HC Deb 16 June 1953 vol 516 cc936-42

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Oakshott.]

1.14 a.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I am aware that in this short debate on our relations with the U.S.S.R. I cannot possibly deal adequately with any of the great issues that are involved in this question. I certainly do not expect to embarrass the representative of the Government by asking him to elaborate upon the very full statement which the Prime Minister has made recently. The Prime Minister has frequently said at Question time that he does not wish to add to that statement, and I do not wish to embarrass him by any sort of criticism that is likely to make things more difficult. If he does not wish to add to his statement or to the policy he has placed before the House, I should be quite content that he should not subtract from it.

I hope that in the near future, in the course of the next few days or weeks, we shall see the end of the "hot" war in Korea, and that that will lead to the possibility of the opening out of negotiations. I certainly associate myself with those who wish the Prime Minister every possible success in the conference that he has undertaken, and hope that it will result in a meeting of the Four Powers which, in turn, will result in negotiations which, if they do not end the "cold" war, will at least make possible the recession into the background, or the abandonment altogether, of the idea of the inevitability of war between East and West.

There are very welcome signs that tension is easing. There have been some things in our own midst which have shown that relations are becoming somewhat more friendly and the atmosphere more conducive to some kind of at least politeness between the parties that have been in conflict. I think it is very appropriate when I am making this plea for a greater understanding that I should refer to the very cordial welcome that the sailors of the Soviet cruiser received in this country. I believe it was a very good thing that they should come here. I believe that their behaviour was irreproachable, and that the people of this country were very glad to see real, live Russians in their midst. Their welcome should show them that in this country there is no hostility to the U.S.S.R., and that the, I would almost say, unanimous feeling of public opinion in this country is in favour of negotiations which will lead to the end of the vary difficult period of tension which has existed since the war.

I hope that there will be more Russian visitors to this country. I should be very glad to see, not just a cruiser—although I am not very partial to cruisers—but a shipload of Russian tourists coming to this country. Who knows, we might in the near future see the opening of a tourist agency in one of the main streets in Moscow; one might have Messrs. Cooks carrying on a publicity campaign inviting the Russians to come to this country to see the grave of Karl Marx, or the place where Lenin lived in London, or, as some of the Russians are so interested in the Scottish poet, to the countryside of Robert Burns. I believe that if we could get an interchange of visitors, or ordinary men and women between the two countries the way would be paved for that real reconciliation which we all desire.

I should like to urge that the time has come for an interchange of delegations between this country and the U.S.S.R. I do not know how far the Foreign Office initiates these enterprises, but I believe that they are conducted under its authority and with its acquiescence. I had an opportunity during the past year of visiting the U.S.S.R. as a delegate to the Economic Conference in Moscow, and I also had an opportunity of going through Russia via Siberia on the way to China. I wish this opportunity could be extended to Members of both Houses of Parliament representing a cross-section of Members of Parliament, so that they could visit the U.S.S.R. and see exactly what is going on and come into human contact with our opposite numbers on the other side of the frontier.

I believe that the Russians are genuinely in favour of peace, and that however difficult they may have seemed to us, the desire for peace in Russia today extends right throughout the whole of the population. It is not just a phoney action on the part of the Russian Government; they realise as much as any Government in the world that a war in this atomic age would mean the destruction of Communism as well as of capitalism and would be a tragedy for the world.

Putting it no higher than self-preservation, I believe that the Russian Government are searching towards a new rapprochement with the West, and I believe we should do everything possible to encourage it. I believe that if Members in all parts of the House could arrange to go to the U.S.S.R. and if members of the Supreme Soviet could come over here we would learn to understand and appreciate each other's difficulties; it would be helpful to the negotiators on either side and would be of incalculable value in bringing about a mood of tolerance and understanding which is the preliminary to international understanding.

One impression that I have gained from my short visit to the U.S.S.R. is not only the deep, burning desire for peace but also an appreciation of the immense reconstructive work that is being done in Russia which could absorb the energies of the Russian people for a generation. As for their desire for peace, one has only to meet casually any Russian to realise what a tremendous toll the last war took in human life and suffering of the Russian people. The Russians suffered casualties, directly and indirectly, amounting to at least 12 million of the population, and every person one meets, man and woman, has lost relatives. I believe they look upon the prospect of war with the utmost horror, and the policy of the Government is a reflection of the mood of their people.

I believe that the same thing exists here and that there is a deep desire in the hearts and minds of all peoples in East and West, whether in the U.S.A. or the U.S.S.R., that some attempt should be made to formulate a foreign policy which will end not only the fear of the hot war but the tension of the cold war which absorbs the energies of the people in building up armaments and diverting to useless activities the energies which should go to reconstruction throughout the world.

I make this suggestion in order that it will be said that in this House of Commons there is a genuine desire by all hon. Members that any move towards peace, towards reconciliation, shall be greeted with sincerity; that we all wish that the negotiators who go to this conference—our Prime Minister, President Eisenhower, and all the representatives of the nations—will do so with the utmost good will. Also, that we wish them success in the difficult task, which will require great patience, persistence and courage. I believe that that mood ought to be expressed in this House; and I am sure that if we can harness the energies and activities of hon. Members of this House we shall do something to bring about the peace which we know is desired by all the world.

1.27 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) himself has said that there is not very much which I can add to what the Prime Minister said in the debate of 11th May; but I should like to thank him for the tone and temper of his speech tonight, made with his characteristic sincerity in these matters, and, in particular, to thank him for the good wishes which he has extended to the Prime Minister and to the President of the United States for the success of their deliberations at Bermuda.

To sum it up in one sentence, our policy is to maintain on the one hand the Western Alliance as the basis of our strength and our protection, and on the other to neglect no opportunity to reduce tension and to seek agreements wherever and whenever possible with the Soviet Union.

On the broader issues outstanding between us in the West and the Soviet Union, we must clearly await the Bermuda Conference before making any pronouncement, or speculating, or anticipating what the results for the future will be. Perhaps I may just say something on the two outstanding issues of Germany and Austria, because it is important to see these matters in perspective. It is true, as the hon. Member said, that lately the Russians have appeared to modify their occupation policies in Germany and Austria; but there is, alas, no sign as yet that they are willing to commit themselves to any change of policy on vital issues. For example, the hon. Member will remember our proposals last September for free all-German elections, leading to the formation of a free all-German Government. These proposals have remained unanswered since the 23rd September, 1952. Worse still, our proposal for further discussions on the Austrian Treaty by the Deputies was summarily rejected the other day by the Soviet Union on the flimsiest of excuses.

Nevertheless—I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that this shows that we are genuine in our search for a settlement— we have asked the Soviet Union what kind of treaty they would be prepared to sign. If they do not want the short treaty which has been put forward, would they be prepared to sign another treaty? If they do not want the Deputies to discuss the Austrian Treaty, let them at least come forward and say what they do want. That is the proposal which we have put forward.

Turning to the more particular issues of Anglo-Russian relations, I entirely agree with every word the hon. Member said about the need for a greater exchange of visits between the citizens of the two countries. We should warmly welcome any steps that could be taken to give British and Russian citizens a better chance of knowing what life is like in each other's countries, and the obstacles to this are not on our side.

Perhaps I may give some figures of the number of people who have been to foreign countries from the Soviet Union for January to December, 1950, and from January to June, 1951. These visitors from the Soviet Union to overseas were, of course, virtually all delegates in some Soviet delegation, official or unofficial. In the months January to December, 1950, some 1,893 Soviet citizens visited abroad. In 1951 the figures had improved somewhat, and between January and June the figure was 1,288. I say that is an improvement, but when we take into account that there were about 700,000 visitors from overseas to this country alone in 1951, it gives some idea of the paucity of opportunity which has been offered by the Soviet Union to their own citizens to visit countries abroad. The figures I have given include visits by Soviet citizens to the satellites; they are not visits solely to Western countries.

Ever since the wax the Soviet Union have made it increasingly difficult for normal relationships between the British and Soviet peoples and between other peoples and the Soviet Union to be developed. The most concrete expression of this policy is the Soviet decree of December, 1947, which made it illegal for any Soviet individuals or institutions to have foreign contacts with anyone except through official channels.

The complete isolation of foreign representatives in Moscow from Soviet domestic life is part of this policy, as are the restrictions on the movement of our diplomats in the Soviet Union, restrictions which are not in any way similarly applied by the authorities over here to the diplomats of the Soviet Union. The exchange of carefully selected official delegations is a very poor substitute, I think the hon. Member will agree, for a really free exchange of people.

I hope that the rumours which have been circulating that the Soviet Union plans shortly to admit foreign tourists inside their frontiers, and that the Intourist Bureau is going to be opened up, may prove to be true. If the Soviet Government provide facilities for their citizens freely to leave the Soviet Union, freely to obtain foreign exchange, and to go on tours of this country to see how our people live, and see what our institutions are, no one will be more pleased than Her Majesty's Government, and we shall certainly place no obstacles whatever in their way. But what we are not prepared to do—and what we can never be prepared to do, and this the House is well aware of—is to admit to this country groups of Communist propagandists who are sent here for the purpose of trying to confuse our people and divide them from their own legally constituted Government. That we cannot do.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about a Parliamentary delegation. He asked this question of the Prime Minister the other day, and he did not get a very forthcoming answer. He was told to put down another Question after the Coronation. I have not noticed any Question by him on the Order Paper, but may I say that the possibility is certainly not excluded. For the moment, I cannot add anything more definite.

There are many subjects and topics which the hon. Gentleman has not raised. I do not propose to raise these here tonight because several are already under discussion between Her Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow and the Soviet Government. They, of course, include the Soviet wives of British officials, and we are doing all we can to obtain their return to their husbands. These matters are under discussion, and I do not wish to say anything which would either complicate or make more difficult the discussions and negotiations which are now proceeding in Moscow.

I hope I have said enough to convince the hon. Gentleman that, whether on small issues, on purely Anglo-Soviet outstanding issues, or in the broader field of the relations between the Great Powers, and above all the relations between the West and the Soviet Union, as far as Her Majesty's Government is concerned we shall neglect no opportunity to make any settlement of any outstanding differences between us.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-two Minutes to Two o'clock a.m.