HL Deb 21 March 1963 vol 247 cc1236-64

3.51 p.m.

LORD KENNET rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will rescind their decision to refuse visas to scientists and artistes from East Germany while permitting them to merchants; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The question of visas for East German visitors to this country is something of which the House has been seized, in bits and pieces, more than once over recent weeks; but I hope that in having a small debate about the whole subject it will be advantageous to the House and to public opinion in general to air the matter in a more orderly and general way than we have been able to do hitherto. My purpose in putting down the Motion is mainly to inquire from the Government how the system works; why it was set up; by whom it was set up; and whether it is their considered and leisurely opinion that it is working to the advantage of this country and the world.

I believe it is the result of a decision taken by several countries together: this country, France, America and West Germany. I should like to inquire from the noble Earl who is to speak for the Government whether it is actually a NATO decision, or whether it is a decision taken by four individual countries together who happen to be members of NATO; whether it has been taken for a trial period, or whether it is to go on for ever. The general form, the way the system works, is that businessmen are admitted to do deals, but that nobody else is admitted. You are not allowed to come to a conference if you are a scientist; you are not allowed to come to perform on the stage if you are an actor; and, so far as sporting events are concerned, you are not allowed to come to committee meetings which regulate sporting events. If I may give one or two examples of the way it seems to work, I would take first (and this has been raised before in this House) the International Congress of Pure and Applied Chemistry, which is to be held in this country this year. The East Germans are excluded. The International Congress of Botany is to be held in this country in the slightly less immediate future; and the International Geographical Congress is also to be held in this country. Again, no East Germans.

The result of this is foreseeable enough. It is that in all the international scientific unions of the world the question is boiling up: shall we hold our congress in England, as we have planned and as we should like to do, or shall we hold it in some other country where they will admit scientists on the single criterion of whether they are qualified scientists and not on whether they happen to be East or West German scientists? I under- stand that the decision of the British Government in this matter has given rise to such disquiet in international scientific circles that the I.C.S.U. (as it is called), the International Conference of Scientific Unions, which groups all the international scientific unions in one office, has considered the matter and is putting it on the agenda of UNESCO in the name, simply enough, of the freedom of science. That is what is being infringed here, and it is something pretty basic to our way of life.

If I turn now to sport, an example in this field is that of the International Yacht Racing Union. This is the only body in the world which makes rules for the sport; it is the body recognised by the Olympic Committee as the international yacht racing set-up. It has more than 30 members, and its permanent seat is in London. Its secretariat is in London; its permanent committee meets in London and the annual conference is normally held in London. For the last three years there have been no East Germans. Russians, Poles and Czechs have come. And they naturally are now beginning to say: "Let us move our permanent committee meetings and our annual conference away from London to a city where all the members of this international sporting union can be represented at the committee meetings and at the Assembly." That is a pressure which it is hard to resist, because, like science, sport is supposed not to be political but to be a general human activity. What interests sportsmen is whether you can sail or run fast, just as what interests botanists is whether you happen to understand how flowers are made, and not whether you happen to be a body in East or in West Germany, let alone whether you are a Communist or not.

Recently, the House considered at Question Time the matter of the Berlin Ensemble, the East Berlin Theatre Company (the noble Earl thought it was a concert company, but actually it is a theatre company). They knew that they would be refused visas to come here, and therefore the visit, which had been arranged by an English impresario, was called off. Here, again, how does this system work in detail? The Berlin Ensemble is a company created by Bertold Brecht, who died recently. He was a Communist; but there is no doubt that, of all the Communists in the world, he was one of the most flexible, the most liberal and the most humane. If we have any hope of Communism getting less deplorable than it is, then we want to put all our hopes on such men as Bertold Brecht; and I cannot see the purpose in permitting the standard works of Communist propaganda, which may come from the Soviet Union itself, complete freedom in this country, and yet excluding the far more interesting works of deviant Communists, where there is a breaking up and a little democracy creeping in. This was the practical effect of the decision regarding the Brecht company. I understand that, now that the quadripartite system of refusing visas to the East Germans is becoming known and established in the world, the East German authorities are beginning to use it as an excuse for refusing exit permits. There are cases of church leaders who have been refused permission to leave East Germany to come to meetings in the West, because the East German authorities say: "If you will not let our scientists come, we do not see why we should let our church leaders out". In other words, reprisal is leading to counter-reprisal in a way that could easily have been foreseen. I wonder where we shall stop in this line of the visa war.

I come, lastly, to the question of trade itself, because, as I understand it, it is the policy of the Government to exclude everybody else but to let businessmen come in the name of commerce and of profitable mercantile relations between the two countries. Even in this field, from what I gather, it does not work freely; that is to say, we are not getting the kind of trade relationships we should like with East Germany because of the working of this system. An East German wanting to visit England first of all has to go to Berlin and get a Western-type passport from the Western travel office there. Then he has to apply for a visa to be put on it. He then has to wait, after he gets both. I understand this takes always two, and sometimes three, visits to West Berlin. If he does not happen to live in East Berlin—and the majority of the East Germans do not live in Berlin at all—it means that he has to take time off to go twice to Berlin to do this.

The kind of people who are able and willing to do this are, I understand, the rather humbler sort of merchant travellers. It is quite easy to get permission to come to England to sell a consignment of hairbrushes, or to buy soap, or to buy a particular machine, and the sort of man whose job it is to do that is prepared to queue up and make these many visits to get his passport and his permit. Then he flies over, leaving East Berlin with the German passport, putting that in his pocket and bringing out the Western supply passport when he lands in London. The sort of people who determine the trading pattern of East Germany are not such men at all. They are higher technocrats, who may be called "Herr Professor" or "Herr Doktor" this or that. They will be scientists; they will hold university jobs, Government jobs and industrial jobs all together. They are likely to be refused permits under the ruling which does not allow scientists to come to this country.

There is another point. They are, of course, less likely to bother to queue up and to go through the bureaucracy to get permission to come here. They cannot say, "Let us go to England to the International Conference of Precision Engineering; and while we are there let us look around to see what British industry is building; and when we get home let us adapt the structure of East German industry to buy British machinery." They cannot do that. They must have a specific purpose. Naturally, they do not take the trouble, and they go somewhere else. They go, it may be, to Sweden, which recognises an East German travel document. There are many other sources of supply. In other words, the operation of the system is supposed to exclude businessmen. I have the impression that it is probably lowering the efficiency in trade between the two countries.

I now come to the more general issue of whether we ought to be doing this. The Times, when it carried a tiny note of the fact that I was to put this Motion to the House, put a headline on it, "Lords plea for East Germans." This is far from my purpose in raising the matter. I am making a plea for this country and for common sense in the sphere of international science and sport. It is in no sense a plea for East Germans, still less a plea for the East German régime, which I detest as much as anybody in this House does. It is for the freedom of science. Is it the position of the Government that there is no chemistry or botany in East Germany; or that, if there is, it is no good: that it is an inferior science? If not, is our country not the sort of country where we should like anybody to be able to come and talk harmlessly about stamens and pistils in a learned conference? Again, is it not the view of the Government that sport should be equal for all? Or is it possible to maintain that there is no sport in East Germany; that East Germans do not know how to sail boats, or, if they do, that they are so bad at it that it is not worth admitting them?

This system is applied in the name of NATO and the West. We have this Western Alliance precisely for freedom. I think it is a sad condition to get into when these basic freedoms, which by tradition have always been enjoyed between all countries in the name of freedom itself, are refused. We seem to have reached a striking paradox. When we talked about this matter at Question Time recently, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, justified the decision of the Government on the Berliner Ensemble as follows [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 246 (No. 31), col. 244]: This policy"— that is the visa policy— is to draw attention to the inhuman nature of the Berlin Wall which the East German authorities erected in August, 1961. We and our Allies decided that we could not simply acquiesce in the building of the Wall without expressing our revulsion in some practical form. My Lords, "some practical form"! Is the situation I have been describing practical? If so, in what way?

Later on, the noble Earl said (col. 245): That Government"— he was referring to the East German Government— allows its own nationals to apply for visas only if it considers that it will thereby acquire some propaganda advantage… I do not understand this. What propaganda advantage can accrue to the East German State by fairly lowly business persons coming to Britain buying British machinery, selling us Communist-made hair-brushes? This is hardly propaganda; it is trade; it leads to a trading advantage but not to a propaganda advantage. I think that the justification given by the noble Earl must be an inaccurate one. Let us suppose for a moment that there were some propaganda advantage to be gained by East Germany in selecting the persons they wanted to allow to come to this country. Would that therefore be a reason for our refusing them entry on propaganda grounds?

My Lords, in general, the Wall is there. It is horrible, we all agree. It arouses detestation. It seems to me that what must have happened—and I should like to hear whether this is the correct explanation—was that the four Western countries sat down together and said, "What can we do with this horrible thing that has happened? We cannot knock it down; we cannot declare a world war. There must be something we can do." And they fell back on this rather absurd and jejune position, in default of being able to do something which would really help the unfortunate people living under that tyranny in East Germany—because this does not help them. If anything, it hinders them in lowering trade and preventing the free flow of the small comfort which is given by intellectual freedom in those circumstances.

Obviously, if we want to help the people living there, there is one way, and one way only; and that is by a German settlement. The Wall was not built as an act of completely arbitrary savagery out of the blue sky. It was built as an end-product of a whole development lasting seventeen years. One thing led to another; (things went from bad to worse in the cold war, the whole thing stemming from the fact that the Eastern and Western armies happened to fetch up in the middle of Germany, instead of somewhere else, dividing that country. I do not think there is much justification for continuing tit for tat on this matter without at least at the same time making a much greater effort than before towards the only sort of settlement that will make the Wall, as well as all these visa regulations, unnecessary. In default of a full and justifiable explanation, which I hope we may have, from the Government, I feel disposed to ask whether it would not be possible for this country to take the initiative with the three Allies concerned in getting rid of this niggling Communist-type restriction. Because whose face are we actually spiting when we cut off this particular little nose? My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord has rendered a great service in raising this general question this afternoon. It is one of enormous difficulty, but is one which we have to face, and have not faced yet. I have spent a great deal of my time on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the last twelve months and while the attitude of the Government towards most of the countries that I visited has been perfectly clear, so far as East Germany is concerned, the policy of Her Majesty's Government has seemed to me to have been pervaded by what I can only describe as a mild attitude of chaos. I think they have not yet thought the thing through, and do not know where they are, or precisely what to do. Even in trade, France and Italy, as my noble friend knows, recently negotiated renewed trade agreements with East Germany on the basis of a substantial increase amounting to 17 per cent. and 20 per cent. respectively of quotas. We are negotiating on the basis of no increase of quotas at all.

Furthermore, the Government seem to be so frightened of the whole business that they have chucked the negotiations over to the Federation of British Industries in order, I suppose, that they may not have to accept any responsibility. But Her Majesty's Government must know perfectly well that a great amount of trade is being done, and that a great amount of contacts continue, between East and West Germany at the present time. In fact, West Germany is doing the major part of the trade, not through Berlin any longer, because of this detestable Wall, but through other channels. I sincerely believe that Her Majesty's Government have not really considered what the best way through this present situation is.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was perfectly right when he said that the ultimate solution must lie in a solution of the Berlin problem and ultimately of the German problem as a whole. That is what we must strive for. But in the meantime, it is necessary to face the facts as they are, and to exercise at least a certain degree of common sense. The noble Lord referred to the refusal of visas to prevent scientists from East Germany—and there are some very good scientists in East Germany—from coming to conferences in this country. I cannot see any reason for that at all. If the noble Earl thinks that he can fight a kind of "visa war" over the Berlin Wall, I think he has another thought coming. That is not the way to handle the Berlin Wall problem. It is a horrible problem, although there have been signs recently that there may be some amelioration, particularly in the attitude of the East German Government and of Mr. Khrushchev himself. That we can only hope for. But I am quite sure that you are not going to put up any effective resistance to the Wall by refusing a few visas to scientists from East Germany, and still going on granting them to businessmen.

Then there is the question of the Leipzig Fair, which comes up annually. A great many of our business firms go there. They think it is a shop-window, and a good one, for the whole of the Eastern World. That may or may not be right; but they simply do not know what is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards their enterprise. They do not get straight disapproval; they do not get any support. They just get a kind of blank. They still go there; but they cannot find out what the attitude of Her Majesty's Government is towards trade between this country and East Germany in general; and I think the simple reason is that Her Majesty's Government do not themselves know.

No one is asking at the present time for de jure or even de facto recognition for East Germany, but what I think is becoming really necessary is that Her Majesty's Government should face up to the fact that this situation may continue for quite a long time to come, and that we ought to have a much more concrete and considered policy than we at present possess, because, so far as I can make out, we have none at all. Businessmen, scientists and everybody else should be informed quite clearly of the policy of Her Majesty's Government because, so far as I can make out, nobody in any field, either in science or in business, has a clue as to what it really is.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down knows far more about East-West trade than I do, but that is the aspect of this question which I should like to put to your Lord-ships for just a few minutes. When the question was raised by my noble friend Lord Kennet some weeks ago at Question Time, the ground which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, gave for the policy of refusal of visas was the brutal inhumanity of the Wall. He said that we could not acquiesce in the building of the Wall without expressing our revulsion in some practical form, and that it was done in agreement with out NATO Allies. Which Allies, is not altogether clear. He mentioned at another point two Allies, the French and the American. Whether the other Allies, the West Germans and others, were all parties to this decision, he did not tell us.

This revulsion that we feel over the inhumanity of the Berlin Wall may extend to banning cultural missions and scientists from coming over here, but it does not extend to banning trade; and trade, surely, confers advantages to both sides who participate. We are conferring benefits on the East German regime by our trade, and it seems strange that we should continue to exchange the mutual benefits of trade with this inhuman Government while, at the same time, banning the more civilised forms of interchange between nations.

I have spoken to somebody who was at the Leipzig Fair last week. I am told that there was a British national pavilion, that some 200 firms; took part, and that the figure for the contracts that were signed just at the end of the Fair, a week ago to-day, was £371,000 worth of exports from British firms. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said that a financial agreement had been reached by the Federation of British Industries with East Germany allowing for, I think, £8½ million worth of exports from this country to East Germany and £9½ million worth of imports to this country from East Germany. So we are evidently offending against this attempted boycott on the part of the NATO Powers, and so are our other Allies.

I am told that the French Government had a national pavilion at the Leipzig Fair and that quite a large number of French firms exhibited there. Though it is true that there was no direct

American representation, I think it is well known that a good deal of trade does take place between East Germany and America. As for the Federal German Government, I was also given the figures of the trade last year between West Germany and East Germany. The figures I was given were that West Germany imported a monthly average of £6.8 million worth of goods, and exported to East Germany a monthly average of £6.35 million worth. That, in annual figures, makes our trade look very small beer. Who are the West Germans, therefore, to tell us we are to give visas to East German citizens, or not? It really is the last word in hypocrisy.

So far as the Americans are concerned, they are very ready to try to persuade their Western Allies to boycott trade with Communist countries; and do not let us forget the question of imports of Russian oil into this country, trade with Cuba and trade with China, and all the rest. What have we read this last week from the most unexpected source, from Southern Rhodesia? The Southern Rhodesian chrome-mining industry, which employs 10,000 people in that very hard hit country at the moment, produces £2 million to £4 million worth of ore annually, most of which, I believe, goes to the United States. They are now facing a complete shut-down because the Americans have done a deal with Russia. The Americans have found a more advantageous price offered them by Russia, and I believe that American firms have signed a three-year contract for practically as much chrome ore as they have obtained from Southern Rhodesia. That is an act which you Would say is not very friendly towards a NATO Ally. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take a stronger line with their Allies and not merely accept a decision, or the wish, however strongly expressed, of her Allies if it involves them in acts of such gross hypocrisy as this.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like from these Benches to offer a few words of support to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I must admit that I found it hard to follow the logic of some of the answers given by the noble Earl to my noble friend's Question on January 29. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has already reminded us that the noble Earl then said this policy was to draw attention to the inhuman nature of the Berlin Wall. I yield to no one, not even the noble Lord, in my detestation of the Berlin Wall. But I feel that this is the most extraordinary way of drawing attention to it. In the first place, how would it succeed in doing so unless the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, put down Questions and Motions on this subject? It is in no way drawing attention to the Berlin Wall at all.

Secondly, I should have thought that when we have disagreed with a foreign Government, whether with its inhumanity or with any other aspect of it, we have always employed economic rather than artistic sanctions. We do not have to go back to the Abyssinian war (when, so far as I know, we did not try to stop Italian opera singers coming to this country) to see that is the usual way of dealing with the problem; because I think that economic sanctions are already applied to Russia, in the sense that there are certain goods we do not supply. I should have thought that, artistes being perhaps the least political category to be found in any country, it would be far more appropriate to stick to traditional means and apply economic rather than artistic sanctions.

Moreover, as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, pointed out last month, it is surely the case that, however horrible the Berlin Wall may be, far grosser inhumanities are being perpetrated inside the Soviet Union at the present time; although we may not know of them, they are still being perpetrated there. Yet we not only trade with the Soviet Union but welcome Soviet artistes on every occasion. I do not, therefore, see the force of that argument. The noble Earl also said at that time that the East German Government was not one with which the Government could allow an exchange of "civilised amenities". It seems to me two points arise out of that comment. Is this an admission that businessmen are uncivilised? It may be perfectly true, but I do not see the point of admitting it at this stage. The other point is this: is the Russian Government one with which we can have a free exchange of civilised amenities, whether businessmen or ballet dancers?—because in both cases we allow them in freely.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has already indirectly reminded your Lord-ships that, in reply to a question by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, the noble Earl made a reply which was surprising to some of us. He said that the category of applicants for visas to which admission is refused was that of musical performers. And we were at that time discussing the Berliner Ensemble. I do not know whether the noble Earl's definition would cover that well-known group of actors, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It so happens that the Royal Philharmonic was at that time on tour in East Germany, performing in Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. On the very day of that debate our leading orchestra was giving a performance in East Germany.


My Lords, I must intervene. We did not give a performance in East Germany. We gave performances in Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw, Leningrad, and Kiev; but not East Germany.


My Lords, I accept that I have made a mistake and completely withdraw the question I was going to ask.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I rise to give a rather different point of view and to hope that Her Majesty's Government will maintain more or less their present attitude? Let me say at once to the noble Lords who have spoken and take a different view that of course I accept what they say about their detestation of the Wall and of the tyranny to which the people of East Germany are subjected. But, my Lords, I wonder whether they realise—I suppose it is guesswork for all of us, but I think we ought to try, in imagination at any rate, to picture—the feelings of the ordinary inhabitant of East Germany who has had imposed upon him a tyranny which is the mere projection of the Russian State, a tyranny which could not survive for a day but for the armed power of that State. Is it really to be said that such a tyranny, which as a Government we recognise neither de facto nor de jure, should incur no more difficulty than any other State when it comes to citizens wishing to go abroad?

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said should we not like to receive anybody from that country? Well, anybody, perhaps, yes, but not particular people approved by this tyranny and no one else, which is what the proposition before us means. Of course, I agree with what has been said by various people. It would give us pleasure over here, if we could see this theatrical company perform. Of course it would. But, my Lords, I am thinking of ordinary persons in East Germany, who hate this tyranny and, before the Wall was erected, showed their detestation of this tyranny by coming over the frontier with every risk, literally in hundreds of thousands and even in millions; those are the people with whom we are concerned.


My Lords, does the noble Lord hold the artist as being responsible for the imposition of this tyranny?


NO; I thought I was dealing with that matter, but I will try to explain my meaning. Of course I do not hold that, and of course no artist would be allowed by the East German tyranny to come unless it was very confident of that particular man being a reliable person from its point of view. That Government would no doubt make an occasional mistake. Occasionally some artists whom it allowed out would apply for asylum when in this country. I agree that we are depriving an occasional artist, an occasional scientist, of an ability to enjoy a little more freedom. But what I would point out to the noble Lord who interrupted me is that I am not thinking at the present moment of those who might get permits from this Government. I am thinking of the hundreds of thousands who could not, who are the victims of this tyranny, but while bans of this sort are in existence are at least conscious of the fact that there are in the Western world some people who remember their plight, some people who are not prepared to overlook the tyranny to which they are subjected.

I know the two logical points that can be put against this. One was put by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, whose humanity in these matters we all recognise and know. He said, "Well, what about trade?" The only conceivable reason for allowing the trade is that we think we get enough advantages for ourselves to make that worth while. But I do not think that provides any reason for abolishing every sign of disapproval, something that is known to the ordinary inhabitant in East Germany, the sign of a disapproval of the régime.


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will forgive me, but perhaps he will allow me to say that I think this is making rather nonsense of his high moral argument, with which I entirely agree, when he says that it is "O.K." when we get an advantage out of it; that we can then go ahead and do what we can; that in fact it is all right.


My Lords, I did not say that it was either all right or "O.K.". I said that was the basis on which we did it, and the only basis on which I think it is justifiable. I agree that you can say that the thing is illogical; but I say that I believe that, if I were an ordinary inhabitant of East Germany, subjected to this monstrous tyranny, one of whose relations has perhaps been caught on the barbed wire or shot trying to escape, I should welcome the fact that there were in France, in England and in America and elsewhere people who so destested the régime that they would not allow that régime to pick and choose which citizen should be allowed to leave the country and which should not. I believe that, and I ask noble Lords to try to exercise their imagination, and ask whether they might not think that.

Noble Lords are quite familiar with the strain of our present relations with France, and they are, I know, most conscious of some of the difficulties caused by that rather difficult, though great, man, General de Gaulle. I believe that those difficulties with France have led certain people to make rather extravagant statements against General de Gaulle. Whatever mistakes he may make, however regrettable some of the things he does may be, I believe sincerely that he is not only a great French patriot but a great European patriot. I believe one of his motives at the present moment is this: that he remains conscious of the millions behind the Iron Curtain who still have hopes of ultimate freedom, and I believe he thinks that, on the whole, the Government of this country and the Government of the United States have written them off.

In foreign affairs debates in the past I have sometimes reminded the House—I hope it was not a wrong thing to do—of the parable of the Good Samaritan. I have asked them to speculate what the Good Samaritan would have done had he come upon the scene not after the outrage and the robbery, but while it was taking place. I ask the House to consider that now. As I say, the East German Government is one of monstrous inhumanity; it is a tyranny which we have neither recognised de facto nor de jure, but of which this is one method by which we can show our disapproval—a disapproval that can even become known to the injured citizens of that country.

One or two noble Lords opposite have said: "Is there not the great tyranny of Soviet Russia?". Of course there is! But in the case of Soviet Russia they are one of the permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations. They are a Government which we recognise, and have recognised for years, de facto and de jure, and whatever our disapproval of them we could not do anything of this kind. But in the case of the East German Government the position is totally different. The action taken by Her Majesty's Government—not alone, but in agreement with their Allies in Berlin—was intended as a sign of the disapproval of this tyranny, and however illogical, I believe it serves a real purpose.

The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, says, "What about trade?". Well, he may think my answer good or bad; but I do not say that this is a moral issue, in the sense that we should be doing something most immoral if we allowed in these artists and scientists. What I do say is that we should be doing something to take away one of the remaining hopes of the people behind the Iron Curtain who are at present reminded by these concrete facts that their tyrannous Government does not enjoy the approval and the generous attitude which other normal Governments enjoy.

That is the sole ground on which I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not relax from their present position. I believe that if we forget all these people living under Communist tyranny and give to the Governments that tyrannise over them an unfettered right to pick and choose which people they allow to leave the country and which they do not, we shall be doing something to show that we have forgotten the tyranny under which these millions are living and have become indifferent to it. For those reasons, I hope that the Government will maintain their attitude.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has confused me somewhat and may possibly have confused the House, because although he is arguing in favour of a continuation of the ban, it seemed to me that the main burden of his argument is, in fact, either for abolishing it or for extending it to all Iron Curtain countries. He said that this was not a moral issue; but I think he underestimates his own feeling: I believe that to him it is a moral issue. It is because we are apt to become confused when moral issues arise that I should like to return to the original contentions of my noble friend, of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken.

The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, several times used the argument that the East German Government was not recognised de jure or de facto. This seems to me to have nothing whatever to do with this particular issue. The reason why this ban has been put on is simply as a protest against the Berlin Wall, and it has nothing whatever to do with the question whether we recognise the East German Government de jure or de facto. If the argument that it is justifiable to continue trading with the Russians is used, then surely the East Germans, who in this matter are clearly the victims of Russian action, ought to be allowed the same advantages. I think the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, was wrong in attributing the phrase "O.K." to the noble Lord, Lord Conesfor—




—because he would never use such an expression. Did the noble Lord wish to say something?


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for yielding to me. He speaks again about giving facilities to the people of East Germany. Of course, if they could be given to all the people of East Germany there would be much to be said for it, but does he not appreciate the point that if you do not recognise the Government either de facto or de jure and they constitute a monstrous tyranny, it is a little foolish to say, "Nevertheless, we give you the complete right to choose which of your subjects can visit this country and which of them cannot"?


My Lords, until the Wall was built, I thought that this particular ban we have put on did not exist. The argument with regard to the issue of visas to the East Germans applies to Czechs, Hungarians, Russians and all of them, and surely we are not arguing that particular issue now. I would say one other thing to Lord Conesford. I am sorry he did not tell us what would have happened if the Good Samaritan had arrived in the middle of the fight. I have been trying to puzzle it out ever since. Whether he would at that moment have said "I will no longer allow you books, but will continue to trade with you", I do not know. It would be interesting if the noble Lord could tell us later.

I should like to turn to the simple argument whether it is in the interests of this country and of the world generally that this ban should be removed. I want to speak purely from the standpoint of the scientist. I would argue that it is primarily in our interest; it is more important for us than for the world at large. I raised this matter during the debate on science; it has been raised by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Fleck; the Royal Society has made representations about it, and a large number of scientific bodies are concerned. The International Congress of Scientific Unions are concerned about it, and next year we shall be holding in this country the Geographical Congress, of which, incidentally, I happen to be a Vice-President. We are going to get into an absurd and difficult position if we find that we are forced at international meetings of scientific bodies and scientific unions to say: "We would advise you to hold your Congress in Sweden or Switzerland or some other country, simply because we want it to be comprehensive, and there are obviously certain East German scientists who have an important part to play."

The Government desire to make a gesture, a gesture which is futile. We do not in any way benefit the East German people; we do not make it any easier for them to get visas; nor is there the slightest chance of its affecting either the East German Government or the Russians. Having taken up this false stand, I know that the Government cannot step down immediately, but I hope that they will listen to the arguments that have been advanced to-day. It may well be that the noble Earl can show us that the Government are thinking about it. We ask them to take the initiative to discuss this problem with our Allies, because we suggest that this gesture is harmful and is doing no good. The free movement of scientists has generally been for the benefit of the world. There are parts of the world where scientists are able to meet freely, and I think this should be extended to all parts of the world.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, it is a slightly ironic and, to me, sad coincidence that in the belief that your Lordships were going to talk about agriculture this afternoon until five o'clock I had agreed to give a tea party in another part of the Palace of Westminster to a large number of the German Youth Movement who have just arrived to visit us in this country. Owing to the unusual, and to me unexpected, taciturnity of your Lord-ships on the subject of agriculture, I have been obliged to cancel this engagement, and have got somebody else to undertake it instead. I hope that they will enjoy themselves.

I ought to say, first of all, that I think your Lordships are aware that our policy—and I think this is also the policy of all Parties in this country—is to increase contact and communication between people in Great Britain and people behind the Iron Curtain. We want to increase trade with them, because we believe that more trade, apart from its other advantages, may in the long run have the effect of toning down the introspective qualities and the ignorance of other countries which prevails among most of the Communist-governed peoples of the world. We have also done everything we can to encourage further cultural exchanges between ourselves and people in all parts of the Iron Curtain countries. And although, as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has rightly said, the Government of East Germany is probably the most inhuman of any Government, either in the Communist world or elsewhere, in normal times our desire to promote more trade and more contact between ourselves and people in the Communist world would apply to East Germany as well as to any other part of it.

I am not sure whether your Lordships are entirely aware of the factual position about travel facilities, travel permission and travel regulations between East Germany and the NATO countries. It is, of course, slightly complicated by the fact that East Germany is not recognised as a separate country. The West Germans feel very strongly, however much they dislike the East German Government, that East Germany and West Germany are the same country, and that they cannot have any travel restrictions between the two. With regard to travel by persons from East Germany to other countries in Europe, we cannot, of course, recognise East German passports because we do not recognise the East German Government. Therefore, in order that inhabitants of East Germany may be able to come here they have always had to get what is called a Temporary Travel Document, which is issued jointly by the quadripartite Powers in Berlin. Now the Russians have split off, this means the three Western Berlin governing countries: the United States, the French and ourselves.

These Temporary Travel Documents, which are issued jointly under the authority of these three Western governing Powers in Berlin, would have to be supplemented in each case by a visa for the particular country concerned. They would have to obtain a British visa if they wanted to come to Britain. The East Germans have allowed residents in their territory to visit foreign countries, as a rule only if they felt it would give them some political advantage, as Lord Conesford very rightly pointed out. They do not by any means allow free travel. They allow groups or individuals to leave East Germany only if they think that it will help them politically.

These Temporary Travel Documents, with certain exceptions which are the concern of the Question by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, were all stopped in August, 1961. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet said, this was a NATO decision, not an individual decision. Or, rather, it was a decision taken jointly in the first instance by the three occupying Powers, which was then confirmed by the NATO Political Council; and in order to get any relaxation in the position or to stop the restrictions the NATO Political Council would have to agree. As I shall perhaps try to show your Lordships in a few minutes, that may be a slight disadvantage in discussing this subject, because of course it is impossible to have political discussions between Allies in an institution like the NATO Council if everybody is allowed to repeat them in public. Naturally, that slightly limits the freedom which any Government in this country would like to have in replying to Parliamentary criticism. We cannot reveal what happens in the NATO Political Council without getting their agreement. But the restrictions were imposed in August, 1961, under the authority of NATO, as a direct result of the building of the Wall by the East German authorities, which was a direct challenge to the status and authority of the three governing Powers in Berlin.

Now there were, and are, certain exceptions made to these restrictions; people to whom we still allow Temporary Travel Documents and visas in order to come here. There are a great many classes of people who are allowed exemption from the restrictions, but for the purpose of our discussion this afternoon I can conveniently divide them into three. First of all, there is private travel by people who are coming on religious affairs, on visits to relatives, on visits to friends, on visits for grounds of health or for the purpose of immigration. Of course, there is hardly anybody who is able to come for the purpose of immigration. The only kind of immigration which happened in practice was by East Germans who travelled from East to West Berlin, which it was the object of the Wall to stop. Then we allow private visits on compassionate grounds, or on private contractual grounds. We try to allow any journeys which are justified on grounds of humanity. The East Germans do not allow movement from East to West Berlin on any such humanitarian grounds. One result of building the Wall has been to cut off 700,000 Berliners from their relatives. They are not allowed to go and visit each other, even when one of their relatives is dying. The numbers of individual permits which have been issued have amounted to only about 300. They have all been cases of old and infirm people who are not considered to be of any economic use. I do not think any able-bodied persons have been allowed to go.

The next class is trade, and we allow visits for trade reasons. Very naturally, the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggests: why, if we allow people to come and go for trade purposes, should we not allow them to come and go for cultural purposes? The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, also stressed that argument. But let me just say why we do allow visits on trade grounds. It is always a question of some theoretical difficulty, whether or not economic sanctions are effective. The cases in which they may be tried or not tried vary enormously. There was the case of Abyssinia before the war. Various proposals are being made now by some people, to the effect that it might have a certain effect in Cuba if everybody came in. Other people are demanding that economic sanctions be imposed against South Africa, and so on. There is no end to the number of proposals that can be made, and I am not going into the general question of whether or not economic sanctions might be effective.

I think most of your Lordships will agree that they are never likely to be effective, in any case, unless they are universally applied. One reason why it would be difficult to apply them universally in the case of Germany is that we do not recognise East Germany as a separate country and the West Germans want, so far as they are concerned, not to have any restrictions against the people whom they regard as their fellow citizens in East Germany. I do not think that restrictions on trade would be likely to have great effect. The question very naturally arises—and I very much understand the attitude of those of your Lordships who have said this: If trading sanctions will not have any effect in ameliorating the position, surely intellectual and cultural sanctions will have even less effect, and may even have the opposite result of failing to ameliorate the antagonism, hardship and obstinacy of the East German Government in their present inhuman conduct, which has been so strongly condemned by all your Lordships, whatever view you have taken in this discussion.

My Lords, I will just put forward one or two considerations on the other side. In the first place I myself felt a sympathetic response to what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said, about the feelings of the people who are oppressed in East Germany, as they all are except the Party organisation which oppresses them. East Germany is the most cruel prison house in the world, and it may well be that, if we were gaily to allow a resumption on our side of movement between East Germany and here, it would have a discouraging effect upon the unfortunate people who are suffering from this oppression in East Germany. They may like to feel, they may be encouraged to feel, that by this protest which we are making we are showing support and sympathy with them.

Then there arises the question: is it likely to do any more practical good? I think one must look at this question not simply from our point of view, but from the point of view of the East Germans, and particularly of the East German Government. Of course, it is not going to do anybody here any good that we should deny ourselves the pleasure of hearing East German artistes—and the argument is exactly the same whether they are musicians, whether they are tragic or comic actors, or whether they are any other kind of actors or performers—or to deny ourselves the intellectual instruction and delight of listening to some scientist from East Germany who we think is worth hearing. That is not the point at all.

The point is that, although it may not be immediately or entirely easy for us in this country to appreciate and understand, the East German Government and Communist Party do feel that it is a tremendous "leg up" for them, that it is very much to their political advantage, that they should be able to send these corporate missions for either entertainment or scientific purposes abroad. They think it does them a lot of good; they think it makes it more likely that they will be recognised as a separate Power; and they think, perhaps wrongly, that it has a propaganda value. But that is what they think.

I have a few interesting extracts here from various East German political authorities. The textbook which was published for the benefit of East German participants in the Olympic games at Tokyo in 1964, and which was issued last October, in 1962—and this is what they are all supposed to read—says: Every sportsman must be an active propagandist for our State. And their Sport's Committee's "Training Instructions" tell them: …the theory of 'non-political sport' is the biggest deliberate lie in the history of modern sport. So they do not agree with what your Lordships—the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Shackloton—have just been saying. We feel it is all nonsense that sport should be politics, but they do not think so. They say: … the theory of non-political sport is the biggest deliberate lie in the history of modern sport. With this hypocrisy about non-political sport the bourgeoisie is trying to confuse sportsmen so as to exploit them more easily for imperialist war policy. Here is a speech about art made by Konrad Wolf, the president of the Artists' Trade Union, at a session of the central executive committee of the East German Artists' Trade Union, last December. He said: Artists must recognise the great significance of art as a weapon in the ideological struggle at a time when the ideal of peaceful co-existence is being carried through.…Therefore it comes about in the field of art that our artists are continually in their works becoming orientated to the policy of the Workers' Party and the Government of the German Democratic Republic. Then the East German Communist Party's thesis, adopted by the Party's cultural conference, read: The existence of two German States with fundamentally different social orders calls for constant struggle to prove the superiority of Socialist culture in the German Democratic Republic by comparison with capitalist decadence in the culture of West Germany and to demonstrate our Socialist cultural development as the future prospect for a national German culture. They do it all with the idea of political propaganda and of establishing their political ideas, and hoping that they will thereby increase their chances of recognition.

There is just one more extract, from Neues Deutschland, which I should like to read in connection with Konrad Wolf's speech. It says: The mistakes and weaknesses of the programmes of some Berlin theatres have been due to the fact that the leading members of the staff did not definitely acknowledge the leading rôle of the Party in the cultural sphere; that they put subjective views on art in the place of Marxist-Leninist æsthetics and evaded recognition of Socialist realism as the only fruitful method of work for the Socialist artist". Of course, this is not the way we look at these things, but it is the way they look at them, and we have good reason to think that they feel very keenly the exclusion of those groups which they would like to send abroad because they think it would suit their political purposes.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is not here, because he said in his very reasonable and persuasive speech that this has never been done before; that it had only just been done for the first time, as a protest against the Wall, in 1961. But, my Lords, in fact it has been done before, although not on such a wide or well-known scale. In September, 1960, the East German authorities were being very difficult and unreasonable in imposing what we thought were impossible conditions upon the entry of West Germans into East Germany, or into East Berlin, and the three Western governing Powers did then, with NATO approval, impose restrictions on corporate movement from East Germany to the allied countries, particularly of sporting teams. This caused a great deal of resentment and annoyance in East Germany, and as a result they changed their attitude. They withdrew the offensive restrictions which we objected to, and we accordingly withdrew our restrictions in March, 1961. That was five months before the Berlin Wall was built.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, very reasonably said that these restrictions may not cause the Wall to be taken away. I dare say they may not, but they might cause its inhumanities to be modified, and that is one of our objectives. The noble Lord said that the only thing which would cause the Wall to be taken away was concessions which would satisfy the East Germans. He did not say what kind of concessions these would have to be, and I do not think we had better go into that now because it may not be strictly relevant to the question before your Lordships. But even if we cannot get the Wall taken away, we should like to get some modification of the present cruelly inhumane policy by which no inhabitant of East Berlin, even on humanitarian grounds, is allowed to visit his relatives in West Berlin—nor allowed to go to see them, even if they are ill or dying. And we do want to get an end put to this frightful business of opening machine-gun fire on every poor creature, man, woman or child, who tries desperately to ecape. No fewer than 40 of them have been killed, some of them children, in the last fifteen months.

My Lords, here I come back again to the impossibility of stating what happens in the NATO Political Council. But I would tell your Lordships that all the Powers there—the United States, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and the French—have the situation constantly under review, and we should be certainly willing to consider a relaxation of those restrictions which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and so many artistic and intellectual people feel to be inappropriate if we could get a modification of this horrible inhumanity which is going on now in Berlin. Our policy is under constant review; we are waiting for some sign of humanitarianism, some appreciable relaxation of this present bestial cruelty, on the part of the East German authorities; and when that appears, if it ever does, I have no doubt that we on our part will review our policy.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl—and I think I speak on behalf of all other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate—for his full and, in detail, helpful answer to the points which have been made. I should like, if I may, to take a couple of minutes to meet some other points which have been made in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, based himself mainly upon the way the East Germans pick and choose the people they will allow to come out, and said that we should not aid and abet them in this. That is a very strong point; but I believe that, if it is one which should sway our Government's; decisions, the same situation in other countries should sway the Government in the same way—in other words, we should also refuse entry visas to South Africans and to Portu- guese as well as to Russians, Poles and Czechs.

Now I come to the helpful speech by the noble Earl, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. He started by saying it was Her Majesty's Government's policy to increase every kind of contact across the Iron Curtain, and he said that Her Majesty's Government had done everything they could to improve cultural relations. There are, of course, reservations to these large claims: except in the case of East Germany—


My Lords, the chief reservation is that the opposition is coming from behind the Iron Curtain. It is they who refuse to increase the contacts, not us.


My Lords, we are debating the refusal of visas by the British and not the refusal of exit permits by the East German Government.


My Lords, the noble Lord was talking about the Iron Curtain generally, was he not?


I was putting in the reservations which I think ought to be made. It is not that we are doing everything to increase cultural contacts across the Iron Curtain; we are concretely refusing visas to people who live beyond it. The noble Earl spoke of his sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said about the necessity of remembering the plight of these unfortunate people living under tyranny and how this refusal of visas was a manifestation of such sympathy and would lead them to realise that they were not forgotten by humane persons in the West. I wonder whether either of the noble Lords has ever asked an ordinary East German whether it would be his choice that the Berliner Ensemble should not come to London, or that a professor from Leipzig should not come to read a learned paper in London. I cannot believe that anybody has done this. If you are living under tyranny you can look with hope, not towards a country which manifests its sympathy by refusing visas, but towards countries where visas are given freely to harmless persons whose main objective is not, whatever noble Lords opposite may think, political propaganda, but learning, culture or sport.

The noble Earl read some horrible and ridiculous quotations from a handbook prepared for the East German Olympic sportsmen in Tokyo by the secretary of the Artists' Trade Union, from the Neues Deutschland official newspaper, and said "This is how they think. We do not think like that". He justified, in part, our visa policy by reference to these quotations. But I think that those in closer contact with scientists, sportsmen and artistes, know the whole point is that this is precisely what they do not think. It is how the imposed secretary of the trade union speaks. It is how the Party hack in the propaganda office writes the textbook for the sportsmen before they go to Tokyo; and it is what the leader writers of the Neues Deutschland say. It is for this reason we should let in these persons who are harmless professionals in harmless professions and keep out the trade union secretaries and the hack leader writers as much as we wish.

The noble Earl finished by saying that the Government would consider relaxa- tion when there was evidence of relaxation in the savagery with which the East Germans shoot men, women and children trying to cross the Wall. But he must know that there will be no relaxation on that Wall and cannot be until there is a Berlin and German settlement. In spite of the arguments ably put by the noble Earl, I still believe it is a mistake for this country to take a leaf out of the Communist book in this way and so to stifle free inquiry, free sport and the spread of free art in our quarter of the Free World. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.