HC Deb 23 November 1959 vol 614 cc30-2
Mr. Donnelly (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement about the circumstances in which certain books have been withdrawn from the British Book Exhibition in progress in Moscow, and whether he will inform the Soviet authorities that the Exhibition would not go on until they agreed to the withdrawn books being exhibited again.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. John Profumo)

The British Book Exhibition in Moscow is being held within the framework of an agreement reached between the British Council and the appropriate Soviet authorities. The agreement contains a stipulation which was inserted at the instance of the Soviet authorities. This requires that the choice of books to be included in the British Book Exhibition in Moscow and the Soviet Exhibition in this country is to be mutually agreed.

I am informed that the Soviet authorities have removed some books with the choice of which they did not agree. In spite of this, about 3,970 out of 4,000 remain and they constitute an exhibition important in the work of promoting understanding between our two peoples Her Majesty's Government think it preferable that this exhibition should take place in spite of the withdrawal of some titles.

Mr. Donnelly

Can the Minister say what consultations took place before this list was drawn up and by what authority the British Council acted in drawing it up? Secondly, can he say by what conceivable means works of, say, William Morris, can be identified as being injurious to Soviet foreign policy? Thirdly, what representations have Her Majesty's Government made to the Soviet authorities to show the damage that this kind of ban may have?

Mr. Profumo

We cannot make any representations, since this was an agreement to which we subscribed at the time when the Soviet Relations Committee went to Moscow. The British Council arranged the exhibition through the usual consultations with publishing houses and publishing firms.

I must point out that I am not responsible for any of the actions of the Soviet Government, but I cannot imagine what the Soviet authorities can have against William Morris, who died before the Russian Revolution, unless possibly this volume offended because it was edited by the late Professor G. D. H. Cole.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the Minister aware that, in spite of this foolish piece of censorship, the Russians are gradually dismantling the Iron Curtain, that Western countries have done best in the past by trying to ease the path for them and that they would do best in future if, while maintaining their demand for completely free contacts, they did not refuse to use the limited freedom which they now get?

Mr. Profumo

I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. He was one of the instigators of this agreement. As he will see, the books removed are not propagandist works at all. This seems to demonstrate, to my mind, the gulf which still exists between us, and which the Government hope to bridge. These exhibitions are part of our efforts to do this.

Mr. Iremonger

Could my hon. Friend enlighten the House by naming some of the representative titles, as well as the works of William Morris, which have been withdrawn?

Mr. Profumo

They range over a very wide field, from Keesing's Contemporary Archives to the life of Dame Margot Fonteyn. Perhaps, with my hon. Friend's permission, I might circulate the list in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Bevan

Is it not desirable that activities of this sort should be encouraged? A very good start has been made and very much more progress will now be made because those who have withdrawn these books will have to submit themselves to an inquisition as to why they should discriminate against certain volumes, and this will further their education.

Mr. Profumo

I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Would the Minister agree that the banning of books anywhere is a mistake? Is he aware that in places in Africa, like Kenya, a very large number of books has been banned? Possibly, William Morris's books are also considered dangerous there. Will the hon. Gentleman consider making representations to the authorities in Africa to give a lead to the Russians, so that no books are banned?

Mr. Profumo

I think that the hon Member had better address that question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies.