HL Deb 06 February 1968 vol 288 cc1039-43

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider their refusal to allow British competitors in the world ploughing competitions to take their ploughs with them to Rhodesia where, in pursuance of arrangements made five years ago, the world ploughing championships will be taking place in April, 1968.]


No. my Lords. Exports of agricultural machinery to Rhodesia from this country have been prohibited since February, 1966, because of the declaration of illegal independence. This policy has been agreed by both Houses of Parliament and it would be wrong to make exceptions.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he realises that this high moral line on this quite small issue shows a complete lack of understanding; that this is not a question of agricultural exports, but a question of two ploughs being taken to Rhodesia in the interests of this country and brought out again after something like 48 hours? Does he not appreciate that this world ploughing competition is something quite different from international football matches, where large crowds are attracted and there is wide Press publicity, and that nothing but good will can flow from furthering competitions of this kind? Surely the noble Lord cannot say that there is a surplus of good will in the world to-day.


My Lords, the noble Lord has expressed an opinion, but it is not one that is shared by others. The fact is that other organisations and other people have accepted the advice of Her Majesty's Government not to go to Rhodesia for these international events in order to enable themselves to be exploited by the Rhodesians for propaganda purposes, and I see no reason why an exception should be made in this case.


My Lords, does the noble Lord's reply confirm a rumour that I have heard: that Her Majesty's Government have been in contact with other countries trying to wreck this competition?


No, my Lords. What the noble Lord has possibly heard is that Her Majesty's Government themselves honour their obligations in this matter, and have asked that other countries do the same.


My Lords, because of the immense benefit that would result to the native population of 400 million Africans, in whom we all take the greatest interest, in seeing modern methods of agriculture, has the noble Lord never heard of the old saying about "beating swords into ploughshares"?


Yes; I do happen to have heard of this saying. It is a pity that Mr. Smith has not heard of it.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Rhodesia was chosen as the venue for the ploughing competition five years ago, before the present issues arose between us and them? I support the Government in its Rhodesian policy, but are we not carrying it too far now in stopping two ploughs from going in for an international competition that will result, if we win, in giving Britain the exports which, since devaluation we particularly need?


No, my Lords. The prohibition is on the export of agricultural machinery. If an exception is made in this case, there is no doubt at ail that the Smith régime will exploit it for propaganda purposes.


My Lords, arising out of the original reply, I would ask: Do Her Majesty's Government not realise that this competition has a considerable amount of importance in international agricultural circles, and that the winning of it will greatly add to the prestige of Britain? Do they further realise that Scottish and English competitors taking part will be gravely handicapped if they have to use ploughs to which they are not accustomed? Surely, as has already been pointed out, this is not an export question at all? These machines are in for but a few hours. Surely the Government will not persist in harming our own competitors' chances, and still further damage our Rhodesian relations, by insistence upon this childish spite?


My Lords, I can understand the feeling of some noble Lords. I myself should like to see British people going there with British ploughs and taking part in a competition of this kind. But the way to enable that sort of thing to take place is for the Rhodesian régime to return to constitutional rule.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in order to justify their embargo on the use of a British plough, and to see that British interests are not prejudiced by other competitors taking part, the Board of Trade have in fact written to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United States and Canada, asking them also to boycott this international competition?


My Lords, I have already stated that Her Majesty's Government take seriously this question of effectively implementing their undertaking to apply sanctions to Rhodesia.


My Lords, is it not the view of the Government that they ought to do what Parliament has bidden them to do, and not the opposite?


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether all the ability in the Government cannot think of some means by which, for 48 hours, these two ploughs can be looked after and be brought back, so that they do not count as exports?


My Lords, as a matter of fact, it is not a question of two ploughs; there are more than two ploughs A number of the other countries are intending to use British ploughs. They have been told, and they have agreed, that it would be wrong in this case to break the policy of Her Majesty's Government, which is to prohibit the export of agricultural machinery to Rhodesia.


My Lords, why do the Government wish to make it more difficult for British competitors to win this ploughing championship? And does it not make a nonsense of their assuming to back the "Back Britain" campaign?


My Lords, what I think makes a nonsense is for the noble Lord and other noble Lords to get up in this House, having agreed, as this House has done, to apply sanctions to Rhodesia, and to make fun of any attempt to apply them.


My Lords, from the Minister's earlier answer, did I not correctly understand him to say that the object of this was to prevent this ploughing competition from taking place in Rhodesia, but is it not a fact that it does not have that effect at all? There is nothing to stop these British competitors from lawfully going there to compete. The only question is with what machine they compete. Is that not the point?


My Lords, that is perfectly true; and if a competitor went to Rhodesia and had a British plough which he found in Rhodesia, and used it there, it would be perfectly lawful. What would not be lawful would be for anybody to export agricultural machinery to Rhodesia.


My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that this decision is causing considerable resentment in rural Scotland, where many relatives of the rural Scottish in Rhodesia exercise a moderate influence on that Government?


My Lords, I have no doubt that this decision does cause some resentment in some parts of rural Scotland. Equally, I have no doubt that a decision to reverse our policy would cause a good deal of resentment in many parts of Africa.


My Lords, while, of course, the embargo is on exports, how can one of these ploughs possibly be classified as an export when it is going to be brought back again?


My Lords, the noble Earl has more information than I have on this. As a matter of fact, an application has been made for an export licence which has been refused.


My Lords, if I may intervene at this stage, I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, who for a long time has, I know, been trying to ask a question, would have a chance. I am rather conscious of the thermal discharge from the television lights and it seems to have been added to here. I do not know whether your Lordships wish to go on pursuing this matter, but my view is that perhaps we might go on to the next Question, which the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, is going to ask.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the Leader of the House. If one question from the Liberal Benches would be permitted, may I just ask whether if a British violinist proposed to go to Rhodesia to give a recital in Salisbury, this would be banned as being an export of violins to Rhodesia?


My Lords, the noble Lord possibly thinks that is funny. It is always easy to poke fun at anybody trying to apply a principle. What the noble Lord should do is to consult the remainder of his colleagues on the Liberal Benches and ask whether or not they are in favour of keeping up these sanctions against the illegal régime in Rhodesia.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that our policy on this matter is absolutely clear?

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