HL Deb 11 November 1976 vol 377 cc653-5

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 many companies have now complied fully with the disclosure requirements listed in Annex 2 of the White Paper Wages and Conditions of African Workers employed by British Firms in South Africa (Cmnd. 5845); how many have failed to do so; and how they intend to treat companies which have either refused to comply or found themselves unable to do so.


My Lords, 58 companies have now published the information sought in Cmnd. 5845; 33 have sent full information to the Department of Trade without public reference to its availability; 13 have indicated their intention to publish material in their next annual reports; 15 have made some information available although it falls short of that sought in the White Paper; and 17 have so far shown reluctance to co-operate in disclosure. A further 159 firms originally approached by the Secretary of State for Trade have told the Department either that they no longer operate in South Africa or that they employ no Africans. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade has recently urged companies which have not so far indicated their intentions to do so publicly, soon. He is ready to name unco-operative firms later in the year, when a fuller picture of the response to the White Paper will be available.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for that very informative reply, may I ask him whether he agrees that the possibility of assessing the extent to which the code of practice recommended by the Government to these firms is in fact being implemented does not exist until these facts are available; and will he take note that there is a certain amount of public concern about those companies which are thought to be unnecessarily dragging their feet and that the publicity which will result from the publication of the names to which he alludes will to some extent bring force to bear upon them?


Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord will recall that in the White Paper requesting this information attention was called to the importance of publicity about the information, and we shall certainly have in mind the noble Lord's comments in considering what form additional publicity might take. But, as I indicated, a little time yet is needed to make sure that all companies have a full opportunity to respond.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that where there is a great disparity in African villages between the rates of pay received by those employed by European firms and those employed locally or unemployed, this can upset the village economy? Is this not a factor which should be taken into account when considering to what extent higher pay scales should apply?


My Lords, it is a little early to make an assessment of the information that has been published, but it would be necessary to take into account the factor to which the noble Lord calls attention when assessing the overall situation.


My Lords, could my noble friend give us the approximate number of employees who are in the service of those firms which have not replied satisfactorily?


Not without notice, my Lords. The number of employees is one of the questions to which the firms are asked to reply, and, as I have indicated, not all have yet replied.


My Lords, while not in any way opposed to this inquiry, and as a strong critic of apartheid, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government have it in mind to make similar inquiries into wages and conditions of employment of African workers in other countries in Africa, bearing in mind that in South Africa, in spite of discrimination, they are, on the whole, higher than anywhere else on the Continent?


My Lords, this question was raised earlier, in the summer, and as I indicated then and as I must indicate again, the Government have made it clear that South Africa is a special case in this matter, having very special social policies of which I think the whole House disapproves.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us will want to congratulate the Government on the action that they have taken, and that we greatly appreciate the increased numbers that have replied since I put my Question on this subject in the summer? When they publish the list of firms which have not agreed to this code of practice by way of payment, will they exert the utmost pressure upon British industries in South Africa to see that it is universally carried out?


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the increased number of firms which have responded since the Question was asked earlier is encouraging. I will bear in mind, and will ask my right honourable friend to bear in mind, my noble friend's second point about uncooperative firms.