HC Deb 06 August 1975 vol 897 cc483-6
6. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Common-wealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the most recent developments in the CSCE and the mutual and balanced force reduction talks.

12. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the mutual force reduction talks.

Mr. James Callaghan

As regards the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement which was made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday.

The MBFR negotiations were adjourned for the summer recess on 17th July. I would refer my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) to the answer he received from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on 16th July.

Mr. Allaun

Did not the leaders of both sides at Helsinki state that the top priority now was mutual force reductions? What will the Foreign Secretary and Her Majesty's Government do to seize quickly this opportunity for mankind to beat its swords into ploughshares and relieve the world of its colossal burden of arms spending?

Mr. Callaghan

My right hon. Friend is right. That was the burden of a great many speeches at Helsinki. In my view, as I said in my visits to Poland and Hungary and, earlier, to Moscow, this is the task for 1976. We should all be concentrating on carrying the Vienna talks further—if possible to a conclusion. My hon. Friend asks us to do it quickly. That would be unrealistic. The difficulties in the positions of both sides will demand a long period of careful negotiation before either gives up any positions that it holds.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the House will endorse the remarks made by the Prime Minister yesterday, to the effect that the test of the security conference will be not the undertakings that were given at Helsinki but whether they are carried out? Is it not salutary to recall that the constitution of the Soviet Union guarantees the citizens of the Soviet Union freedom of speech, freedom of the Press and freedom of assembly, and guarantees the constituent republics of the Soviet Union freedom to secede?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir, but I think that he would be singularly naive who expected all that to be introduced tomorrow.

Mr. Fell

Or even on Sunday.

Mr. Callaghan

I agree with that, bearing in mind the long history of Russia both under the Soviet régime and previously. Therefore, one has to have regard to the historical position. On the other hand, having attended this conference and having been present at all the previous talks, I think that it would be unduly cynical to dismiss the Helsinki agreements as being of no value. They have all been reproduced in all the news-papers—official and otherwise—of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. People have been told to what their Governments have given assent and to what they have pledged their names. We should not underrate the impact of opinion in these countries and elsewhere. But Mr. Brezhnev and others will continue to argue, as they did at Helsinki—I repeat his words: No one should try to dictate to other peoples, on the basis of foreign policy considerations, the manner in which they ought to manage their internal affairs. It is only the people of each given State and no one else who have a sovereign right to resolve its internal affairs and establish its own laws. That will be the basis of the argument during the next two years. I beg hon. Members not to write off the impact of what is happening in Eastern Europe as a result of these two years of hard negotiations.

Mr. Cook

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Helsinki agreements will ring hollow if they do not eventually lead to an arms reduction in Europe? What is the current status of tactical nuclear weapons in the Vienna discussions? As the West has marked superiority in these weapons, could not we afford to be a little less coy in including them in negotiations? If we continue to exclude them from the Vienna talks and from the SALT talks, when shall we get round to talking about the control of one of the most destructive weapons in central Europe?

Mr. Callaghan

I agree that these talks are important, and I do not think that it is impossible to construct a package that would be advantageous to both sides, although it would be difficult to do so. Despite the desire of the Soviet Union and others that we should include nuclear weapons, the Western side has so far confined itself to the question of ground troops—in which, according to our data, we are heavily outnumbered—and tanks—in which the Soviet Union outnumbers us by about two and half to one. We should not take up a final or fixed position on what should be included in the package if one can be constructed that satisfies both sides.

Mr. Sproat

I welcome what was decided at Helsinki, but will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether, in his opinion, the quotation he read of what Mr. Brezhnev said, in effect, outlaws the Brezhnev doctrine? As to the follow-up, while we all welcome the stocktaking in Belgrade in two years' time, what interim arrangements will there be for meetings, possibly between Foreign Ministers, specifically to discuss the Helsinki agreements? I am speaking not just of general talks but, for example, of discussions before the two years are up on how to monitor Soviet interference in Portugal by giving £1 million a week aid to the Portuguese Communist Party.

Mr. Callaghan

I must leave Mr. Brezhnev to interpret his declaration. [Interruption.] I intend to leave him to interpret it. There is nothing in the Helsinki documents to give any countenance to the Brezhnev doctrine. Nothing has been signed there that will give any support to that so-called doctrine.

As to meetings that might take place before 1977, I propose to continue the series of visits to Foreign Ministers of the Eastern European countries that I have already undertaken, and to receive visits from them. The Prime Minister will also be going to Romania in September. That will enable us to discuss progress in these matters, which I regard as being of great importance. Indeed, I think that the follow-up is as important to us as it is to anyone else.

As to Portugal, although we always pick our priorities and say that one matter or another is of priority, the attitude to Portugal of the signatories to the Helsinki agreements is an important test case and I hope that that has been made clear to those concerned.