HC Deb 21 May 1969 vol 784 cc423-5
30. Mr. Boston

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on his official visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

33. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Minister of Technology what was the purpose of his visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

39. Mr. Palmer

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on his official visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Mr. Benn

I visited the Soviet Union from 13th-20th May for a review of the Anglo-Soviet Technological Agreement in accordance with the provisions of that Agreement. I was also able to have a useful discussion with Mr. Kosygin. I will place a copy of my programme and the Agreed Minute in the Library of the House.

Mr. Boston

Will my right hon. Friend accept that this resumption of Ministerial contacts with the Soviet Union is very welcome; and that, although this does not affect our view of events in Czechoslovakia last August, it is precisely in developing contacts of this kind that the best hope lies for improving East-West relations? Can he confirm, on the follow-up action and co-operation between industry and Government, that industry is very enthusiastic about the prospects here?

Mr. Benn

I can confirm what my hon. Friend said. Of course, the real work that goes on under the agreement is conducted by a very large number of industrialists, led by the C.B.I., who have engaged in very active exchanges over a period now of 18 months to two years. We are here talking about the development of our British trade in the long term in a very rapidly expanding market.

Mr. Osborn

I welcome increasing prospects of trade, but can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that scientific and technological teams going from this country to the Soviet Union will have the same access to factories and information as we give to our guests when they come to this country? Has the Minister been able to iron out past difficulties in this respect?

Mr. Benn

One of the reasons for an agreement of this kind is to provide Ministerial contact at the top where problems of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member can be discussed. I took the opportunity when I was there, when I visited the very successful British pavilion at the Automation Exhibition, of discussing with British business men the degree of access they can get to their customers in the Soviet Union. This is one of the matters, among many others, which I hope, under the agreement, to be able to bring to the attention of the Soviet authorities at the highest level.

Mr. Palmer

Did my right hon. Friend, in his very proper and free exchange of scientific opinion and information on technological developments as between civilised countries, discuss with the Soviet leaders the case of Mr. Gerald Brooke, who has been barbarously treated by the Russians for freely and openly expressing the same political opinions as my right hon. Friend and I accept?

Mr. Benn

As I explained when I arrived there, before I left, and on my return, the subject of Gerald Brooke was not on the agenda of my talks because, as the House knows, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will the Minister say whether there has been any attempt to resolve the somewhat different opinions held between the British Government and the Department of Defence in the United States over this type of technological co-operation?

Mr. Benn

I am not aware of any difficulties which have arisen in this case. The arrangements that we have with the Soviet authorities, which are principally industrial in character, are wholly compatible with our international obligations, and are conducted in such a way as to open up areas of trade, in which, I might add, American businessmen in the Soviet Union are also very active indeed.

Mr. Grimond

As the Minister apparently expressed regret for the history of British imperialism in Russia, did he draw the attention of the Russians to their own imperialism and suggest that they should do something about it?

Mr. Benn

I was lecturing at the State Committee on the problems of the modernisation of the British economy. There is no doubt whatsoever, if we look back over the last hundred years, that the diversion of effort that occurred in this country in the maintenance of a large overseas empire is one of the reasons why, in the area of management and of industrial restructuring and in a lot of other ways, this country acquired some of its current economic problems.