HL Deb 22 May 1980 vol 409 cc1033-6

3.21 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will draw to the attention of the British Olympic Committee the revelation in The Times of 20th May by a former KGB officer and Tass correspondent that "some middle ranking Soviet officials welcomed President Carter's call for a boycott of the Olympic Games in the hope that it might make the Kremlin think again about Afghanistan"; and whether this, together with the West German decision not to go to Moscow, does not make it imperative for Sir Denis Follows to think again.


My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place on 20th May, she has already asked British athletes to think again in the light of the decisions by the Olympic Committees of the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany not to go to Moscow. The Government have throughout made clear their view that participating in the Olympics would be tantamount to condoning Soviet aggression in Afghanistan.


My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply, is he aware of the statement in the Soviet Communist Hand-book which says: The decision to give the honour of holding the Olympic Games in the capital of the world's first socialist state was convincing testimony to the general recognition of the historic importance and greatness of our country's foreign policy and the enormous service of the Soviet Union in the struggle for peace"? Would my noble friend not agree that that statement is directly against the spirit and aims of the Olympic Charter?


My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is without doubt the case that if the Olympic Games proceed unhampered it will be a political and diplomatic coup of no mean proportions for the Russians.


My Lords, while I congratulate the noble Lord on his assiduity and versatility of achievement in this House, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government consider it appropriate to expect the athletes to exercise sanctions which Her Majesty's Government are not themselves prepared to exercise? Is it not true that every country that has acted as host to the Olympic Games has used the Olympic Games for advertising itself? Has not this been done regularly? Is there anything wrong in what the Olympic Committee of the Soviet Union has done? According to the International Olympic Committee, they have carried out strictly all their obligations. Is it not therefore absurd to turn to the athletes and to ask them to do what Her Majesty's Government have not the courage to do themselves?


My Lords, I reject that absolutely. May I say that I find it difficult to distinguish between the Soviet Olympic Committee and the Soviet Government? There is little distinction between the two. The senior officials of the Soviet Olympic Committee are senior civil servants in the Russian Government. As for the position of the athletes, we do not think it is wrong to ask them to do their public duty.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the cause of freedom is not greater than the wish of any competitor to compete in the Olympic Games? Is not the total lack of leadership on this issue by Sir Denis Follows utterly deplorable?


My Lords, the Government very much regret that the British Olympic Association still apparently intend to go to Moscow. We hope, even now, that they will see fit to change their mind. On the subject of freedom which my noble friend raised, I can refer to the freedom of all those dissidents in Russia who are being rounded up and imprisoned before the athletes get there.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that if Her Majesty's Government had been as forthright in their attitude to sporting organisations going to South Africa they might have had a little more luck in their attitude towards the Soviet Union?


My Lords, I think that is a different question. The fact is that we have made plain our view on British participation in sporting events in South Africa in the same way as we are doing with regard to Moscow.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether in inviting Sir Denis Follows to think again, there is any ground for thinking that he has so far thought at all?


My Lords, it might be wrong of me to comment directly on that supplementary question; but I can say that, as your Lordships may know, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister recently wrote again to Sir Denis Follows.


My Lords, can the noble Lord give an estimate of the number of people who have been moved out of Soviet cities where Olympic events are to take place in order to avoid their meeting athletes from the Free World?


My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend an estimate of the numbers. They are certainly substantial and I think they go to prove our point.


My Lords, if the Government, with the overwhelming consent of the country on this matter, regard the visit of these athletes as an injury to this country, why can they not take the powers to guard this country's interests by seeing that they do not go?


My Lords, I still live in a free country, as does the noble Lord. We will not take away their passports.


My Lords, is it not comforting to the Government and to all people who think in the same vein, that 30 countries have now said that they are not going to Moscow and are thus refusing to endorse the Afghanistan invasion; and that a host of other countries which are going have limited the choice of athletic disciplines of their individual Olympic Committees? Does this not reflect the fact that much of the Third World, as well as the Free World, realises that by going to Moscow one is boosting the Soviet system and endorsing the invasion of Afghanistan?


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. A large number of countries have said they are not going. From memory, I think the number is now 40 and not 30.