HL Deb 27 May 1965 vol 266 cc954-6

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they desire local authorities not to enter into town-twinning arrangements with local authorities in East Germany, or whether they are content to make known the difficulties of such arrangements.]


My Lords, the twinning of towns is a matter for local authorities to decide, but Her Majesty's Government make it clear, if consulted, that in present circumstances there are difficulties in entering into such arrangements with local authorities in East Germany. Because of these difficulties, we do not see much likelihood of town-twinning arrangements with East Germany leading to a happy association.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the first part of his Answer will be greeted with some satisfaction by the town councils of certain towns who hold that the worse the relations are between the Governments of the two countries, the more interesting it may be to carry out town-twinning arrangements lower down the scale?


My Lords, T think the noble Lord, in his reply, said, "if the Government are consulted". May I ask the noble Lord whether he would consider sending a circular to local authorities pointing out the various difficulties?


No, my Lords. I think it would be very wrong for us to interfere with the autonomy of local authorities. If they wish to make these arrangements without consulting Her Majesty's Government or the Foreign Office they are fully at liberty to do so.


My Lords, will the noble Lord explain what is meant by a "town-twinning" arrangement? Is it a matrimonial arrangement, or anything to do with infancy?


My Lords, I think it is hardly a matrimonial arrangement. It may be what one may call a temporary liaison, but whether it leads to anything after that I leave it to the noble Viscount to decide.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that the interests of the local ratepayers are sometimes heavily involved in these arrangements; and ought not the advice which he has just given, that the Government should be consulted before these arrangements are agreed upon, be more widely observed?


Again I would repeat to the noble Lord that I think it is for the people who pay the rates, and the people who disburse the rates, to look into, and not for the Central Government to interfere.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that the Foreign Office and those who work in the Foreign Office have a certain experience and expertise in this matter? I do not think it is entirely right to assume that local authorities know all the ins and outs and pros and cons of these arrangements. Would he not look at this matter again and consider whether advice should be given?


I would certainly agree that there is a very great degree of expertise among those who work in the Foreign Office and those who have in the past been associated with it. But I also think there is considerable common sense and knowledge of the world among the people who run local government and town councils, and I do not think that interference on our part would be welcomed, though, as I said, and I repeat (I am sure many know it already and will know it in the future) if they are contemplating such twinning arrangements they are at liberty to get any advice from the Foreign Office.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that it could be put like this? While it may be important for the Foreign Office to avoid admitting that the President or Prime Minister of East Germany is in fact the President or Prime Minister of a valid State, there is no danger in a certain British town council admitting that the mayor of an East German city is indeed the mayor of that East German city?


My Lords, how can you admit a State is valid if, in fact, it is not?