HC Deb 09 July 1973 vol 859 cc1031-5
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.

As the House will be aware, I represented the United Kingdom at the first stage of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe—CSCE—which took place in Helsinki from 3rd to 7th July.

Two important results were achieved. First, the final recommendations of the preparatory talks, which began in Helsinki last November, were unanimously approved. This means that there is an agreed basis for the work of the second stage of the conference at which the questions of substance will be tackled. Secondly, it was agreed that this second stage should open in Geneva on 18th September preceded by a meeting of the Co-ordinating Committee starting three weeks earlier on 29th August.

In Helsinki last week the representative of each participating State was able to state his country's views on questions affecting security and co-operation in Europe. A number of delegations tabled specific proposals for discussion at the second stage. In my own speech I sought to place the emphasis where I believe it belongs: on the need to change for the better the conditions of life for ordinary people in the continent of Europe. I am putting a copy of my speech in the Library of the House, together with the proposals which I tabled and a copy of the communiqué issued in Helsinki on 7th July. The Final Recommendations of the Preparatory Talks are already in the Library.

I believe the House will welcome the fact that preparations can now go ahead for the next phase of this conference, which could well be of such great importance to Europe, since it is at this second stage that we hope that recommendations on specific practical measures can be worked out and agreed.

Mr. Callaghan

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that report. It appears, does it not, that this was the first halting step on the road from confrontation to co-operation? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about the Press conference at which there was some difference on the question of mutual balanced force reductions, what is the position in relation to that, and whether he takes a different position from that of his colleagues?

Further, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that everyone, I hope, wants to see arms reductions so that we can transfer the burden, but that we expect these discussions to result in both sides feeling as secure at the end of the discussions as they felt before they started?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said, and I endorse it. A different official title is being given to what we used to call the mutual balanced force reduction conference, but I made it clear in what I said that this is a concept which must prevail. The relative position of the two alliances must remain the same.

Sir D. Dodds-Parker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was widespread support at the European Parliament last week for the proposals which he and other delegates put forward for practical action and not just for empty speeches which were rather too apparent among other delegates?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir, and that is why the second stage is so important. We have a detailed agenda to which the Russians have agreed. As the items come up, the onus will be largely on them and the Eastern Europeans to say what they will be able to do about increased talks and the increased exchange of ideas and people.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, apart from the general reduction in tension which we all welcome, one of the most positive factors that emerged from the Helsinki conference was the degree of co-ordination among both the 15 members of NATO and the nine members of the EEC?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

That is true. There was careful preparation, and we are resolved that the preparation will be as complete for the second stage.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread satisfaction that he and others placed so much emphasis upon the free exchange of persons and ideas in Europe? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that no less emphasis will be placed upon this subject in future negotiations?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. No less emphasis will be placed on this subject. Unless we can get a freer exchange of ideas and more contacts between people the exercise will not be a success.

Mr. Dalyell

What initiative did the Foreign Secretary take on the matter of atmospheric nuclear testing?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

None, Sir. It was not the appropriate forum.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

May we take it that in these negotiations there will be no question of accepting as permanent what Mr. Brezhnev euphemistically described as limited sovereignty in the European countries of the East?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Every country has sovereignty and controls its own internal affairs. Mr. Gromyko talked of a code of conduct for Europe and I think, therefore, that we have to work this out and see what the Russians mean.

Mr. Cronin

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the security of Western Europe would be much more satisfactory if he could induce the Government of France to co-operate more closely in its defence?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

It is for the French to say how far they are willing to co-operate. France is a member of NATO—that is sometimes misunderstood —and underlines the whole time that she is a member of the NATO Alliance. It is a matter of working out the practical contribution that France makes to the deployment on the ground.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when he goes to the Geneva discussions and deals with matters of substance he will under no circumstances allow any curtailment of the broadcasting services to Eastern Europe but will, rather, seek an expansion of them as they are important for the free exchange of ideas?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

My hon. Friend may have seen the idea that I put forward for increasing the broadcasting facilities available both to the West and to Eastern Europe. That was only one of the things put forward among many that will be discussed.

Mr. Molloy

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and thank him for what he said at the Helsinki Conference that the basic idea is to remove distrust and to enrich the lives of ordinary people, but would he agree that one of the problems that would confront all nations if they entered into genuine disarmament disagreements would be what to do with former armaments factories? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that might be a subject for frank and open discussion? When the nations run down armaments, as we hope can come about, there ought to be a certain amount of discussion and negotiation to try to find alternative sensible uses for what were armaments factories.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

On the earlier point raised by the hon. Gentleman, I thought that the President of Finland put it in a sentence that can hardly be bettered when he said that the general purpose of this conference and of its successive stages is not to put up barriers but to open gates. That explains what it was all about.

The details of disarmament and consideration of action that must be taken on the ground will be dealt with at the mutual balanced force reduction conference that begins at the end of October.

Mr. James Johnson

Did the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity at the Helsinki Conference to speak to his opposite numbers in Iceland and West Germany about the cod war and what was happening, and what we might do in conjunction with them about it?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir. I took the opportunity to speak to the Foreign Minister, but the conditions remain unchanged.

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