HC Deb 23 October 1967 vol 751 cc1403-44

5.55 p.m.

Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)

It is important that this House should not adjourn before a matter has been raised which is cardinal to the history of the House and the views in which all sides are united in upholding.

It is a matter which concerns the Home Office. I must apologise for the shortness of the notice given to the Home Office Minister, but notice has been given, and I hope that he will join us before too long—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. It might be convenient to remind the House that, on a Motion for the Adjournment, any hon. Member is entitled to raise any matter which does not involve legislation. However, there is a convention which Mr. Speaker and his predecessors have mentioned that no matter other than that indicated on the Order Paper ought with propriety to be raised unless notice has been given to the Minister responsible. It is obviously inconvenient to the House that there should be a debate on an entirely new matter without the Minister responsible for answering it having an opportunity of being present. In the present case, I understand that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) has notified the Home Office of his intention to raise this matter.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before we pass to it, I understand that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) is proposing to raise an entirely new topic not within the terms of reference of the preceding debate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I understood from his opening remarks that the hon. Gentleman was proposing to refer to a new matter, which would be in order when debating a Motion for the Adjournment, since anything is in order which does not involve legislation. Mr. Speaker and his precessors have deprecated new matters being introduced unless the Minister responsible has been notified in advance.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any rule by which the Opposition might be informed in advance if that happened? If not, a position might arise where an hon. Member goes out of the Chamber, seeks out the Minister and gives him notice of his intention, saying, "I shall be starting in five minutes". In that event, no other hon. Member has an opportunity of knowing, unless he happens to be sitting in the Chamber. In the present case, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) and I now have notice, but, for all I know, there are those on the Opposition Front Bench who have some general interest in the matter to be discussed. I notice that one Opposition Whip is present now, and no doubt he can warn those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who may be interested, but it would be preferable if they could be given some notice of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has raised a valid point. To the best of my knowledge, it is one which has not previously been raised. It has not been suggested previously that an hon. Member who proposes to raise a new matter on the Adjournment should give notice both to the Minister involved and to the Opposition Chief Whip. If time permitted, it is a convention which might be usefully observed to the convenience of the House.

Mr. Whitaker

Thank you for that Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The issue which I intend to raise is one concerning the freedom of expression in Britain, which I trust will commend itself to hon. Members in all parts of the House irrespective of Party.

The incident out of which this matter arises is the refusal last week of the Home Office to allow the admission to this country, except for a few hours, of three students from North Vietnam. That this was not an isolated or accidental decision was confirmed by the Home Office, who said that it was a policy matter arrived at after consultation with the Foreign Office. I have too much respect for all the Ministers at the Home Office to believe that they endorse or agree with the decision. There is no doubt that it emanates solely from the Foreign Office and, if a Foreign Office Minister is unable to be present, I hope that he will read the report of the forthcoming debate.

This decision by the Foreign Office is all the more lamentable because when my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) was Foreign Secretary, he said, during a famous teach-in at Oxford on the subject of Vietnam, that this country, unlike certain Communist ones, had the proud tradition that we allowed freedom of expression on all viewpoints to be put in this country. This is a valid point, and I wish that the Foreign Office, by its subsequent policy, had adhered to that position. I should like to know whether the present Foreign Secretary endorses the policy set oat by his predecessor, and whether he will in future exercise it.

One reason why people in this country, irrespective of party, prefer to live in a social democracy as opposed to living in a totalitarian State is that we have this freedom of expression, no matter how much we dissent from whatever is said. Whatever one's views on Vietnam, one welcomes the fact that in this country people are allowed to debate vigorously what is perhaps the most important crisis in the international situation.

Ours is an old historical tradition. People sometimes think of the 19th century as being less tolerant, but during that century we allowed in dissenting rebels such as Mazzini and Garibaldi, and Lenin from Russia. Even Ho Chi Minh was allowed in, provided he was only a waiter in a London hotel. More recently, on this issue of the civil war in Vietnam, we have allowed in spokes- men of the Saigon Government, and people from the United States, who have expressed opinions both for and against their Government's policies in Vietnam. I welcome the fact that emissaries from Saigon and the Pentagon have come here. I enjoy listening to their arguments. I am not convinced by them, but I hope that in return they will listen to other arguments, and possibly find that there is more than one view to be put forward.

I find this decision by the Foreign Office inexplicable and indefensible. It is inexplicable, coming as it does a week after the decision taken on the question of Vietnam at the conference of the party of which this Government is formed, but it is even more inexplicable when one remembers that the Foreign Secretary has said time and again that this country is allegedly impartial in the conflict of Vietnam.

The Foreign Office cannot have very much confidence in its policy on Vietnam if it feels that it is liable to be exploded by the presence of three young students from Vietnam if they were allowed to participate in a conference at the London School of Economics. On the contrary, if the Foreign Office believes in its present lamentable policy for South-East Asia, one would expect it to welcome the chance of having in this country three National Liberation Front members to whom our Government's policy could be explained, in the hope of converting them, and in the hope, too, that they would take back to their country what was said here.

Vietnam is a tragedy, and this is not the time nor the place to enter into a discussion of this complicated and grave situation, but I think that everyone in this Chamber would gladly accept the principle that the exchanging of views on this issue is one of the best means of finding a way to peace.

I find it intolerable to be a Member of Parliament in a country in which the Foreign Office apparently intends to exercise the right of dictating to whom we shall and shall not be allowed to listen. It is significant that these three students came here from Canada where they have been allowed to address several meetings during their fortnight's stay. Why should Great Britain, with her great traditions of liberty, be any less liberal in this matter than Canada has been?

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

My hon. Friend could also ask why the Canadians were allowed to listen to them, and we are not.

Mr. Whitaker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This may have something to do with the fact that Canada's standing at the United Nations is, unfortunately, considerably higher than this country's. The Canadian Government exercise an independence of foreign policy, not only on Vietnam, but on many other issues, which is earning them respect at the United Nations. But I would in any event argue that the lamentable attitude of the Foreign Office of adopting an ostrich-like attitude, with its head in the sand, is counter-productive. We cannot exclude opinions by keeping people out of the country. Ideas have a way of coming in unless we impose a total censorship in the way that the Greek junta or Mr. Ian Smith prefer. The Foreign Office's policy is not only criminal, but ineffective.

I do not intend to make a long speech, because many of my colleagues wish to express their views, but I ask that the Foreign Office, if possible through the Home Office Minister, whom I am glad to see here, and to whom I apologise for not giving fuller notice, will undertake to repudiate the policy that it is pursuing now, and return to Britain's traditional policy of freedom of expression on this or any other matter.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) I was surprised to see the Government, through the Home Office, or the Foreign Office, adopt this attitude towards these students from Vietnam. It seemed to me to show a great deal of moral cowardice. We are allowed to hear the American case for intervention in Vietnam, but students at the London School of Economics are not allowed to hear students putting the case for North Vietnam.

I do not think that these students should be regarded as dangerous enemies and not be allowed to enter this country. I say that because far more capable opponents of the American policy are allowed into this country to criticise their Government. I think that an unanswerable case against American policy in Vietnam was put by George Brown at the Scarborough conference. I am referring not to the Foreign Secretary, but to the George Brown, a representative of one of the districts of California, who has courageously opposed the American Government's attitude on Vietnam. Why did not the Foreign Office say, "This man George Brown is likely to discredit the American Government's view"? Surely an American who comes here, and especially an American with the status of a Member of Congress, carries far more weight in this country than do any students from Vietnam? I think that it is an act of moral cowardice by the Government to say, "We are afraid to interfere with a Congressman from Washington, but we will put a ban on these students".

The American Government know the attitude which George Brown has taken. They know that he has criticised them, but they nevertheless allow him to come here. They allowed an opponent of their Vietnam policy to come to this country, and the Foreign Office allowed him to come in. Indeed, he was welcomed by our George Brown.

I saw the two George Browns in earnest conversation at Scarborough. I do not know whether the George Brown has converted the Foreign Secretary. He had every facility, and it would have been a triumph on the part of the American Congressman if he had succeeded in persuading his namesake in this country to adopt an attitude towards American policy a little less subservient than that of the present Government.

More than that; George Brown from California was allowed, on one of the most popular features in television"24 Hours"—to express clearly his point of view about American policy in Vietnam. Why, then, did not the Government pursue this policy to its logical conclusion and prevent the entry into this country of the most formidable propagandist of two continents about the policy of his Government in respect of Vietnam? I do not know the answer.

Let us carry the matter a step further. The American Government are more liberal than ours. I understand that they issued visas to half a dozen Members of Parliament to enter the United States. Several of those Members are here tonight. The Americans did not say, "We will put a ban on these British Labour M.P.s because they are opposed to the Government's policy on Vietnam." They were welcomed in America. They made a considerable impact on American opinion, through the American wireless. They addressed all kinds of conferences and put very strongly what I would call liberal opinion in this country towards the Vietnam war. The Government are less liberal than the present Government of the United States of America.

How can we stop people in this country from hearing the other side of the Vietnam argument? People here listen to the wireless of other countries. If they listen to news bulletins from Communist countries they will hear incessantly the expression of the other point of view about Vietnam. I do not believe that any attempt is to be made to confiscate our wireless sets, in case we hear the other side of the argument about Vietnam. But the Home Office say, "We will prevent the students of the London School of Economics hearing the case put up by the students from Vietnam." This news has gone round the world. Every liberal-minded person in every country is asking why a British Labour Government—it is not supposed to be a Tory Government; it is a Labour Government—should seek to prevent free speech about the most momentous issue in the world today, the Vietnam war. I cannot understand it.

When I was in Japan recently the most persistent question I was asked was: what do the Labour Government mean by taking up this completely subservient and servile attitude towards American policy in Vietnam? This is a contemptible action on the part of the Government—more contemptible in that it comes from a Government whose own Labour Party conference decided against this policy. Nevertheless, the Government say, "The London School of Economics must not hear these students in case they persuade any section of the British public."

Mr. Sydney Silverman

My hon. Friend will remember—since he heard the "Panorama" broadcast in which the students were supposed to speak—the announcement made on television that the students were about to be placed on an aeroplane for Prague and that the television operators were accompanying them and would broadcast a statement by them from the aeroplane. Nobody has heard anything more of the incident on television, radio or any other medium. Would my hon. Friend care to inquire of the Foreign Secretary or the Home Office what inhibitions were placed in the way of television operators from interviewing the students?

Mr. Hughes

That is a very important observation. I saw the "Panorama" programme and on it we were informed that the television people followed these students to Prague. Perhaps some explanation can be given whether any pressure was placed upon the B.B.C. I hope not. But if pressure has not been placed upon the B.B.C., and if the B.B.C. is allowed to have on its programmes many propagandists—exceedingly evil propagandists—on the subject of Vietnam, I fail to see why a ban should be placed on these students. I can think of only one explanation—sheer political cowardice and a fear of hearing the other point of view, a point of view which is shared by the great majority of the people of the world.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this question at the earliest possible opportunity in order to show that some people in this House of Commons strongly oppose the policy of the Home Office and Foreign Office in this instance, and call for its reversal, believing that we have a great tradition in this country. We have allowed into this country people who were afterwards considered to be the most dangerous in the world. We allowed Karl Marx, Lenin, and a whole generation of Russian refugees to come in, but now we can only say, with great regret, that under a Labour Government this mean little action has been perpetrated, although there is no logical excuse For it and it does not have the support of thoughtful people in this country.

6.19 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

I support my hon. Friend in what I hope will be a very brief speech. Yesterday we saw action throughout the world—magnificent demonstrations in the United States and in European countries, including our own—showing that the people are moving decisely against the war in Vietnam. For some reason beyond my understanding our Government have refused visas for these students. The fact that a person has a political point of view which is opposed to that of the Government or the British people is no reason to stop him or anybody else coming into the country. We have a record of upholding freedom and the right of people to put their points of view. I should like to quote the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary at the famous Oxford teach-in on 29th June, 1965: Mr. Chairman, I am very glad indeed to be here at this teach-in tonight. It seems to me an excellent thing that students should have the opportunity of having access to news, information and comment from all over the world, that they should be able, in the light of that, to form their own opinions and to express those opinions freely. Why, then, do the Government not allow this? Why are they afraid that students from North Vietnam are so dangerous that neither the Government nor anyone else would have an answer to the opinions which they might express here?

The Government, I think, are afraid of upsetting the Americans, once again, by standing up to them and admitting the students. The Americans themselves are getting a great deal of information and discussion in their own country. I was recently in the United States with some of my hon. Friends. We were known to be violently opposed to the Vietnam war and to our own Government's policy, but that did not prevent us from meeting everyone we wanted to meet, including the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, to discuss this issue.

This is an extremely short-sighted attitude by the Home Office, I believe at the instigation of the Foreign Office, and an unfortunate blot on the otherwise very good record of our liberal Home Secretary. We ought to tell the British people. The Government have no excuse, because the Labour Party's policy is for disassociation from the American policy in Vietnam, and we should follow this through and show our independence by allowing in people of differing political persuasions. I thought that that was what democracy was all about.

I shall be glad to hear what the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has to say about this. He had much to say about freedom and democracy in Brighton last week and was taken to task about it in one issue of The Times. I want to know where he stands on this issue, and where the Opposition generally stand. Their record on the Vietnam war is not creditable at all.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the matter. It might be a question of dealing with individuals, but wars are fought by individuals. The problem of the freedom of individuals to say what they think is a basic tenet of what we stand for. Whether we agree with them or not, these students should have been allowed in and permitted to talk to students at the London School of Economics or elsewhere and the students or the British people allowed to judge for themselves. I am under no illusion about where they stand: I believe that they are opposed to the Vietnam war and that they have said so clearly.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I have spoken to the students in question and asked them to tell me what they would have said if allowed to come here and say it. I heard that the students would not be admitted only the night before they arrived and when I telephoned my hon. Friend, whose presence on the Front Bench I welcome, since I could scarcely believe it, he told me that the decision was made and that there was nothing that I could do about it. I told him that I intended to see the students, and although I cannot say that he welcomed that decision, he accepted it. The following morning I met the students at London Airport. Having seen a report in the paper that no recording of what they said would be allowed, I naturally took my tape recorder with me.

I was allowed to meet the three students and took a tape recording of what they said. There were two men and a girl between 20 and 25. I asked the man who was clearly their leader what he would have said if allowed in to say it. This is on record and if hon. Members wish to hear it I would be happy to bring this recording to a Committee Room so that they can. The students are not involved personally in the battle in Vietnam, nor are they leading politicians and therefore what they had to say was simple, straightforward and not Machiavellian at all.

It was something which should have been heard in the House and I hope that some hon. Members will decide to come along and hear it for themselves. The leader said, in a nutshell, "I would have said that the people of Vietnam only want peace, only want freedom, only want to live their own lives without interference from people from other countries." Is this a very devastating and explosive statement which must not be made in this country in case it subverted our own students? Is it not a proposition of some general value, a simple and straightforward statement? What harm could possibly have been done by allowing them in to say that and the other things which they would have said?

I then asked the others if they wished to add anything and one said, "I would have wished to bring to the students of this country an expression of the feelings of the students of Vietnam, an appreciation of the understanding which we believe students throughout the world have of the nature of the struggle in Vietnam." These are not the exact words, but, as I have said, hon. Members could have an opportunity to hear the words if they wish.

These are simple statements. What earthly reason could there have been for placing us in the invidious position of having to tell these students, "I am sorry but my Government think that you are too dangerous to be allowed in." None of us should have been placed in this position.

An interesting fact is that I do not believe that any support has been given hardly anywhere for the Government's policy in this matter. One exception is a journalist named Levin who is renowned I think for the vigour rather than for the balance of his opinions, who expressed the view not only that it was right to keep the Vietnamese students out but asked whether the people of Vietnam would have allowed students from this country opposed to their policy to be seen there.

Of course, under pressure of war, the answer is, no, they would not. But supposing that this were not allowed on any occasion. Is this not what the war is supposed to be about? Are we not fighting for freedom of expression of opinion? Therefore, what are we doing if we say that, because British students opposed to Hanoi policy would not be allowed in North Vietnam, we will adopt these limiting standards in our own country? What the Americans are supposed to be doing in Vietnam—I sometimes wonder what they are doing—is fighting for freedom of speech, the very thing which our own liberal Home Secretary has denied to these students. In other words, we have sold the pass which the Americans are supposed to be defending in that distant country.

Was this decision taken by the Home Office of its own free will and choice; taken by the present liberal Home Secretary? Or, as has been reported in the Press, was the decision taken not by the Home Office but by the Foreign Office? Did the Home Secretary agree to act as the agent of the Foreign Office in following this disgraceful policy? Has the Home Secretary chosen to place himself in a subservient position in this sort of matter to the Foreign Office and Foreign Secretary?

One of the students said he hoped that it would be possible for not merely a passing delegation but for a special delegation to be sent from Vietnam to pay a proper visit to Britain. I said that I could not but feel that the present situation arose from an aberration and that if an opportunity occurred I would raise the matter in Parliament and try to obtain an assurance from the Government that this disgraceful business would not be allowed to recur. I said that I hoped that we could restore the traditional liberty of the people of Britain to hear any and every point of view expressed, whether or not we agree with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) has done a service in giving us this opportunity to debate this matter. I trust that, when replying, the Under-Secretary will provide two assurances: first, that this is not the permanent policy of the Home Office and, secondly, that if a proper application is made on another occasion for a student delegation to come here, either from North or South Vietnam, permission will be granted.

In this case the students came not from North but from South Vietnam. They were not from Hanoi, but from the National Liberation Front. One came from the Mekong Delta and another from a place not far from Saigon. They came from areas which are nominally under the regime in Saigon, a regime which these students do not regard as the legitimate Government there. They regard the Saigon regime as having imposed itself on the country by false elections.

If hon. Members had an opportunity to hear their views they might disagree with them. Is that any reason why students such as these should not be allowed in? Why could not they have talked to us and have been questioned by us, as they might have been questioned by students of the London School of Economics? This has been a disgraceful episode which, I trust, will not be repeated.

6.33 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

Most of the important points that need to be raised when this subject is discussed have already been raised. I will therefore not delay the House for long. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) is to be congratulated initiating this debate, which is concerned with an issue of vital importance to the democratic character of this State.

I understood that the main argument used against these three students coming here was a simple one; that their visit would not be in the best interests of this country. That phrase can, naturally, hide a series of other arguments, although we may never know what they were. In any case what are "the best interests of this country"?

I recall attending a meeting in this building at which Mr. Goldberg, a representative of the American Government, explained in great detail American policy on Vietnam. Some people might have thought that his remarks were not in the best interests of this country. Nevertheless, we had the opportunity of hearing him and later we asked him questions. His remarks were widely publicised in the British Press and I believe that he also appeared on television.

Then we were visited by the American Vice-President. He, too, spoke to us and was questioned by us on American Vietnam policy. There was, of course, a slight difference of opinion between some of my hon. Friends and me and this great American leader. Nevertheless, we had an opportunity to hear the American case from the second most important political figure in America.

Some of my hon. Friends and I, as well as others who disagree with the policy of the United States towards Viet- nam, were asked to arrange a meeting with another representative of the American Government. Downstairs in this building, almost in the dungeons, we organised such a meeting and had a discussion on the subject. There was greater understanding of the American position on Vietnam after those three meetings than existed before, because we at least had an opportunity of hearing the case put by leading American politicians and of asking them questions. After those meetings we knew precisely where they stood. We nevertheless did not accept their case, although we might have been convinced of its rightness on the basis of the arguments they adduced. However, we were not.

Contrast those opportunities given to us to hear and question leading American politicians with the treatment meted out to these three Vietnam students. It is not in the best interests of this country that we should hear three students, we were told. Instead of the high-powered arguments which these leading American politicians were able to give us, these students would have put forward an unsophisticated case and we could have questioned them on the subject.

We in Britain have a great tradition of freedom and democracy. We did not come by it easily. We have always had to fight for our rights, and such rights as we have were never given to us on a plate. In years gone by people were transported, imprisoned and even hanged in their quest for freedom so that our people might speak freely and express their points of view. It has also been our tradition that outcasts from other countries may come here and live in peace, even if the majority of us may violently disagree with their policies and views.

Now possibly the most liberal Home Secretary we have had this century has taken a decision which is not in keeping with that tradition. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) asked whether it was my right hon. Friend's decision and a decision of the Home Office or whether that Department was subjected to pressure from the Foreign Office. I, too, would like to know the answer to that question and precisely whose decision it was. I can hardly believe that the present Home Secretary, who has shown such a liberal attitude in other matters, who has invited liberal ideas and who has supported liberal legislation, could have arrived at such a decision off his own bat.

As my hon. Friend quite rightly said, we cannot have double standards. It is no argument at all to say: "What about our students going to North Vietnam? What about our students going to the East European countries?" As a matter of fact, a lot of our students do go to the Eastern European countries and some of them still get themselves into a bit of difficulty when they are there.

I defend the right of our students to go to those countries and speak plainly, and I have on many occasions protested most vigorously against actions taken against our students in the East European countries. I protested about the imprisonment of Djilas, and I protested about the imprisonment of someone else in Yugoslavia because he had tried to start a new Socialist movement. We cannot have double standards. If it is right for us to protest about what happens in some East European countries and elsewhere, it is also right for us to say that other people have a right to come here and express their opinions freely, whether we agree with them or not.

Let us, therefore, get rid of these double standards and go back to our tradition of allowing people to come here, express their opinions and explain their position. If we do not accept their views, we do not need to, but we must know their case in the same way as we know the case of the Americans. Daily, monthly and yearly we are bombarded with Press reports and with speeches from America expressing the American point of view. Three simple students were kept out, and it is a disgrace. I ask the Government even at this late stage to look at the matter again and to let these three people have an opportunity to put their case before the British people.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)

I welcome this debate, which has come about through the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker). I am very pleased that it has been possible on our first day back after the Summer Recess to debate this matter. There is no doubt, as other hon. Members have pointed out—all, by the way, from this side of the House—that the refusal by the Home Office to allow these students in has caused a great deal of anger amongst many people in this country.

I cannot understand why they were not allowed in. Some hon. Members have asked whether it was the action of the Home Office or of the Foreign Secretary. My fear is that there is increasing pressure on us from the State Department in Washington not to allow anyone into this country from either North Vietnam or that section of South Vietnam that is controlled by the Communists. If that is the case, it is a very humiliating position for us to be in. Hon. Members have spoken of our great liberal tradition, and it is a genuine tradition, but are we now in a position in which we have to take orders from Washington about the type of people we allow into the country?

What is also so humiliating is that there are many people in America itself who are opposed to Johnson's war; very many people who want de-escalation and a settlement with North Vietnam. Then they look at us, with a Socialist Government, and find that the Socialist Government are giving all support to L.B.J. I have been told by some Americans—I do not know how true it is—that when critics in the United States turn round on Johnson, he says: "The Socialist Government in Britain support me." It is not a very nice position for us to be in. These students should be allowed to enter Britain.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to refer to something that has arisen more or less only today, as it may help to explain why the students were not allowed to enter the country in the first place. We have had today a newspaper report that British naval personnel have been directly involved on the American side in the Vietnam war. Time and again when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been asked about this we have had the clear-cut answer that British Army, Navy and Royal Air Force personnel were not involved in the war at all. The Evening Standard tonight reports that naval personnel have been directly involved.

This is a very serious matter, and one which a number of us will seek to raise as soon as possible with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, but is it a fact that we have refused to allow in the students because we are committed actively on the American side in Vietnam? This is a very serious matter, and I hope that the Government will tell us as soon as possible whether or not that report in the Evening Standard is true.

The Labour Party conference demanded that we should dissociate Britain from the American war. Had the delegates to that conference known that we were actively engaged in the war there would have been even more anger at Scarborough a few weeks ago. If this report is true, it may explain why the students were not allowed in.

During the eighteen months that I have been in this House I have never concealed my views about the war. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) indulges in a little giggle, but it is no credit to the Tory Members that they are so silent on this issue and do not seem to have a conscience about the bloodshed and suffering that is taking place in Vietnam. I believe that the Americans are fighting a dirty, colonial war, and a war which brings the United States no credit at all. I am in favour of the policy, now the official Labour policy, of dissociating ourselves from what the Americans are doing.

I also believe it to be extremely important that if we are to hear one side of the argument we in Britain should also be allowed to hear the other side from those directly involved in Vietnam. After all, North Vietnam exists—it has not been bombed out of existence—and there is a section of South Vietnam that is controlled by Communists. Why should we not hear those people? If we like to play this neutral rôle in Vietnam of which the Foreign Secretary spoke, how necessary it is to understand how the other side want to bring about a settlement. Let those from areas controlled by the National Liberation Front give us their view. I would add that some of us are fed up with hearing the American point of view put forward by the Foreign Secretary at Question Time.

I am glad that we have had this debate and the opportunity of showing our anger and disgust at the refusal of the Home Office to allow these students to enter the country. I hope that next time students apply to come in there will be none of this nonsense, but that they will be allowed in from North Vietnam or from areas of South Vietnam controlled by Communists, and that we shall be able to hear their point of view in open debate.

6.47 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) has done a real service to the House and to the right of free speech in raising this present issue. The case he has put, and the case put by other hon. Members in particular, by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)—is conclusive, so I will confine myself to a few practical observations which I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to take into account when he replies to this debate.

I know—we all know—that my hon. Friend is present as representative of his office, speaking on behalf of his right hon. Friend, so I want to confine the matter precisely to the particular responsibilities of his office in this connection. One cannot expect him to go very much wider than that, and it is no part of my task or that of any of my hon. Friends in this debate to make the Under-Secretary's life more difficult than it is.

What is involved here is a matter of fundamental importance and of practical wisdom. My hon. Friend knows that these three students arrived here from Canada. Not very long ago, I was in Toronto at a symposium on the Far East organised by the University of Toronto. The presiding officer at the symposium was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Toronto. Nowhere is there an atmosphere closer to the atmosphere of academic freedom in this country than in the University of Toronto. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), who has been there, will know that one feels almost at home when one walks into the senior common room or meets the students.

At this symposium I was deeply impressed by the way in which Canadian thinking on the war in Vietnam has developed. Not only the Labour Party in Canada, but the vast majority of those in public life in Canada cannot understand why our Government are giving such full support to the United States Government in their Vietnam policy.

The matter we are discussing is much more limited. When I talked to some of the university staff in Canada they said that of course it was most essential to have discussions with members of the National Liberation Front. A senior Canadian diplomat not long ago, on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary of the Canadian Government, went to Vietnam to have discussions to try to make a contribution, to prepare a better understanding of the position and perhaps to help to bring about a negotiation.

It has been the earnest endeavour—there is no doubt about that—of our Government for a considerable time to adopt an attitude which also would be accepted by people in Vietnam, North and South, as an attitude reasonably disposed to help to bring about a negotiation. There is more than one view about whether they have gone the right way about it, but I do not question for a moment the attitude of members of the Government in wishing to bring about a negotiation.

This matter we are discussing possibly cuts right across all the professions that have come from the Government on this question. It is not a small matter, but at the same time it is a very limited matter. There are in this country a number of students who believe in academic freedom. Some are to be found in the London School of Economics. Not long ago I was on the same platform with two well-known members of the Conservative Party discussing Vietnam at a meeting of the Students' Union of the London School of Economics. It was a meeting at which every point of view was expressed.

The first point I put to my hon. Friend is that he and the Government must not underestimate that they are in a minority in this country in the attitude they have adopted towards these three students. Whatever point of view was expressed by the students in this college, people deeply opposed to the attitude of President Ho Chi Minh and actions of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam are of one mind that it is not reasonable but wholly alien to our traditions to keep out a few students who have been invited by a bona fide British organisation of students to have a discussion.

This matter was debated in the Penistone Constituency Labour Party at its annual meeting. At that meeting, which was a meeting of delegates, a motion was debated for an hour and a half. There are many delegates in that constituency Labour Party who support the Government on their general policy—many are opposed to the Government on their general policy—but they agreed by a majority of two to one that this particular decision must be opposed. They urged me at the earliest possible opportunity in the House of Commons to bring that point of view to the notice of the Government. My hon. Friend will know that, had there been a motion before the annual conference of the Labour Party on the admission of these three students to this country, there would not have been a narrow majority in favour of such a motion, but the vote would have been nearly unanimous. It would have been difficult to find a member of the National Executive to make a case against it.

My hon. Friend knows that the Government are in an isolated position on this matter. What was very disturbing recently in announcements made by various official circles was the introduction of the Foreign Office into this debate. Incidentally, I do not believe that either the Home Office or the Foreign Office had anything to do with the particular broadcast not being given on B.B.C. television. What information I have has led me to believe that that was not a realistic charge and I do not wish to be identified with it in any way. I am discussing purely the decision of the Home Office to refuse the three students entry to this country and to participate in an exchange of information with students at the London School of Economics and possibly other universities.

A disturbing factor is that a report in the New Statesman and other reports have gone unchallenged. Those reports said that the Home Office does not necessarily take the view which has led to its decision but that this is a Foreign Office view and that in matters of this kind the Home Secretary can do no other than accept the view of the Foreign Secretary or the Foreign Office and act accordingly. I invite my hon. Friend to clear up this matter tonight. This is a direct responsibility of his office. If this were the true position we would be in a very difficult situation because it would mean that the Home Office, which is the guardian both of our security and our liberties at one and the same time, would have abdicated responsibility in matters of this kind. That would be a very serious and dangerous precedent quite beyond the importance of this immediate case. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with me on this one point.

Every Department, of course, has the right to give advice to the Home Secretary, but the Home Secretary is in the special position that as guardian of our liberties he has to act in many ways in a quasi-judicial capacity. This is not the only field in which it is a duty to do so. It would be a very dangerous development if it became accepted governmental doctrine that a Minister of another Department, for reasons which appeared valid to him, could decide that a certain decision must be made in a certain way and that the Home Secretary would then be obliged, without necessarily agreeing with that view, to implement that decision. It is one of the duties of my hon. Friend to give a clear answer on this matter.

I make a further appeal to him. He knows public opinion on this matter. He knows that opinion in many circles is not necessarily hostile to the Government's general point of view on Vietnam. I appeal to him to find a way by which this matter can be put right, by which it should become known to the students of that college and other universities that if in future they decide to invite students from the National Liberation Front to come and have a discussion with them the Home Office will not continue its ban.

What is at stake here is not only the good name and the traditions of liberty that have been established in this country. There is also at stake a policy which is absurd if we are looking forward, perhaps, to a not too distant future when Her Majesty's Government may once again, together with the Governments of other nations, try to play a useful part in bringing this tragic conflict to an end.

We know that one of the gravest impediments when the present Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, went to Hanoi to try to bring about negotiations, the greatest handicap to him was that people said, "You are completely one-sided, you are identified with the American point of view and the point of view of the South Vietnam Government. You do not want even to listen to another case". It is not in our interest to create the impression that that is so.

Therefore, both on grounds of principle and grounds of practical political wisdom, I ask my hon. Friend to give us some intimation that this silly policy will not be continued in future.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

It has been alleged that the Opposition appear to have no conscience. I can speak only for myself. Any case of the British Government's refusing permission for anyone to come to these shores causes me great concern. One or two questions must be asked. It is obvious that the charge that the Home Secretary did not make this decision is true. Obviously this was a decision by the Foreign Office, whose job it is to consider all the facts surrounding this and other cases. Not long ago another man was refused entry to this country. He wanted to talk about Rhodesia, but I did not hear a murmur from Labour Members against permission being refused to him to come here and state what he thought was his case. I do not say that two wrongs make a right, but that was a case in which many of us may not have agreed with the argument he wanted to present and he was prevented from coming here.

Mr. Winnick

Are not we officially in dispute with Rhodesia? We are not in dispute with North Vietnam. The person who wanted to come over here from Rhodesia was a racialist defending a system of white supremacy which the House of Commons has always rejected. He was also in a state of treason.

Mr. Mawby

That shows that the hon. Gentleman is not interested in freedom or in freedom of speech, because he has said that because a particular person holds certain views which he regards as wrong that person should not be listened to. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

This is a debate about free speech. I want to hear it.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

I agree with some of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Although there was not a murmur from this side against the prohibition of the speaker from Rhodesia, what does that matter? If every hon. Member on this side had supported the prohibition imposed against that person, does the hon. Gentleman now contend that, because we on this side did not raise our voices in protest on that occasion, he on this occasion should also be silent? Is not an infringement of liberty an infringement of liberty, whichever party fights it and whichever Government commits it? I would sympathise much more with the opinion the hon. Gentleman has been expressing about the Rhodesian speaker if he, for his part, would make one single motion in favour of this side of the House and its opposition to the prohibition against the Vietnamese students.

Mr. Mawby

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that freedom of speech and freedom of entry should not be restricted as against any person. I do not even suggest that the fact that the Government refused entry to one person is a good reason for their refusing entry to another. I want merely to point out that this man, who was not a Rhodesian but was of American nationality, was nevertheless refused permission to come here.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) gave the game away and disclosed his own attitude—I am not saying that the whole of the Government benches can be branded with the same name—by saying that the person I have mentioned was a special type of man and, because he was a special type of man, we in Britain should not listen to him because he was a racialist, and so on.

Mr. Winnick

I did not say that.

Mr. Mawby

Either there is free speech or there is not. Wherever it is possible and not absolutely against the national interest, people should be free to come here and make their point. We are told that these were three students who wish to come here and give a simple message. They wanted to give a simple message, but not to hon. Members opposite. Hon. Members opposite have said, "We want to hear their side of it". This was not so. These students were to come and talk to some students at the London School of Economics. How did they get here? Did they run round with the hat among their fellow students, or did they have the support—

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

What does that matter?

Mr. Mawby

It matters a great deal. However democratic one may be, it is important that one does not go into any ring with one's hands tied behind one's back. The Foreign Secretary is more aware of this than many of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that what the Home Secretary has to consider is, not what the man comes to say, not who he wants to say it to, but who paid for his trip?

Mr. Mawby

Obviously the Home Secretary cannot know what the person wants to say. No Home Secretary can know what any person will say. All that the Home Secretary can concern himself with is—under what aegis does a person or a group of persons come? The Home Secretary must obviously take into account that no one other than picked people would be allowed to leave Vietnam. We have seen this sort of thing happen time after time.

It has been said that public opinion here is totally against L.B.J. and the whole Vietnam conflict. I question that contention. However, if I wanted to know what public opinion here felt the last place I would go to would be to students, either British students or any other students. They could give me no idea of what public opinion was.

I accept that, if the report in the Evening Standard is right, everything that has been said from the Government Front Bench lately is nonsense, because the Prime Minister has from time to time said, "Naturally, we are not involved. Because we are co-Chairmen, we have resolved that we will stand on one side and have nothing to do with this conflict". If, as the Evening Standard suggets, the British Navy has been involved in this, it is obviously right that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should be harried until they are prepared to give the reasons why this sort of thing should happen.

My purpose in speaking was to convince hon. Members opposite that, whatever our views on this side, we do indeed have views and that we are as concerned as they are about the basic freedoms that ought to be allowed in Britain. However, a position can be allowed to develop until suddenly, overnight, democracy has had so much dug away from beneath it that it no longer exists. This is the balance that all of us have to strike. I shall be interested in what the Under-Secretary says in reply.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On an occasion when a Minister acts totally out of character with everything that is his past record, when he acts out of tune with all that he has stood for very honourably over many years, have not we some right to raise an eyebrow and ask some rather direct questions as to how this came about? I simply state that I cannot bring myself to believe that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary knew about this decision. Nor can I bring myself to believe that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, with his extremely honourable record in all this kind of matter, knew about the decision.

I go further. I do not think some of my hon. Friends will agree with this. It also appears to me that this particular kind of decision is out of character with the type of decision which would have been made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I find it very hard to believe that the Foreign Secretary, whose views may not be shared by many of us on this subject, would take this kind of decision.

I therefore want to ask this very direct question: was it in fact a Civil Service so-called routine decision? It may be said that this is the kind of question which should not be asked in the British Parliament, that one does not ask about the decisions of civil servants. But when this disgraceful kind of thing happens, it is about time that we asked questions about civil servants.

I therefore say very bluntly to my right hon. Friend that, while I am not asking for the sacking or demotion of any particular civil servant, when hon. Members raise questions of this kind they are entitled to the truth. If there is error, why can we not admit error? It is about time that this system of government was changed so that if things have gone wrong and if there has been error, politicians can feel free to admit it and others can judge. All I am asking for is the truth of what actually happened in this disgraceful episode.

7.11 p.m.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

Along with other hon. Members, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) for raising this subject in the first place, because it is of vital importance. I was concerned about it before he raised it and I was in correspondence with the Minister on the subject when the students were known to be coming to this country.

As others have said, in this country we are proud of the traditions of freedom of speech which prevail here, or which are said to prevail here. One of the meanings of democracy is the right to dissent, but if we refuse to allow others the right to dissent, we adopt the very methods of the systems which we pride ourselves on criticising. The decision in this issue represents the steady erosion of our freedoms which has been taking place in many respects. We would do very well to make it clear that we in the House are not prepared to tolerate this sort of precedent.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) referred to the Rhodesian regime. The Rhodesian regime has not had any great difficulty about putting its case in this country although its relationship with this country is very different from that which is supposed to prevail between us and North Vietnam. The present régime in Rhodesia is illegal and has acted in defiance of this country. Nevertheless, there has been a display of coins at an office in this country to commemorate that act of treason. I asked about that display of coins, but the Government took no action against it. There is a strong contrast between the action of the Government in the Rhodesian situation and their attitude towards freedom of speech in this and on the subject of Vietnam.

Nobody could maintain that the entry of these students would be dangerous to the security of the State, or that the safety of the realm would be put in peril if the students were allowed to stay here for some time. The Foreign Secretary has spoken at great length of his desire that everyone should show a willingness to talk. Perhaps if we can express, even at this humble level, our willingness to talk, that may have a useful effect at all levels. Can anybody say that the decision to exclude these students will engender good will between the British people and the British Government and the people and Government of North Vietnam?

I believe that this obsequious gesture to the policy of the United States Administration, which is what it is, will do considerable damage to any effort which the Foreign Secretary may be making to get some sort of response from North Vietnam. It sweeps away once again any vestige of the British Government's claim to independence in this dispute, and it makes it clear that Britain is no more than a satellite of the United States in its attitude to the Vietnam war.

We must also consider the effect of this sort of decision on our own students and our own population. I believe that it will have exactly the opposite effect to that which one imagines the Government to be seeking to secure. If the Government had said that they had nothing to hide and would allow these students to come in and put their case, they would have come out of it very much better than they will, because everyone now imagines, and I believe correctly, that the Government are taking this decision to exclude these students for the wrong reasons.

I believe, as other hon. Members believe, that the majority of people in this country would agree with the admission of these students and that the majority of people would agree with the decision at the Labour Party conference a few weeks ago that the British Government should dissociate themselves completely from American policy in Vietnam. The decision to exclude these students and to stop them from talking about these terrible issues can only strengthen the opinion, which I believe to be the majority opinion, in this country that the Government are totally wrong in the policy which they have been pursuing towards the Vietnam war.

I have heard it suggested that the students were not admitted because the policy of the British Government was peace and that the students would preach the continuation of the conflict. That sort of argument is transparent nonsense. I have no particular complaint against my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, whose record is well known to me, but I think that the Government at the highest level should recognise that they made a bad mistake on this issue, that this was a disgraceful act which, if it cannot be repudiated, should at least be put right by a change in the policy when other students seek to come to this country to put views expressing the policy of either North or South Vietnam. We have to make it clear that we are independent. The Government's policy has done nothing to make that clear; it has done the opposite. It is time that a change was made and I hope that at the highest level the Government will decide not to repeat the error of this decision.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)

I do not wish to prolong the debate, but merely to take the opportunity of indicating the support of myself and my colleagues for the view expressed by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) and other hon. Members opposite. I am very concerned about free speech, about the rights of our people, whether they are students or anyone else, to hear both sides of every question in dispute. I want to know, simply and straightforwardly, why the Government have refused entry to these three students. On what ground are they basing this refusal? We have the right to know.

7.21 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Ennals)

The House will realise that any Minister is at a disadvantage in replying to a debate of which he has had no advance notice. I am not making any complaints about this. My hon. Friends seized the opportunity that time presented to them to say what was in their minds. That is the purpose of this House, and I therefore welcome the debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker).

Part of the disadvantage is not only that a Minister comes, when the debate has already started, from a meeting at which he was dealing with other matters, but clearly he has not had the advantage, as he normally would in an Adjournment debate, of exchanging views with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as I would have liked to have done before replying.

The second point that I must make is that this cannot be a foreign affairs debate, nor can it be a foreign affairs reply. Although my hon. Friend was kind enough to phone to my office to let me know that he intended to raise this matter, as far as I know the Foreign Office was not warned, and it would obviously not be proper for me to try to deal with this as if it were a debate on the situation in Vietnam. I cannot, therefore, make any comments on any Press reports which may have appeared today —I have not read any evening papers. I must not be expected to comment on these matters which must be taken up at another time, or in another place.

This debate has shown the strength of feeling existing, I will not say in all parts of the House, but in some parts of it. It is not just an indication of the strength of feeling of many of my hon. Friends about the importance of all sides of an issue being heard, and of the principles of free speech and so on. It also represents the depth of feeling existing in the country over the war in Vietnam.

If we were dealing with any other situation, and any other group of people who might have arrived at London Airport seeking permission to visit the country, we might not have heard what we have heard tonight. We know that there is deep feeling concerning the Vietnamese situation. In replying to this debate, I am anxious to get the matter in perspective. Some of my hon. Friends referred to the British Government being subservient, or servile, to the United States. This concept of servility and subservience is not one that is typical of my right lion. Friend the Foreign Secretary. He is not only a man of independence and courage, but I do not believe that anyone on any side of the House, certainly on this side, would doubt the sincerity of intent of my right hon. Friend to bring about a peaceful settlement.

Mr. Dalyell

That is not the question.

Mr. Ennals

If my right hon. Friend is accused of being subservient and servile, I would have thought that the question of his sincerity of intent was the question.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Would my hon. Friend deal with the point whether this decision of the Home Office was taken without reference to the Foreign Office at all?

Mr. Ennals

My hon. Friend might respect me enough to think that I will reach this question. I must deal with the debate in my own way, and I would be grateful if he would permit me to do so.

I was on the point of saying that the sincerity of intent of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary cannot be questioned. He has made many attempts to bring together both sides, to seek a conference where a peaceful settlement can be negotiated. He has reiterated his position in this House, as he did at the Labour Party conference in Scarborough. His determination to take every opportunity to seek a peaceful settlement is one known to us all.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I used the word "subserviency" and so on, but I was referring to policy, not questioning the integrity of the present Foreign Secretary. I was referring to the subservient policy adopted by this Government towards the United States Government from the very beginning.

Mr. Ennals

I can assure my hon. Friend that the decision, to which I will come eventually, was certainly not dictated to us by the United States or any foreign Government. If that is the assurance that he wants, I will most readily give it.

Neither do I believe that there can be any serious question on any side of the House concerning the liberality of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I was glad that one of my hon. Friends referred to his liberal approach on very many important social questions. He is a champion of free speech in Britain. His reputation is not held in question this evening.

Some of my hon. Friends have carried the argument a little far in suggesting that students in this country are not free to express their own or any other point of view. [Interruption.] Any who said that there is not total freedom for students in this country to argue for or against American or British policy, or any other policy in Vietnam, must know that this is not so. Many of my hon. Friends have taken part in debates in universities, at meetings, at demonstrations, and if the right to dissent, which was questioned by one of my hon. Friends, is in dispute, he need only to have attended the Labour Party conference to have seen that the right to dissent was exercised there.

Mr. Heffer

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I feel that he must explain who were the Members supposed to have made this statement. I have sat through the debate and I have not heard one hon. Member making this point. Can he tell us who has done so?

Mr. Ennals

It was my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) who used the term "the steady erosion of our freedom". He used this term after he and others had suggested that in some way there was a limitation on the freedom of students to argue, and express their views.—[HON. MEMBERS: No.] If none of my hon. Friends now say that they have raised this and if the question of the steady erosion of our freedom is not an issue, I will be very happy to accept their assurances and continue.

Mr. Newens

As I have been named, may I take this opportunity of making it quite clear that I made no such implication. I did not say that there was not full freedom among students in this country to debate. My hon. Friend has obviously misconstrued what I said. I take the same attitude as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on this matter.

Mr. Ennals

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that assurance. I think that we are all proud of the extent to which there is expression of all points of view. One might wish that the same degree of freedom to dissent from Government policy existed in the countries which are supporting the North Viet- namese Government. There is no truth whatever in an assertion made by one of my hon. Friends that some pressure was brought to bear upon the B.B.C. not to broadcast some programmes. I believe that the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), who clearly has had some information on this, knows that there is no truth in that suggestion. Neither is there any question of it being Government policy to refuse entry to all critics of the war in Vietnam. There are no doubt—and my hon. Friends have referred to this—people from many countries, including the United States, who have come here and argued their case on public platforms, on television and in the Press.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)


Mr. Ennals

I am coming to that. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be patient. I was patient when the arguments were put to me. There is no intention by the Home Office to deny to critics of either British Government policy or American Government policy the right to come here and argue their case.

There cannot have been an occasion in recent years when a public issue has been more openly and publicly debated than the issue in Vietnam has been debated in this country, as it is in the United States. To compare this refusal with visits which my hon. Friends paid to the United States a little earlier this year is absurd. To suggest that, because these three persons were not admitted, the United States Government are, therefore, more liberal by allowing a number of Labour Members of Parliament to go to the United States is to stretch the credulity of the House. We welcome people coming here and arguing their case and exchanging views, as my hon. Friends did in the United States during the Recess.

I turn to the facts about the situation in question. It has been said that action was taken to stop London School of Economics students hearing these three Vietnamese. One might have assumed from this that the London School of Economics, or the Students Union and other students of the L.S.E. who were anxious to hear the views of these students had made application in advance for them to come here. One might even have imagined that, if the delegation wished to come, they might have applied for visas. But none of the three persons concerned made any approach to our representative in any part of the world applying for visas to come to Britain. There was no advance application for visas. It was only a very short time before these persons were due to arrive in London that we knew that they were intending to arrive in London or that there was any question of this particular group arriving in London to take part in any debate.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

Would not my hon. Friend agree that before we went into Recess for the summer I was in correspondence with him about the possibility of these students coming to Britain and was informed by his Department in categorical terms that there could be no question of visas being issued?

Mr. Ennals

It is certainly true that my hon. Friend and a number of other hon. Members were in correspondence with the Home Office—in fact, with me personally—on the question of a number of delegations. I am not aware that this group was the group about which my hon. Friend made any representations. In fact, I did not know the names of the persons until they had almost arrived at London Airport. Therefore, little opportunity was given for us to look at the applications for these three persons.

Mr. Judd

Does my hon. Friend suggest that, notwithstanding the categorical answers given to my correspondence before the Recess, the Home Office would have been prepared to look at the issue anew?

Mr. Ennals

I am not suggesting that. But we would have looked at the applications.

I now want to turn to the three persons concerned. I do not believe that, except with a great stretch of the imagination, one could call this a delegation of students. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), who saw them, described them as three young people aged 25, 22 and 21. He greatly under-estimated the ages of these supposed students, one of whom was advanc- ing to middle age. This is why I have not been calling them students.

The first was Mr. Ly Van Sau, aged 37. He must have been studying for a very long time. He was the deputy head of the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front permanent mission in Cuba. He is, therefore, a diplomat based in Cuba. He was the leader of the so-called student delegation. To imagine that this was a little group of friendly students who had come over to express their own personal views in frank discussion with their student brothers—those who made that suggestion—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon Members have been listened to in complete silence. I would remind the House that this is a debate about freedom of speech.

Mr. Ennals

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If one of my hon. Friends wishes to intervene, I will notice him, but I should like to complete the delegation.

The second member of the delegation was aged 34. She is Mrs. Nguyen Ngoc Dung. She has been active as a representative of the South Vietnamese Liberation Front Women's Union. She is also a member of the Central Committee of the South Vietnam Pupils and Students Association. I do not think that it is seriously suggested that she is a student in the sense that we conceive of the word "student" in this country.

The third member of the delegation—the baby of the party—was admittedly only aged 27. He was Mr. Le Mai. Whether he is continuing his studies in any centre of academic learning in Vietnam or any part of the world, I very much doubt.

This collection of people was quite clearly selected to present a particular point of view. The suggestion that it should be treated as a student delegation is one which I frankly cannot accept.

Mr. Mendelson

Before we follow my hon. Friend into the details of the group of three, will he answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd), who had correspondence with my hon. Friend and was categorically told that there could be no question of any such students being admitted? Is he seriously arguing that, having rejected any potential application for admittance of these students, he would have admitted them if the application had been made? Will he—and this is the test—admit a delegation of students if they are a little younger and come from the National Liberation Front?

Mr. Ennals

I cannot say what decision would have been taken if we had received an application for visas for these three particular persons. Had it been suggested that this was a student delegation, I think that that would have been open to question. My hon. Friend has asked me what would be the Government's attitude if another student delegation were to seek a visa. I will come to that question in a minute. If my hon. Friend is not satisfied with what I have to say, I will be very happy to stand down.

The point which I am making is that these three people who arrived from Canada were not students in the sense in which we accept the word.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I may be responsible for a misunderstanding. Because these three people had been addressing students, and because they looked to my untrained eye to be younger than they obviously were, I assumed that they were students, and I said that they were students. I do not know that they ever told me that they were students. They certainly wished to address students in this country. If I said that they were students, I will take full responsibility for that. I simply thought that they were students.

Mr. Ennals

I think that quite a number of people were taken in by the circumstances of this case, and this is one reason why I welcome the opportunity to reply to the debate. Clearly a number of my hon. Friends and a number of student groups were under the impression, no doubt sincerely, that this was a small group of students instead of a group of middle-aged people who were clearly coming—[Interruption.] Once one has reached my age, one considers people of these years to be middle-aged.

Mr. Heffer

I am fascinated. As you did not receive any application—

Mr. Speaker

Order. "You" means Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member must use the Parliamentary form of address.

Mr. Heffer

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, if I have gone slightly astray in Parliamentary language. Even after three years, I find it difficult to speak other than in the normal way in which I am used to speaking to other people.

I would like my hon. Friend to explain how he knows the ages of the three people, because he says that he did not receive an application for a visa. This is intriguing. The three people came to London Airport only for a couple of hours and then went off again. If no application was received, how does my hon. Friend have all these details of the visitors?

Mr. Ennals

That is an easy question to answer. Whenever anyone arrives at London Airport with a desire to be admitted, he is asked for details of himself. The two gentlemen and the lady were kind enough to serve the immigration officer with the information for which he asked.

My point, therefore, in conclusion of this part of what I have to say, is that it could not be considered in any sense as a student delegation. The thought that these were unsophisticated students, that they had come to exchange views with their colleagues or that they were in any way open to persuasion or to take part in the cut and thrust of debate, is one which cannot be accepted. They were propagandists. They would undoubtedly have had no freedom to give other than a straight governmental view had they been here. It would have been purely a propaganda exercise on behalf of the North Vietnamese authorities.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

What is my hon. Friend's objection to propaganda? Surely, he would not be where he is now if it were not for propagandists like myself.

Mr. Ennals

This point was raised in an exchange by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), who, I am sorry to see, has left his place. Perhaps he was not as interested in the subject as he suggested at the time. He raised, however, the issue as to whether it was right in certain circumstances to question the purpose of a visit. It was suggested by one of my hon. Friends that the purpose of a visit should not be at issue when the decision is taken whether to grant a visa or to permit entry to aliens who arrive here without visas. My view is that the purpose of a visit must be considered.

My hon. Friend referred to the quite different set of circumstances of a Rhodesian who might wish to come here and argue the case for an illegal régime—there has been correspondence with hon. Friends of mine about this—and whether we should admit aliens who arrive and who, it is known, have Fascist views and wish to seek the opportunity of student and other audiences to express those views. During my short period at the Home Office, I have certainly had representations from my Parliamentary colleagues that certain named persons should not be admitted because of the views they held and because the expression of those views in this country was in no interest of peace or of good relations.

The question sometimes arises whether someone who may hold extreme racialist views and whose purpose might be to stir up racial hatred should be admitted. I submit that the purpose of an alien when intending to come and be admitted to this country is relevant.

It is a very difficult question. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would always be very reluctant to deny entry to anyone. His natural inclination would be to accept an alien who wishes to come to this country and to make statements and take part in policy discussions. We must, however, ask ourselves whether the visit in question by this group of propagandists would have served any purpose in bringing about a settlement of the war in Vietnam or in clarifying the views of the British public or of British students, and whether any purpose would have been served in the interests of peace and good understanding by admitting the delegation. It was the Government's view that no purpose would be served in trying to bring about a peaceful settlement by admitting the delegation.

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend has explained about certain racialists, white or black, not being allowed into Britain. That is fair enough. Has anyone been prevented from coming into Britain, however, to put the American point of view on Vietnam? It seems to me that Americans have been here putting the official point of view. If we are to be neutral, as the Foreign Secretary has stated that we should be neutral in this struggle, why should we not allow in Communists from North Vietnam or from South Vietnam controlled by Communists to put their point of view? What harm is there in that?

Mr. Ennals

In the early part of his question, my hon. Friend asked whether there was not point in admitting people who take an anti-American view of the war in Vietnam. As I said earlier, many people have been admitted to this country whose views are known to be against the war in Vietnam—

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend has misunderstood me.

Mr. Ennals

—and they have taken the opportunity of expressing those views while they were in this country.

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. I wanted to know whether any Americans had been prevented from coming over to put the official American policy on Vietnam. The students were not allowed in because they represented the other side. Have Americans been refused entry to this country because they wanted to give the official American Government line on Vietnam?

Mr. Ennals

No, they have not. There is a difference, as my hon. Friend will recognise, in our relationship with the United States and the representatives of North Vietnam. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah"] There is no reason to say "Ah" about this. It is fully understood by the House and by my hon. Friends that we do not have diplomatic relationships with North Vietnam. This—to put it on all fours with exchanges with the United States—does not make sense.

Mr. Dalyell

Have I misunderstood, or is my hon. Friend saying that the State—in this case, the Government of Britain—should be the arbiter of the views which students of the London School of Economics or elsewhere should hear? I hope that he can deny this, but that was what I thought he said.

Mr. Ennals

I most readily deny it. If my hon. Friend suspects that it is the Government's intention to determine what views can circulate by word of mouth, writings, speeches or demonstrations to students, he does not understand the situation. He knows well that every point of view has been presented. The issue at stake is whether we should have admitted these three persons who were called, by some, "students". It has been suggested—

Mr. Judd

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ennals

I have given way many times. I must proceed with answering the questions which have been put to me by many hon. Members who took the opportunity to participate in the debate.

I was asked whether the decision was one by the Home Office, the Foreign Office or some other Government Department. The answer is that this was a decision of the Government. Clearly this is a decision which all members of the Government would accept. The suggestion that knives have been held by one Minister against another is purely supposition.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Is my hon. Friend now saying that the decision as to whether the Home Secretary should allow an alien to enter the country is a decision of the Government? I thought that it was a decision entirely at the discretion of the Home Secretary and exercisable by him alone.

Mr. Ennals

The responsibility, of course, falls upon the Home Secretary to decide whether to grant a visa to permit entry, as to how long a person should stay, or what have you; but, of course, there are occasions, many occasions, on which in deciding, whether it be a small person or a large person, from that country or another, there may be discussion with other Government Departments. Sometimes it may be with the Foreign Office; sometimes it may be with the Department of Commonwealth Affairs; sometimes it would be with the Department of Education and Science, if it were a delegation of students or of academics; sometimes it would be with the Minister of Technology if it were a group of scientists.

I am saying that the decision taken by the Home Office is in fact a decision of the Government. I want emphatically to repudiate any suggestion that this was a decision simply taken by a civil servant. Ministers must accept responsibility for decisions that are taken, and neither my right hon. Friend nor I would seek to evade the responsibility which falls when a decision like this is made. It is always unfortunate, I think, when suggestions are made in the House that a decision has been taken by a civil servant; it is always important that Ministers should rise to make it clear where the responsibility lies when decisions are taken.

I was also asked whether this policy of the Government is a permanent one. This was a question which was put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), and I am certain it is a question which is in the mind also of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd). I cannot answer this question. I cannot answer it because this debate has taken place; views have been expressed in this debate which I must report to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I do not think that he would expect me to give an answer to a question of this importance if he has not himself had the opportunity of weighing up the issues in question. No doubt, at some stage, this matter will be referred to again. I will certainly convey to my right hon. Friend the views which have been expressed. I can say that the matter is one which will be reviewed.

Mr. Judd

I am grateful to you for giving way. May I ask for clarification on one point? You have said that you had no knowledge—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

The hon. Member must use the traditional address. He must say "my honourable Friend" or "the honourable Member".

Mr. Judd

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend has said that the Department had no knowledge of the specific delegation until a few days before it was due. Yet when I inquired last summer about the possibility of a delegation visiting I was told in categorical terms that there was no question of a delegation of students from Vietnam, if envisaged, being admitted. Could my hon. Friend possibly clarify the position? Was there a decision in principle about all delegations, or was it simply a decision about this particular delegation?

Mr. Ennals

There was a decision in principle taken at the time when my hon. Friend was in correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, whether it was June or July last year.

He asked me whether I would link together that application of principle and this particular group, and I can assure him that I did not know of the intention of this group to arrive in London until approximately 48 hours before it actually arrived at London Airport. I did not know what the names or the status or the ages of these persons were until they had arrived. If my hon. Friend is asking me whether the three persons, called by some "students", who arrived at London Airport, were the persons he had in mind I can only say "I do not know." Maybe he knows himself, but it is not in my knowledge.

Mr. Judd

I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I think he is putting up a valiant defence for a case which, I am sure, in his heart he does not really like. The point I was putting to him was that a decision had been made last summer in principle against admitting any student delegation whatsoever.

Mr. Ennals

I have already said that the decision was taken in principle in June or July last year and that this was a matter on which there was correspondence with the Home Secretary.

Mr. Orme

May I ask a question on the same point?

Mr. Ennals

All right.

Mr. Orme

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is the first interrogation I have made since I spoke. Why did we have from my hon. Friend this long catalogue of these three people—their ages, how they were middle-aged, the fact that they were not students—if the Government had taken a decision in principle? He makes ludicrous what he has said.

Mr. Ennals

I have not said that the Government have taken a decision that no persons will be admitted. The debate was raised this evening concerning the refusal to admit three persons at London Airport, and it is very relevant to know those persons' names and their ages and whether we could seriously take them as a student delegation.

I must bring my remarks to a close. There has been a great deal of emotion in the House this evening, and I can understand it. As I said at the very beginning of my reply, feelings about free speech run very deep, especially among those sitting on this side of the House. There might also be some reason to feel emotion at the failure of the North Vietnamese régime to take such steps as they can to see an end to this conflict. I want in conclusion to reiterate words which were said by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in reply to a Question on 1st June. He said: The need at the moment is to talk about peace, not about war. If the North Vietnamese Government were willing to accept our representatives for serious talks on ways and means of ending the conflict, or were willing to send their representatives here for this purpose, they would find Her Majesty's Government immediately responsive."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1967; Vol. 747, c. 250.]