HC Deb 11 December 1972 vol 848 cc15-8
13. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the Helsinki conference.

20. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Finland.

37. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the progress of the talks at Helsinki to prepare for the conference on security and co-operation in Europe.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I reviewed developments in the preparatory talks with my NATO colleagues at our meeting in Brussels last week. The subject was also debated in this House on a Private Member's Motion on 8th December.—[Vol. 847, c. 1873–88.]

I welcome this opportunity of expressing my own satisfaction that the preparatory talks have now begun. To gather representatives from 34 countries, including the United States and Canada, in such a businesslike atmosphere is already a formidable achievement. I hope that these preparatory talks will in due course produce the necessary agreement on arrangements for a conference.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that these preparatory talks will lead to putting on the agenda for discussion later by Ministers the question of freer movement of peoples and further contacts between East and West?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. I shall put a copy of the communiqué of the NATO Alliance in the Library so that hon. Members may judge for themselves. The importance of this was emphasised very much. As for the actual wording which will go on the agenda, when it is formed, the important point is that it should be possible for this question to be raised without a veto by anyone saying that it is out of order.

Mr. Allaun

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that Britain's representative at these talks will genuinely seek a further relaxation of tension in Europe and not use them as an occasion for cold war propaganda?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

That is hardly a question properly to be put to a Minister of this Government or, indeed, to any of us in this House. I suggest that it should be directed somewhere else. That is certainly not our intention. Vague declarations of intent to live together in peace are no good. We are approaching this conference with the idea of identifying areas of mutual interest to East and West and trying to do something about them in a constructive way.

Mr. Sproat

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that at the NATO talks at Brussels last week there was a united approach by the Alliance to the talks at Helsinki and the related talks which will come in 1973 on mutual and balanced force reductions and other matters?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. That will be revealed when my hon. Friend and other hon. Members read the communique which I shall put in the Library.

Mr. Maclennan

Why do Her Majesty's Government believe that the question of providing continuing machinery after the conference for scrutiny of security questions can be discussed only at a late stage in the conference itself? To give reassurance that this is not simply a propaganda exercise on both sides, is it not necessary that that machinery should be established?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

It can certainly be discussed. I do not think anyone has suggested that it could not be discussed at the conference at any stage if any Foreign Minister wished to raise it. The Alliance felt that it would be as well to see how we got on before committing ourselves to permanent machinery, and that it would be better to set up committees to deal with the problem, to find the substance, before finally committing ourselves to the machinery which will follow in the end.

Mr. John Hall

As the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference on European security will start at Helsinki on 26th January next, can my right hon. Friend say when the present preparatory talks are likely to end?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I think that my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. The conference will not start in January. The preparatory talks will go on for quite a long time.

Mr. Hall

My right hon. Friend, I take it, is referring to the mutual and balanced force reductions. I did not make myself clear. I was referring to the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference on this subject which is to start in Helsinki in January, and I should like to know when the present preparatory talks designed for another conference will come to an end.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am sorry—I misunderstood. I cannot help my hon. Friend there. I think that the preparatory talks are likely to go on beyond that date.