HC Deb 16 June 1969 vol 785 cc22-4
27. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if proposals for balanced, mutual forces reductions are among the subjects which the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, following the Washington meeting declaration, decided should be dealt with as a priority for discussion with the Warsaw Treaty governments; if the Council now plans to make such proposals to the Warsaw Treaty governments; and whether it will accept the offer by Finland for joint East-West discussions to take place there.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

As the House has already been informed, N.A.T.O. is pursuing studies on mutual and balanced force reductions and issues which might be suitable for East-West negotiation at the right time. As regards the offer by the Finnish Government, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard).

Mr. Allaun

But that reply did not state why they have not answered the Finnish invitation. Why has there been this delay even in deciding which are the priority subjects? Did not the Finnish letter state that Russia was prepared to attend without conditions and without objection to the attendance of America?

Mr. Roberts

The Finnish Ambassador called on 5th May. I should not therefore think it reasonable to suggest that there has been undue delay, especially as we informed him that we would consider in the spirit in which it was meant the offer of the Finnish Government to be hosts to such a conference and to the preparatory committee after we have consulted our allies. Since 5th May we have been doing this. Our allies will be replying in their own way as a result of consultations. I do not think that at this moment one could suggest that there has been considerable delay. On the question of the Russian proposal, if my hon. Friend is referring to the Warsaw Pact statement of 17th March, if he reads that again he will find embedded in it very serious pre-conditions which we could not possibly accept.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Can the Minister tell us whether the N.A.T.O. proposals for balanced reductions mean reductions in the total armed forces manpower of the various countries—that is to say, disarmament—or simply a withdrawal from a certain zone in Europe?

Mr. Roberts

They mean reductions as well as withdrawal. I would not minimise the technical as well as the poltical difficulty of arranging in a favourable political atmosphere an operation of this kind. Nevertheless, despite the events in Czechoslovakia last year and the tone and preconditions of the Warsaw Pact statement, the N.A.T.O. Council has instructed its permanent representatives to work on precisely that kind of arrangement.

If I may refer to the supplmenetary question previously put by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) which I could not answer at the time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hurry up."]—he asked four questions in one and I answered three of them, and I ask the indulgence of the House to allow me to answer the fourth. He referred to priorities. This is part of the operation of drawing up a list of possible kinds of negotiation which the N.A.T.O. Council is asking its permanent representatives to work on.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the House that lengthy answers mean fewer questions.

Mr. Longden

What possible confidence can anyone place in an agreement made at such a conference?

Mr. Roberts

I should say in true friendship that that is a counsel of despair.