HC Deb 31 March 1976 vol 908 cc1281-5
2. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about his recent discussions with Mr. Gromyko.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan)

I would refer the hon. Member to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's Written Answer to the Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) on 25th March.

Mr. Blaker

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Soviet leaders have expressed the view that in spite of detente the war of ideas should continue in the Communist and democratic worlds, and I believe that the Foreign Secretary himself has supported this thesis. Did Mr. Gromyko have any suggestions about how the war of ideas should be conducted inside the Soviet Union, apart from importing 40 copies of the Financial Times?

Mr. Callaghan

We were engaged in improving relationships with the Soviet Union in trade and other matters, and I do not believe that a discussion of that sort would have helped that end any more than I would have welcomed a discussion on similar matters in this country.

9. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he had with Mr. Gromyko regarding the implementation of the Helsinki Agreement.

Mr. James Callaghan

I had a useful discussion on this subject with Mr. Gromyko. I made it clear to him that in our view all those countries which were party to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe should aim to make progress in advance of the 1977 review meeting towards making their deeds match their words. Mr. Gromyko affirmed to me the Soviet Union's commitment to implementation of the Final Act.

Mr. Sproat

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether Mr. Gromyko made clear how he reconciled the Soviet signing of the Helsinki Agreement with the Soviets' flagrant breaches of the spirit of Helsinki, the continuing persecution of their own citizens within their own borders, the massive and continued growth of the Red Navy and the supplying of arms and military advisers to Southern Africa?

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Gentleman was one of those who was keenest on our signing this pact. I well remember the constructive speeches that he used to make only four months ago. I do not know why he imagines that the world will be reformed overnight. Frankly, it will not help if it is thought that one party in the House is constantly nagging on this matter. Nagging is not the best way of making progress. At the moment all we are getting from the Conservative Party is that sort of approach towards the Soviet Union. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman asks his party's spokesman what he made of the discussions that he had with Mr. Gromyko when he met him.

Mr. Frank Allaun

I cannot say that I voted for my right hon. Friend, but I very much support the view that he has just expressed. Did the two Foreign Secretaries discuss the offer that was made by Mr. Brezhnev last March for ending the East-West deadlock by the mutual reduction of forces and by a reduction of tanks, aircraft and nuclear weapons? If there is some suspicion about the offer, why not put it to the test?

Mr. Callaghan

I remind my hon. Friend of the parable of the Prodigal Son, although I cannot promise him a fatted calf.

As regards disarmament, yes, I had a very useful exchange of views with Mr. Gromyko about the forthcoming Vienna discussions. There is a difference of approach between the Soviet Union and ourselves about the value of the offer that was made by the West in December. Mr. Gromyko and I were not able to reconcile that difference during the course of our discussions. However, I think it is fair to say that both sides wish to pursue this difficult matter in earnestness. I am convinced that the Soviet Union wishes to make a success of the talks, but when we are discussing mutual safety and our own security it is natural that such matters should take some considerable time.

Mr. Maudling

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the discussions that I and my right hon. Friends had with Mr. Gromyko we stressed the acute concern in this country about the growth of Soviet armed forces, especially naval forces, and our concern about the Cuban incursion into Southern Africa with Soviet support? Is he aware that in particular we stressed the genuine nature of the concern in this country about the treatment of many individual Soviet citizens within the Soviet Union, especially Jewish citizens? Did the right hon. Gentleman do the same? If not, why not?

Mr. Callaghan

I shall not go into details about our discussions. It is not the customary practice to do so. If the Conservative Party was being a little more responsible, it would know that. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I made my views clear on these matters to Mr. Gromyko, and on many other matters as well. I am complaining about the attitude of the Conservative Party that leads to the querulous nagging that goes on week by week. I advise the Conservative Party that it will not get results in that way from the Soviet Union.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the fruits of détente is the increasing trade with the Soviet Union that the Prime Minister announced a week or so ago, trade that will be highly beneficial to the British economy besides helping to reduce our unemployment? Does my right hon. Friend agree that trade of that sort is a highly excellent means of improving relationships between the two countries?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes. Mr. Gromyko made it clear that the Russions hope in the near future to use all the credits that have been made available to them. That will help to provide substantial employment in Britain. However, I do not think that such credits or such trade can be restricted to the Soviet Union. The same rules should be applied to other countries with whose policies we do not fully agree.

Mr. Amery

May we assume that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister made it clear to Mr. Gromyko that we expect the Soviet forces and their Cuban satellites to withdraw bag and baggage from Angola? What response was made by Mr. Gromyko, and in what time-scale can we expect that withdrawal?

Mr. Callaghan

I am not aware of Soviet troops being in Angola, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is either. We discussed the presence of Cuban troops, and we were both able to act as useful channels of communication between Angola and South Africa. That had the effect of considerably reducing tension. I found that Mr. Gromyko's approach to this matter was designed to reduce tension and to ensure that there was no way in which the situation in South Africa would get out of control.

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the approach that the Conservative Opposition have adopted towards the Soviet Union is totally hysterical, is doing no good, and is not helping those forces in the Soviet Union which want to move the Soviet Union in a more democratic direction? Does he agree that there are forces in the Soviet Union which are not like Solzhenitsyn but like Roy Medvedef—namely, democratic Socialists who believe in the type of Socialism in which we in the Labour Party believe, people who are not given to the hysterical attitudes adopted by the Opposition or by Solzhenitsyn?

Mr. Callaghan

My hon. Friend is fully entitled to speak on this matter. He has spoken out on many other occasions. It is for the Conservative Party to decide its own attitude, and no doubt Conservatives will do so.

Mr. Hastings

We do not like tyranny.

Mr. Callaghan

The Conservative Party is entitled to choose the way in which it conducts its relations with the Soviet Union, but I suggest that it says the same things in public as it says in private.

Forward to