HC Deb 03 February 1964 vol 688 cc812-3
22. Mr. Oram

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will consult the Foreign Ministers of other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation powers with a view to agreeing joint action on the relaxation of conditions governing the issue of travel permits to cultural groups from East Germany; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. P. Thomas

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies are in regular consultation about this question, and the present restrictions on travel by East Germans are under constant review in the light of circumstances and of East German policy.

Mr. Oram

Is the Minister aware that the existing regulations act in many ways contrary to common sense, leading, for instance, to the exclusion of children's choirs and football teams which can have little, if any, political significance? In view of this, should not we and our allies take every possible step that is open to us to ease the position? Can the Minister assure the House that these steps are being taken?

Mr. Thomas

I assure the hon. Member that these restrictions are under constant review by the N.A.T.O. allies.

Mr. Mendelson

Could not the Minister go a little further and agree that, from the point of view of the reputation of this country, it is rather silly that the Brecht Theatre Company and similar theatre companies which play in all the theatre festivals in France and other countries which are members of N.A.T.O. should be prevented by our Foreign Office from playing in London? Would it not be more sensible and in accord with our traditions to allow the London theatre public to judge whether it is good art?

Mr. Thomas

No, Sir. I disagree with the hon. Member when he says that it is silly. One would like there to be free movement of East and West Berliners. The reason why these restrictions were imposed was, as the hon. Member knows, because we and our N.A.T.O. allies wished to show our abhorrence of the wall which was erected in Berlin. The people who are allowed out from East Germany are only those whom the East German authorities think will serve the purpose of the East German authorities.

Mr. Mayhew

Nevertheless, it would be strange if we found ourselves co-operating with the East German Government in keeping the East German people behind the wall. Granted that we should act in unity with N.A.T.O. on this point, is there not a plain distinction between a choir or some kind of cultural visit, on the one hand, and recognising the East German Government, on the other hand? Cannot we therefore be more discriminating and more constructive about this with our N.A.T.O, allies?

Mr. Thomas

I have said that these restrictions are under constant review by N.A.T.O., and, in fact, they are applied with some flexibility. It is, however, undoubtedly right at the moment that one should not simply allow to come out of East Germany those people who are allowed out to serve the purpose of the East German authorities and afford them greater recognition.

Mr. Oram

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I will seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.