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Visas (Japanese Citizens)

Volume 639: debated on Wednesday 3 May 1961

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

11.43 p.m.

On 30th March last I gave notice in the House that I proposed to raise a protest against the Home Secretary's refusal on that date to grant visas to five Japanese citizens to enter the United Kingdom.

What are the facts in the case? Five Japanese citizens wished to come to Britain on that date, Maundy Thursday, as a result of an invitation which had been extended by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in this country to the so-called Japanese Council against the Atom Bomb in Tokyo for the purpose of witnessing and taking part in the fourth Aldermaston march.

I know that only a minority of Members in the House at present support the aims and objects of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but I think that it is generally recognised that this body is a reputable one led by distinguished citizens in the country which commands wide and increasing support and that the Aldermaston marches have come to be recognised as a democratic, useful and vigorous protest against the insanity of nuclear war.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was not responsible for the choice of these citizens to come here to represent the Japanese Council against the Atom Bomb, nor is it in any way responsible for the policies and activities of that body in Japan. But I believe that that Council commands considerable popular support among the people of Japan. The Japanese citizens who made application to come here for the purpose of representing the movement against nuclear weapons in their country were Mr. Fukushima, an agricultural specialist, Mr. Hiragaki, a member of the Teachers' Trade Union of Japan, Mr. Wada, of the Municipal Workers' Trade Union, Mr. Araki, lecturer in pathology, and Mr. Yamaguchi, himself a radiation victim of the atom bomb that fell on Nagasaki.

I am informed that these citizens came across the world and applied for their visas to enter this country at the British Embassy in Vienna in the last week of February, and therefore in good time to enable them to get their visas and travel to this country on 30th March. I believe, also that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament informed the Home Office that for the short stay of these visitors the Campaign was prepared to be entirely responsible for them financially.

I must make it plain that I do not know any of these gentlemen personally, nor do I know of their political affiliations, but that is not the issue in this case. My belief is that it was legitimate and desirable that these Japanese representatives should come to Britain at that time for the purpose of taking part in a great democratic protest against the insanity of nuclear weapons and against their spread, and that for the Home Secretary to exclude them from this country was an arbitrary, foolish and reactionary act.

Since raising this protest I have received a number of letters from different parts of the country criticising my action and saying, "Why do you want these Japanese visitors to come here? Do not you recollect the terrible atrocities committed by the Japanese in the Second World War?". I entirely sympathise with those who have bitter feelings about the Japanese aggression and atrocities in the Second World War and the period leading up to it. But whilst not forgetting these past experiences, surely we should do everything possible to encourage and welcome those Japanese citizens—and citizens of all countries—who are opposed to the revival of militarism and imperialism in any form. We should recall with some humiliation the fact that Japan is the only nation that has suffered the atrocity of atomic bombing itself; indeed, it was for those reasons that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in this country extended this invitation.

It is no use the Joint Under-Secretary's arguing that aliens should not come to Britain to participate in demonstrations of this kind. Over the Easter weekend, when the fourth Aldermaston march took place, more than 500 foreigners came here, observed and took part in that great protest march. They came from Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Greece. It was only the five representatives from the only country in the world which has actually suffered the agony of atomic bombing who were excluded by the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary's power to grant or withhold visas for aliens to visit this country is, we know, a dictatorial power, and he is not responsible to this House for giving his reasons. This position, against which hon. Members have constantly protested, seems to me to make it the more important that we should protest when the power is used unreasonably and in a manner calculated to create international ill-will and to cause friction.

However other Governments may behave in this respect, however unreasonable they may be about the granting or withholding of visas, surely this country should seek to set an example politically of non-discrimination in this matter? Surely this country should set an example of welcoming reputable citizens from other countries to come here to meet our people, to see our way of life, and to gain the experience of participating for brief periods in our democratic movements?

11.52 p.m.

I am not a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but I acknowledge the sincere convictions and conscientious motives of the large number of reputable citizens who do support that Campaign. I therefore feel that my hon. Friend has raised a prima facie case which calls for an answer from the Home Office.

I should like to add that the decision of the Home Secretary to refuse entry to these five visitors from Japan coincided with the revelation in the Press of the serious espionage trial which attracted a great deal of attention, and today we have learnt of the equally serious, perhaps more serious, confession of Mr. Blake and the exemplary and indeed unique sentence he received.

In those circumstances, I think that one can understand the concern of the Home Office about security arrangements and steps for taking more measures to prevent espionage, but I hope that we shall not find that those very necessary steps in that direction will lead the Home Office into any panic action with regard to placing unnecessary restrictions on foreign visitors who desire to come here for temporary and quite legitimate purposes. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that he is aware that quite different considerations apply. While we all hope that the Home Office will take energetic measures against espionage and will tighten up security arrangements, we also hope that we shall still be able to adopt our traditional attitude to foreign visitors.

It is because of those two aspects of the problem that I think that my hon. Friend has raised a matter which, calls for a very serious reply from the Home Office.

11.55 p.m.

First, I should like to thank the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) for so courteously giving me precise notice of the issues that he would raise and for the great brevity and clarity with which he raised them. I hope that I shall be able to give him an answer which will convince him and the rest of the House.

In reply to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), I would have hoped that I had no need whatever to assure him that the decision made by my right hon. Friend with regard to the five visas for the Japanese citizens had nothing whatever to do with the announcement of the findings in the espionage case at the Old Bailey before Easter. The two matters were entirely unconnected. The decision was not in any sense based upon what had happened in that case.

I am able to assure both hon. Gentlemen that we pride ourselves on our admission of foreigners to this country, and that can be proved by looking at the statistics published recently of the admission of aliens last year, showing the vast numbers who came here and the very small numbers who were refused admission. I grant, of course, that in addition to those statistics there is the further consideration of refusal of visas to people who never even attempted to come here after the visas had been refused, but, after all, the numbers of those, taking the visa countries of the world together, are not so very great. We certainly intend to maintain our tradition of hospitality, and, indeed, I think that we can reasonably pride ourselves on the fact that those citizens of countries which do not enjoy democratic freedom as we know it have a great deal to learn by coming here.

As to the decision to refuse the visas to the five Japanese in this case, it was, as I shall show, fully in accordance with a policy established in 1950 by the then Labour Government, and in accordance with decisions since taken in pursuance of that policy by both the Labour and the Conservative Governments. These decisions, I must stress, were in no way directed against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or the Aldermaston march. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme pointed out, we granted admission to several hundred people from nine different countries who came for the two marches. There were no refusals of entry to nationals of non-visa countries to attend those marches.

The policy governing the decision was originally introduced by the Labour Government in 1950 as a measure of defence against the Communist so-called "peace" propaganda machine. On 17th July, 1951, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who was then the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, described the World Peace Movement as
"no more…than an instrument of Soviet foreign policy, designed to stir up resistance to the Western Defence Agreement and the Atlantic Pact."
He said:
"It is no more than a fifth column movement run from Moscow.* The members owe allegiance to Russia and not to their own countries. Their tactics are to persuade the workers in the democracies to refuse to make arms, and at the same time they urge the workers in the Communist countries to speed up the production of munitions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th July, 1951; Vol. 490, c.1205.]
He added, however, that it was in accordance with our policy to admit delegates from Communist countries to attend various conferences in this country. I speak for the present Government when I say that we certainly do not exclude, and do not wish to discourage, Communists as such from visiting the United Kingdom. In this particular case, we are not dealing with the open promulgation of Communist doctrine by people and organisations whose attachment is evident. We are concerned here with those bodies called Communist "front" organisations which seek, by camouflaging their true aims and intentions under artificial and misrepresentative titles, to enlist the support of ordinary people throughout the world by appealing for peace, friendship, and the general improvement of world conditions.

The World Peace Council is such a body, and foreigners coming here on its business, or to attend meetings organised by it, or by other similar bodies which are part of the organised Communist propaganda machine, have been forbidden for the past ten years or so to enter this country. Advantage is sometimes taken by these "peace front" organisations of bona fide and unexceptionable invitations issued by organisations or individuals here who were unaware of the true objective of their visitors, or the real direction of their activitives, or, by others who did not know or did not care whether they were Communist or not. In other words, I make the distinction between ignorance and apathy on the part of the bodies in this country who issue the invitations.

The host as in this case of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, is sometimes a body whose direction is quite independent of the Communist peace propaganda machine but whose aims and ideals and activities offer a respectable platform for representatives of Communist "front" organisations. In different parts of the world many organisations genuinely originating with a desire for peace have, sooner or later, come under Communist influence, then under Communist control, and have finally become instruments of the Communist propaganda front.

An instance of this is the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, known as Gensuikyo. At first, this body was genuinely pacifist and was so regarded by the Japanese Government; but in recent years it has become closely connected with the World Peace Council, and is following its direction. As long ago as July, 1959, the Japanese Minister of Justice said that a conference organised by this Council had received considerable financial help from the Soviet Union and from Communist China. The Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly, which had previously subsidised the conference, discontinued its subsidy in 1959 as an expression of public disapproval of the political activities of the Council.

The important thing about the case of these five Japanese is that they are members of that organisation; in fact, three of them are executive directors of it. They first applied for United Kingdom visas on 8th February in Tokio, the stated purpose of their visit being to give lectures against atomic and hydrogen bombs. They were refused their visas, and then stated that they would apply for them when they got to Copenhagen in the course of a lecture and propaganda tour which they were then starting. The next thing we heard was that on 28th February our visa officer in Vienna was approached for visas for them to come here in response to an invitation from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Then, on 22nd March, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme wrote to the Home Secretary asking for visas to be granted to the five men, but, in accordance with the policy which I have mentioned, my right hon. Friend refused them.

On 30th March, the hon. Member asked his Private Notice Question, and in reply to a supplementary question my right hon. Friend said:
"Large numbers of foreigners are expected to arrive and join in this event, and no objection is made to their admittance to this country, subject to the normal requirement of individual acceptability. Certain powers have been conferred upon me and on occasion they have been exercised. I have decided that I have to exercise them in this case."
In answer to another supplementary question, my right hon. Friend added:
"I certainly do not wish to prejudice the position in Japan or the views of Japan upon nuclear weapons or anything else. I simply have to decide this matter in relation to the acceptability of these individuals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1961; Vol. 637, c.1535–6.]
I think that the position is abundantly plain. I have gone as far as I could possibly go in the circumstances in explaining the reasons for our decision, but I have explained those reasons.

In conclusion, I stress that we welcome Japanese visitors and, indeed, visitors from any country. Our policy is not directed against the admission of Communists as such, nor do we wish people to be prevented from taking part with our own people in the free expression of political views; but we are not prepared to let propagandists come to this country from anywhere merely to help the Communists conduct their so-called peace propaganda, the object of which is to get others to disarm while international Communism refuses to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Twelve o'clock.