HC Deb 28 May 1970 vol 801 cc2120-8

Sir Douglas Glover(Ormskirk) rose

Mr. Speaker

The last speech was to have been a swan-song, but apparently there is another swan-song coming.

6.30 p.m.

Sir D. Glover

I apologise to the right hon. Lady the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, for taking away from her the privilege of making the last speech in this Parliament, but it gives me the opportunity to pay a tribute to her. She has been a great Parliamentarian for 25 years. Although we have disagreed from time to time, she has graced the House with great ability and wisdom for a long time. The House will be a poorer place for her departure. I hope that she has many happy years in retirement.

My arrangements seem to have gone wrong. I wrote to you yesterday, Mr. Speaker, to say that I was proposing to raise the question of slavery and primitive peoples if the House finished its official business, and I notified the Foreign Office. I am surprised that the Foreign Office is not represented on the benches—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I understand that the facts are as the hon. Gentleman has said. He notified the Foreign Office, and a Minister was to come, and probably will be coming. The business today has gone more swiftly than could be anticipated. In the ordinary course of event I would deprecate a speech being made on the adjournment without an opportunity for a Minister to reply. In the circumstances, the hon. Gentleman is free to speak.

Sir D. Glover

What I am about to say is not controversial, and I would not in any way expect the Minister to be able to give me a concrete answer. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will convey to her colleagues in the Foreign Office that I do not feel insulted that the Minister is not here to reply.

As I am retiring from Parliament, I thought that this would be a suitable opportunity for me to make my last speech in the House on a non-party issue on which there is no controversy in the House although in the world at large there is a great deal of controversy.

The Sudan is a nation largely made up of Arabs in the north and negroid tribes in the south. The Arab people in the north have always dominated the southern Sudanese. Their word for the southern Sudanese is the Arabic word for " slave", and the southern Sudanese therefore come under the orbit of the Anti-Slavery Society of which I have the honour to be chairman. It is appalling to think that there are at least 250,000, if not 500,000, refugees from the southern Sudan who have had to flee from their territory because the dominant majority element of the population is carrying out a form of genocide.

I know that there is a limit to what we can do, but in recent weeks there has been a great controversy aboutapartheidand the cricket tour. It seems to me that our values are wrong when there is so much controversy about 11 men coming here to play cricket, yet nothing has been done by the Government, the United Nations or anyone else to highlight the deplorable situation in the Sudan which has existed for some years. If that were an isolated case it would be understandable, but it is not.

In Zanzibar the Vice-President of Tanzania, who is the head of the Zanzibari part of the government of that country, recently tried to force Persian girls of 16 into a form of morganatic marriage with him. Because they refused, their parents have been made non-acceptable residents and are to be expelled from the country. This is perhaps a minor issue, but it is important in terms of human rights. Where have we heard the voice of Britain speaking loud and clear against these appalling injustices? The voice has been very muted. Our grandfathers would have been far more vociferous.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

One of the great Opposition back benchers is making a plea on a late Adjournment debate and it is incredible that until I entered the Chamber he should have been making it to an empty House. This is very unusual, but it is even more regrettable that there is no one on the Front Bench to answer this fine speech—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This point was raised before the hon. Gentleman came in.

Sir D. Glover

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, which I welcome—I also welcome his presence. It makes matters a little more realistic, even if the person to whom I am speaking is behind me. I have been speaking to Mr. Speaker, who always listens with such attention to all my speeches, a privilege which after today he will have to forgo.

I recently made a speech in the House about Brazil, when I said that the Government-organised body whose duty it was to look after the Amerindians in Brazil had been so perverted as to bomb the Amerindians from the air, shoot them with machine guns, lace their food with arsenic to poison them—

Mr. Speaker

With respect, I know the hon. Gentleman's devotion to this subject, but he must link what he has to say in some way to Government responsibility, or say what he wants the Government to do.

Sir D. Glover

Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I am about to do that. Doctors are also injecting people with smallpox. I know that the British Government have no direct responsibility in this matter, but we were one of the founding fathers of the United Nations, which was given the responsibility of dealing with problems concerned with human rights and human dignity. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, when have these problems been raised by Her Majesty's Government at the United Nations?

Nobody more regrets this than the right hon. Gentleman and myself, but we allow criticism of our activities in Rhodesia and of our trading arrangements with Africa to be debated in the United Nations. We are brought time after time into the dock of that great organisation, but the things for which we are hauled in front of the bar of history at the United Nations are minor misdemeanours compared with those I am speaking of tonight.

Why has not the United Kingdom Government raised these matters at the United Nations and demanded that it should take a more forceful attitude to deal with these problems? A large amount of slavery still exists in the Philippines and also in Indonesia.

I have a great affection for Australia, but the situation of the aborigines in that country is disturbing. We have an enormous amount of influence with the Australian Government. Although I would not like to see this matter raised at the United Nations, if the British Government were to say to the Australian Government, " If more speed is not shown in the rehabilitation of the aborigines, we shall at some stage be forced to raise the matter publicly ", it might have a great effect in speeding up progress for those people.

We have not today the same power that we possessed 100 years ago, but Britain still has enormous influence in the world. When I was a delegate at the United Nations what worried me was that we were not using that influence to try to remove some of the evils in the world today. We were so much on the defensive. I am speaking of about eight years ago, when we were in process of our retreat from Empire and countries were either battling for or receiving their independence. If it was not one country it was another at the United Nations demanding that Britain should do something about the matter. However, that time has passed and now there are not many matters on which the United Nations can haul the United Kingdom before the bar of international judgment.

The time is now ripe for the United Kingdom Government to take a much more positive line on the matter of human rights at the United Nations and to highlight the injustices over a large area of the world. If we were to take this course we should be developing a role for ourselves in the second half of the 20th century. Although we are no longer the great power we were, we are still, in my view, one of the most influential nations in the world and we should use that influence correctly.

I do not criticise the empty benches in the House, because hon. Members have gone to the hustings to receive a new mandate to return here to speak with further authority in future. However, I ask that the next Parliament should reassert its moral rôle in the world which, over the last 20 years or so, has happened too rarely. We all know the evils in the world, but we do not speak about them. If our own Parliament would take more time to deal with some of these problems it would have a much stronger feeling of moral probity and integrity. It should seek to deal with the problems which face the world and to protect the under-privileged elements of humanity who are unable to protect themselves. This is why I am raising the question of slavery this evening.

The oneblocof people who cannot send a delegate to the United Nations to plead for them are the slaves. They need somebody to speak on their behalf, and in my inadequate way I have tried to speak for them. Last week, a distinguished Egyptian, Dr. Awad, was in this country. He has been asked by the United Nations to produce a report on the machinery to deal with slavery. A previous report had estimated that there are at least 10 million slaves in the world today, which is the size of the population of Belgium or Holland.

The figure does not include the even worse forms of slavery, like the sham adoption, by which children in West Africa and in the Middle East are adopted officially, perhaps for £5 or £10 at the age of 5 or 6, then work as household drudges until they are 12 or 13, and are then probably sold into a brothel. That is a far worse form of slavery than chattel slavery. But that goes on in a massive way in the countries which spend their time criticising us for this or that misdemeanour.

We have a duty to highlight these matters and to see that action is taken to eradicate them from the face of the earth. We in this House have a bigger responsibility than we have so far taken upon ourselves in this respect. We led the world when my great predecessor as chairman of our society, Richard Wilberforce, headed the campaign 170 years ago to eradicate slavery. At that time an enormous change occurred in the whole thinking of the human race on this great problem. Then, during the remainder of the 19th century, there was a great process of eradication in East Africa, in Zanzibar, and in the Arab countries. But vestiges of it still remain. Perhaps an ever greater evil has now grown up. That is the ill-treatment and injustice to people in the developing countries of the world such as the bush-men in the Kalahari. the Amerindians in South America and other peoples. Their problem today is that they are treated worse than slaves. They pose a difficult problem which needs highlighting and bringing to the minds of the public, not only of this country but throughout the world.

I do not want to detain the House long at this time at the end of a Parliament, but I earnestly ask that when Parliament reassembles it will accept the challenge to bring these matters to light and see that they are dealt with by the world community at large so that a solution is found.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I wish that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) had made the speech he has just made when he was a United Kingdom delegate to the United Nations about eight years ago.

Sir D. Glover

I did.

Mr. Lipton

If the hon. Member did, then I am sorry that his efforts were so fruitless.

In his compilation of the denial of human rights throughout the world, the hon. Member did not seem to lay very much emphasis on the denial of human rights in Rhodesia and South Africa. He did get near the fringe when he mentioned the Kalahari, but he did not make it clear that the Kalahari was part of the Union of South Africa. I mention these two points for the purpose of clarification, with which I have no doubt my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will find it possible to deal.

6.50 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

I did not hear the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) open this short, sharp but very important debate—

Sir D. Glover

I have already said that I did not mind the right hon. Gentleman not being present.

Mr. Peart

I am not technically the Minister responsible. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Minister concerned thought that this matter would be raised at about 8 o'clock. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that no discourtesy was intended.

I listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech. His subject is an important one. He has been a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the United Nations, and, obviously, he has a great interest in the matter and feels passionately about it. Indeed, that was obvious from his eloquent speech. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman was not heard by many hon. Members. Most of our colleagues are speeding to their constituencies to take part in a great debate which will continue during the coming weeks.

At times, the hon. Gentleman rather overstated his case. It is not for me to comment too much on areas where we have no direct responsibility. I know Australia. I visited that country when I was Minister of Agriculture, and I travelled extensively in the rural areas. The hon. Gentleman was a little hard on the Australian people when he spoke of their treatment of the aborigines in today's circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman then traversed other parts of the world. I do not dispute his facts. I have not come prepared with a brief, but I take note of what he said and I will make representations to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider carefully what the hon. Gentleman has said. The hon. Gentleman asked that we should use our influence, and he stressed that we should take a more positive line at the United Nations on the subject of human rights. I think that successive Governments in the post-war period have all stressed the importance of this—the first Labour Government, even our predecessors, and the present Labour Government. It has been done by every British Minister representative and delegation at the United Nations and other assemblies.

I have in mind, for example, my own experience at the Council of Europe, where I was a delegate for a long time and where we continually stress the importance of human rights. Only recently, at the Council of Europe, there was a debate on Greece, when this matter was again raised.

I do not want to be controversial, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) that we have stressed over and over again the rights of individuals in Rhodesia and South Africa and the whole subject of racial prejudice and religious intolerance which mars human freedom and dignity in many parts of the world. I am proud to say that my Government have played their part in condemning these and in trying to create situations where we can move from the state of barbarism among many people who claim to be civilised.

We are not apathetic. I admire the way in which the hon. Gentleman has spoken, and I know that he feels strongly about these matters. He analysed the changing role of our country and pointed out that we are no longer the imperial power that we were. However, as he said, Britain still has a great influence. We have a strong economy. We are a gifted people and a mature democracy. Our attitudes in world affairs are taken note of by many people, and Britain has still a major rôle to play in international diplomacy. We have nothing to apologise for when we talk of the importance that we place upon human rights.

The hon. Gentleman asked us in the next Parliament to take on a more moral rôle in the world today. Without being priggish or pious, I think that I can say that we are already doing this. British influence in the world is strong, and it is backed by our common sense and history. I do not agree that we have done too little. We are anxious to extend human freedoms and, above all, to further human dignity. We oppose the racial and religious prejudice which mars these concepts.

Then there are the other ways in which we can help. British businessmen, experts, technical assistants, scientists and other qualified people, such as veterinary surgeons, are doing a great deal to raise the standards of living of men and women in parts of the world where people still live in terrible conditions. One of our great Foreign Secretaries, the late Ernest Bevin, said that it was impossible to build peace out of hunger. We have led the world in dealing with this problem. We are sometimes criticised, but we have created a Minister of Overseas Development. Whatever the criticisms, we should always be proud of our contribution in that respect.

I have noted carefully all that the hon. Gentleman has said. He was right to raise the subject, and I compliment him. But I hope that he will not be too pessimistic. I believe that we have a good record.

Question put and agreed to

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Seven o'clock