HL Deb 13 February 1967 vol 280 cc34-40

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is making in another place, and I will make use of his own words:

"I am sure that honourable Members in all parts of the House will join in feeling that Mr. Kosygin's visit to this country has been a great success. And that this success is due both to his spontaneous and friendly warmth of manner everywhere he went and equally to the evident desire of the Soviet Government for the best possible relations between our two countries, a desire we have made clear we share.

"Honourable Members will have seen the joint statement issued this morning and will have noted the impressive list of subjects on which we have reached agreement in the field of Anglo-Soviet affairs. It is this clearly demonstrated evidence of our will to agree and this strengthening of the practical day-to-day links between the two countries which provided a firm and, I am sure, continuing foundation for our joint consideration of the greater problems of world affairs.

"On trade, we are driving for substantially increased shipments between us and a better balance. The Trade Ministers will meet shortly to review the working of the existing agreement and to see what can be done to put more life into it. In this connection I was very glad when Mr. Kosygin told me that the Soviet Union intended to purchase a substantial amount of additional consumer goods in Britain this year.

"But we are both agreed that the industries of both countries need to be able to plan on a longer-term basis, and we are therefore going to work for the conclusion as soon as possible of a long-term agreement enabling the two countries to develop their productive capacities for the purposes of expanding trade. As soon as the long-term agreement can be worked out it will supplement and, we hope, supersede the existing agreement.

"Honourable Members will have seen the importance attached in our statement to the further development of the technological and scientificties between the two countries. We have made provision for stepping up the level and number of contacts in this field and the Ministers concerned are to meet in the near future to work out any improvement in formal machinery that may be needed for this purpose.

"The House will also welcome the other practical measures which have been taken to remove obstacles in the way of free exchanges between our two countries—including, among other matters, the arrangements for an early review of the possibility of expanding the air services of the two countries; the intention to conclude a navigation agreement in the near future; and the proposal to establish an Anglo-Soviet Consultative Committee to enlarge existing contacts in culture, science, sport and other fields. And I am sure that honourable Members will give a particular welcome to the final settlement of mutual financial and property claims and counter-claims which was agreed during the week. This settlement of claims arising since 1939 brings to an end an issue which has been a matter of contention between this country and the Soviet Union for over twenty years; and perhaps more than any other single product of the week's work it symbolises the wish of both Governments to turn their backs on these past differences and to look forward to a future of greater co-operation and friendliness.

"Last week honourable Members heard Mr. Kosygin propose that we should now proceed towards a Treaty of friendship and peaceful co-operation between our two countries. We have accepted this proposal and we look forward to negotiations leading to the conclusion of a Treaty which, in addition to its other positive advantages, can provide the framework within which all the kinds of bilateral contact I have mentioned can be developed.

"It has always been our position—and the Soviet Government fully understand this—that we remain loyal to all our alliances and obligations, as they do to theirs. But at the same time, our past historical ties with the Soviet Union and the mutual interests of the two countries make it possible for us to hold out a hand of friendship to them in this way without any derogation from our existing international commitments and loyalties.

"It is on the success of our discussions of our bilateral interests that we were able to build in approaching the wider international problems. For many, many hours, during formal working sessions and indeed long into the night, we discussed with the utmost frankness some of the outstanding problems—and dangers—the world is facing.

"The House will have seen that we recorded our satisfaction with recent progress towards the conclusion of a non-proliferation agreement and we emphasised the paramount urgency of bringing this to a speedy completion.

"Honourable Members will have noted also what we have said about our desire to reach an understanding in the wider field of disarmament—nuclear and conventional—leading to a world agreement on general and complete disarmament.

"We spent a great deal of time on the question of peace and security in Europe. We made wholly clear to Mr. Kosygin the policy on which we are working with our allies as regards nuclear consultation within NATO. At the same time, we emphasised the intention of our NATO partners and ourselves to develop positive contacts for easing tension within Europe as a whole. And in this context the British and Soviet Governments agreed on the need for closer bilateral relationships between individual Western and Eastern European countries. Our joint statement helps to point the way.

"My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I explained to Mr. Kosygin the purpose of the visits which we are paying to the capitals of the six member countries of the European Economic Community. We emphasised the economic importance of the discussions we are holding there, and particularly the contribution that Britain could make to the greater technological effectiveness of Europe. We also stressed to him that we have in mind political as well as economic objectives. And we explained that one of the main purposes of our approach was not only to strengthen European unity and thereby to help to reduce European tension, and work towards a wider, fuller unity in Europe as a whole, but also to enable Europe to exert a more powerful influence in world affairs.

"We discussed with Mr. Kosygin the proposal to call a conference on European security. We agreed that this could be valuable. But we told him that it was essential that it should be adequately prepared and nothing should be done to detract from the importance of the bilateral method of solving problems and easing tension. Mr. Kosygin also is fully aware of our concern to see that all countries which have a stake in European security must be enabled to play their full part in such a conference.

"Finally, Sir, I must tell the House that we devoted the major part of our discussion to the problem of Vietnam, and we did so with a great sense of urgency and of the dangers the world faces if there is not a speedy and honourable solution.

"The House will understand I must not go into details at this moment of time. But I should like to make clear the view which I have reached after these very detailed and searching discussions—and to make it clear as well that here I am recording my own view and that of the British Government. I believe that, despite the deeply held differences in the attitudes of the major participants, the gap is not unbridgeable, given a realistic appreciation of the political and military factors involved and, above all, given a belief on each side that the other desires a negotiated settlement.

"I believe that a solution could now be reached. But if the present opportunity is missed, we must not give up hope. The road to a solution remains open. And one reason for hope is that the Soviet Government and ourselves, as the House will have seen, 'will continue to make a close study of the situation and will make every possible effort with a view to achieving a settlement of the Vietnam problem, and will maintain contact to this end'. "I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that when honourable Members have read and studied the Statement issued to-day by the two Governments, they will agree with me that in terms of our bilateral relations this is a land-mark in Anglo-Soviet history, and that in terms of our wider discussion of world affairs and the continued contact that we have agreed to maintain, we have made a constructive contribution to international understanding."

My Lords, that concludes the Prime Minister's Statement. Perhaps I should add a word of apology to the Leaders of the other two Parties as I think they have not had a chance of studying the Statement.


My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for having repeated that Statement. I, too, think that the visit was a success, and I hope very much that Mr. Kosygin enjoyed it. I think everyone would agree that visits of this kind are useful, and that personal and political contacts of this sort are important for the future. I am particularly glad that Mr. Kosygin went out and met people other than politicians and officials.

I note what the Statement says about an Anglo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship. I cannot pretend that as a general rule I think that a Treaty of this sort is very useful, but I remember that Mr. Macmillan once said on a similar occasion, "It might do some good, and it cannot do any harm". I think that is true, but I wonder whether the noble Earl could perhaps tell us a little more about the form that this Treaty will take. Will it be a non-aggression pact, or will it be something very different?

I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House must be disappointed at the lack of agreement on Vietnam, but I do not think this is at all the fault of the Government. I think we were all sorry to hear from Mr. Kosygin's speeches that the attitude of the Soviet Government was so little changed. My only small criticism of the Government in this regard is that they allowed, or perhaps encouraged, speculation that something important in this field would emerge; and since it has not emerged I think the disappointment is that much greater. Nevertheless, I am sure this visit was both successful and worth while, and indeed that Anglo-Soviet relations are moving in the right direction.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House for his kindness in reading out this long Statement, and to congratulate the Government on what, so far as one can judge, has been a most successful visit. When Mr. Kosygin spoke to us here, he spoke of a large number of important matters, and he also referred to these matters in his Press Conference and elsewhere. One matter in which we, on these Benches, were particularly interested was the non-proliferation agreement with regard to nuclear weapons. We feel a great deal of satisfaction from the fact that progress has been made, and we are glad to see Mr. Kosygin's great interest in the matter. We trust that both Governments will push on with progress in this field, because it is so important.

I should like to make one point with regard to trade. We understand that there is still a substantial difference between the volume of our exports to the Soviet Union and the imports we receive from the Soviet Union. There is an enormous balance on the wrong side. Was anything discussed with Mr. Kosygin in the hope of reducing this adverse balance?


My Lords, may I just comment on the remarks of the Leaders of the two Parties? I should like to express my gratitude for the generous tone adopted by both speakers. I think only one direct question was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He asked me what the form of this Treaty would be. If I may use the official language—or, perhaps, some might say, jargon—the modalities are being worked out. However, I will answer one aspect of his question: this will not be a non-aggression pact. Otherwise I can only say that the scheme is being worked out. The noble Lord made one gentle criticism about the excitement in the Press, and I can assure him that it was not the wish of the Government. Of course, one cannot stop Press speculation, and I am sure none of us would wish to do so, but I agree with him that it often does no particular good.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for his remarks. I might make the point here that the Geneva discussions will start again next Monday on the whole subject of non-proliferation, and I am glad to think that my noble friend Lord Chalfont will be representing this country in Geneva on that day.


My Lords, may I ask the Government one question? Arising from the welcome success of the visit of Mr. Kosygin, can we have an assurance from the Government that this will result, not in diminishing, but in intensifying the representations we make to the Soviet Government about Mr. Gerald Brooke, who still languishes to-day in a Russian prison?


My Lords, I do not know whether the visit will intensify the representations we are making, but it certainly will not diminish them. Those efforts will continue to be strenuous. In this I feel at one, as do the Government, with the noble Lord. There was another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, to which I should have replied. The trade deficit is of the order of £70 million as between us and the Soviet Union, and that was duly discussed.


My Lords, if the Soviet Government desire a new Treaty, can the noble Earl the Leader of the House say why they unilaterally abrogated the last one, which still had some years to run?


My Lords, I do not feel that to pursue this topic at the moment would be helpful.