HL Deb 15 November 1984 vol 457 cc416-9

3.26 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what, during the last 15 years, has been the average annual number of Soviet citizens granted visas to visit the United Kingdom, what is the average duration of such visits and how this compares with the number and duration of visas granted to United Kingdom citizens visiting the USSR.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, over the past 15 years the numbers of Soviet citizens admitted annually to this country have ranged between 4,717 and 11,379. Most visits were for 30 days or less. Since British citizens are not required to make any notification of their intention to travel abroad, there is no official record of the number of British citizens travelling to the Soviet Union. However, a DTI- sponsored sample passenger survey indicates that some 39,000 United Kingdom residents travelled to the Soviet Union in 1983. There are no details of how long they stayed.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if the average duration of such visits in both directions is between two and four weeks, it is significant that Mr. Scargill, when he went to the Soviet Union on 28th July 1972, stayed for 23 weeks and followed that visit with two further visits to the USSR, visits to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany and four visits to Cuba? Is my noble friend aware that the Soviet Union run courses in Moscow, Prague and Cuba where they train visiting trades unionists how to destabilise, how to destroy and how to disrupt the economy of the free world? If our intelligence services know when the trades unionists are visiting these places, how many civilians, pickets and police have to be hospitalised, how many petrol bombs have got to be thrown——

Noble Lords


Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, this is a question—how many coal faces must be rendered derelict and how many TUC leaders have to be shouted down before this information is known to the benefit of the public and the coal industry?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, Mr. Scargill, like the rest of us, is a free agent. I suggest that my noble friend directs his questions to him.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, would the noble Lord consider that not one Peer other than the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has the imagination to think that that supplementary could possibly arise out of the original Question? Would the noble Lord the Minister encourage other noble Lords sitting on the same side to obey the normal traditions of this House?

Arising directly out of the Question, are we not extremely proud of our way of living and our liberties, so that we encourage as many people as possible from the Soviet Union and the Easter bloc to come here in order to experience them? Could the noble Lord the Minister indicate how many applications for visas from that area have been refused over the past few years and, if they have been refused what are the general guidelines for such refusal?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not have the answer to that question immediately in front of me, but if the noble Lord cares to table it, I shall be happy to reply.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I am president of a society called the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year? This possibly does arise from the question. May I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that his colleague Mr. Rifkind believes that the society is financed with Moscow gold? Is he further aware that, unfortunately, this is not the case, and that if he would finance us with a little British gold, we would be able to bring in a few more Soviet visitors and so perhaps satisfy his noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that information, which I shall convey to my honourable friend.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is any record of a Mr. Smith having visited the Soviet Union for several months in 1972, perhaps the same Mr. Smith who more recently visited Paris to meet representatives of the Libyan regime?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid, as I said earlier, we do not keep those records.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that no one on these Benches finds himself in any sympathy at all with the supplementary question of the noble Lord opposite, a very old and personal friend of mine?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is a matter for noble Lords and not for me.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is at least one occupant of these Benches who believes that the supplementary question was relevant? Is the Minister aware that at about the time of the visit to which the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has referred, one of the periodic Soviet planning meetings was taking place and was discussing what is known in Soviet strategic jargon as the long march through the institutions, of which a principal target is the trade union movement of the West? Despite some of the very valid representations that have been made from one side of the House, is it not truly alarming that a British trade union leader should have made something like 10 to 12 visits of an apparently friendly kind to countries in which democratic trade unionism is systematically and ruthlessly repressed?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is a matter for Mr. Scargill and not for me. It is perhaps worth saying that on one occasion when he returned from a visit abroad he said, "If that is Communism, you can keep it".

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, whatever the merits of the case, would the noble Lord agree that personal attacks of this kind are totally contrary to the traditions of this House?

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, taking up one point that my noble friend has made, and notwithstanding remarks made by noble Lords opposite, if we have the intelligence of the sort that my noble friend suggested we might have, would it not be wise that, if what has been mentioned is true, it should be given more publicity?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am responsible for answers in your Lordships' House, not questions.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, says—there might be many who agree with him—some of us know full well the massive support that we had from the Soviet Union when we had to regain and release Europe from the yoke of fascism. It might well be that if we can only embark—I am now talking about British people, Russian people and German people, and not about political systems—on a system whereby tens of thousands of Russians could come here and our people could go to their country, that would provide the lubrication that would lead us to the road of sanity.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, be that as it may, I doubt that it has much relevance to Mr. Scargill's travels.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, would it not be better for noble Lords to have the courage to put down in their Questions what their real intent is? Would it not have been more courageous for the noble Lord, in the noble Lord the Minister's opinion, to put down the Question that he really intended to ask?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is a stricture that might equally apply to other noble Lords, I feel.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was reprimanding me earlier for what he thought to be bad parliamentary procedure. After 35 years in Parliament in both places I know perfectly well the procedure, though the noble Lord does not seem to know it, judged by his last supplementary. You have to have ministerial responsibility. There is no ministerial responsibility concerning the independence of private people. Therefore one has to get at this matter by asking about visas for which there is ministerial responsibility. I made that quite clear.

In view of the ghastly things that none of us can like seeing on TV, night after night—the massive and riotous behaviour on the picket lines—will my noble friend really seriously consider making available some of the secret information? Will my noble friend now consider making available some of the intelligence, so that we know how this comes about? Is there any further evidence, apart from the £500,000 sent by the Soviet Union, reported today, of any more foreign funds being used to pay Mr. Scargill's private army?

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I think it would be felt in the House that I have been very tolerant over a certain period in regard to time. Noble Lords are entitled to their view. Others will think that I am now asking for this discussion to come to an end too soon. I have to use my best judgment in the interests of the House. My best judgment in the interests of the House at this stage is that we should bring this discussion to an end. Some of the questions that have been asked by my noble friend he can no doubt pursue with the Minister.