HL Deb 09 March 1983 vol 440 cc231-3

2.43 p.m.

The Marquess of Donegall

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 encourage the MCC and governing bodies of other sports to re-establish normal relations with their opposite numbers in South Africa.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

No, my Lords, this would be contrary to the 1977 Commonwealth Statement on Apartheid in Sport.

The Marquess of Donegall

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Arising out of it, may I ask him if he would foresee any modification in this policy in the event of the governing bodies concerned adopting a policy of full multiracialism in sport? Would he accept that sporting contests resumed on those terms would be of great benefit to all nations in South Africa, especially the coloured ones?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, Government policy is in line with the Gleneagles agreement—the 1977 Commonwealth Statement. It was agreed upon by Commonwealth Prime Ministers, and indeed only they can amend or revoke it. As recently as 11th November last in another place the Prime Minister reaffirmed the Government's commitment to it. If those same Ministers should themselves modify that agreement, that would be another matter and the Government would watch such modification with much interest.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, is it not the case that the original motivation for boycotting South African sport was that sport was structured on racial gounds and that the Government policy prevented integration in sport? Is the noble Lord the Minister aware that sport in South Africa is now fully autonomous? I say that from the point of view that I have spent the last seven years in South Africa and have experienced considerable change in sporting policy. Finally, does it not appear that the implementation of the so-called Gleneagles agreement and the extensive blacklisting of sportswomen and sportsmen has now been taken to ridiculous extremes?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says and I am sure that the House welcomes any move in that direction. But I think it would also be proper for me to say that in so far as the noble Lord refers to the blacklist, of course the Government cannot and will not support any instrument that requires us to control the free movement of our sportsmen.

Lord Wakefield of Kendal

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in so far as rugby union football is concerned normal relations have always continued with South Africa, to the great advantage of all races in South Africa and in other parts of the world?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says. I used to say that that phrase, which I learnt on arriving in your Lordships' House, usually meant that that was the end of that. In fact I hasten to assure my noble friend that so far as this Question is concerned, that is not the end of that. I hear what he says with much interest, as I am sure do many other Members of your Lordships' House.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that during the last 10 years there have been very considerable relaxations, not only in sport, of the restrictive laws of South Africa and that if we continue not to recognise that progress—indeed, just add further insults and demands—it will become increasingly difficult for the South African Government to persuade their electorate that any further relaxations are worth while carrying on with?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, it is good to hear of relaxations of the type to which my noble friend refers. I think it is fair to say that there is evidence to suggest that this is taking place. It will be welcomed by everyone. If it eventually reaches the point where it is acceptable to the Commonwealth and other Prime Ministers, it will have the desired effect that I think all your Lordships would want it to have.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on this side of the House warmly support his statement, namely, that the Government adhere strongly to the terms of the Gleneagles agreement, and that we are obdurately opposed to the odious policy of apartheid and everything that it stands for, and especially the use of sport to promote it?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am not sure that I score lots of points on my own side by taking that point of view, but I think it is equally proper to understand that there is real concern and a genuine feeling by many of your Lordships, not least many of my noble friends, that if there were indeed to be closer activity on a multiracial basis it would contribute a great deal towards improving the whole of the climate. That is a view very strongly held by many of my noble friends, with which I know many of your Lordships on the opposite side would agree. The point here, I think, is that the Government stand by the agreement. I think that we have to act in accord with those in the Commonwealth, and that is what we are doing.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the questions that have been put to him this afternoon are ample evidence of the effectiveness of the racist South African régimes propaganda, based on minor cosmetic changes in the field of sport and that the last thing that the Commonwealth nations which adhere to the Gleneagles agreement should do is to relax the pressure at a time when more is needed to be done by the Western democracies to dismantle the very fabric of apartheid?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, just as I said to my noble friends, I understand what the noble Lord is saying. He states a point of view which may or may not be right. I think that there are others who would say that the point of view which they espouse, namely, a greater integration and coming together, might also contribute towards the end objective which I know the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, wants to see.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, can I get the noble Lord to agree that the normal relations to which the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield, has referred do not seem to have been particularly successful as far as the recent results of the English team are concerned?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wakefield would probably concur with that view.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that over 30 years ago I was accustomed to playing both tennis and rugby union with coloured and African players in South Africa; that within a few years that was illegal; and that the only way in which that situation has been changed has been by the efforts of those of us, including those within the rugby union world, who have deliberately boycotted South Africa? Is he further aware that the cosmetic changes which have been made so far have never removed the basic principle of apartheid—that a person, whether in sport or in social life, is judged according to the accidental colour of his skin and not according to his prowess in the sport?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I think that we are now moving very wide of the Question.