Alan Haselhurst – 1970 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made in the House of Commons by Alan Haselhurst, the then Conservative MP for Middleton and Prestwich, on 22 July 1970.

I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech, and I recognise that there are many conventions surrounding maiden speeches in this House. The first is to seek the indulgence of the House, which I do most earnestly—the more so since I realise the subject matter which the House is debating. I assure the House that I am not deliberately trying to find shelter behind the courtesies normally shown a maiden speaker in order to make speaking on a controversial subject more easy. I speak from a genuine and close interest in these matters, which goes back many years and to which many of my hon. Friends and at least one right hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench can testify.

Another convention of the House is to pay some words of respect and tribute to one’s predecessor, and for me this is no formalistic ritual. Denis Coe was, I believe, a valued Member of the House and a great respecter of it. He took considerable interest in the workings of the House and was tireless in his efforts to improve the conditions of hon. Members—a subject in which his successor also takes an interest. He was also highly regarded in his constituency. On all sides he was found to be friendly, helpful and hard-working, and he was a very active and conscientious constituency Member, with an enviable reputation. I have before me a formidable standard, I frankly own, by which to judge my own efforts and to be judged.

The third convention is to say something of one’s constituency. Its name is not an adequate description, because, apart from the boroughs of Middleton and Prestwich, it also contains the urban district of Whitefield. Although all three towns lie in Lancashire, I can speak of them with pride and affection, even though I am a Yorkshireman—although it is not unkown in this House for a Yorkshireman to represent a Lancashire seat. I should like to say more about these towns, but, following the last speaker, it would be improper of me, in view of the time allowed for this debate, to go into detail. I would just add that I am stimulated by the thought of representing their needs in this Parliament. If I am found wanting, there are at least four of my constituents in the House to see that I come up to standard, which is unusual for a constituency so far from London.

The convention that I have difficulty in following is to link the subject matter of the debate with my constituency, but all I can say is that my constituents’ interest in overseas matters is very much alive, and I have had a great deal of correspondence on this question. Much as I have reservations on the general question of arms sales to South Africa, I cannot agree with the terms or spirit of the Opposition Motion.

The yardstick commonly used in discussion of arms sales is how far British actions are propping up a Government whose policies, based on race, are universally detested, and how far we are thought to be doing that. Just as a distinction can be made between trade in general and trade in arms, so I believe a distinction—I admit that it is more difficult—can be made between arms for internal purposes and those for external defence. It is not reasonable to make that distinction on what a weapon is theortically capable of: one should question the true purpose of the weapon, for which it is intended and for which it is reasonably certain to be used.

I do not believe, but it is only a judgment, that South Africa, whatever her faults, intends to wage an aggressive war or is likely to be involved in the foreseeable future in a defensive intra-continental struggle for which marine armaments would be a factor. If one is prepared to stretch the theories to the opposite judgment that I have made, then of course ordinary trade can be seen to bolster the South African Government—and right hon. Members opposite do not call for a cessation of all trade.

The policies which are being operated by the whole world in arms and other things towards South Africa are aimed at isolating that country. Their effects should be considered carefully. I cannot see one respect in which the system of apartheid has been eased in the time that these pressures have been applied. Rather, it has become more rigidly enforced. The traditional rift between the Dutch- and the English-descended South Africans, which used to carry over into party divisions, has been overcome significantly, and, as the pressure on South Africa mounted, the English-speaking people, for patriotic motives which seemed honourable to them, rallied to the Nationalist Government. The task for liberal or progressive critics such as Mrs. Suzmann has been made more difficult, because talk against the system has become, instead of just unfashionable, unpatriotic.

I must question what this policy of less contact and no arms for external defence has achieved. What is to be the consequence of this policy of isolation of South Africa if carried to its ultimate conclusion? The people who support its maintenance or intensification should consider what conclusion it will lead to.

I fear, knowing on the one hand the laager-type mentality of the Afrikaaner and on the other the relentlessness of many anti-racialists, that the conclusion will be violent. It may be that apartheid can only be overcome by a wave of bloodshed. That would be a dreadful conclusion to which to reconcile oneself.

South Africa is not a country of a few thousand whites or with a primitive industrial economy. A violent upheaval in South Africa would have appalling consequences. However senseless and immoral I might consider apartheid to be—and I so regard it—I would like to think that there is another way of its coming to an end.

I believe that there is another way through economic pressures. They are remorselessly and inevitably building up, and I suggest that they are no more slow in achieving a result than might be the processes leading towards violent revolution. They are more likely to take effect if some countries will deal with South Africa on a less restrictive basis.

Sensing that they are under attack, South African leaders feel more nervous and act more repressively. The natural economic forces and progressive political thought would stand more chance of doing their work if South Africa had a wider political relationship with the outside world. I know that it may not be in vogue to say this, but I believe it to be true, and I would wish at all costs to avoid the violent alternative which seems to be the other likely course.

I believe that we must say to our Commonwealth friends—because it is true—that we are resolutely against racialism and that the Government’s intention in no way implies support of racialism. We have a right to be believed in this respect. Our desire to see the passing of the apartheid system is as sincere as that of other members of the Commonwealth. It is because I do not think that the statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was founded in either racialism or hypocrisy that I shall vote against the Opposition Motion.