I.L.O. Conference, Geneva

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st July 1963.

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Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough 12:00 am, 1st July 1963

asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement on the circumstances of the withdrawal of the African delegations from the International Labour Office conference at Geneva and the consequences on the functioning of the organisation.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , East Ham North

asked the Minister of Labour what action has been taken by the British Government delegation at the current conference of the International Labour Office on the controversies surrounding the attendance of the South African delegation; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

On 12th June, in the I.L.O. Conference in Geneva, a number of African delegates challenged the right of the employers' delegate of South Africa to address the Conference. Subsequently, the officers of the Conference upheld the view of the legal adviser of the Organisation that all properly accredited delegates have the right to speak.

Following the speech of the South African delegate, and after consultations between representatives of the African delegations and the Director-General of the I.L.O., the African delegates announced on 19th June that they had decided to withdraw from the Conference. These questions did not involve the Conference in any vote.

On the separate question of the validation of the credentials of the workers' delegate from South Africa, I would refer to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) on 27th June, 1963.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that does not bring the story up to date? Is he aware that when the vote was taken on the representation of the South African trade unions, the British workers' delegate voted against this on the ground that no coloured person is allowed to be a member of those trade unions,but that the representatives of the Government and of the employers abstained on that fundamental issue? Can the Minister give us any information about the whole series of votes last Saturday when the I.L.O. considered referring this matter to the United Nations? How did the Government delegate vote then?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, as I have indicated, the majority report of the Credentials Committee held that the workers' representative from South Africa had been chosen in accordance with the constitution of the I.L.O. but the minority took a different view. It was on this report that this particular vote was taken, and the United Kingdom delegate abstained in view of the very considerable doubt as to whether there had been a failure to follow the constitution. On the other matters, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, a decision has now been taken for a tripartite delegation to accompany the Director-General of the I.L.O. to see the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , East Ham North

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the stage has now been reached where an increasing number of delegations of employers, workers and Government delegates all over the world are taking the view that the South African policies are incompatible with the Charter of the I.L.O. and, therefore, with continued membership of it, and this view is shared by the Director-General, Mr. Morse? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that we regard the attitude of the British Government as disappointing? Could not they at least have gone as far as the American delegation in denouncing the policy of apartheid, and could the right hon. Gentleman give more information about the votes on Saturday?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

As I think the House knows, Her Majesty's Government have consistently condemned the policy of apartheid. But the important thing is to deal with South Africa in such a way as to do as little harm as possible to the I.L.O. and it was on this theme that the Director-General addressed his speech to the Conference. It must be our aim to do nothing which will damage the I.L.O.

I was asked why the Government delegate of the United Kingdom Government abstained in this vote on Saturday. The answer is that it would be premature while the question of amending the constitution of the I.L.O. was being considered to exclude South Africa from meetings of the I.L.O.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government will very soon have to choose whether to stand by the members of the Commonwealth on these issues or to go on with these equivocal votes about South Africa? Ought not Commonwealth interests here to take a very high place in their consideration?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that as there is a delegation about to go over to see the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and as this matter is likely to be raised in the Security Council, it is really not right for us to try to debate it at this time.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

Is it not deplorable that an organisation such as the International Labour Office, which does so much good, should be used as a sounding board for this kind of issue which really has nothing to do with it, and would it not be best, in the service of improving relationships between African countries, if South Africa were encouraged to be in this organisation so that it could be influenced in its labour policy within the organisation itself?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

My hon. Friend will understand when I say that I do not want to be drawn on this in view of the fact that the delegation will shortly be going to New York to see the Secretary-General of the United Nations. On the general point he makes, I think the whole House will agree that it is a pity that the I.L.O.—its record has been, I think, almost unique among international organisations in that politics have played very little part in it—should now find that politics are being drawn into what it is trying to do.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

In view of the unsatisfactory replies, I beg to give notice that I shall take the earliest opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.