§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
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 how many of the 500 British companies in South Africa have provided information regarding the wages of their non-White workers as requested in the White Paper (Cmnd. 5845) of December 1974.
My Lords, the exact number of British firms with South African affiliates is uncertain, but at least 100 of the 500 approached by the Secretary of State for Trade have satisfied the Department either that they no longer operate in South Africa or do not employ Africans. Forty-five firms have provided information to the Department of Trade; 21 of them have published on the lines requested in the White Paper and the remaining 24 appear to have provided information to shareholders or notified them of its availability.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, in view of those very unsatisfactory figures—only 100 companies replying, with 25 and 45 providing certain information—may I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will now do what they foreshadowed in the White Paper and introduce tougher measures to acquire this information? Will they place statutory power behind those measures?
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will be aware that a report has recently been published by the organisation called Christian Concern for Southern Africa. That organisation has sent a copy of the report to my right honourable friend, who has agreed to meet them and to discuss the matter with them. My right honourable friend is at present in Nairobi at the UNCTAD Conference, and I would therefore ask my 623 noble friend to believe that the matter will be fully discussed at the proposed meeting and to leave the matter there.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, while appreciating that point, and having regard to the appearance in the Guardian of the Report of Christian Concern, may I ask, whether it is a fact that the Guardian say that that report indicates that there are still 28,000 Africans employed by British companies or subsidiaries who even now do not get a subsistence wage? This more than two years after the Government have taken action on the matter?
Yes, my Lords; that is one of the points made in the report to which I referred and it will be that and other matters which my right honourable friend will wish to study when he returns from Africa.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to only 100 replies. May I suggest that if I understood the original Answer aright, there were 100 replies to the effect that the firm had either entirely given up business or did not employ Africans, and the other replies referred to in the latter part of the Answer were in addition to the 100.
Yes, my Lords, and I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord; that is the position. One hundred have proved to my right honourable friend's satisfaction that they no longer operate in South Africa and we have the replies on the lines requested in the White Paper (Cmnd. 5845). So in that way we have at least 145 replies.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I apologise for the misunderstanding, but even so is it not a fact that the total would be fewer than 200 replying to a Government request when the number approached was nearly 500?
§ Lord BARNBY
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the great amount of extra work imposed upon company secretaries by all these inquiries? Is he also aware of the very active way in which 624 the Confederation of British Industries and the United Kingdom Trade Association took steps to ensure that companies concerned fully realise the need to take action, and that much action has been taken? Is he further aware that, after an interview with the Secretary of State, that presidents of both those bodies had to wait six months for a promised communication? They waited from March to September last year. Does this not suggest on the part of the Ministry concerned reasonable contentment with the action taken by the British firms to make sure that this matter has been dealt with?
Not necessarily, my Lords. It might be the case that my right honourable friend was giving firms adequate time to reply. With regard to the work which company secretaries are required to do as a result of these inquiries, where the welfare of hundreds of thousands of workers is concerned, I venture the opinion that it is worth a little of the extra time of company secretaries to provide the public with the information which it needs.
§ Baroness WOOTTON of AB1NGER
My Lords, is it not really rather shameful that, when Her Majesty's Government ask for certain information, they are quite content that this should be collected by a voluntary organisation, admirable though that body may be? Is it not shameful that a voluntary organisation should be able to do what Her Majesty's Government are apparently unable to do?
That is not quite the position, my Lords. The point is that two inquiries are going on. There is the Government inquiry, the figures and the response to which I have given. Noble Lords will make up their own minds as to whether the response is satisfactory or otherwise. The other report is in parallel with the invitation from the Government and produces its own figures. It is for that reason that my right honourable friend is anxious to have time to study all the information as soon as he is able.
§ Lord BARNBY
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the distinction between the requests of a Government Department and the work caused by the largely unsubstantiated publications by the Guardian 625 and by this other body called Christian Endeavour? His reply suggested that I did not understand the distinction.
My Lords, I appreciate that there is a distinction. I believe that that was the substance of the reply which I made to an earlier speaker.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, would the noble Lord consider asking our trade commissioners in the surrounding black African States to obtain similar information in order to see whether the Africans in those areas are being properly rewarded for their endeavours and to see how the figures compare with the figures for South Africa? Very large numbers of Africans make huge journeys on foot in order to work in South Africa, where the payment is much better than in other parts of Africa.
My Lords, I have no doubt that that kind of consideration will be in the mind of my right honourable friend, but I believe that the situation in South Africa is such that we should examine the result of this inquiry and decide whether the methods we have used so far are adequate.