HL Deb 01 June 1981 vol 420 cc1056-8

2.54 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

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 they view the recent report by the United Nations Committee on Racially Segregated Sports and the naming in that report of individual athletes.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, we view the report without enthusiasm. Her Majesty's Government cannot support any proposal which would oblige us to place limitations in the movement of our sportsmen and women, or to interfere with individual liberties. We do not believe that the naming of individuals in this report will contribute towards the solution of a difficult and sensitive international problem.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. First, can he say what action Her Majesty's Government have taken within the United Nations to express their attitude to this report? Secondly, can he confirm that Her Majesty's Government will offer support and advice to individual athletes who may be affected by the report? Finally, can he confirm rumours of recent initiatives by the South African Government to relax their apartheid policy in sport?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's three supplementaries, first, my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made clear in another place on 20th May the Government's attitude, and the United Nations special committee against apartheid can be in no doubt about our views. With regard to advice to specific athletes, that the Government do not do, but they are, of course, in contact constantly with the Sports Council, As regards the noble Lord's final supplementary, Her Majesty's Government are encouraged by the reports that they have heard but no details are yet to hand. However, if they are true, those reports of initiatives would certainly represent a step in the right direction.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, are we not committed by the Gleneagles Agreement to discouraging sporting contacts with South Africa? How can we do that unless we know which sportsmen collaborate with the racists? Can the Minister say what steps the Government have taken or are intending to take co comply with our obligations under the Gleneagles Agreement?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, this subject was raised in your Lordships' House only two weeks ago, at Question Time on 18th May, and my noble friend Lord Bellwin replying at that time did say at col. 721: so far as the blacklist is concerned, every country has the right to refuse entry to non-nationals whose presence it would regard as undesirable. That right cannot be denied. However, Her Majesty's Government are unable to accept any proposals which would oblige them to place limitations on the freedom of movement of its citizens or interfere with individual liberties". Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the Commonwealth statement called the Gleneagles Agreement says that the countries fully acknowledge that it is for each Government to determine in accordance with its laws methods by which it may best discharge its commitment.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, I should like to reinforce what the Minister has just said—while very fully sympathising with what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said—that the Gleneagles agreements, like other agreements that led up to them, were very difficult to attain, were between Governments, and implicity and explicitly placed upon Governments the onus and the opportunity of exerting the best and most efficient possible pressure on their nationals in this direction. Any suggestion of pillorying individuals for any decision of their own, for which Governments are not responsible, would be greatly resented by very many of us.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, and I fully agree with all that he has said.

Lord Barnby

My Lords, although the Minister's first reply to the Question was quite clear, can he say whether definite instructions have been given to our representative at the United Nations that there should be vehement denunciation of this attempt to stop champions in various kinds of recreation moving from one country to another to their own disappointment and to the disappointment of an enormous number of people in other countries who want to admire their achievements?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's intervention, I can only reiterate what I have said, which is that we know that the United Nations are fully aware of the Government's position, and that is as far as we think that it is necessary to go at the moment.