HC Deb 25 January 1977 vol 924 cc1172-4
Q4. Mr. Ridley

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Moscow.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Ridley

Nevertheless, does the Prime Minister recall the Helsinki Agreement, when the Russians agreed to limit their arms build-up and to increase the freedoms of their citizens? When will the right hon. Gentleman publicly rebuke them for having done the reverse in both cases, as he has just admitted?

The Prime Minister

I leave public rebukes to the hon. Gentleman. In my view, that is not the best way of dealing with the Soviet Union in these matters. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, it is."] That is a difference of opinion. As far as I can see, the Opposition's policy on these matters in relation to the Soviet Union seems to be to cut off trade, to have an arms race and to reduce political contacts to a minimum. I do not believe that any of that makes sense.

Mr. Whitehead

In the formal or informal contacts that his Administration will be having with the Russians in the run-up to the Belgrade Conference, will my right hon. Friend tell them that they should not be misled by certain Right-wing circles' misuse of Russian dissidents who have recently left the Soviet Union into feeling that there is not deep discontent and disenchantment in this country at the continuing persecution of dissidents in the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister

I believe that that is well understood by the Soviet leadership. Although some Members of the Opposition believed that we yielded up more than the Russians in the Helsinki Agreement, I believe that the reverse is the case. It will be much more difficult for the Soviet Union to live up to its undertakings in relation to Basket III than it is for the West to fulfil its undertakings under the Helsinki Agreement. This, of course, will be a matter for serious discussion when we go to Belgrade.

Mr. Churchill

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole nation will regret the loss of the Chief of the Defence Staff—a fine airman and a loyal servant of his country—and that the House will wish to convey its sympathy to Lady Humphrey?

What did the right hon. Gentleman mean in his television broadcast last night with the Federal German Chancellor, when he declared that building up armaments must be as much a strain on the Soviet Union as it is on us, bearing in mind that the Soviet Union is spending three times the NATO average on defence and that Britain is unilaterally reducing its defence expenditure? What did he have in mind?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Member's figures are correct—I do not know that they are—and the Soviet Union is spending three times as much as we are, I should have thought that it followed automatically that the strain would be three times as great.

Mr. Newens

If my right hon. Friend does have contacts with people in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia, will he make it clear to them that many of us on the Government Benches who are proud to proclaim Left-wing and Socialist ideas utterly deplore the treatment meted out to the signatories of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, as well as to Soviet dissidents?

The Prime Minister

I was asked a question about this matter last week and I should be very happy to repeat at any time what I said then.