HC Deb 02 February 1977 vol 925 cc527-8
3. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current progress of the negotiations at Vienna on mutual balanced force reductions.

Dr. Owen

No breakthrough has yet occurred in the efforts of the Western participants to reach an agreement with the Warsaw Pact on the basis of our common ceiling proposals. The latest round of the negotiations is just beginning.

Mr. Cook

Is it not unsatisfactory that, after three years of negotiations on force reductions, the figures recently tabled at Vienna show that there has actually been an increase in the numbers of troops on both sides rather than a cut in the period of the talks? Can my right hon. Friend say why the British Government are resisting the concept of national sub-ceilings since, if meaningful reductions are ever to be reached, it is clear that they will have to be translated into national figures?

Dr. Owen

I agree with my hon. Friend and I regret that progress has been extremely disappointing. We can only hope that we shall be able to build on the work which has been done over the past three years to make more rapid progress in the next year or two. The Soviet proposal for equal percentage reductions by each participant would result in the imposition of a permanent limitation on the forces and equipment of each of the Western participants in the reduction area. If we were to accede to that demand, it would mean in practice that members of the Alliance would no longer be free to co-operate with each other in whatever ways might be necessary to ensure the collective security of the West. I think that that would be wrong.

Mr. John Davies

Can the Minister give a positive assurance that there will be no weakening of the British commitment to NATO except within the framework of the understandings reached in the negotiations for mutual and balanced force reductions?

Dr. Owen

Yes, unequivocally.