HL Deb 24 March 1970 vol 308 cc1366-96

4.21 p.m.

LORD ST. OSWALD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the Foreign Secretary's entirely commendable statements on August 21 and 26, 1968, regarding Britain's official attitude to the Czechoslovakian victims of invasion and to the Warsaw Pact aggressors, whether this attitude has since then been adjusted or modified in any respect or degree, and if so, why. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to begin by saying how much I regret the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, will not be making a speech from the Liberal Benches, because he has been prevented from doing this. I regret this as much as anything because I had assumed that he would be saying certain things which I would therefore have omitted from my speech, which will be to some extent lengthened as a result. I also wish to declare at the outset that this Question is addressed to Her Majesty's Government far more in sorrow than in anger—despite the compelling cause for anger contained in the present agony of Czechoslovakia.

On August 26, nineteen months ago, I was one of the many who flew back considerable distances to Britain, after the recall of Parliament, to attend the debate on the invasion of Czechoslovakia. I did not join in the debate in this House, partly because my 'plane arrived with such delay that I missed the whole of the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House and part of the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, and a matter of apparent, though involuntary, discourtesy might have been involved. There was another reason which your Lordships may remember. At the beginning of the debate it was reported by the news agencies that the Warsaw Pact armies were about to withdraw. Had that been true—and it was totally, cruelly, and I suppose deliberately, false—my speech on that occasion might have been regarded as pitched in terms more vehement than the apparently developing situation warranted. So, faint though my own hope was of any withdrawal of the invading forces, I contained myself in silence and listened to others.

The noble Lord the Leader of the House had already foreseen the tenor of that debate when he said: … I am quite sure that there is unanimity in the House in our condemnation—to use the words of my noble friend Lord Caradon at the Security Council—of this evil invasion of Czechoslovakia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26/8/68, col. 514.]

Immediately before he had said, again rightly: It would be very unfortunate indeed if the impression were given that this Motion implied in any way that we took a neutral attitude.

My Lords, these words, which I shall pick up again before I end, were admir- able words to my way of thinking. So was the content of every speech which followed. But in my bones at the time I had an uneasy, I hoped unworthy, sensation through the whole course of that debate. The mood seemed to me to be indentifiably ephemeral, evanescent. I had a feeling that indignation was being expressed with sufficient force at the time to justify its dissipation, its comfortable dismissal from the mind, as soon as possible.

My sorrow to-day stems from a sensing that this reluctant suspicion was to a large extent justified. There have been a number of instances to demonstrate this. There have been far more instances when a lack of response failed to disprove that suspicion. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who I regret is not here, will know of one such instance that I have in mind. On the 10th of this month I put down a Question, to which he replied, asking why the Red Army Choir, which had earlier been prevented from visiting this country by Government intervention —an intervention to which, on that occasion, I could give full approval—was more welcome now than it had been in the summer of 1968. What was sorrowfully significant to me was that in the course of supplementaries the noble Lord replied: My Lords, that was on August 26, 1968. This is now March, 1970".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10/3/70, col. 696.]

I suppose the noble Lord must have assumed that I knew the dates, so it follows that he regarded that observation as being a complete answer to my Question: the gap of 19 months extenuated all. Here lies the root of the tragedy, not for Czechoslovakia—for that tragedy is of a different nature—but for this country. Perhaps he was being faithful to the Prime Minister's maxim that, "in politics, a week is a long time". That is a maxim which has two edges here. Nineteen months—76 weeks—has been a very long time indeed for the Czechoslovak people; weeks such as I hope the people of this country will never have to suffer.

Part of the substantive Answer by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to my substantive Question was brief and to the point. To the Question itself, as to what had taken place in Czechoslovakia to make the Red Army Choir more welcome than at that earlier date, he replied distinctly, "Nothing". But when I asked him, a little later, whether nothing at all had happened in between, he answered a separate and unconnected question. In fact, a great deal has happened to that stricken country since our debate of August, 1968, and all of it points to one clear conclusion: that the Red Army in any form or representation should be less, not more, welcome than it was in 1968. I shall give a few selected and very brief examples of this before I finish.

First, and in parenthesis, I should like to deal with a small and totally unresented injustice which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, did me at one point in our exchange on that earlier occasion. It will also help, I think, to clarify a little my own attitude to this matter, which could hardly be brought out in the form of Parliamentary question and answer. When I quoted the Foreign Secretary as having said in Parliament on August 26, 1968: It would be totally wrong for the Red Army Choir to come to this country, and this has been made clear to the impresario concerned",

the noble Lord accused me, twice, of not having taken into account a previous passage of his right honourable friend's speech. This was not at all the case, and I feel prompted now to make specific references, in paraphrase—but not, I hope, misleading paraphrase—to some of those earlier observations by the Foreign Secretary regarding what he described as many different kinds of contacts we have with the Soviet Union".

First, he said that attempts to break ordinary trade between us and Eastern Europe were not relevant, would not be useful and were not the proper line of policy at that time. I agree entirely, although some of my friends, in and out of Parliament, do not agree. Then he announced that he had cancelled his own projected visits to Hungary and Bulgaria as being possibly taken as evidence that Britain really did not mind what had happened. He also said in this context: Nor will for the present other ministerial visits take place".

The operative term was "for the present"—and a fairly fleeting "present" it proved to be, as I shall show. The Foreign Secretary commended the fact that the T.U.C. had withdrawn its invitation to Mr. Shelapin. He also said (and here, I think, is the precise reference that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had in mind), with direct reference to a whole-sale ban of cultural activities: I do not believe that there should be a complete breakdown in these but I am bound to say that it will be extremely difficult to make the impressive steps forward in this field that we had hoped to make before this disaster fell …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 26/8/68, col. 1418.]

Here also I would agree in general. But I would add as a rider, without, I trust, being too pedantic, that the disaster did not exactly "fall". It was no accident; it was certainly no act of God. as the phrase implies. It was deliberately planned and ruthlessly executed by the Warsaw Pact forces directed from Moscow. The spear-head and the main instrument of might against right in that invasion was the Red Army.

That is why I distinguish—and I should be surprised to find myself alone in this to-day—between the Red Army Choir, which opens its performance in the London neighbourhood next week, and, for instance, the Russian Ballet. I do not know whether any member of that Red Army Choir would be entrusted with the steering or gunnery of a Soviet army tank. But they wear the uniform, they are on the payroll, they accept the discipline and they share the stigma of the fores which invaded and still oppresses the Czechoslovak people. It is the continuing and worsening nature of this inequity which I believe is almost universally ignored by the world outside, by the public, by Parliament and by the Government.

It could be that, so far from neglecting that relevant section of the Foreign Secretary's speech, as was charged by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I had read it even more carefully than he. From it I received two distinct impressions. The first was that the reference to the Red Army Choir was more categorical than the other references, general or specified, to international contacts. I quote again: It would be totally wrong for the Red Army Choir to come to this country and this has been made clear to the impresario concerned.

There was no reference there to a limited period. Is it now the case that it is totally right for the Red Army Choir to come or simply that the second time round this has not been made clear to the impresario and he has proceeded unimpeded on the former assumption? That is the question that I put to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for answer to-day.

My Lords, my second impression from the 1968 speech of the Foreign Secretary, and equally logical to my mind, was that an improvement in relations would be dependent upon some lightening of the cruel tribulations of the Czechoslovak people as imposed at that time. Has it occurred? The opposite has occurred. The increasing misery and humiliation of that highly-civilised nation since the invasion merits a whole volume of shameful history to itself. My own dry. staccato catalogue may mislead by its very lack of detail and by its understatement. In place of the Czechoslovak pattern of Communist life there has been imposed the Soviet pattern of life; it has been ruthlessly imposed upon Czechs and Slovaks alike who only recently in their short spring of what some of us would call relative freedom gave so convincing and noble a demonstration of their total abhorrence of that alien Soviet pattern. Honourable, patriotic men and women beyond number—artists, writers, professors and journalists—have been victimised. I will omit the details of their victimisation, but I will say that one aspect of it is that once their pay and pensions have been forfeited they are spitefully and inhumanly banned from obtaining other employment. All travel abroad has been prohibited to anyone but the faithful or slavish Party adherents. Czechs and Slovaks occupying posts at British universities have been ordered by the authorities, now puppets of a foreign Government, to break their contacts and return home.

Those who have been understandably reluctant to do so have been outlawed, their dwellings confiscated and other occupants put in to replace them. Out of 53,000 Czechoslovak citizens who were out of the country immediately after the invasion, 28,000 have been formally branded as "illegal emigrants".

For those other millions living there, life is drab, constricted and governed by fear. There has been a banning of all non-Communist organisations, including the club of former political prisoners with a membership of 60,000. There is a total censorship of Press and broadcasting and a banning of all papers which supported the Dubcek régime. There have been arrests of journalists, some beaten up, others kept in prison without trial. In one night, in one mammoth police operation, 18,000 people were questioned and the majority of them detained. Those of any influence whatever who will not recant earlier statements in support of the "Czechoslovak Spring" are dismissed from their employment. There has been an instruction to universities that every member shall report on ten others regarding their behaviour during the invasion week and later—and that includes lecturers and students. There is whole-sale exploitation of the country's industrial products, exported by order to Russia, leaving the population with dull, scarce food and household goods at high prices, sometimes out of stock for long periods. All these factors and the general back-ground of despair have led to the suicide by burning not simply of the young student Jan Palach (about whom the world heard with almost incredulous horror on January 16 last year) but of 20 others whose deaths went unpublicised.

My Lords, there are two measures graver than anything I have mentioned. The Soviet Government have imposed upon the country a stooge government, utterly and punitively opposed to the Dubcek Administration which had won the undoubted admiration and respect of their countrymen and which had awakened a hope now savagely assassinated. Here I must call into evidence another statement of the Foreign Secretary, made outside Parliament, of which I have given implicit notice in my Question by mentioning the date of August 21, 1968. At a Press conference on that day, the day of the invasion, Mr. Michael Stewart made this clear statement, applauded I should think by almost anyone who read it: We recognise and propose to go on recognising what is now the legitimate Government of Czechoslovakia. We could not recognise a Government merely because the Government of the Soviet Union said that it was the Government of Czechoslovakia.

At this moment, Her Majesty's Government are doing precisely what Mr. Michael Stewart said his Government could not do. They are recognising a Government that they said they could not recognise. Does the noble Lord accept that this is the case? I ask this, I promise him, with no animosity. I am not suggesting that there is a feasible or helpful alternative. This is not an attack on Her Majesty's Government, as I hope to make clear in my closing remarks. That statement by the Foreign Secretary was a hostage to fortune. Perhaps he did not know how remorselessly doomed that hostage was; but I admire him for the words. Since they were spoken, a totally stooge Government has been imposed on the country by Moscow. Over this period all those who led and counted in the endeavour to achieve "Socialism with a human face"—and I should have preferred to hear it called, "Socialism with a human heart"—have been dismissed on orders from the Kremlin.

I had reason to mention in a debate last December the Foreign Minister, Dr. Hajek, dismissed; the Minister for the Interior, General Pavel, arrested and dismissed; the brilliant economic architect of the country's recovery, Otto Sik, dismissed in exile; the heroic leader of the Party, Mr. Dubcek, dismissed and humiliated; and the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Smrkovsky, dismissed. Even since then the existing Prime Minister, Mr. Cernik, has been dismissed. Not one is left in office.

My Lords, if I had wished to dramatise this situation to-day, I suppose I should have led off with the news which we learned this week, that Mr. Dubcek has been expelled from the Party itself. Not one is left in power, not one of those who inspired such uplifting hope in their country two short years ago. Instead they live in daily danger from the new foreign-appointed rulers of a crushed and sullen nation. The members of Her Majesty's Government are not men and women who would willingly countenance oppressive treatment of other human beings. I recognise the limitations imposed by Office, and I should expect that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and most of their colleagues, would prefer to state their repulsion more starkly and more frequently than is looked on as expedient. The most antagonistic thing I shall say to-day, addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is that sometimes I believe they err needlessly and harmfully on the side of caution. I think they sometimes look the other way for fear of seeing something ugly in the woodshed.

I will quote very briefly a remarkable man in our political life who at the time of his death was an honoured Member of this House. He once said: Whilst I deprecate aggressive policies intended to provoke war, I also deprecate an undue softness, a bias in favour of the other side, in the unfortunate cold war which the Communist countries started, and a willing-ness for us to concede to the Communist countries and to help provide propaganda opportunities when we are denied such opportunities truthfully to described our own way of life and plead the cause of freedom in the totalitarian state.

That was said in April of 1963 by Lord Morrison of Lambeth. I believe that if he were alive to-day he would be making this speech instead of me and it would be the better for that. I think that this non-objection, this looking the other way as the Red Army Choir arrives, is a case of softness, unacceptable softness, as described by Lord Morrison.

There is another case, one which I hesitate to describe because it concerns a present Minister for whom I have a great personal liking and good cause for that liking. In July of last year it was announced that Mr. Goronwy Roberts, then Minister of State at the Foreign Office, would be going on a goodwill visit to Czechoslovakia in the first days of September. A Committee on which I serve urged him seriously not to do so because, as we said, on August 21 there would have been popular manifestations on the anniversary of the invasion. Those manifestations would have been punitively suppressed, perhaps involving death and injury; certainly involving many imprisonments specifically in the town of Brno; and he would arrive, apparently condoning this retribution, as a guest of the authorities who had meted it out. He replied, courteously of course, that his information was that there were unlikely to be any such manifestations. Our information contradicted his and we i were not to be convinced. We said, in essence, "If it turns out that we are right and you are therefore wrong as to events on the anniversary, will you then cancel your visit?" He replied, fairly enough, that should anything so totally inconceivable as the Foreign Office being wrong occur, he would consider cancelling his visit.

As was, in the nature of things, to be expected, and as we all now know, there were manifestations. Some of the most savage repression was carried out at Brno itself where Mr. Roberts was to go. There were people killed by the police and many injured, and many more imprisoned. The members of our committee waited, fairly confidently (and logically, we thought), expecting to hear that Mr. Roberts had found some diplomatic reason to call off his visit. A day or two before the end of August he announced publicly that his visit would go ahead as planned. This was followed almost immediately by the public announcement from the Communist Government that the invitation had been withdrawn on the ground, if it please you, that no one in Brno had time to see our Mr. Roberts that week. I think I am right in saying that his intention to go was announced on August 25 and the withdrawal of the invitation was reaffirmed on August 26.

My Lords, I relate this factual tale with no satisfaction whatever; the very reverse. All I would claim is that it tends to demonstrate that if you stoop over backwards to please a Communist regime you will receive in reward, not gratitude or respect, but contempt. I am not contemptuous of Mr. Goronwy Roberts. He took the advice of his Department. Although I personally consider that he should have rejected that advice there was nothing despicable in accepting it. If he had cast his mind back to the previous year he might have been a little more prudent, pondering the ministerial opinion of Mr. Denis Healey, Secretary of State for Defence, which was uttered in the House of Commons on July 25, 1968. These were the oracular words of Mr. Healey on that occasion, to be found in column 1019 of Hansard: Indeed, we can comfort ourselves that the situation between East and West in Europe today is comparatively stable; it has been so for nearly 20 years.

That was 27 days and summer nights before the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which threw Europe into its greatest turmoil since the end of the War.

I mentioned earlier that there was another measure of great gravity, apart from the nominating of a purely puppet Government for Czechoslovakia, which the Russians were taking, or appeared to be taking. At the time of the invasion both our Houses of Parliament and the United Nations as a body called on the Soviet Government to withdraw their troops from Czechoslovakia. Now 19 months have gone by, and what is happening is the opposite of what was demanded by the Free World. There are signs, and very concrete signs, that the Russian Army of Occupation is there to stay. Barracks and headquarter buildings are being constructed for the Soviet troops.

There was a fairly sinister leak from the meeting last month of the Slovakian Communist Party, in which a request had been formulated for the Soviet Army of Occupation to be declared permanent. We do not know, or at least I do not know, the terms of the new SovietCzech treaty of friendship initialled last week in Prague by Mr. Gromyko. Among those who study Central European affairs it is speculated that this may contain a clause giving permanence to the Russian occupation. That, for the Czechoslovaks, would be servitude comparable to the permanent occupation of Britain by the Nazis had the Nazis overrun us and carried on to win the War. We cannot, in the words of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, be neutral in face of such a possibility. To ignore this, in between crises, is all part of the not-so-new but undoubtedly "with it" permissive diplomacy, a reaction, I daresay, to the gunboat diplomacy of an earlier epoch. The two have this in common: they are all too often carried out at the cost of somebody weak and therefore expendable.

I speak with far less bitterness of this particular example than I did, and do, of Mr. Neville Chamberlain's permissive diplomacy at Munich and the treatment, the insensitive treatment, of the Czechoslovaks on that occasion. That did not prevent war: it made war certain by blurring the features of the evil we faced and weakening our own resolve. Communism is vulnerable to stated facts. I claim that in this speech I have given a number of facts. To the best of my belief the only conjecture that I have introduced is with regard to the formalised plan for permanent Russian occupation of the country. The rest are facts as I believe them to be. I would far rather they had been expressed and exposed by the Government of my country, because in this way they would carry more weight and carry it further and deeper. I see it as a duty of government to give facts, even to create the pretext for giving those facts, without flinching away from any immediate discomfort.

If Communism could be disposed of by the death of a thousand facts, Communism would be dead by now. But we know the hide is thick, the heart is a mechanical and remorseless pump, and conscience is a mailer for derision among the men who control the Communist world. Moreover, the ears of those beyond its present grasp, but in valid danger, are often deaf to disturbing news and ugly omens. For all that, Communism too is vulnerable, sensitive now and then to the strong light of truth, if only that light can be maintained and focused upon the evil which is being inflicted.

Our failure is that each time, after Hungary in 1956 and after Czechoslovakia in 1968, to name only two examples, the beam of revealing truth flickers and fails and falls away from its target. It is our business to maintain and direct that beam, for our own sake as well as the sakes of those who, at this moment in history, must look to us for the source of that light which can. at long last, bring the deliverance of which they dream.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, when I telephoned to put my name down for this Unstarred Question, I had no idea that I should be chanting, in a sense, a duet with the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, and it may be that he would have been better on his own. I wrote to him and suggested that I had prepared nothing but would listen to what he said and join in, if I felt it might be useful. My chant in support of the noble Lord is in part an ancient one, like that of the Ancient Mariner, because I wore His Majesty's uniform in circumstances which enabled me to see the grievous consequences of the demarcation line that the high military and political powers had set across Europe.

One day a notable in a certain East European country asked me to take note of a list on the wall of a town and to realise that this was a list of those people executed allegedly for collaboration. He said, "None of these people, all of whom we know, were anywhere near the enemy and the enemy was nowhere near us. It is because of their attitude to the new regime that they were taken away from their homes at night and their bodies were found later on a municipal dump. Nobody was asked to attend their trial or to speak for them in their defence, and the men who took them away were wearing your British uniform".

That is the reason why, 25 years later. I come back to try to see if anything whatever can be done to help the people who are captive, in part because we arranged that they should be. I therefore am in total sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, has said. I even wish, and I would be present if I possibly could, that some such speech on behalf of one or all of the captive nations could be made in this House yearly, so that we could be reminded of and not sleep on the consequences of leaving some people so far from free. It would be the tribute that freedom pays to captivity that it celebrates and commemorates and brings captivity to mind once a year. Therefore, I am delighted to be perhaps the only speaker in support of the noble Lord's general remarks.

On the other hand, this is a debate, and I want to put a point of view which has worried me throughout the 25 years. I have been trying to consider what should be done. To a large extent we are faced with the misuse of military power, and in these circumstances I assume that, be it Hungary, be it Czechoslovakia, we alone—maybe NATO alone—cannot solve the issue in the battlefield in Prague or in Budapest or anywhere else. Therefore something must be done in the field of diplomacy, if possible. I am embarrassed to know what.

The noble Lord mentioned orders from the Kremlin. I would tell a story in this connection. I was at the time the Chief Staff Officer of the Military Government of the British Section of Vienna. The Soviet military commander summoned an emergency meeting—the only way that was ever summoned—in order to consider the widespread food poisoning and hospitalisation of citizens in Vienna after eating corned beef circulated by the British in their rations. The rations was a matter on which there was feeling between the Allies. The Allies had decided to feed the Viennese on a scale of calories exceeding that which was the ration of the Soviet Red Army soldiers, and that was a grievance to start with. At that time our meat was exceedingly popular. It was the most popular of the rations to be had. Some rations were rather poor. There were pulses that looked like what you see at the bottom of a parrot cage, and other things were disagreeable. There were soya "links" which people would eat when they were starving but not when they had had a good meal.

The Allies met together and I was there, because I was in part responsible for the issue of this food. From my contacts I immediately ascertained that there was no epidemic, no food poisoning and nobody in hospital. Only one person in hospital in the whole of Vienna had had diarrhoea, unconnected with the beef, which he had not eaten. There was no such thing as an epidemic of food poisoning. I asked my chief what we were going to do about it. My chief was one of those who spoke several languages —Russian, French and German, with complete fluency and with considerable inaccuracy in all of them. After inquiries he came back and said, "You must not get 'het up' over things like this. The Russian general has had a telephone call from Moscow and he has got to do it. He cannot escape it." I asked, "Well, what are you going to do? It is entirely untrue." He said, "It is untrue and he knows it is untrue as well as anybody else, but he cannot say so. That is the position he is in. We have to back him up. We will have a meeting and decide to form a committee to inquire into this thing, though there is nothing to inquire into. He will report that there is a tripartite agreement on the matter, and we shall hear nothing more. We keep him as a friend, anyway. We will not 'down' him and gang up against him, because he has had an order with which he is obliged to comply." So we did get this gentleman as a friend, and nothing more was said about it, except that it was duly published that British supplied meat had poisoned the population of Vienna, and we had to suffer in silence.

That is one factor. There is another, more recent, factor that I should like to mention, from the other side, as it were. I was in intimate touch with a nonaligned African nation, and the Secretary of the Cabinet during our conversation produced a paper in French, printed in Brussels, which purported to be an information centre for circulation to nonaligned States. It was marked "Confidential". He put a pen through the word and said: "It is not confidential any more. Make of it what you like." In the course of reading quite a long document, I saw a most plausible account of what purported to be a plot by the C.I.A. to put certain elements in the country, which I knew personally and well, against others, and so arrange that on a certain occasion there might be a coup. I said to the man: "Is there any truth in it?". He said: "Sometimes there is truth in what comes from this source, but I do not know any more than you do. Put your own estimate on it." I have never been quite sure that it was not true that this was being planned. If I am unable to detect the truth in a circumstance of that kind, is it not likely that the Soviet Union, prone to much greater suspicions than we British are, may have the same sort of suspicions?

I have often wondered whether the C.I.A. is under proper control in the United States; and I sometimes wonder whether M.I.6—a very mild institution compared with any other Secret Service —is under proper control here. I remember identifying a member of M.I.6 on an occasion in Vienna when there was a Red Army celebration, with orchestral music, all the high people in their places, and Marshal Koniev in the Russian box; but the British High Commissioner was missing. One of my contacts said: "It is not a very good thing that the British High Commissioner should not be here on this Red Army occasion." I said: "I agree with you. We will go along together." And I went in and masqueraded for a short time as the British High Commissioner. I noticed in a box next to me, with the French High Commissioner, a member of M.I.6, who was somebody I knew. The French High Commissioner was exasperated beyond belief at this man, who had nothing whatever to do with the affair, being in his box. So, naturally, I winkled him out.

Do we know what our people are doing? Is there any excuse for a suspicion that coups and espionage are afoot? Have we proper control over our own people? I do not know. All I know is that in this particular case of Czechoslovakia it is clear that the Soviet Union believed that an effort was being made to establish some kind of coup. We cannot overcome that belief merely by denouncing it, horrible though they may be in what they do. I think it means taking some steps, little by little, to get in touch with people. One can always get some people on one side, and by degrees the whole atmosphere may soften. It has taken 25 years; but 25 years without disaster in Europe is at least something. Therefore I am wondering what the Minister is going to say about what we should do. It is not the injustice of what has been done by the other side that I am quarrelling with in any way, but asking what we can do. My Lords, I leave it at that.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord who initiated this debate, I was prevented from attending the Sittings of this House which took place to condemn the invasion of Czechoslovakia. I was at that time in Czechoslovakia. During the preceding weeks I had lived in Czechoslovakia, and had the true thrill and excitement of the revolution that had taken place there. I stood at the street corners with young students who were debating, clearly and openly, the course which their country might follow. I talked with trade unionists and people in industry, and sensed that industry, too, had a new vitality, because it was released from the inhibitions arising from association with the COMINFORM. In the plays, in the Press, in all the areas of communication there was this great sense of uplift and liberation.

I had experienced a similar occasion at an earlier stage of my life. I was in Vienna when the Nazis marched into Austria, but in Vienna at that time there were people lining the streets, welcoming the Nazi armies. In Czechoslovakia there was no one who expressed any support or welcome for the invaders. It was an experience that I shall never forget, because people were bright with the opportunities that freedom offered, and then were suddenly cast down into a permanent eclipse. Consequently I welcome the opportunity from time to time to condemn what took place in Czechoslovakia.

During the intervening period I have tried to maintain regular contact with people in Czechoslovakia. I am sure that my trade union friends on this side of the House will realise that what has taken place there has been the destruction of the trade union movement as an independent force. The co-operative movement has been incorporated in the State, and all the leaders of these democratic organisations who refused to come to heel have been dismissed. When one considers that within that country there are only two employers, the co-operative movement and the State, one realises what that means in terms of the domestic life and the future of the individuals who have been cast out. The story was told recently of Emil Zatopek, hero of the people and a colonel of the army. He was dismissed from his rank as colonel. He was subsequently dismissed from the army, and was put on duty in the streets, clearing garbage; but so many people went to help him clear the garbage in the streets and to show that they were associated with him that he had to be removed from public activity of any kind. That is the nature of the situation in Czechoslovakia, and it is right that all who cherish freedom and value democracy should condemn these things.

At the same lime, may I say that in this matter we should have no double standards, and in condemning lack of freedom in Czechoslovakia we should be condemning lack of freedom elsewhere. Consequently I will not go to the Red Army concert; neither will I go to watch the Springboks. The noble Lord who has just spoken asked a question: "What do we now do?" So far as the people of Eastern Europe are concerned, any justification for the action which has been taken has been by playing upon the fear of those people of invasion or attack from the West. Those people still have vivid memories of the war, and consequently it is easy to play on that fear and to justify the aggression in Czechoslovakia by saying that it was necessary to protect Eastern States from invasion from the West. We may ridicule or dismiss that fear, but it is a fact in the situation, and any policy which we may now devise in dealing wth East/West relations should be so constructed as to remove that fear so far as possible.

For that reason I welcome the initiatives that have been taken by Willy Brandt in Germany. Willy Brandt is a freedom lover; he is a democrat. He believes in all the values that have been spoken about so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald. Willy Brandt sees that the only way we can secure liberation, or any easement of the situation, in East European countries is to build bridges, to remove misunderstanding and fear. There should be no reluctance on the part of all of us who cherish freedom and democracy to speak to Communists. Neither should there be any inferiority complex about dealing with Communists. Willy Brant symbolises the kind of policy which this Government must pursue. We should be talking and endeavouring to build bridges, while not accepting the philosophy to which they subscribe. I know that this kind of policy will be misunderstood; I know that frequently it will be rebuffed and frustrated. We must pursue it with patience, for simply to condemn is simply to end up without any possibility of positive bridge-building or peace-making. So while I welcome this opportunity of subscribing to the expression of the noble Lord, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not be deterred in the positive work of building bridges to the East, maintaining contact with the East, and endeavouring to secure some easement and liberation as a result of that kind of positive policy.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I did not know until I came into the Chamber that my noble friend, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was unable to take part in this little debate. I think, however, it is desirable that some voice should be raised from the Liberal Benches, and I hope in what I say I shall not depart too far from what my Liberal friends may think. The relations we should have with the Soviet Government and the minority Czech Government after the outrageous aggression of the Soviet Union on Czechoslovakia nineteen months ago presents a difficult problem, and personally I sympathise, as I am sure we all do, with much of what the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, said in his speech and with the other two noble Lords who have intervened so far.

Inevitably, when we consider this problem we have to consider our attitude also towards the rebel Government in Rhodesia. That Government is now being ostracised for a policy which is not, in itself, any worse, considered objectively, than the policy pursued by the Russian Government as regards Czechoslovakia. Indeed, the so-called "Brezhnev doctrine", whereby the Soviet Government maintains that it has the indisputable right to occupy the territory of any Government that dares to upset what it considers to be a Socialist regime, is a direct violation of the United Nations Charter. Apart from that, the actual aggression upon Czechoslovakia is something which must be condemned by all people who have any feeling for international law of any kind. There is no doubt about that. In some ways the Russian action is even worse than that of Mr. Smith. After all, Mr. Smith in any circumstances would have been allowed to maintain—anyhow for some years and with our consent—a minority Government. There is no excuse whatever for the Russians imposing a minority Government on a civilised people with whom they are allied. So, as I say, that crime is even worse.

When we have said all that, the question arises, what should we do? Here there are certain points which we must consider. In the first place—and this is perhaps a technical point, but it is valid so far as it goes—whereas Mr. Smith and his rebel Government have been formally condemned by the United Nations, there has, rightly or wrongly, been no such condemnation of the Soviet Government by the United Nations as such. This has not happened for obvious reasons; but the two situations are to that extent dissimilar. In the second place, and here I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe said, what good object would be achieved if we broke off cultural relations with the Soviet Government and even with the stooge Government in Prague? What good effect would it have on the unfortunate Czechs, or indeed on the unfortunate inhabitants of other nations in Eastern Europe? It would do no good; it would only make the situation worse. There is no doubt about that. Lord Taylor of Gryfe referred to the action of Herr Willy Brandt in trying to maintain contacts with the East. That is very praiseworthy. We are all in favour of trying to maintain some kind of suitable relations with the East in order to arrive one day at some political arrangement, which, of course, is a different thing from cultural relations—


My Lords, if the noble Lord will excuse me, I hope he is not under the misapprehension that I was advocating the breaking off of all cultural relations. I specifically was not.


My Lords, the noble Lord says that he is not in favour of breaking off all cultural relations; but is he in favour of breaking off some cultural relations?


My Lords, I mentioned only one specific instance.


My Lords, I may have been under the wrong impression. In any case, I am merely arguing that breaking off or indeed gravely interfering with cultural relations, or any manifestation of them, would not do any good. Further we must realise that the cultural representatives, both of the Soviet Government and of the Czech Government, who may come over here are probably by a majority—even the Russians who come over here—in their heart of hearts deeply ashamed of what their respective Governments have done. They have to support it officially for obvious reasons, because they would be in a concentration camp if they did not. These therefore seem to me to be the main reasons why, after the element of shock and impact to which the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, referred has worn off, we should not do anything which could discourage cultural exchanges either with the Soviet Union or with the Czech Government; and I hope that the Government will in fact pursue that path.

However, there remains the matter of good-will missions—and here I must say that I think a good-will mission, as such, after the outrage that has been committed by the Soviet Government, is not something which we ought to favour, at any rate in this country. Any breaking off of cultural relations would obviously do no good; but, equally, good-will missions would do no good, either. It is something quite different to negotiate with a Government, whether it is the Soviet Government or the Czech Government or any other. That is a matter between States. But "good will" is totally different. For this implies that there can be good will towards a Government—not the people but the actual Government—which has committed this particular outrage. I see the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, nodding his head, and I hope that he will develop this theme much more powerfully than I can. It really is the essential point. So the conclusion, so far as I can see, is this: cultural exchanges, yes; go on with them: good-will missions, think again.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will appreciate that I feel just as deeply upon this issue as he does. I do so for two reasons. The first is a political reason, which he will not share. The second is a personal reason, which he has not shared. The political reason is this. I am a Socialist, a Democratic Socialist. I want to see a democratic Socialist society develop to which both the Communist nations and the Social Democratic Parties of the West can contribute. Those of us who belong to Social Democratic Parties in the West have to recognise that we have not got very far. We have to appreciate that the Communist Parties of the East have also not gone very far towards a democratic society. When Mr. Dubcek and his colleagues broke through in Czechoslovakia with his human Socialism, it was a great star in the sky to those of us who believed in democratic Socialism. The destruction of that by the Soviet Government was a tragedy to us: I think a tragedy greater than it could be to those who did not sympathise with the democratic Socialist society which Mr. Dubcek and his colleagues were seeking to construct. For that reason, because of political dedication, perhaps I am more deeply sad about what had happened than is the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald.

The second reason, which is personal, is this. Since the 1920s I have been the friend of many of those who were associated with Mr. Dubcek. I am not going even to mention their names publicly, because possibly they would be further penalised. But I know them as friends and associates; and, because of my friendship, what they have suffered has been a suffering to me as well. Therefore I say to the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, that I feel just as deeply about this issue as he can possibly do.

I go on from that point to pose this question: if we are seeking to renew the basis of democracy in Czechoslovakia and the personal liberties in which we believe, what is the way to do so? The noble Lord will forgive me for saying that I thought his contribution to the solution of the problem was terribly inadequate. He built up this enormous picture of Soviet suppression. May I say, incidentally, that I have some little doubt whether a protest against what has happened in the terms of which he spoke is going to help the Opposition in Czechoslovakia. They are Socialists; they are human Communists. The argument against them by the Soviet Government is that they are supported by those who are against Socialism and who sought the overthrow of the very basic system of Socialism in Czechoslovakia. I put this moderately. I would suggest that those who desire to see a new liberalisation in Czechoslovakia, and who are fundamentally opposed to the basis of Socialism, perhaps should keep a little quiet, because their denunciation is going to assist the anti-Socialists, the anti-human Socialists. The Soviet Union, in maintaining their suppression—


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is being very un-fair here. Whatever I stand for that he does not like, I certainly stand for co-existence; and the Soviet Union has proved that it does not stand for co-existence even with its own satellites if they get slightly out of hand.


Yes, my Lords; I appreciate that. I do not want to put it too dogmatically; I am trying not to. I am just saying that, in the present picture of Eastern Europe, championship of the cause of human Socialism by those who are fundamentally opposed to Socialism itself may do more harm than good to the liberty of those who desire democratic Socialism. I do not put the point more strongly than that. I think that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will recognise, when he thinks about it, that there is something in what I say.

However, what I am concerned about is that this debate should contribute to conditions which will again allow liberalisation and democracy to return in Czechoslovakia. I would put this very strongly indeed. I said that the noble Lord's solution was inadequate. What did it amount to? That we should not invite the Red Army Choir to this country. My Lords, despite all my appreciation of Russian culture—art, ballet and dancing—I will not go to see that choir; but also I will not go to see the South African cricket team. I take that stand on the same basis. Both the choir and the cricket team represent systems to which I am fundamentally opposed. I hope the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will agree with me that those who oppose the visit of the Red Army Choir should also oppose the visit of a South African cricket team which is based on the principle of apartheid and racialism.

How are we in a practical, pragmatic way to contribute towards the return of liberalisation and democracy in Czechoslovakia? I put this point to the noble Lord. The Soviet argument was that there was danger from the West. Give them ground for building up that argument, and they can intensify their repression of Czechoslovakia. On the other hand, we should seek to remove that argument; seek, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said, to apply from our Foreign Office the policy of Herr Willy Brandt in Germany towards the East—a policy not merely of co-existence, but of co-operation, of seeking solutions. Do that in the East and you immediately destroy the ground upon which the Soviet Government has been able to carry out its policies in Czechoslovakia.

My Lords, my second hope is this: education in the Soviet Union. Education in the Communist countries is expanding the whole time, and I cannot believe that as education expands an educated people will accept the kind of policy which has been pursued either in Moscow or, through it, in other Warsaw Pact powers.

Therefore, while I sympathise with the sense of outrage which the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, feels about what has happened in Czechoslovakia, I do not accept the policy which he has proposed. I believe that U Thant, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, was right when, after the tragedy of Czechslovakia, he expressed the hope that it would not lead to a breach in East/West relationships, because those relationships form the greatest hope for the return of the kind of liberalism and democracy which we desire to see in the East. I hope that the result of this debate will be that, while we sympathise and identify ourselves with the very courageous democratic Socialists in Czechslovakia, and particularly the youth, who there, as all over the world, are the hope of the future; while we say that, we also indicate that we are going to pursue policies which will encourage the return of democracy to that country by co-operation between East and West.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a word or two to what my noble friend Lord Brockway said when he spoke about the feelings of so many of us in the winter and, more particularly, in the spring of 1968, when the spring song of hope rose in our hearts after the years which we had spent looking at the dictatorship of Novotny in Czechoslovakia. Then to have it dashed and broken as it was in those terrible August days of 1968, made one feel sad and depressed.

It is an extraordinary thing that Russian imperialism, which really started before British imperialism, right back in the sixteenth century, should have outlasted our own imperialism, as it quite obviously has done. No doubt it takes a different guise from that which it took in Czarist times, but it is not as different as all that. I am sure that the whole outlook of the Revolutionaries who brought about that situation in the old Russia under the leadership of Lenin was entirely different. I have the greatest admiration for Lenin, and in my own mind and heart I have no doubt that if he could be back here with us now he would condemn what happened in August, 1968, just as much as my noble friend Lord Brockway, because it was entirely out of keeping with his whole outlook on politics. One hopes that this year, in which falls the centenary of Lenin, who was a great man as well as a great revolutionary, there may be some alleviation of the situation in Czechslovakia.

Things can change very rapidly. When my noble friend Lord Brockway and I were children, looking ahead and looking around on the British Empire (as it then was), at least as powerful, and indeed more powerful, than the Czarist Empire, it would have been impossible to see that within fifty or sixty years it would have ceased, as indeed it has done, although no doubt Mr. Breznev would deny that this was so. It gives one a certain feeling of optimism that eventually, and perhaps just as rapidly, this Russian imperialism may also collapse. The invasion of Hungary, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, is just a kind of imperialism; and imperialism feeds on itself until it reaches a stage when, so to speak, it bursts. We were still being imperialists when I was a boy and it is really quite astonishing how it has all vanished. One hopes that that may well be so with Russian imperialism. It is difficult to see how it could be brought about, but there are forces in the U.S.S.R. at the present time. Every now and then brave men and women in Moscow and in the other great cities of the U.S.S.R. publicly denounce some of the things that are going on there in the name of Communism when it is not really Communism at all; it is just another form of dictatorship and imperialism. I believe that eventually these brave men and women will be heard by the great mass of the Russian people and that in that way we may eventually see Russian imperialism disappear from the face of the earth just as rapidly as the British species of the same terrible form of politics did.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, in introducing this short debate this evening, was, I thought, comparatively restrained, for him; but while I think he has most of the House—indeed, all of the House—with him in his sense of outrage and condemnation of the events of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, it is obvious that he has not got much support, if any, for his proposal that in order to signal our sense of outrage even now we should condemn equally the visit of the Red Army Choir to this country. He was careful to say that it was only this single thing to which he was objecting; he was not objecting to general cultural exchanges. I think the fact that while everybody agrees with his sense of out-rage no one, so far as I can gather, has supported his specific proposal, is indeed the difference between the making of subjective judgments about the behaviour of other Powers, which we are perfectly entitled to do and which indeed are elements in the formulation of any foreign policy, and the actual making of foreign policy, which is a much wider matter than that. What we have to look at is not only the behaviour of others and our reaction to it but the interests of the people of this country, and indeed the interests of people all over the world. It is in that light that we formulate our attitude towards the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and towards the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries now.

The short answer to the question which the noble Lord has put is that there has been no change of any kind in the attitude of Her Majesty's Government since it was defined by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in another place on August 26, 1968. That attitude is quite simply to condemn unequivocally the invasion of Czechoslovakia, but to persist in a policy of seeking better understanding with all the countries of Eastern Europe. I must confess that in my view, contrary to what the noble Lord has suggested, the current visit of the Red Army Choir to this country is not at all inconsistent with the words which the Secretary of State used on that occasion, since he was referring quite clearly to a particular invitation then at a particular time. Whether such a visit was now appropriate was a question for those who arranged it to judge. Of course, the noble Lord may not agree with the judgment they made, but that is not to say that it is in any way inconsistent with what the Foreign Secretary said in 1968.


My Lords, I would point out that it was not left to their judgment in 1968, and the Red Army is still occupying Czechoslovakia. Why should it be left to their judgment this year?


My Lords, because, as I think my noble friend, Lord Shepherd, pointed out to the noble Lord in a sort of simple exercise in calendar months, it is now the spring of 1970, and there is a change simply in the fact that time has passed. We are trying to further our understanding with the countries of Eastern Europe, and when the impresario concerned this time asked whether a visit would be approved he was, in the context of this policy, simply told that he was responsible for making that decision and that the responsibility, if he invited them to come, would be his.

It is true that since 1969 we have been reverting to normal practice so far as cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries are concerned. We have also resumed other contacts which were interrupted at the time. For example, as the noble Lord said, there have been several Ministerial visits to countries in Eastern Europe, but they have been to discuss practical matters of mutual interest. They have not been, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, visits of good will.


My Lords, I did not suggest that they were. I merely said that I was against visits of good will.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. These visits were not of the kind that he deplores; they were practical visits designed to further our mutual interests.

My Lords, what I want to emphasise is this. When the Secretary of State made his speech in 1968 (and this is the speech to which the noble Lord has referred) he made it absolutely clear that the interruption of such contacts at the time of the invasion was not to be permanent. I know that the noble Lord has studied this speech carefully, and I know he will agree with me that the Foreign Secretary made it quite clear in another place that this was a temporary interruption of contacts which he implied would be resumed in due course. Of course, the invasion of Czechoslovakia was a severe setback in the development of relations between ourselves, the whole of Western Europe, and the invading countries. Perhaps it would be useful if I were to quote what the Secretary of State said on August 26, 1968. He said: Although the prospect of achieving under-standing is inevitably pushed further into the future, the main essentials of the policy must remain."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 26/8/68, col. 1420.] Another very clear exposition of our policy was the speech of the same Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in the United Nations, on October 14, 1968, when he spoke of the need to continue efforts to achieve understanding in East/ West relations, despite the fact that our confidence had been shaken by events in Czechoslovakia.

I am making these points, my Lords, simply to deal with one aspect, as I see it, of the noble Lord's Question, which is that there is some inconsistency between what was said in 1968 and what is being done now. In my view, there is no inconsistency. There has simply been development in the course of time in between. There has been no adjustment or modification of our attitude since 1968, and everything we have done or said since has been consistent with, or even implicit in the words of the Foreign Secretary on August 26, 1968.


My Lords, I am genuinely anxious to avoid a confrontation with the noble Lord on this matter. He is on the subject now, as his noble friend was a moment ago, of building bridges. We all want to build bridges, but I would ask him to take into account the fact that the Russians insist upon building a bridge of their own design, a bridge intended to be one way, to funnel Soviet propaganda into the West and receive nothing in return. I should like to draw the noble Lord's attention to the names of three distinguished men, three former Ambassadors, Sir William Harper, Director of the British Eastern European centre, Sir Cecil Parrott and Sir William Barker, all of whom worked courageously and hard to build these bridges and have been vilified by the Soviet Press for attempting to build bridges with Eastern Europe. It is not as simple as the noble Lord makes out. I should like to know whether Her Majesty's Government have sent protests to the Soviet Government on the vilifications of these three distinguished public servants which have appeared in the Soviet Press.


My Lords, I cannot answer that question immediately; I am not aware of the circumstances. With all respect to the noble Lord, I think it is really rather irrelevant to the argument I am trying to develop. It is our policy that I am talking about. Other countries must speak on their own policies. I do not know that I would go along with this image of building bridges. It is an analogy that breaks down if one carries it too far. What we are trying to do is to improve relations with Eastern European countries, and it may be that often that will seem to us a one-way traffic, but unless we continue these efforts towards detente, if we give up because the going appears too hard, then I suggest that we shall never bring down this artificial barrier in the centre of Europe; and it is our policy to continue to do this.

I have said that our condemnation of the invasion has not changed; I can assure the noble Lord of that. Nor is there any doubt in our minds about the doctrine to which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has referred, the Brezhnev doctrine, which seeks to rationalise the invasion of Czechoslovakia. We do not mince any words about that. But some noble Lords who have spoken have said that it is not enough to condemn; we must also ask ourselves what we can do.

I think it might be useful if I were to say a few words in conclusion about our policy towards the countries of Eastern Europe. The noble Lord, Lord, St. Oswald, has been good enough to say that he is in favour of a policy that seeks to further our relations with these countries. He is on the single subject of the Red Army Choir. To see the policy of Her Majesty's Government clearly, I think we must look at it not only against the background of developments in one country, such as Czechoslovakia, but also in the context of East-West relations generally. The first point that I would make is that this policy is not one that we are pursuing alone; this is not simply the policy of Her Majesty's Government. Perhaps I might ask the noble Lord to refer, if he has not already done so. to the communiqué issued on December 5 last year after the Ministerial Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, where the Ministers of all our Allies in Western Europe meet and discuss policy. The communique began by recalling that for twenty years the members of the Alliance had dedicated their efforts to the preservation of their freedom and security and to the improvement of East-West relations in the aim of reaching an ultimate peaceful solution of outstanding problems in Europe. This they would continue to do.

The declaration which accompanied that communiqué referred to the lack of a common interpretation of the principles upon which peace and security in Europe must rest, to the need for further study of issues and procedures for possible negotiation, and also to the need for greater freedom of movement of people, ideas and information between the countries of East and West. I draw the attention of the noble Lord to those last words subscribed to by the Ministerial Council of NATO representing all our Western allies: the need for greater freedom of movement, of people, ideas and information between the countries of East and West. This is the background against which our policy is carried out; and I think it is right to say that we have been consistent about this policy over the years. There have been setbacks, and I have no hesitation in agreeing with the noble Lord that the invasion of Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968 was perhaps the worst and most shocking of these. But we think that in the longer term our policy is correct, and that we should stick to it unless circumstances make it impossible to do so.

The noble Lord said a good deal about the present situation in Czechoslovakia. It is true that the official position of the Government has changed since 1968, but I do not think it would be right for me here to make judgments on that. It is for Governments to describe their own views and their own policies, and I do not believe that it would be prudent, either in our interest or in the interest of Czechoslovakia, to comment in any detail on the noble Lord's catalogue of criticisms of the current regime there. There are, of course, limits to the extent of agreement in any political dialogue with Communist countries. I would go as far along the noble Lord's road as that. But I still believe that it is wholly in our interests that we should respond to any desire for exchanges in the political field, and also any desire for ex-changes in the other fields, such as trade and technology, and cultural exchanges, where the prospects of practical benefit to both sides may seem to be more immediate. I believe we are right to concentrate, with our allies, on the future of relations between East and West, to work to secure any possible improvement in the future, without any illusions, and without losing sight of the principles on which we are divided.

I think I am right in reflecting that in the course of this short debate there has not been great support for the noble Lord's condemnation of the current visit of the Red Army Choir, although, quite rightly, there has been full and whole-hearted support—indeed, I would go so far as to say unanimous support—for his sense of outrage at and condemnation of the 1968 invasion. But I believe that, in spite of the events of 1968, we should now go ahead with the policies that 1 have outlined, and that we should try to do so without too much public recrimination, as noble Lords behind me have said, because I think this neither advances our policies, nor will help to improve the situation about which all of us are deeply, and rightly, concerned.

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