HC Deb 10 February 1970 vol 795 cc1068-70
Q1. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister when he proposes to visit Moscow.

Q3. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now pay an official visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) on 5th February.—[Vol. 795, c. 620–21.]

Mr. Marten

As the Prime Minister has not yet arranged to visit Moscow, would he in the meantime do everything to strengthen Anglo-French relations over the gathering crisis in the Middle East about which he has been talking to the Russians?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Certainly we are in touch with the French Government and our other partners in the four-Power talks.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, apart from the benefit of being seen in high society, these global scurryings really serve no practical purpose? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Would it not be better and cheaper for the Prime Minister to stay at home with us?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion. I remember that he and some others criticised my visit to Moscow in 1966, which they thought was ill-timed. If they have seen the statements by Senator Mansfield and others in the United States, they will feel that it had an extremely important effect at a dangerous moment in time.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

When the right hon. Gentleman goes to Moscow, will he inquire into the increasing use of selection procedures in the Russian system of education? Will he inquire into whether this resulted from any pledge by Mr. Kosygin that selective schools would be abolished only over his dead body?

The Prime Minister

I have had occasion on more than one visit to the Soviet Union to compare some of their inegalitarian practices with ours. The same is true of certain other countries. However, we cannot afford whatever the Russians may feel they can afford, a basis of selection at the age of 11 which denies an adequate education to three-quarters of the population.

Mr. Fernyhough

Would my right hon. Friend agree that if he were to act on every suggestion made by hon. Members opposite that he should visit certain countries abroad, he would hardly ever be here? There is purpose in their madness because they are very much afraid of the replies they get from him when he is here.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is less than fair to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who seemed to want me to stay here. It looks as though hon. Members opposite are as divided on this matter as on everything else. If I had taken account of their advice in other matters and had done what they said over the last five years, we would now have a balance of payments deficit of £1,500 million. Also, if I were now to take account of their Selsdon Park thesis, the cost of living would be twice as high.

Mr. Heath

Could the Prime Minister say whether in his letter to Mr. Kosygin he put forward specific British proposals for implementing the United Nations resolution in order to achieve a settlement in the Middle East, or are the British Government not putting forward specific proposals of their own but agreeing with those put forward by one of the other four powers?

The Prime Minister

There is a later Question on the exchanges with Mr. Kosygin. We have replied in what we feel the House will regard as a constructive way to the dangers which he set out, including our proposals for arms control and our desire to join with them in condemning all breaches of the ceasefire. So far as the four-Power talks are concerned, the British Government will be putting forward our own ideas. We are close to one of the other Powers, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and I am sure he will agree with that, but we are putting forward our own ideas on some matters which have not been adequately ventilated in the four-Power talks.