HC Deb 31 July 1981 vol 9 cc1476-82

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thompson.]

6.12 pm
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)

It is a great honour to speak on the last day of term; indeed, in the last debate. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment in his place to debate this extremely significant matter. I hope that he will relate what we say to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

The significance of the debate is that it comes just two months before the Commonwealth conference is due to take place in Melbourne, when undoubtedly the whole issue of the Gleneagles agreement will be high on the agenda. It also comes at a time of great relevance to the problems in New Zealand over the South African rugby tour. I say immediately that I fully support the actions of the Prime Minister, Mr. Robert Muldoon. He has been extremely brave in many of his decisions, although he has kept well within the Gleneagles agreement. It is sad that in The Times the other day he was quoted as speaking of his own little country being rent asunder by the terrible actions of yobs and hooligans of the extreme Left.

As the House will know, the Gleneagles agreement was made by a Labour Government in 1977 and confirmed by a Conservative Prime Minister in 1979. It has never had the approval of the House, which is a cause of shame that should be highlighted. From my researches, I do not believe that it has been debated on the Floor of the House, certainly not since the Government came to power in May 1979.

The agreement has been interpreted in many and varied ways by those considering it from a legal angle, and not least by the notable lawyer Edward Grayson, who has discussed the matter at great length and in legal terms has driven a horse and carriage through it.

We must remember that the agreement itself at all times stands out against apartheid. I believe that all Members of the House and many in South Africa are absolutely against apartheid. The agreement seeks only to discourage and dissuade. It puts no imperative legal binding on any Government to stop their own international sportsmen from practising their arts wherever they choose.

Sadly, the agreement has now become an easy political weapon for anyone wishing to mount a vendetta against South Africa. Indeed, it has given such people a respectability which they do not deserve. As the House will know, they have now involved the United Nations in a treaty and an agreement which is of absolutely no concern to them.

Great progress has been made in the integration of multiracial sport in South Africa. The House will recall that I have raised this matter on several occasions, and I do not intend today to go into the detail of that progress. Suffice it to say that the various fact-finding missions that have been to that country, including the International Cricket Conference, a delegation of French parliamentarians and, indeed, our own British Sports Council, led by Dickie Jeeps, and several individuals who have been there merely on holiday, have almost all reported that great progress has been made towards full intergration of virtually every sport in South Africa. Hard on the heels of that news, the South African Government have recently announced intended legislation to ease certain other laws.

Regrettably, I believe that that progress has been ignored by the British Government, apart from one or two peremptory remarks noting that some small progress had been made. It is also sad to report that some Ministers who were concerned about this matter before coming to office in 1979 seemed then to put forward an attitude towards South Africa rather more friendly than their attitude today. It is also a great tragedy that, so far as I know, no Minister has visited South Africa since the Government came to office. Without that actual measurement of progress, a complete mockery is made of the Gleneagles agreement.

During this time, opponents of South Africa have been extremely vigilant. Only today I was privileged to visit the international games for the disabled at Stoke Mandeville, where earlier in the week a despicable demonstration took place against the South African athletes. I had a short discussion with Miss Joan Scruton, who is the secretary of the games. She related sadly that international sportsmen of all colours from the South Africa team—cripples, the unfortunates of society—were being got at by extreme anti-apartheid demonstrators.

In South Africa itself, the organisation SACOS, which is well known to my hon. Friend, has been carrying out a physical vendetta and intimidation against certain people. The funds upon which it relies are of doubtful origin. It is well known that the organisation has strong connections with Moscow and Eastern Europe. It has now put out an obnoxious black list to try to prevent sportsmen from playing where they are.

Without doubt, active Governments and even members of Commonwealth Governments are now using the agreement to get at sportsmen. Only today I heard that the Trinidad representatives at the disabled games had been prevented by their Government from taking part. The tragedy of New Zealand has prompted Prime Minister Robert Muldoon to talk about the "experienced organisers of the extreme Left" who are organising the demonstrations.

I regret that while Her Majesty's Government continue to support the Gleneagles agreement they can only encourage those opponents of free sport, however unwittingly that is done.

We begin to wonder where we go from here, because we now have the black list. The English cricket tour to India is under threat because Geoffrey Boycott, one of our prominent players, is on the list. We wonder what will happen to the meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers and whether it will be held in the Bahamas. If that happens, I hope that Britain will refuse to attend. We wonder what will happen to the Commonwealth conference and whether those two allies—Australia and New Zealand—will come to blows. We wonder also whether relations between the United Kingdom and those two countries will be soured because of the agreement.

The Commonwealth Games are under threat because of the actions of Governments who, although within the Commonwealth, seem to be becoming almost enemies of Britain. The South African rugby team is due to go next to America, and I am pleased to report that it has received full co-operation from the United States authorities. For the first time for many years visas have been issued for the players to go there.

We must remember, in the context of the Commonwealth, the various civil liberties in South Africa that are being objected to by the enemies of that country. There is significance in a letter in The Times today from Professor John Hutchinson, who outlines some of the civil liberties that are being flouted in certain Commonwealth countries. In India, for example, he talks about "constitution-bashing" by the Prime Minister. In Guyana, which is a name well known to sportsmen for what happened over the Jackman affair in the winter, he talks about the attitude there towards "awkward immigrants". We all know about the massacres that have occurred in Uganda. If those things are happening in other parts of the Commonwealth, why should South Africa be singled out for this vendetta and the various boycotts?

When the Commonwealth conference begins, and when the Gleneagles agreement is discussed, there will be a great temptation for the whole matter to be left alone, on the basis that because it is not legally watertight the matter can be left where it is and we can continue as we are. There will be those who will seek to strengthen the agreement and there will possibly be those who will seek to weaken it, although they will be in the minority.

I hope that my hon. Friend will pass this on to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In my view, and in the view of many hon. Members, that agreement should be abolished. In Mr. Muldoon's words, "it is now dead" It has become an extremely easy weapon for the political extremists to use, and while it exists they will use it to full effect. It is extremely divisive and sets one country against another. There is not much Commonwealth spirit in that. It is also extremely discriminating against sport.

One wonders why sport should be singled out in this way. If the vendetta is to continue against South Africa, why is the business world not to be penalised? Would that have anything to do with the fact that investment by this country in South Africa is considered to be up to about £9,000 million? Would it have anything to do with the fact that about 250,000 jobs in this country could be dependent upon South Africa? The discrimination against sport is despicable.

I am pleased to report to the House that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell)—I have informed him that I would say this—was quoted in The Guardian of 22 March 1975 as saying that He was totally opposed to apartheid, but he did not believe that foreign governments should intervene. If business men could travel freely to South Africa, then there was no reason why sportsmen should not. The right hon. Gentleman has continued an active campaign against South Africa and South African sportsmen. Even out there, while the vendetta continues, South Africa is supplying vast quantities of food to keep alive various countries around it. It also supplies manpower to those various countries.

It will need a bold decision by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister if she considers scrapping the agreement. It may lead to the break-up of the Commonwealth, however sad that may be. It will lead to the loss of old friends, but it will mean the introduction of new ones. I believe that one day the blackmail and the bluff have to stop. One day the real truth must be told. South Africa's enemies will not stop until they achieve the overthrow of the white National Government, by whatever method they choose. By continuing to support the agreement, the Government are giving credence to those aims. I implore my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, through my hon. Friend here today, to consider those facts with great urgency before a final decision is concluded.

6.25 pm
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I rise briefly to support the case that has been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) in an articulate speech. He is widely respected in the country for the stand that he has taken on the subject, and he has highlighted a number of important issues.

The Gleneagles agreement should never have seen the light of day. It is undoubted blackmail, and the sooner it is laid to rest the better. If my hon. Friend is the Minister for sport, let him stand up for sportsmen, because the vast majority of sportsmen in this country want to participate in sport throughout the world, and that includes South Africa. If, as we are advised by the intellectuals in the media and elsewhere, reason, debate and discussion are the way to make progress in the world, surely it is only right that that should be carried into sport so that sportsmen from the Western countries such as the United States, France, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom can go to South Africa and show the South Africans how sport across colours, creeds, and different countries can work.

My hon. Friend knows that great progress has been made in South Africa already. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West said, Dickie Jeeps, who chaired a visiting delegation to South Africa, showed in a detailed report that sport in South Africa was rapidly being fully and properly integrated. We have seen on our television screens the chaos—

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

I hope that my hon. Friend will leave me time to reply.

Mr. Winterton

This debate can go on until 7 o'clock approximately.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. The Adjournment motion was moved again, and this debate can last for half an hour.

Mr. Winterton

I shall give my hon. Friend plenty of time to reply.

We have seen some disgraceful scenes in New Zealand, where a handful of protestors were allowed to rip down fences around a rugby ground to prevent 20,000 rugby supporters and enthusiasts from watching a game of rugby football. It is appalling that the police did not take action. There are occasions when I am tempted to say that we should let the police turn a blind eye and allow the supporters of rugby to get at these people—these trendy, long-haired layabouts and louts, these trendy extraordinarily Marxist-Christian clerics who seem to encourage the breakdown of society as we know it for reasons known only to themselves.

The scrapping of the Gleneagles agreement will speed up the total integration of sport in South Africa, and the more that the South Africans can travel throughout the world, playing their games, the sooner they will bring changes to their country. Those are the changes that many of us want to see.

But is it not appalling that at Stoke Mandeville, where handicapped people are working together in the world for disabled persons' games, a protest took place and the South African team was put in a difficult position by the anti-apartheid movement? The team was greatly embarrassed, especially as it contained at least seven blacks from South Africa.

I hope that my hon. Friend will make a meaningful response to the debate and will say that the Gleneagles agreement will not be renegotiated at the Commonwealth conference. The sooner it is laid to rest, the better.

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

I am only sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has left me so little time in which to respond as he asks.

I cannot but admire the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) for again bringing the subject of sporting links with South Africa before the House, because he managed to have a debate last month on the same subject.

My hon. Friend has questioned the Gleneagles agreement. The date of the agreement is significant. Commonwealth Heads of Government issued their agreed statement in 1977, the year after that in which over 20 countries, most of them Commonwealth members, had boycotted the Olympic Games in Montreal. A similar threat hung over the following year's Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. But the Commonwealth was only following a lead already given by sportsmen themselves.

For example, as early as 1970 South Africa had been expelled from the International Olympic Committee and the International Cricket Council, and in 1976 from the International Amateur Athletics Federation and FIFA. This was nothing to do with the Commonwealth or with Gleneagles, so sport took its own action before the Gleneagles agreement came into discussion.

Gleneagles was thus a policy statement which acknowledged and sought to reduce the confusion of what sportsmen themselves were already doing.

The "Gleneagles agreement" is a misnomer. It is not a formal agreement. It is simply a joint statement of policy by Commonwealth Heads of Government. The authority of Parliament was not sought at the time, and has not been sought since—because no such authority is necessary. Gleneagles, however, received wide publicity at the time, and it was open to any Member to raise it in the House, as can be done with more formal treaties and agreements. In fact, it has been raised on several occasions, including the present. The Government have frequently confirmed their acceptance and support for Gleneagles, which calls on Governments to discourage sporting contact with South Africa.

As with any policy statement, different interpretations are possible. I have considerable sympathy for the New Zealand Government in their present difficulties over the Springboks' tour of their country. They have made clear their opposition to the tour, but the New Zealand Rugby Football Union has chosen to ignore their advice. Mr. Robert Muldoon has amply fulfilled his obligations under Gleneagles to discourage the tour.

One of the tragedies of the Springboks' current tour of New Zealand is the effect that it is likely to have on world sport. Never was there a greater need for quiet diplomacy than now, but, instead of this, we have confrontation in New Zealand and banner headlines.

As we have already seen, the meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers next month has been switched from Auckland to the Bahamas. The Commonwealth Games in Brisbane due to take place in October 1982 are under serious threat. Should the Springboks team fly to the United States of America after their New Zealand tour to play three games as planned, the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles also come under threat.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Blackmail again.

Mr. Monro

As a rugby man myself, I am deeply sorry that it is rugby which is spearheading this confrontation in international; port. It is too easy for rugby leaders to claim that politics is none of their business, but it is naive to believe that sport and politics do not mix, especially where South African sport is concerned.

Individual sports must take a broad view and not look only at their own self-interest. A rugby tour such as the present one can have repercussions for the whole of sport.

The Springboks New Zealand tour has focused attention on Gleneagles only two months before the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in Melbourne. My hon. Friend has suggested that the Commonwealth itself might be at risk, but the Commonwealth has an amazing resilience. I hope and expect that the present difficulties will be solved in the spirit of compromise and good sense, as other problems have been in the past. Indeed, Gleneagles itself is a good example of the Commonwealth process at work.

We must expect some pressure at Melbourne for the strengthening of Gleneagles, but I am confident that the Prime Minister and her colleagues will find a way of resolving this difficult problem.

I should certainly like to comment for a moment or two on the International Stoke Mandeville Games for the Disabled, which both of my hon. Friends have mentioned, and rightly so. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West has expressed his dismay at the recent attempt by the anti-apartheid movement to disrupt these games. I most certainly associate myself with his dismay.

Let us look at what is happening at Stoke Mandeville. These games, which end on Sunday, have disabled athletes of various races from South Africa among the competitors. We knew of their participation in advance but decided, exceptionally, that this friendly sporting gathering did not warrant our taking any action under Gleneagles to discourage the event.

We are totally opposed to apartheid but are also deeply concerned for the disabled, who have a heavy enough burden to bear in their everyday lives. It would be wholly inappropriate in our view to draw them into the political arena because of the South African presence.

Indeed, South African disabled athletes have competed at these annual games for many years without hindrance or complaint from anti-apartheid groups or from the previous Administration. That this is the International Year of Disabled People only adds to my conviction that we were right not to intervene. In my view, last Sunday's demonstration at Stoke Mandeville was repugnant.

The press has reported that attempts will be made to add the name of Miss Joan Scruton to the United Nations black list. She has been closely associated with these games for many years and plays a key role in the promotion and development of sport for the disabled. I can only add any own view that it would be a tragedy if her splendid work was inhibited in any way.

In my closing remarks, I should like to look at what has happened during recent years in South African sport. Changes have undoubtedly taken place in many sports towards integration, although greater advances have been made in some sports than in others. Both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have acknowledged at Question Time that progress is being made.

Only recently the South African Government announced their intention of amending some of their apartheid laws as they affect sport. I understand that the changes proposed, based closely on the report of the South African Human Sciences Research Council last year, would affect the Group Areas Act, the Liquor Act and the Black (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act. They have also undertaken to review the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act.

Those proposals, which would have a fundamental impact on the playing of sport, could also, just as importantly, have an impact on the "off the field" activities which we in this country take for granted as a normal part of the sporting scene. They are as important as playing the game itself.

I would only add a word of caution. We cannot expect changes to take place overnight. Legislation itself takes time. Its acceptance by the people will probably take longer. However, clearly these moves are to be welcomed. Who can doubt that the isolation of South Africa in the world of sport has contributed significantly towards this process and the speed at which it has been attained?

The Government reaffirm their adherence to the Gleneagles agreement, but we hope that the progress in South Africa will continue so that eventually sporting links can be re-established. That must be the aim of all free and freedom-loving nations and particularly those that want to play sport, one with another.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to Seven o' clock till Monday 19 October, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 23 July.