HL Deb 11 May 2004 vol 661 cc148-50

3.10 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek direct talks with the International Cricket Council to discuss adding moral criteria to its rules on the legitimate grounds for tour cancellation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government have no plans to talk to the International Cricket Council about adding moral criteria to its regulation on the cancellation of cricket tours. That is a matter between the ICC and its members, including the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a certain whiff of hypocrisy about seeking to take all the kudos of condemning a tour while leaving the cricket authorities with the difficult decisions and the financial consequences?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, there are three answers to that question. First, no one has asked us to speak to the International Cricket Council. Last week. Jack Straw and Tessa Jowell met the England and Wales Cricket Board and it did not ask us to intervene. Secondly, even if we did intervene, there is no indication that the International Cricket Council would pay any attention to us. Thirdly, we do not want to intervene because we do not want to have state-run cricket in this country.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the English and Wales Cricket Board is damned if it does and damned if it does not? The players do not want to tour; the ECB does not want to tour; but if it does not, it faces massive fines and the possibility of being removed from international cricket by the ICC. Why are the Government so reluctant to talk to the ICC? Is it not time that this tour was called off? We do not want to give succour to such a repugnant dictator as Mugabe.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government have always made it clear that they do not approve of the Mugabe regime. I have heard my noble friend Lady Symons say that in detail from this Dispatch Box on many occasions in recent months. However, it does not follow that we have been asked to or that we should intervene in the regulation of cricket in this country. There is no implication of approval of the Mugabe regime in our actions.

Lord McNally

My Lords, the Minister is employing a little casuistry. The point made by the noble Lord is absolutely right. The Government have gone on record as deploring a tour but leaving the cricket authorities with the difficult decisions, and they will get themselves into a political morass by adopting that ambivalent posture. Why will the Government not take responsibility for giving a specific instruction that would release the cricket authorities from having to tour? If they will not give such a specific instruction, they should stop interfering in cricket by implying that there should not be a tour on the moral grounds that they hold. The Government are being hypocritical in this matter and the price will be paid by English cricket.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lord, the more flowery the noble Lord's language becomes, the less I am convinced that he thinks he is sure of his ground. The position is entirely clear. It is that we would wish for a postponement of the cricket tour, that we deplore the Mugabe regime, that we would wish for the replacement of that regime to be brought forward, but that we have no status in deciding which cricket team should tour Zimbabwe. That is a perfectly logical and consistent position and we have adhered to it throughout.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, has the Minister any idea whose morals the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has in mind? Arc they the noble Lord's own morals, the Minister's morals or perhaps my morals, all of which are no doubt slightly different?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I strongly resent the suggestion that anyone in this House has anything other than impeccable morals.

Lord Imbert

My Lords, is it not a question of moral courage? As a vice-president of one of our county cricket teams, I speak with some interest in this matter. I have had an opportunity to talk to England players who are apprehensive that if they refuse on moral grounds to go on tour, as they would wish, they will not be selected for future international matches. Are the Government aware that if they do not give the moral lead for which the country and the whole cricketing world are waiting, they might not be selected for the next tour'?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, should think that. In refusing to involve themselves in the affairs of cricket and refusing in effect to have our cricket run by the state, as I believe it is in Zimbabwe, the position of Her Majesty's Government is logical and consistent. If that results in threats from any side of the House as to re-election, so he it, but our position is not based on that consideration.

Lord Morgan

My Lord, does my noble friend perhaps recall that in 1970 a Labour Home Secretary, Lord Callaghan, told the MCC that the South Africans should not tour, and that he took that view not on moral grounds but on grounds of disorder and danger to life and property, including the life and property of the cricketers concerned? Is that a possible way forward?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we are a long way from 1970. The possibility of disorder is clearly a matter that the Home Secretary would take into account. I am not aware that it has at any stage been raised by the England and Wales Cricket Board or by anyone else.