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Diplomatic Functions (Government Representation)

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1961

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asked the Prime Minister if he will instruct all Ministers to boycott official functions arranged by diplomatic representatives of Governments with whose defence and foreign policies Her Majesty's Government is not in agreement.

Is the Prime Minister aware that recently his Foreign Secretary boycotted a function at the Russian Embassy on the ground that their Government were dropping bombs? Was similar action taken with regard to American and French diplomatic functions when their Governments were dropping bombs? Will he be surprised if other nations apply the precedent which he has created to us if we begin to experiment with the neutron bomb?

My noble Friend cannot attend all the receptions held by all the embassies on all their national days. On this occasion, as on many others, he was represented by a Foreign Office Minister.

Is the Prime Minister not aware that a statement was issued making it clear that the Foreign Secretary was not only boycotting the function himself but was seeking to get other people on both sides of the House, who had been invited, to boycott it, too?

No, Sir. I think that in these circumstances it was appropriate that the Minister of State at the Foreign Office should represent the Foreign Office at this function.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, generally speaking, this was a rather pathetic gesture for a great country like ours not to attend the national day of one of the greatest countries in the world? We ought to try to do better. They are not a bit impressed with it.

Is the Prime Minister not aware that according to many of the newspapers, which have not been repudiated, the Foreign Secretary himself let it be known that his failure to attend was intended as a protest against the Russian unilateral resumption of bomb tests? If he stayed away for that reason, will the Prime Minister say what useful purpose is served by these displays of moral indignation and self-righteousness? Is he not aware that all over the world these things are regarded as merely another example of the characteristic British Tory attitude that when they have the ace up their sleeves it is God Almighty who put it there?

In reply to the last two questions, I still think that in the circumstances my noble Friend was very properly represented by a Foreign Office Minister.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Foreign Secretary's action met the wishes and instincts of the great majority of the British people?

Yes, Sir. I think that in the circumstances he made the right decision.