HL Deb 11 December 1990 vol 524 cc382-4

2.50 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any evidence to suggest that in 1981 and 1982 the World Peace Council and the British Peace Assembly were controlled by the Soviet Communist Party and supported the suppression of democracy in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan.

Lord Reay

My Lords, Ministers have often expressed the view that, from its inception in 1950, the World Peace Council has been a disguised instrument of Soviet policy. A KGB defector recently confirmed that under Brezhnev, the council faithfully followed the directions of the international department of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee. A senior WPC official admitted in 1989 that some 90 per cent. of the council's funds came from a single source, the Soviet Peace Fund.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is not my noble friend somewhat surprised that, in view of that, the CND has appointed as the new general secretary from January next year Mr. Gary Lefley, who was the communist national organiser of the British branch of the World Peace Council just before Mr. Gorbachev came to power?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I understand that Mr. Lefley was and may remain a member of the Communist Party and that he was a candidate for the national executive of the Communist Party of Great Britain in December 1983. However, it is not up to me to comment on his fitness for the post of general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while I do not dispute any of the facts given by the noble Lord in his reply, and in view of the great and welcome changes which have taken place in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union since 1981, perhaps I may ask him whether he does not agree that this question is not relevant in any way. Does he not further agree that it is far more important that we should co-operate with our allies in sustaining Mr. Gorbachev and the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe rather than indulging in a witch hunt of this kind?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not think that we should indulge in a witch hunt. However, the World Peace Council is continuing its activities and it is that organisation which is living in the past.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that there is no question of a witch hunt? We are talking about an organisation of which it is said that many honourable Members in another place are members. That organisation has replaced an unfrocked priest by an unmasked agent. In those circumstances, does the Minister not agree that it is right to call attention to its activities?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I think it is perfectly proper.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that we are now in 1990 and not 1982? Will the Minister remind the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, that recently the President of the USSR received the Nobel Peace Prize; that East Germany is part of a country which is a member of NATO and that in all the circumstances we should leave these matters where they properly stand and not spend a great deal of time digging up irrelevant nonsense about the past?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I agree that our relations with the Soviet Union have never been better. We look forward to the prospect of more co-operative relations in the future. However, the immense changes that have taken place in Europe came about because we were resolute and strong in our defence and not through the activities of CND.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, perhaps I may refer to what has been said by noble Lords on the Benches opposite. Surely we should not shut our minds, ignore our ideas and turn our faces from the facts. Currently, the Soviet Union is building two or three times as many tanks, aircraft and ships as the free world. It is also very active in subversive organisations. Does not the Minister agree that the more people who know that, the better it is for the future of our country?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. It is entirely proper that these matters are brought to light. I also agree that times have changed. I see no reason why the World Peace Council should continue its activities.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister now saying that in future the Government will answer at the Dispatch Box for other associations and organisations whether political or non-political and for which the Government have no responsibility? If the Minister is saying that, it is a break with tradition both in this House and in the other place.

Lord Reay

My Lords, if the noble Lord has other organisations in mind he should try and see.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, while I recognise that questions asked in the Chamber go far wider than some of us are accustomed to, and while I fully accept that it is perfectly proper to draw attention to the activities of these bodies, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he agrees that the Government have no possible responsibility for them. Does he further agree that it would be very undesirable if the Government sought to interfere with them?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Government see their responsibility as combating the activities of CND, among other organisations.

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