HC Deb 17 March 1952 vol 497 cc1921-4
46. Mr. Shepherd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will give a summary of the travel restrictions imposed upon our diplomats in countries under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics control; and whether he has reached a decision as to whether reciprocal arrangements should be made in the United Kingdom.

53. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why he has imposed new travel restrictions upon the Soviet Ambassador, and the Rumanian and Bulgarian Ministers and their staffs.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

The position as regards these restrictions is explained in the Foreign Office statement which was published in the Press on 11th March. I am circulating a summary of this statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Chetwynd

Is this not merely a childish act of retaliation, and is it not an added irritant to trade and intercourse between the countries concerned? Ought we not to set a good example rather than a bad one?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir; I do not think it is. If the Soviet Government were prepared to relax the much more stringent regulations which they have placed upon our diplomats, we would, of course, gladly reconsider the position. I would also point out that these restrictions are in some cases less stringent than those placed on the Hungarian representatives by the late Government.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

May I ask whether these restrictions make it impossible for Soviet diplomats to visit the more civilised parts of Great Britain, such as Scotland and Wales? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that yesterday the "Observer" described these regulations as demeaning to civilised countries, and stated that we are making ourselves look absolutely absurd?

Mr. Eden

Everybody is entitled to his comments. Should the Soviet representative wish to visit Scotland, or should he perhaps wish to visit Warwickshire, he is entirely free to do so. All he is asked to do is to give 48 hours' notice, and that is much greater freedom than our diplomats enjoy in his country.

Mr. Shepherd

Is it not a fact that we have given the Soviet authorities and the satellite countries an ample opportunity to change this policy, and had they wished to reciprocate they could have done so a long time ago?

Following is summary of statement issued by the Foreign Office on 11th March, 1952:

Notes were delivered on the 10th March to the Soviet Ambassador and the Roumanian and Bulgarian Ministers informing them that (with the exception of the Bulgarian Minister or Chargé d'Affaires) neither they nor the members of their staffs would in future be allowed to travel more than 25 miles from Hyde Park Corner without notifying the Foreign Office, or the appropriate Service Department 48 hours in advance. The same arrangement would apply to Soviet representatives not members of the Embassy, such as the staff of the Soviet Trade Delegation and Soviet commercial or news agencies in the United Kingdom.

The Bulgarian Minister or Chargé d'Affaires was exempted from this requirement since Her Majesty's Minister in Sofia was similarly exempted. Soviet officials would be allowed to travel to the Embassy's country house at Hawkhurst (Kent) by a regular route without notification. Members of the Hungarian Legation are already required, by a decision of the previous Government, to obtain permission for any journeys beyond 18 miles from London (the limit imposed on Her Majesty's Legation, Budapest).

The movement of British subjects and of foreigners generally has for a long time been severely restricted in the Soviet Union. As a result of restrictions imposed in September, 1948, and increased in January of this year, virtually the whole of the Soviet Union east of a line running from Archangel to Astrakan is now inaccessible to members of Her Majesty's Embassy; and all the frontier and coastal districts (except Leningrad and Odessa) and the great majority of the main industrial towns are also forbidden. Members of Foreign Missions may only travel in those parts of the Soviet Union still in bounds by notifying in advance any journeys of more than 25 miles from Moscow. Even within this radius large areas are prohibited.

A large area of Bulgaria, including all the frontier regions, has been out of bounds since December, 1949. In order to travel in other parts of the country members of foreign Missions must notify details of the journeys in advance to the Bulgarian authorities. The greater part of Roumania, including all the frontier regions, and virtually the whole of Transylvania, was prohibited to members of foreign Missions in May, 1949.

Although members of foreign Missions are excluded from large parts of the Soviet Union, Roumania and Bulgaria, Her Majesty's Government do not propose at present to prohibit any parts of the United Kingdom to representatives of these countries.

58. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what facilities the Soviet Government gives to British Foreign Office employees in Moscow to visit Yasnaya Polyana.

Mr. Eden

Members of Her Majesty's Embassy in Moscow are allowed to visit Yasnaya Polyana, which is about 120 miles from Moscow by road, and lies within a prohibited area, on condition that they notify the Ministry of Foreign Affairs forty-eight hours in advance and keep strictly to the main road. They are not allowed to travel there by train.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that this is the birthplace of Leo Tolstoy? It is obvious that some hon. Members opposite were not aware of it. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is in our interest to maintain cultural relations, even under the tension of the cold war, and can he explain this question of the 48 hours' notice? Why is it that a Russian diplomat in London can visit the grave of Karl Marx every day of the week without giving any notice but has to give 48 hours' notice to visit the tomb of Robert Burns? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it might be better for Soviet diplomats to be more acquainted with Robert Burns, and will he assure the House that facilities will be given for diplomats to visit Ayrshire when they wish?

Mr. Eden

We have to try to cater for all tastes; but should it be the desire of a Soviet diplomat to visit Stratford-on-Avon, he can certainly do so not only by road but by rail, and he can even picnic by the roadside—which foreign diplomats are forbidden to do when visiting Tolstoy's birthplace.