South Africans, when asked whether sanctions would cause unemployment and whether they wanted them, said no. It is this Government who are in step with the people of black South Africa, not the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that early editions of the British newspapers and the communique s on the World Service of the BBC after the communique was issued carried headlines that ran, "Thatcher tightens sanctions"? It was absolutely essential that she and our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary should have put the matter right in their subsequent communique .

Would it not also be of interest, given that the Leader of the Opposition protests strongly against the line that my right hon. Friend took--with wide popular support in this country--to see whether he is prepared to put the matter to the test in a debate in this House?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I have not heard what the BBC said, but what he says gives extra support to the path that we took of making our views absolutely clear in writing. That was much better than giving unattributable briefings, as many other Heads of Government did. Some of them made speeches in public at the opening session of the Commonwealth conference clearly setting out their views. They are therefore not at liberty to criticise us for setting out ours. They must not deny to others the freedom of speech that they adopt for themselves.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : May I take this opportunity of welcoming the Commonwealth statement, particularly the passage in respect of Hong Kong? But have not Singapore, Canada and Australia all expanded their immigration programmes considerably to help Hong Kong, and is not the United States planning to quadruple theirs? When will the Government end their impotent silence and honour what they have signed in the agreement?

On South Africa, surely the Prime Minister must realise, whatever her intentions, that the effect of her inept unilateral statement was to give succour to those who would wish to prolong apartheid in South Africa, to undermine the effectiveness of the Commonwealth statement and to bring discredit on the name of Britain?

Finally, is it just a coincidence that, at every single international meeting that the Prime Minister attends, she ends up as a lonely, discredited, minor, single voice?

The Prime Minister : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about Hong Kong. Singapore has

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given about 25,000 certificates to people in Hong Kong. They are not to be taken up immediately but holders may have citizenship of Singapore and not go there for some years. I know that that has been a great comfort to many such people. Some people from Hong Kong have taken houses in Australia and Canada. I think that in the case of Canada people have left Hong Kong to take up residence in cities such as Vancouver. Some reassurance is needed for people in Hong Kong whose residence there is vital for the future prosperity of Hong Kong. They need to be given some assurance that they may leave if things should turn out very badly in order that they may stay there to help Hong Kong to keep its prosperous standing. We hope to bring proposals forward by about the turn of the year.

The right hon. Gentleman is totally and utterly wrong about sanctions. We have made clear our abhorrence of apartheid and did so in the statement. We not only oppose sanctions but give practical help to black South Africans and to the front-line states. For example, we are supporting financially about 1,000 black South Africans on graduate or postgraduate work. We also support black South Africans who wish to purchase houses and special housing for black South Africans. We have given about £1.1 billion to the front-line states so that they may be better able to deal with their economic problems.

We note that some of those who are most ardent about sanctions do not impose them. I find utterly repugnant the fact that the only way the trade sanctions can work is by being punitive on black South Africans. I gave a specific example of a pineapple canning factory that closed a few days ago ; because it no longer had the demand from Canada and the United States it was not able to keep going. That put 40 white South Africans out of work-- and 1,100 black South Africans. That will please the right hon. Gentleman, but it does not please me.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South) : Since I understand that the other countries would not agree to include in the communique an explanation of the British point of view on the four points on which the communique said that we differed from the rest, was it not absolutely essential for us to find some means of putting on record our point of view? What better means than a written statement? Was that not particularly important in view of the continuous misrepresentation of the Government's point of view, not least by the Opposition?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend. It was absolutely vital for us to put it in writing for everyone to see. My right hon. Friend is also quite right when he says that it set out in detail views that we were not able to have put into the communique . It starts off by saying :

"Britain is fully at one with the rest of the Commonwealth in utterly condemning apartheid and wishing to see its total eradication so that all the inhabitants of South Africa can live in dignity and play a full part in the political life of their country." When South Africa gets its constitution reformed and a new Government, that Government will inherit a strong economy. For that there will be one country in the Commonwealth that it can thank--Britain.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : Is there not a real danger that the demand for unanimity among almost 50 countries--all differently situated--will in the end be used to blackmail us into accepting policies that the House would not approve?

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The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that it would be very difficult to blackmail this Government or me in particular, and all my colleagues. We are not likely to be blackmailed in any way. I should add that before the Commonwealth conference ended--and it ended very amicably, as one would expect--barely was the ink dry on the communique than I received a letter from a Head of Government of an African country saying that if the financial sanctions that the rest of them had agreed actually worked, it would be very tough on his country and would make things much worse, and could he please have extra aid to deal with it. I said no. People must suffer the consequences of that which they put their hand to.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, since we had made an explicit reserve about our attitude towards sanctions in the communique , nothing could have been more normal than that we should either explain that reserve or continue to advocate the policies that seemed sensible to us? Therefore, will she dismiss the synthetic indignation on this subject as the cant that it is? My right hon. Friend enjoys the strongest support in this country for the robust line that she took in the face of the hypocritical pressure on sanctions. Will she tell some of her colleagues in the Commonwealth that if the Commonwealth desires to turn itself into an international tribunal of human rights, there are a great many better targets, from China to Peru and including one or two in the Commonwealth, which might better repay their attention?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of two things happens with economic sanctions. If they do not work, it is because other countries take up the trade. To some extent, that has already happened in South Africa. Our share of the trade in South Africa is less than it was, and Germany and Japan have taken up that trade. If they do work, they work by punishing the most vulnerable--as Archbishop Tutu said about Panama--and making them suffer poverty and even starvation in a country with no social security.

I find it repugnant that people at the Commonwealth conference should sit round a table, having been entertained in excellent hotels with excellent facilities, and decide who will suffer poverty and starvation in another country. We support Operation Hunger, which is aimed at relieving poverty in South Africa. It is absurd that other people in the Commonwealth are trying to magnify what we are trying to relieve.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles) : In reiterating the statement on substantial aid to the front-line states, will the Prime Minister take into account that, since 1979, aid has decreased to only 83 per cent. of what it was when we left office, representing in 1985 prices a reduction of £20 million? Therefore, when does she intend to increase aid to the front-line states? Will she deal with a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? How is it that she can sign a communique pledging herself to the GNP target of 0.7 per cent. of aid for the Third world when aid has, until last year, been steadily reducing under this Government?

The Prime Minister : Since 1980, we have spent the considerable sum of £1.1 billion on aid to the front-line states, in assisting them to create new transport routes so

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that they do not have to go through South Africa. In addition, we are providing military training in Zimbabwe. When I went there recently, there was an unusual occasion when I went to the eastern highlands and, with President Mugabe on one side and President Chissano on the other, watched British military officers training the Zimbabwean army and the Mozambican army. That is considerable extra help.

Few countries have reached the target of 0.7 per cent. of aid. However, the amount of private investment from this country to other Commonwealth countries is considerable, and one of the highest. It would be higher still if some were to take off some of the central planning and control that prevents a good deal of investment from going to their countries.

Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey) : If acts rather than words are important in this massively hypocritical debate about sanctions, has not the share of United Kingdom trade to South Africa declined far faster and further than that of any other Commonwealth country? I believe that, since the last Heads of Government meeting in Canada, Canadian trade with South Africa has increased.

The Prime Minister : Yes, Canadian trade with South Africa has gone up since we last met in Vancouver.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Can I have an open, honest and frank response? Whose decision was it to issue the dissenting statement? Was it that of the Foreign Secretary or that of the Prime Minister? Is it not true that, if this had been left to the Foreign Secretary, there would have been no statement?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend and I both decided to issue the statement. What people are complaining about is that it was an effective statement. That is why there was such a row about it. The dissent was on the face of the original communique . The explanation was on the face of the communique which my right hon. Friend and I jointly issued.

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in two short months the Government of South Africa have made dramatic changes in their way of thinking? Does she further agree that the one certain way of throwing all that into reverse is to follow the line that has been put forward by the Opposition and by the other Heads of Government in Kuala Lumpur?

The Prime Minister : Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend. The de Klerk Government have done extremely well, first, in making it quite clear that the demonstrations could take place without interference, which they have. Secondly, the South African Government have released political prisoners. Thirdly, even while some people were trying to curb our freedom of speech in Kuala Lumpur, the South African Government were agreeing to an ANC demonstration at which Mr. Sisulu could speak freely. It was an ironic juxtaposition of events.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : How can the Government justify snubbing the ANC delegation at Kuala Lumpur and not meeting it when the former Foreign Secretary had met the ANC and when the Government have recently seen Jonas Savimbi? In similar stages in the liberation struggle, the Government have been prepared to meet the Patriotic Front and SWAPO.

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The Prime Minister : We treat it in precisely the same way as we have done the PLO, for example, and said that if it would renounce violence my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would see members of the ANC. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Eminent Persons Group concept is negotiations in return for the suspension of violence. In these days, that is perhaps handled in a slightly different way by saying "peaceful negotiations". That means precisely the same thing. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not get a reply from the ANC which indicated that it was prepared to suspend or renounce violence, and that is why he did not see it.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant) : Having recently visited some of the excellent projects that the British Government are funding in South Africa, projects which the shadow Foreign Secretary failed to visit when he was there, I must endorse heartily what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said about that assistance. May I express my profound admiration for her cheerfulness and for the moral courage which she exhibited in Kuala Lumpur?

I suggest that when the agenda for the next Commonwealth conference is prepared, my right hon. Friend suggests to the new

secretary-general that he places three documents before all the delegates. The first, if I may say so, is the wonderful cartoon that she and I and those of our generation will remember when Low published it in the Evening Standard in June 1940--"Very well, then--alone!" I suggest that the second document should be the Amnesty International report, which should be left open at the page marked "India" for all those concerned to see. Finally, may he lay before all the delegates the wonderful speech which was made by Burke in this place just over 200 years ago when he reminded the House that there was no way known to him in which one could "condemn an whole people"?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made his own points extremely effectively. I am grateful to him for the confirmation that he gives that our approach of alleviating problems of black South Africans is one of practical help and not of posturing. I notice that many of the states in Africa that demand comprehensive sanctions do not apply them themselves. There are, for example, no airlines flying from the United States directly to South Africa, but they fly to the capitals in black Africa, from where the passengers are then promptly flown down to Johannesburg. That hardly seems to be doing what they are preaching.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : Following the Prime Minister's unhappy exchanges with President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, when he called the right hon. Lady "despicable" and she called him "ritualistic", what was the point of her comment that he was only too happy to accept British aid? Was this not a patronising and insulting way of telling him that freedom of speech was the payment for any economic assistance from Britain?

The Prime Minister : Mr. Mugabe said some things about our attitude to apartheid which he knew were entirely untrue, and which were shown to be untrue on the face of the document which we ourselves issued, which stated that Britain is fully at one with the rest of the Commonwealth in utterly condemning apartheid. We have been very generous, and will continue to be, in

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helping Zimbabwe--I made that perfectly clear--both with military training and with aid. I do wish sometimes that people would not use some of the language that they do, which tempts one to reply in the same coin. I did not, in fact.

At the same time I expressed to President Mugabe considerable sympathy with the difficulties that he is in over the ivory ban. There are far too many elephants in Zimbabwe, and they have to cull them, which they do very well. They finance that operation by selling the ivory from the elephants which are properly culled. President Mugabe does not lack support from me in the things which I agree he is doing extremely well.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : May I congratulate the Prime Minister on injecting clarity and common sense into the deliberations of the Commonwealth conference? Will she visit the Republic of South Africa after the long-awaited release of Nelson Mandela and after further political progress has been made in that country--political progress that has been prompted by the actions of this Government?

The Prime Minister : I have not made up my mind about visiting South Africa. I should like to go there some time, but I do not think that now is the right time. More steps must be made towards solving the fundamental constitutional problem, and then I shall consider going. I repeat that we give practical help to black South Africans. Those who wish to impose economic sanctions will create poverty and hardship in South Africa, and that is not our way.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Is it not the case that, when the draft agreement was presented to the Heads of Government, some Prime Ministers sought to make changes to it but the right hon. Lady insisted that it could not be changed because it was an agreed document, so the document was proposed in its entirety? Therefore, are not her protestations that she has been exercising free speech and clarification quite preposterous?

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her demeanour at the Dispatch Box today absolutely confirms that her intention in producing that statement an hour later was to repudiate the part that related to sanctions? That is quite clear. Is not the reason for all that the fact that she has a secret agenda with de Klerk, and that her part of that agenda is to prevent change taking place? She makes so much noise about people losing their jobs, but is she aware that people in South Africa are afraid of losing their lives--or perhaps that is what she prefers?

The Prime Minister : The main parts of that document are agreed and were a compromise agreement. If anyone wished to change those parts of the document, we also would have wished to change them. We agreed to leave them precisely as they were. The four main parts of the document were disagreed, and it states, "with the exception of Britain" or "Britain disagrees". It is on those parts that we issued an especially clear statement.

Our view on apartheid is clear and our practical help for South Africa is clear, as is our hatred of economic sanctions. The hon. Gentleman is one of those who wish to impose punitive economic sanctions-- [Interruption.] Economic sanctions are punitive. That is the only way in which they can work. If the hon. Gentleman is not in

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favour of that, he must be very glad that our way prevailed and that black South Africans will not suffer from punitive economic sanctions.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : While I give a warm welcome to the statement that there will be a study into the role of the Commonwealth in the 1990s, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm this country's commitment to the Commonwealth institution and seek ways to improve its functions in the areas of mutual help, of trade, of education and of the understanding of democratic principles?

The Prime Minister : Yes. Some people were arguing that perhaps we needed to have a new role for the Commonwealth. I do not necessarily envisage a new role, but the Commonwealth exists on the basis of principles set down in the Singapore declaration in 1971, and those are the principles of freedom under a rule of law and democracy. The 48 and 49 of us co- operate closely on many matters, especially those mentioned by my hon. Friend such as scientific and technical co-operation and the advice upon education and other matters that we give. We also girdle the world and so have an instant way of seeking local views on any matter which may arise anywhere in the world. One of the most impressive things about the Commonwealth conference is that it is the only big international conference that I attend which requires no translation or interpretation of any kind, making the debate active, without rancour and very clear. Such an organisation has a great future ahead.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I have to take into account the subsequent business. We have business questions and a heavy day in front of us. I shall call three more hon. Members from each side and then we must move on.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Does the Prime Minister agree that, notwithstanding her ritual condemnation of apartheid, her performance at Kuala Lumpur demonstrates what everybody, particularly black South Africans, know--that she is and remains, at every international occasion that she attends, an indefatigable fifth columnist for apartheid?

The Prime Minister : Nonsense. As the hon. Lady knows, and as I reminded the Commonwealth conference, when there was naked racialism on the part of some African countries, throwing out the Indians because they were highly successful, it was Britain that took them ; a considerable number came to my constituency, where they have been very successful indeed.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if South Africa did not exist, it would soon be invented by many Commonwealth leaders to cover up the problems in their own backyard, particularly the violation of human rights? Is it not time that we considered leaving that club, the members of which seem intent on inflicting poverty and hunger on those whom they purport to try to represent in South Africa?

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