Her Majesty's Government maintain a fixed limit on the number of Soviet officials who are resident in the United Kingdom for more than three months and who are employed by the Soviet Trade Delegation, or by other Soviet ancillary organisations. There is, however, no fixed limit on the number of Soviet inspectors of industrial equipment attached to British firms exporting to the Soviet Union.
I think that the House will be somewhat disturbed by the final part of the right hon. Gentleman's answer in view of the way in which Soviet officials in this country have abused the confidence and trust of the British people in the past. In any event, why is it necessary that there should be as many as 71 inspectors in works in this country? Cannot something be done to eliminate the need for their being here?
The Government issue visas for inspectors to work with and in British companies on the merits of their applications. When it seems to us from an examination of applications and from the advice of the firms with whom they are working that they are necessary to pursue legitimate trade with the Soviet Union, we issue visas, and we shall continue to do so. This may be one reason why trade with the Soviet Union has improved so much over the past two years.
Can my right hon. Friend explain how the number of Soviet trade officials in this country compares with the number of Soviet trade officials in the Common Market, bearing in mind especially that the rest of the EEC, excluding Britain, did 10 times more trade with the Communist countries in the first nine months of this year than we did?
I cannot, without notice, give an answer to my right hon. Friend's statistical question. But my right hon. Friend referred to the first nine months of this year. Our exports to the Soviet Union have doubled compared with the first nine months of the previous year. That is a matter about which we should be congratulated. It is a vindication of the presence of the additional trade and industrial inspectors.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, during the life of the previous Government, more than 100 of these officials were found to be involved in spying activities and were returned to Moscow. Can he assure us that if any of these officials are involved in spying activities, they will be returned to Moscow immediately?
I give that assurance, though I believe that it is hardly necessary to do so. If the right hon. Gentleman has reason to believe that any of them are engaged in spying activities, I hope that he will say so specifically rather than imply it in a supplementary question.
Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends are to be congratulated on building trade relations with the Soviet Union? As for trade delegations in either country, provided that there are reciprocal agreements, we congratulate the Government on the steps that they have taken.
It is a deal concerned with improving trade. If we are to increase trade with the Soviest Union and with other countries of Eastern Europe, we have to accept, though we may not approve of, the systems by which State-organised trade is carried on. I want to improve our balance-of-payments position by selling more to the Soviet Union. If we are to do this, we have to accept some of the requirements of the Soviet trading pattern.