HC Deb 12 December 1979 vol 975 cc1277-9
3. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his discussions with the rugby unions of Scotland, England and Wales on proposed tours of South Africa.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Hector Monro)

The home rugby unions are fully aware of the Government's stance on proposed tours to and from South Africa as set out in our press statement of 14 September. This was again made clear during my recent informal meeting with the chairman of the tours committee.

Mr. Dalyell

Is not British participation in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games jeopardised?

Mr. Monro

We hope that anyone responsible for staging such a tour is aware of all the possible implications. Rugby is not an Olympic sport. The rugby unions are not affiliated to the British Olympic Association. It is for the International Olympic Committee to decide which countries should participate in the Games.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my hon. Friend state why he has adopted this attitude to proposed tours in South Africa.? Would he not agree that taking tours to South Africa can educate the peole of South Africa and speed up the processes that are already taking place in that country? If he does accept the attitude that he has expressed—I find it difficult to believe that he really does—how can he agree to the holding of the Olympic Games in one of the most barbaric and totalitarian countries in the world?

Mr. Monro

The Government's position was made clear in our statement of 14 September. We shall discuss possible changes with our Commonwealth colleagues if or when sufficient progress has been made towards the integration of sport in South Africa.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is the Minister aware that yesterday evening a meeting took place in the House between representatives of the home tours committee of the Rugby Football Union and the sports group of the Parliamentary Labour Party at which it was indicated to us that no decision has yet been taken on the proposed tour? Will the Minister prevail upon the rugby authorities not to undertake the tour, bearing in mind that it is necessary to honour the spirit, as well as the letter, of the Gleneagles agreement?

Mr. Monro

The rugby unions can be in no doubt of the Government's position. It was set out in my September letter and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office press release of 14 September.

Mr. Jessel

Why are the Government involved in the matter at all? What have they to do with sport?

Mr. Monro

The Government are concerned to implement the Commonwealth agreement. We have made our position clear to the rugby unions.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is the Minister aware that his strong, sensible, intelligent and civilised stand will be supported by all my right hon. and hon. Friends? Is it not the case that the Olympic Games is the only occasion on which the youth of the world from 146 nations, irrespective of their backgrounds—political, racial or religious—come together freely? Is that not something which we ought to treasure and preserve rather than surrender? Does the Minister also agree that one sport has no right to jeopardise the thousands of hours of dedicated training put in by hundreds of our finest sportsmen and women, and jeopardise their chances of representing themselves and their country at the Olympic Games? Finally—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Show the right hon. Gentleman the red card."]—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is the red card for the right hon. Gentleman. He must know that the same rules apply to Front Bench spokesmen as to Back Benchers. Perhaps he will conclude his question. Let us say that I have shown him a yellow card.

Mr. Howell

With the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, when I was a referee I always took provocation into account.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is what I am doing.

Mr. Howell

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Does the Minister agree that it would be the greatest disservice to the Commonwealth if rugby tours to South Africa ended the Commonwealth Games or turned them once more into whites-only games?

Mr. Monro

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. I know that many sporting bodies share his fears about the future. I am sure that the rugby unions will have heard what has been said in the House and will bear it in mind in their decision on any invitation to tour South Africa.