HC Deb 21 April 1980 vol 983 cc181-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Mather.]

10.47 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

As this Adjournment debate has dragged the Minister of State back from the Foreign Ministers' meeting at Luxembourg, I should like to acknowledge his courtesy in being here for this follow-up debate to that of 27 March. I refer to columns 1793 and 1794 of Hansard, and hope that he will be able to report on the results of his comparing notes with other Governments and on the possible high quality of events in the Olympics.

The purpose of yet another Adjournment debate is to continue the argument of 27 March and to show that some of us are shoulder to shoulder with the British Olympic Committee in its determination to go to Moscow. It is probably a mistake, on balance—certainly with the advantage of hindsight—for the Russian Army ever to have set foot in Afghanistan. I suspect that there are many Russians who know it. Equally, it was a great mistake for a Labour Government, with Conservative backing, to put the British Army into Northern Ireland. I suspect that many Members of Parliament know that also. Albeit that Northern Ireland is part of Britain and Afghanistan is a separate country with which Russia has had the closest historical links, the two cases have this in common: that an army was sent in to sort out messy and cruel factual strife among people living in the middle ages. And once an army is there it is hellishly difficult to create the circumstances whereby it can easily withdraw.

Perhaps the Russians should not have started preparing to send in troops when some of their technical advisers were brutally murdered in April 1979 in Herat. Perhaps they should not have interfered in what looked like a terrible Pol Pot Cambodian situation. Perhaps in backing Karmal, the most popular figure in Afghanistan as short a time ago as 1978, they backed a man who was trying to modernise Afghan society too quickly. But what is preposterous and absurd is to suggest that we are dealing with Russian colonial—I repeat "colonial "—aggression. That is rubbish.

I have too high a regard for the intelligence of the officials of the British Foreign Office to suppose that most of them believe that claptrap. I have too high a regard for the intelligence of the Minister of State to suppose that he believes it.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Marlow rose——

Mr. Dalyell

Bluntly, what we heard at Question Time on Wednesday last bore the imprint of the present occupant of No. 10 Downing Street. The romantic view of Afghan freedom fighters gallantly resisting a Russian colonialist army bears little relation to the facts.

The fact is that on no fewer than 14 occasions—from March 1979 onwards—the leaders of the Afghan Government, Presidents Taraki and Amin, requested the Soviet Government to send in troops. The Russian view was that to have refused Kabul's request would have condemned Afghanistan to the destiny of Chile, or much worse. It is beyond any reasonable dispute that if Amin was not a CIA agent he was at least playing a double game by wanting the Americans to help him against some of his own colleagues and other factions in Afghanistan. The fact is that Mother Russia was not going to have an anti-Russian stronghold at that point on her borders.

It is against that background that we have to consider the urgent request from President Carter that we should boycott the Olympics in Moscow. Basically, I believe that this request is not about the good of the people of Afghanistan at all. It is about the dire political needs of Jimmy Carter. The brutal truth is that the White House of President Carter drifted into postures over Afghanistan on the winds of the American people's understandable frustration over the hostages in Iran.

I do not complain about their attitude over the hostages—that is a different issue—and their general impatience with the lack of economic success of Mr. Carter's presidency, but should the Olympic Games be sacrificed and the continuance of a great force for good in the world be put in peril basically for the ephemeral political needs of Jimmy Carter as a candidate?

I do not apologise for being irreverent. Ever since the day in 1967 when I emerged from the basement office of the White House after a searing row about Vietnam and British east of Suez policy with Walter Rostow—then Lyndon Johnson's security adviser—I have thought that the White House was a corrupt and corrupting place, geared to personal relationships and ambitions far removed from the good of humankind. In the week that Mr. Gordon Liddy published his horrific memoirs, I do not see any need to revise that opinion.

I listened extremely carefully to the Minister in his debate with Brian War den yesterday and the argument about a spiritual and emotional crisis in the Alliance. I accept that there is a mighty problem here, but at the time that Mike Mansfield put forward his amendment a number of my hon. Friends and I thought that it had a great deal to commend it.

The idea that the Olympics should be a litmus test of loyalty—"if you disagree, you are disloyal" —is a dangerous line of argument. The Minister told Brian Walden that it was important that the United States should not view the world in which its friends live as an unfriendly place, But should we sacrifice the 1984 Games and a great deal else in the world to the passing needs of the presidency of the United States?

The Minister must take on board Brian Walden's argument that President Carter will be worried if the voters think that he cannot get the support of even his friends. That is very near the nub of the issue that we are discussing. As Alastair Cooke pointed out yesterday morning, what is really weighing with Carter is that Reagan is taunting him about whether only the USA athletes will be withdrawn from Moscow. That is the reason for the pressure on the British Government.

Indeed, in our last debate on Thursday 27 March, the Minister rebuked me for being personal about Mr. Lenski and said that it was not my normal style. Nor is it, but I will go further. An American President who has as his security adviser a first-generation Russian Pole with all sorts of hang-ups really needs to think again. Mr. Brzezinski comes on with all this stuff about the build-up in the Trans-caucasian military district. I am told by my friend John Erikson—I make no apology for naming him; he is well known to the Foreign Office—that reports of such a build up were nonsense, and they are denied by other members of the National Security Council. If anything is worrying, it is the chaos in which the central planning and policy-making department of the American Government finds itself. One thing after another from the National Security Council is at variance, and that should give the West grave concern.

In the demands to boycott the Games, we are asked to stand by the United States and a highly questionable set-up in Washington. I say Washington advisedly, because it is interesting that the editor of The Times, Mr. William ReesMogg, writing in his paper on Tuesday last week, suggested that feeling outside Washington might be a bit different. He said: I very much suspect that this is the public opinion that is in evidence, and that the genuine and broad American public opinion is more self-confident, more rational and more restrained. Nor should the British Olympic Committee pay any heed to our own Prime Minister. Normally, I would ask people in this circumstance to pay attention to the Government, regardless of party, but the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), Sir Alec Douglas-Home or Harold Macmillan, who was Prime Minister when I first became an hon. Member, would surely have behaved properly. It is inconceivable that all this stuff about boycotting the Olympics should splurge forth during Prime Minister's questions, with imperious demands without consultation with the British Olympic Committee.

The Prime Minister thinks that she has to be tough, partly perhaps because she is a woman and partly for the sake of being tough. She gets caught up in the ridiculous image of the Iron Lady, justifying previous attitudes and increased defence expenditure. The truth of the matter is that during the Vietnam war the Tokyo, Mexico and Montreal Olympics took place. Dare I say that we were reminded by Chris Brasher, talking of his experience with Chris Chataway back in 1956, that the Melbourne Olympics went forward at the same time as a British Army was engaged in Egypt—a fiasco, as some of us would see it—and, indeed, the Russians were engaged in Hungary? I am bound to point out that, like it or not, this time the Soviet athletes went to Lake Placid.

There is still great resentment, as Charles Palmer and others see it, that sport is the only weapon that seems to be used. I shall not go into detail, because I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) two or three minutes. Nothing is deterring the Lord Mayor of Sheffield from going off on a twin visit to Donetsk. Nothing is stopping the Russian swimmers over here. There are many other exchanges, not least the training exchanges to which I have referred on five previous occasions.

I hope that the British Olympic Committee will stick beside that special provision in the Olympic charter that urges athletes not to be influenced by political decisions. To me, the heroes of the day are Denis Follows, Dick Palmer, Charles Palmer and other members of the British Olympic Committee who have kept their heads and acted not only for sport but for the future of mankind. For Western athletes not to go to Moscow would simply be another step in drifting back to a cold war. Is that what we want?

11.2 pm

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for allowing me the opportunity to intervene in the debate.

The time at which to object to the inclusion of British athletes in the Moscow Olympics was from February to October 1974, when the International Olympic Committee was taking the decision to hold the Games in Moscow. The relevance of that period was that it followed only six years after the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

I searched the records of the House of Commons Library to establish the position of Conservative Members at that time, to find out who objected. I find that there were no Adjournment debates called, no early-day motions signed, no Private Members' motions applied for and no Government statements by cither the outgoing Labour Government or the incoming Conservative Government. Indeed, there were no statements by the right hon. Lady who is now the Prime Minister. I should like to ask the Minister of State what he did in 1974 about the decision of the International Olympic Committee to hold those Games in Moscow, following the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

The reaction of the Government on Afghanistan grossly underestimates the importance of the invasion not only of Czechoslovakia in 1968 but of Hungary in 1956 and of Lithuania, Latvia and all the countries that were occupied by the advancing Soviet Army at the end of the Second World War. Are they not all as important? If they are, why is it that the Government have sought to object only on this occasion? Could it be, as my hon. Friend said, that they have grossly over-reacted to the domestic problems of President Carter in the United States, whose shabby politics on the international scene have led to what I would call the discrediting of a number of European Governments who are likely to fall into the same trap?

11.4 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) need not apologise in any way for returning to this matter, which is of great public interest and importance. He has been entirely consistent in his approach. Of course, if one does not make much of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as he does not, it is logical to say that it does not matter whether the athletes go.

The hon. Gentleman said today that it was probably a mistake for the Soviet Union to go into Afghanistan, but that is not the view of most hon. Members, and it is certainly not the view of the international community. The hon. Gentleman has gone to great trouble, time and again, with ingenuity, to find various explanations and excuses for the Soviet action; the kind of explanations that could be dredged up to excuse any form of aggression in the world's history.

The parallel with Northern Ireland, which we heard again today, is extraordinarily far-fetched. There is all the difference in the world between the enforcement of order in part of a free country by the forces of that country, in a part of that country that has free elections and free institutions, and the invasion by the Soviet Union of another country, sovereign under international law, and the continuing aggression there by an enormous army; aggression that has been condemned by 104 countries of the international community. The hon. Gentleman does not do the argument good by reverting to that comparison or the other arguments that he has used from time to time.

At least the hon. Gentleman is wholly consistent in his approach. He says that the Russians have made a mistake, but that it is nothing to worry about too much; it is excusable in various ways, and therefore we should not make such a fuss about the Olympics. What I do not understand is the position taken by many people, who fiercely condemn the Soviet Union's aggression in Afghanistan and yet continue to say that the aggressor should benefit from the jamboree in Moscow.

It is natural that athletes—our athletes, all athletes—should be anxious to go to Moscow. The Government have always recognised and understood that, but people now clutch at arguments that have no validity in support of that stance. The whole thrust of the policies of the Western Alliance is undergoing a change. It is not a matter of the election campaign of the President of the United States. The analyses have varied from time to time, but there is no responsible Western leader who does not believe that the policies and stance of the Western alliance along the are of crisis vis-à-vis the Soviet Union should now undergo a change.

A major effort is being made—sometimes in a ragged way, I agree—and several important decisions have not yet been taken. But a major change, a sea change, has taken place, inevitably, it seems to me, as a result of the Soviet in vasion—

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)

A new cold war.

Mr. Hurd

—with the aim not of punishing the Russians but of making it less likely that when and if the next opportunity presents itself they can take the same decision again. It is essentially a policy of deterrence. If we allow the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan to continue unchecked, it is likely to be repeated. That is the analysis not of President Carter, running for re-election, but of every responsible Western leader. It is a desperately serious judgment.

The question that faced not only President Carter but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and all other Western leaders was whether, in those circumstances, against that judgment, they could allow the Olympic Games to go untouched, without discouraging the competitors. I do not think that that was easy. They had to take into account that the Olympic Games in Moscow are not, in the eyes of the Soviet Union, a simple sporting competition but a major political event, and that the whole propaganda and briefing put out by the Soviet Union in advance of the Games has made that clear.

In many ways this has been a wretched argument. The feelings that have been aroused, and the sacrifices that have been asked, have been great. It must have occurred to many of us to ask, as this has been going on "Would it have been possible for President Carter, the Prime Minister and all the other leaders"—the President of Kenya, for example; I do not think that he is running for election, but he courageously took this line from the outset—"to forget the Olympics, to say ' We shall do X, Y and Z, but we shall let the Olympics go on'?"

Every time I think about it I am driven back to the conclusion that that would not have been possible. For the Soviet Union this is a major political event which, to the great bad fortune of the athletes, happens to be occurring several months after the beginning of the aggression. I do not think that it is open to those who make the judgment—which the hon. Gentleman does not—that this is a major sinister and potentially disastrous event in the world's history to allow the Olympics to go on, as it were, without bothering about them and doing their best to discourage the athletes from going.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has a point when he talks about the original choice of Moscow. Those who took that decision were taking a great gamble. It may be that we should have attacked them at that time for doing so, but it was their decision. In retrospect, with the benefit of hindsight, it was a great gamble—the gamble consisting of deciding a long time in advance that it would be possible to hold the Games in Moscow when the policies of the Soviet Union are essentially expansionist and unpredictable. I think that that decision was a gamble taken several years ago—a gamble that has clearly not come off.

Mr. Sheerman

What about the Americans in Vietnam?

Mr. Hurd

No Games were held in America during the Vietnam war, and I do not think that the Soviet Union would have gone to them if they had been.

The British Olympic Association took its decision on 25 March. I do not think that it is sensible to go about attacking Sir Denis Follows or his colleagues. They were put in a difficult position, and they are doing their duty as they see it. I profoundly and strongly disagree with the decision that they took. It was clearly a foolish decision. It was taken before they needed to take it, and it has increasingly isolated British competitors from the rest of the free world.

The boycott is steadily gathering momentum. Hardly a day goes by without the athletes in some new country, some friend of ours, declaring that they will not go to Mosgow. Norway made such a declaration yesterday. Is it suggested that Norway is part of President's Carter's election campaign? Labour Members are living in a dream world. The boycott is gathering speed, and the Moscow Games are in the process of disintegrating.

We warned the British Olympic Association that that was likely to be the position. We said "Our information is that United States athletes are unlikely to go and that, if that happens, other countries which have so far kept quiet will begin to follow the athletes". The Opposition Front Bench said that we knew nothing about these matters and that the information coming to them from athletes all over the world was different. In fact, the predictions that we made are now coming true. It is increasingly clear that the Moscow Olympics, in the form originally devised, are disintegrating and that in several sports—and we are only at the middle of April—the competition will be thoroughly second-rate.

It was against that background that the hon. Member for West Lothian originally raised the question of alternative Games. He did not dwell on it particularly today, but he did last time, and it is the title of his motion. Alternative Games are not and never have been in our mind an end in themselves. They arise simply from a desire to help competitors who decide not to go to Moscow. Therefore, the extent to which they happen depends on the extent to which, first, competitors decide not to go to Moscow—that is an increasing extent—and, secondly, on the extent to which they want to take part in other Games. Nor has it ever been the aim—and the hon. Member for West Lothian will know this because it has often come out in our exchanges—to provide a rival jamboree at the same time as Moscow. What we have said is that we were ready to discuss with sporting federations any ways in which we could help to fill the gap, as it were, which a decision not to go to Moscow would involve

Mr. Sheerman

And it has been a flop.

Mr. Hurd

We are in close touch with the three British federations which have so far said they will not be going, namely, hockey, yatching and equestrian. We have told them that we are ready to give modest financial help, if they want it, to help those who have followed our advice about where the British interest lies. I think that it would be right to thank those who took that decision, at great personal sacrifice, against, at that time, a tide of opinion. I think that it will become perfectly clear as the weeks go by that they are overwhelmingly supported.

Mr. Sheerman

Pushed and shoved.

Mr. Hurd

As regards our contacts with the yatchsmen—hon Gentlemen pressed me hard last time to give details; I can now begin to do so—they are going ahead next month with what were planned as pre-Olympic trials, since selection is necessary for other international events. Indications are growing that yatchsmen in other countries, including those whose national Olympic committees at present favour going to Moscow, could decide, like ours, to stay away. The quality of the yachting events at Tallinn could be seriously undermined.

It may be—it is too early to say—that an alternative regatta will find favour among the increasing number of yatchsmen who are not going to Moscow. If the Germans decide to boycott Moscow, they have an ideal location for that in Kiel, but our yatchsmen have certainly not ruled out the possibility of such an event being held in this country, and we have promised them every support.

Similarly, the British Equestrian Federation is giving careful consideration to additional major competitions. When I first began to talk about this subject I was told "There is nothing in it; nothing will happen". I was then pressed for information, which I could not give because the discussions were confidential. Now I am beginning to be able to give this information, and hon. Gentlemen will be interested to hear it.

Consultations will take place with the International Equestrian Federation and other national federations about timing and whether the additional events should be in the United Kingdom or overseas. The Government will certainly play their part in making sure that British riders have the opportunity to compete this year at the highest level. Discussions are going on, and obviously they are open to other sports federations to follow as they increasingly see that the competition at Moscow will not be worth the journey.

Mr. Sheerman

Tell that to Geoff Capes.

Mr. Hurd

Increasingly it will be seen. One should consider the gold medals that are won, or the medals that are won, and not just by the United States. Hon. Members are out of date if they think that this is an American boycott. It is increasingly being followed by Governments and athletes in various parts of the world.

I have criticised the decision of the British Olympic Committee because I think that it was premature and now looks remarkably foolish, but the committee was wise enough to put in an escape clause, namely, that if the situation became—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at seventeen minutes past Eleven o'clock.