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Mr Shelepin (Visa)

Volume 888: debated on Monday 17 March 1975

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking consequent upon the application to our embassy in Moscow for a visa to enable Mr. Shelepin to visit this country.

Mr. Shelepin has applied for a visa to enable him to lead a Soviet trade union delegation to this country for a short period for discussions with members of the Trades Union Congress. After careful consideration, I can find no ground on which it would be proper for me to refuse this application. The power vested in me to refuse an applicant whose presence would not be conducive to the public good should be used only to safeguard national interests and not to express moral approval or disapproval of a particular person or a particular visit. I have therefore granted the application.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the admission of this ex-leader of the KGB, and therefore an organiser of political assassination, will be an affront to the people of this country as well as to the many refugees here?

The hon. Gentleman can speak for the Kremlin, but not for me.

Is the Home Secretary also aware that his arrival in the guise of trade union chief is an affront to the free trade unions in this country? Why is it that under the pressure from his Left wing he is standing by and allowing this man to enter this country? Does he want to see trouble in the streets of Britain?

I am not notable for surrender to pressure from my Left wing. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have considered this matter most carefully, and I can find no precedent for behaving as the hon. Gentleman is apparently urging me to do. I know, for instance, to cite only one example, that Mr. Serov, who was currently head of the KGB, was admitted here in 1956 together with Mr. Bulganin and Mr. Khrushchev.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most Government supporters think that he has taken the right course of action? There are no real grounds for the Home Office refusing a visa to Mr. Shelepin, although many Government supporters fervently wish that the TUC had not invited him. Does my right hon. Friend accept, however, that the representations which many of us are receiving may make it difficult to guarantee Mr. Shelepin's safety whilst in this country?

I understand. my hon. Friend's point of view. As I indicated in my initial answer, I do not believe that I should use the procedure which I have available to me on matters of taste or distaste. I would not have thought that the question of safety arose. No doubt there may be some demonstrations, which I hope will be peaceful, if people wish to demonstrate. That is a right which we preserve and which I am determined to preserve. But the view I have also taken is that—[Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) would keep quiet instead of muttering constantly. I maintain that it is not right to prevent marches by, for instance, the National Front because of actions which they might provoke by other people. It is difficult to maintain the correct balance in these matters. However, I endeavour to do so, even without the assistance of my hon. Friend, in the best way that I can.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when Mr. Malenkov, Stalin's henchman, came here some years ago, we showed him a great deal of the free way of life. He came here as leader of a deputation of electricians. Not long after his return to Russia, he was exiled to Siberia.

I think that the information which the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave to me in the House was at the back of my mind, but fairly far back, and I have therefore received with interest what he has said.

Is the Home Secretary aware that it is generally accepted that he is in a difficult position and that this decision in no way indicates what are his personal views, which must surely be as abhorrent of the background of this gentleman as those of any other hon. Member. Has the Foreign Secretary made clear that the abhorrence which is felt for Mr. Shelepin and all that he stands for may make itself felt, and that whilst we hope that it will be peaceful, it will be vocal and may not assist Anglo-Soviet relations?

I think that it is an open question whether this visit will assist Anglo-Soviet relations. That must be. borne in mind. I do not wish to do anything to harm Anglo-Soviet relations. I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is certainly no part of my duty to say that I expect demonstrations to take place. I expect that if they take place they will be peaceful, as should all demonstrations.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while many Government supporters agree that this is not a case in which it would be appropriate for him to intervene on the question of a visa, there are many trade unionists who are deeply unhappy about the visit, who feel that Mr. Shelepin does not represent trade unionism in Russia or elsewhere, and who hope that my right hon. Friend or the TUC will reconsider its decision to extend the invitation?

I take very careful note, as I am sure does the House, of what my hon. Friend says, but I think that she will agree that these are matters for the Trades Union Congress and not for me or the House.