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Commonwealth Games

Volume 101: debated on Tuesday 15 July 1986

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3.52 pm

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest position regarding the forthcoming Commonwealth games.

The present position is that over 2,800 athletes and officials from 54 Commonwealth countries have informed the organisers that they will be attending the games. I hope that that number may be increased to the original figure of over 3,100 athletes and officials if the five boycotting countries reconsider their position.

I remain confident that the organisers will stage the 13th Commonwealth games successfully. Scotland will give its traditional warm welcome to the many Commonwealth athletes and their supporters who wish to come to Edinburgh this summer.

Will the Secretary of State note that we share the general regret about the troubles that have beset the games with the withdrawal of the five African nations and, I fear, indications of further problems to come? I endorse his hope that the games will be a success and that it will be possible to undo some of the damage that has been done.

Will the Secretary of State dissociate himself from the call made today by a Conservative Member of Parliament to cancel the games? Does he agree that it is a tragedy that the friendly games have been fractured in this way and become a victim of our isolation in the Commonwealth because of the Prime Minister's intransigence? Will he make it clear to the Commonwealth that the games are being hosted by the Scottish people, not by Downing street? Will he reflect directly to the Commonwealth the strong feelings throughout Scotland on the issue, our abhorrence of apartheid and our deep differences with the Prime Minister on the sanctions issue? Is it not right to urge on Commonwealth countries, which are concerned and understandably bitter about Britain's attitude to sanctions, that the best way forward is to argue the case in the Commonwealth and not to boycott the games?

As the Secretary of State knows, great efforts are being made to put the games on a sound financial footing. Clearly, that has not been helped by the current turmoil. We are all aware that there has been no financial backing from the Government. That has been conspicuously absent. Will the Secretary of State be prepared to look sympathetically at any future approach for material support to meet liabilities which could not have been anticipated and result from factors beyond the organisers' control?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comment that the Opposition share the view of the Government and, I am sure, all British people that all Commonwealth countries should come to the games in Edinburgh, and that it would be wrong for differences of opinion on other matters to endanger or threaten the value of the Commonwealth Games.

Despite the regrettable signs from five countries that they are not at present intending to come to the games, the remaining countries which are participating will nevertheless send more athletes to these Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh than have attended any previous Commonwealth Games in the history of the event. Therefore, the games, which will begin next week, still look like being the best and largest-ever games that the Commonwealth has experienced.

Whatever one's views may be about the issue of sanctions against South Africa, the whole value of the Commonwealth Games in the past has been its expression of the multiracial identity of the Commonwealth. There is no better way of showing South Africa our abhorrence of apartheid than by having a successful multiracial Commonwealth Games, symbolising the unity which the Commonwealth should represent.

On the financial aspects, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Commonwealth Games organisers have raised substantial sums, and that following changes announced two weeks ago new initiatives, including some exciting ones, have been launched to fill the remaining gap. I remain confident that that will be possible.

Finally, I remind the House and those who have criticised the Commonwealth Games that the games belong not to any one country or Government, but to the Commonwealth as a whole. It is both illogical and undesirable that the Commonwealth Games, which belong to the Commonwealth, should be boycotted by individual countries because of their disagreement with one Commonwealth Government.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to condemn in forthright terms the exclusion on purely racial grounds of Miss Budd and Miss Cowley from the games? Will he take on board that eligibility is the criterion? I understand from what I saw on television last night that the team which is representing Monserrat includes one competitor who was born in Monserrat but never lived there and one who has never lived there. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to express the British public's horror at the politicisation of the games?

One certainly regrets the politicisation of any games. The entitlement of any individual athlete to participate in the Commonwealth Games is entirely a matter for the Commonwealth Games Federation. I cannot properly comment on whether the exercise of discretion by the federation was correct or incorrect. That is a matter for which it must take responsibility.

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), surely the Secretary of State recognises that the countries which have withdrawn from the games are feeling extremely bitter about the situation? Does he agree that it is within the power of the Prime Minister to give signals that she is willing to consider agreement on sanctions in August, and that that would lift the cloud from the games? The Secretary of State said that he was confident that financial matters would be all right. Has he made no contingency arrangements in case there is a shortfall?

On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, I can state that those who have become involved in the financial aspects of the Commonwealth games have launched certain new initiatives. There is every prospect that the initiatives will raise the funds which are needed.

In relation to the hon. Gentleman's earlier point, certain African countries have expressed their concern about the South African issue by refusing to participate in the games. Other African countries have taken a different view. The Malawi team has already arrived in Scotland and the Gambia has said that it will take part. It is likely that other African countries will take part. There is clearly a difference of opinion within Africa, but it is true that those who wish to support the Commonwealth ideal, which is a multiracial ideal, can express that best by participating in the games.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the games will be a resounding success if only 2,000 competitors participate in the right spirit and wish to enjoy themselves? Does he further agree that the federation should not give up its principles for expediency and devalue the games by banning competitors with British passports?

The federation must be responsible for its own decisions with regard to specific applications from athletes in national teams. I endorse my hon. Friend's view that the games look like being the largest and one of the most successful events ever enjoyed in the history of the Commonwealth. I believe that the vast majority of Commonwealth countries intend to participate, and Scotland will do its best to give them a warm welcome.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the games will be seriously damaged by the withdrawal of the five nations and the prospective withdrawal of others? Does he agree that it is futile to deny that, just as it is futile for him to deny that this is only the first damage that will be done to the Commonwealth by the Prime Minister's obsessively antagonistic attitude to effective economic sanctions against South Africa?

I must stress to the right hon. Gentleman that every country in the Commonwealth is a sovereign and independent state, and that includes the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom should he given the right to determine its policy, just as every other member state should have that right.

I must concede that the withdrawal of any Commonwealth country from the games will diminish them. It goes without saying that the attitude of a large proportion of the Commonwealth will be influenced by the fact that all parties in this House, including the Opposition, are appealing to all Commonwealth countries to come to the games and to make them a great success, irrespective of any difference of view about sanctions. The British Parliament and people support that view, and that will carry great weight with many Commonwealth countries.

Is it not intolerable that we should take lessons on human rights from the likes of Ghana and Uganda? Why is it always Britain and the British teams that are kicked around? Why do not my right hon. and hon. Friends, instead of washing their hands of this affair, campaign for the five countries that are boycotting the games to comply fully with the declaration of Commonwealth principles on individual freedom and political rights?

My hon. Friend is correct. Double standards are occasionally applied by countries with regard to human rights. It is appropriate for those campaigning properly for human rights in South Africa to be sure that they fully observe the same principles in their own country.

Does the Secretary of State realise that there is a danger of further withdrawals of Commonwealth countries from the games because of the Prime Minister's attitude? As Scotland's representative— or so he claims—will he write to all Commonwealth countries to explain that the Scottish people were not responsible for the election of the Government or the Prime Minister and to dissociate the Scottish people from the pro-apartheid views held by the Prime Minister?

The vast majority of the Scottish people do not believe that the Commonwealth games should be used as a method of blackmail on issues of national policy. I hope that the hon. Gentleman shares that view. I remind the hon. Gentleman that while we are delighted that the Commonwealth games are to be held in Edinburgh, the games do not belong to Scotland or to the United Kingdom; they are the games of the Commonwealth, they are being hosted in Scotland, and that is a matter of great pleasure to us.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the vast majority of people in Scotland are sick to death of politics intervening in sport? Does he agree that the five African countries which have sought the high moral political ground have a disgraceful record on human rights? All those countries practice political repression and detention without trial. Is it not time that we began to highlight that rather than allow those countries to steal the limelight?

It is not simply the Scottish people who regret the politicisation of these games by certain countries. The athletes of the countries concerned must also bitterly regret the decisions announced by their respective Governments. Even at this late stage, I hope that the five countries involved will reconsider their decisions and realise that the Commonwealth games will help to further the multiracial ideal and that any damage to the Commonwealth Games will badly affect that ideal.

Does the Secretary of State recall that when Mr. Gandhi succeeded his mother as Prime Minister, our Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State, then at the Foreign Office, paid glowing tributes to him? Does the Secretary of State think that Mr. Gandhi has changed since then? Are not the words of such a distinguished international statesman important? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman simply casting them aside?

I entirely endorse the view that the Indian Prime Minister is a distinguished statesman. That does not require me to say that we must necessarily agree with all the opinions that he holds. The same could be said of other statesmen in various countries.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many people welcome that part of the statement and the earlier comments of the Prime Minister that emphasise that the Commonwealth Games Federation is independent of the Government in this country? That would be welcomed in other countries that are not democracies in the free sense that we understand the word. Will he confirm to the world and to those coming to Edinburgh from the Commonwealth that regardless of colour, creed, race, nationality or the politics of their Government, they will be welcome to tour around Scotland after they have enjoyed the games?

That is very much the case. I endorse my hon. Friend's comment that it would be highly desirable if the Commonwealth Games Federation could be as independent in the exercise of its discretion in every other Commonwealth country as it is in the United Kingdom.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the Secretary of State said that he was confident about where finance for the games would come from. He changed that a little in answer to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) when he said that he was confident that there was every prospect of funds being found. As I have attended many meetings of the main organising committee, which is extremely worried about finance, may I ask the Secretary of State where the shortfall is to come from? What basis does the Secretary of State have for confidence that the money will be forthcoming? It is jolly difficult at present to raise money.

There may be certain difficulties, but a high proportion of the necessary funding has already been raised. Those responsible for raising finance have expressed confidence in their ability to raise the remaining sums. In the past few days they have launched a number of important new initiatives, and I have no reason at present to believe that they will be other than successful.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the internal political and domestic arrangements of countries are to become the criteria for participation by sportsmen in international sporting events, we would do well to direct people's attention to military regimes and one-party undemocratic states which are prepared to send athletes to international sporting events and to criticise the internal political arrangements of other states? Does he agree that it is high time that there was consistency in these matters before they are taken further?

I share my hon. Friend's aspiration for consistency. I am not as confident as he is in our ability to achieve that.

Does the Secretary of State accept that even those Commonwealth countries which intend to participate in the games disagree violently with the Prime Minister's views on sanctions and South Africa? Is it therefore not clear that the damage that will be done to the Commonwealth will be achieved not by a gesture vis-a-vis the games but in other ways? Does he disagree in principle with Government financial assistance for the games?

On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, I have made it clear that the Government have all along said that the decision to hold the games in Scotland was taken on the basis that there would be no request for Government funding. That position has been repeated on many occasions. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's observation that it is possible to have different view s on sanctions against South Africa and still feel it proper to participate in the games. That view is clearly shared on both sides of the House. We must hope that the five countries that have said they will not attend the games will reconsider their decisions in the light of the unanimous view of all the political parties represented in the United Kingdom.

Order. I have to bear in mind that this is a private notice question and, furthermore, a ten-minute Bill and a Standing Order No. 10 application are to come. I shall allow questions to go on for a further six minutes. We must move on after that.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that the people of Scotland were delighted that all the members of the Commonwealth were to come to Edinburgh to participate in the games, but they find it offensive that countries that have had a recent history of genocide and have also practised repression of a sort that is totally alien to Scotland's history and culture now say that their members cannot come and participate in our free country? We object to that. We cannot stop our sportsmen going anywhere. Those countries apparently can.

I accept my hon. Friend's view that the double standards that are sometimes applied are not only regrettable, but it is difficult to believe that they are consistent with a real desire to enhance human rights in other countries.

In making the valid and proper point that the multiracial nature of the games can send a most effective signal to countries such as South Africa, as the Secretary of State has done, does he agree that such a signal would have been good to see from the Prime Minister, and that the perceived ignorance and insensitivity of her signals have got us into the pathetic shambles that we are now in over the games?

In his latter comments, the hon. Gentleman was being grossly unfair. While he is entitled to disagree with the Prime Minister's view, he should at least acknowledge that the Prime Minister and the Government as a whole genuinely and deeply believe that the imposition of general economic sanctions could do enormous damage to the livelihood and, indeed, in some cases, the lives of very many poor people in South Africa. As that view is shared by many black and white South Africans, who are totally opposed to apartheid, the hon. Gentleman should not question the integrity of those whose views on the subject are different from his own.

Is it not an affront that countries whose democratic experience is limited to one man, one vote, once, should seek to lecture this country on its policies on South Africa, particularly when their own record on racial discrimination is so appalling? The fact of the matter is that this Government will subject themselves to the electorate in 1987 or 1988 in a democratic election, but none of the countries in southern Africa that are boycotting the games will do that. They will all be re-elected, whatever happens.

It is important to remember that the ethos of the Commonwealth is not that we all necessarily share the same political system but that we have to share certain basic historical experiences and values. The Commonwealth games present an extraordinarily good opportunity to translate that shared experience into a common relevant contribution to the problems in the world at present.

Does not the Government's morality simply mean that it is all right to murder innocent men, women and children as well as to take action against Afghanistan and the Soviet Union just before the Moscow Olympic Games? Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman has forgotten, but those things happened. However, if the Government are not prepared to take sanctions because they want to protect profits and investments, will they do the decent thing for us in Edinburgh by making sure that no Ministers turn up, including the Prime Minister, because that would be the ultimate insult?

The hon. Gentleman has made his usual constructive contribution to the discussion.

Is not my right hon. and learned Friend encouraged by the questions from Conservative Members, who have shown the humbug that has been exposed in this matter? Is he aware that the British public are thoroughly fed up with the attitude of many Commonwealth countries, which cannot presume to lecture us, an old democracy, and the home of freedom? Furthermore, are not he and the whole of Her Majesty's Government disgusted at the BBC's bias —its anti-British and anti-Government bias—in all its comments on the games, which are supposed to be nonparty and for the good of the whole of humanity?

My hon. Friend's question covers several points, but it is fair to point out that, as we understand the position, the vast majority of Commonwealth countries, including those from Asia, many from Africa, and those from the West Indies and the Pacific as well as the old Commonwealth, are intending to come to the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. The vast majority of the original number of athletes who applied are still on their way. Therefore, the Commonwealth Games appear to have the prospect of being a successful occasion, with the number of countries that are not participating remaining a very small proportion of the total.

Is it not an insult to the black nations that have withdrawn for the Secretary of State to say, as he did, that, even after their withdrawal, these will be the best games yet? Surely he must recognise that the withdrawal of just the five countries and those black athletes is a tragic blow to the games? Is he aware that the vast majority of the people of Scotland and Edinburgh hold the Prime Minister responsible for those withdrawals, and that if she persists in her present policy towards South Africa, she will break up the Commonwealth itself?

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that at the moment we understand that 2,800 athletes, from every corner of the world, including Africa, are still intending to come to the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh. That means that the games will be the largest Commonwealth games ever held. On that basis I believe that I am entitled to say that they seem to have every prospect of also being one of the most successful games ever held.

The Secretary of State has emphasised throughout that these are not British but Commonwealth games. May we now ask him and the Prime Minister to listen to the Commonwealth, which virtually universally has condemned the isolated position that she has taken up? Has not the right hon. Lady now reached the stage where she appears to be prepared not only to sacrifice the games but almost to sacrifice the Commonwealth for her own position?

I said earlier, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept, that the Commonwealth has never survived or prospered on enforced unanimity and uniformity of view on issues in which individual sovereign Governments have to take into account their genuine views as to what the proper development of policy requires. Of course, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Heads of Government of other Commonwealth countries will discuss those matters. There is to be a meeting at the beginning of August to review the situation, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a full contribution to that discussion.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that if he, as Secretary of State, is to make any contribution at all towards making the Commonwealth games a success—we all want them to be a success — he should at least distance himself from the more strident remarks of the Prime Minister in relation to sanctions on South Africa?

The hon. Gentleman should realise that my interest as Secretary of State for Scotland is to see a successful Commonwealth games in Edinburgh. I believe that they are likely to be the largest ever held. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and, indeed, all my right hon. and hon. Friends, share that aspiration. The best contribution that Opposition Members can make is to emphasise the bipartisan view held by both sides of the House. Those who wish to see the Commonwealth prosper should be encouraging every country to send teams to the games.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is an undercurrent on the Right wing of his party, hoping for the collapse of the games and, indeed, like the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), wanting the breakup of the Commonwealth itself? Will the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Government, dissociate the Government from those views?

I know of no such view being held as the hon. Gentleman implies, but, if he genuinely believes that such a view is held, I trust that he will encourage those countries that are presently contemplating a boycott to reconsider their position.