HC Deb 16 June 1969 vol 785 cc15-6
18. Mr. Luard

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reply he has made to the communication from the Finnish Government on the subject of a European Security Conference.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

As yet, none, Sir.

Mr. Luard

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past the Foreign Secretary has suggested that events in Czechoslovakia would make it difficult for us to reply affirmatively to a proposal of this kind? Would he not agree that those events make it all the more necessary for a meeting of this kind to take place? Would not such a conference provide a perfect opportunity for our Government and others in the West to make clear the deep concern which we feel about the events in Czchoslovakia and, therefore, to give support to those in East Europe to feel a similar concern?

Mr. Roberts

It would be generally agreed, I think, that there was a certain movement towards détente before the invasion of Czechoslovakia. It would be even more generally agreed that that act inhibited and put a stop to a very promising movement towards détente. However, despite our repeated and consistent condemnation of that act of international bad faith, we have, through N.A.T.O. and otherwise, shown our readiness to consider, indeed to welcome, a conference, given certain essential pre-conditions upon which I think everyone in the House would agree—some preparation, some likelihood that the main problems would be constructively examined, and also the participation of our Atlantic allies in the conference.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. In view of the importance of some of the Questions that are being asked this afternoon, is it not a contempt of the House for the Foreign Secretary to absent himself? May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that only last Thursday, at Business Question Time, the Leader of the House informed hon. Members that the right hon. Gentleman would be present today to make a statement on the Middle East? What is the position?

Mr. Speaker

The position is that the right hon. Gentleman may criticise a Minister for his absence, but Mr. Speaker cannot compel a Minister to be here.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Would the Minister assure us that in the event of any negotiations taking place, all our N.A.T.O. allies, including North America, will be included?

Mr. Roberts

Yes, Sir. That is a necessary pre-condition of our agreement to such a conference.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

In preparing the answer which the Government make to this Finnish invitation, will the Minister bear in mind that this may be an opportunity not only for expressing what we feel about Czechoslovakia but also for endeavouring to set Europe and the world on a new course, which is all the more urgent in view of what happened in Czechoslovakia?

Mr. Roberts

Certainly, and it was in that spirit that we welcomed the Finnish initiative.