HL Deb 05 August 1975 vol 363 cc1486-96

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat a Statement that has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"As the House will know, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I attended the third and final stage of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Helsinki last week. The text of my speech has already been published as a White Paper. In accordance with what was agreed at the Conference, Her Majesty's Government, like all other participating Governments, are also publishing the full text of the Final Act signed at Helsinki, which includes the texts of all the documents adopted at the Conference.

"The Conference included the Heads of State or Government of all countries, except Albania, directly concerned with security and co-operation in Europe. It was not merely an occasion for making speeches and signing documents. It was, rather, the opportunity for countries scarred by the experience of war 30 years ago and convinced of the need to end the sterile divisions which followed it, to look towards new and more constructive relationships on the basis of an agreed code of behaviour and undertakings to advance co-operation of all kinds and permit the freer flow of people, ideas and information.

"Two years from now our representatives will meet in Belgrade to assess the results and recommend action for the future. I can assure the House that for their part, Her Majesty's Government will do all in their power to honour and fulfil the undertakings we have accepted in the Final Act. We are also ready to consider making bilateral agreements with other participating States to carry through its provisions.

"The Final Act has been variously described. It is not of course a peace treaty, nor is it any other kind of legally binding agreement. It is, rather, a set of political undertakings which will, at the very least, provide a yardstick against which future behaviour can be measured and judged. These undertakings apply to all the participating States on the basis of complete equality, irrespective of their social, economic or political systems. At best—and I am thinking here particularly of the articles relating to the rights of individuals, journalists and businessmen—they should provide the basis for the development of more fruitful and constructive relationships.

"This Conference represented no more than a beginning, but I hope the House will agree that it is a beginning in the right direction. Those who worked so arduously for two years to negotiate the Final Act did not attempt to cover all European problems. The limited measures which were agreed should have their value in creating the first elements of confidence without which further progress will not be possible. But, as the House knows, the problems of military security are being dealt with elsewhere—for Central Europe, in the conference on force reductions at Vienna; in the strategic nuclear field, in the SALT negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union; and in disarmament, discussions generally. The Vienna negotiations have not made the pro- gress for which we had all hoped, and the disparity of forces between the Warsaw Pact and NATO is as great as ever. I expressed our disappointment at the slow progress so far, and a number of those who spoke later expressed, as I did, the hope that now the basis for a better political relationship has been established at Helsinki, we shall be able to make the progress which is necessary at Vienna. That should now have the highest priority in the development of East-West relations together with the negotiation of SALT II.

"It is my firm hope that the new spirit of co-operation which was demonstrated at this Conference will extend beyond it. I have particularly in mind the economic problems which face the world and the dangers of further nuclear proliferation. What we have achieved in CSCE will be judged by history by our success in extroverting our achievement to a wider world.

"The Conference also provided the occasion for me to have separate meetings with nearly all the participating Heads of State or Government, including the Presidents of the United States, France and Finland, the Federal German Chancellor. Mr. Brezhnev, the Italian Prime Minister—who is, of course, also currently in the Chair of the EEC Council of Ministers—and the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey. My right honourable friend and I had meetings with other East European leaders and with President Tito, and we also had a meeting with President Costa Gomez of Portugal, at which I expressed the very grave concern felt by Her Majesty's Government and, I am sure, the whole House, at recent developments in Portugal. I raised the question of Portugal also with the leader of the Soviet delegation.

"On my way back from Helsinki on 2nd August my right honourable friend and I attended in Stockholm a meeting convened by the Swedish Prime Minister of Socialist Heads of Government and Party leaders, at which Dr. Mario Soares, the Leader of the Portuguese Socialist Party, was also present. This gave us an opportunity to express to Dr. Soares the importance we attach to a speedy return to pluralistic democracy in Portugal; a point which I had already strongly emphasised in my talk with President Costa Gomez at Helsinki. I also told the meeting that I had described the future of Portugal as one test of détente during my talk with Mr. Brezhnev. The meeting also discussed the world economic situation and, Prime Minister Rabin of Israel being present, the position of Israel and all of us in relation to possible action against Israel at the forthcoming General Assembly of the United Nations. We expressed our full support for the doctrine of the universality of the UN, as I had in my opening speech at the Helsinki Conference."

My Lords, that is the conclusion of the Statement.


My Lords, the House will be obliged to the noble Lord for repeating that Statement and for the account which the Prime Minister has given of the Helsinki Conference. I am sure it is right that nations which have quarrelled for so long should seek agreements of this kind, and I do not believe that these three years have been wasted. Some of us are perhaps disappointed in the scope of the agreements, but it must be a good thing that the leaders of the European countries, together with the President of the United States, should meet after 30 years in an unprecedented gathering and should have an opportunity of exchanging views, of seeing each other and of talking amongst themselves. I do not feel that we ought to blind ourselves—indeed, I did not feel that the Prime Minister's Statement did that—to the fact that nothing has yet been achieved except a conference. I believe all of us will want to see what is the outcome and what concrete results will emerge from the agreement.

For my part, I believe that there will be two tests. The Statement touches on both. The first will be the Security Conference in Vienna. It has always been my understanding that there was a link between these two conferences, and that one would go hand in hand with the other. I cannot help feeling that it was somewhat of a pity that Helsinki is now over and done with and that nothing has yet been achieved at Vienna. The only thing that has been achieved at Vienna is the dropping of the word "balanced" from the title of the conference. We no longer talk about "mutual balanced force reductions", but about "mutual force reductions". I do not find that a very good augury for the future. We shall watch with great care to see whether or not the Warsaw bloc countries are prepared to take constructive steps forward at Vienna. So far as I am concerned, that will be the hallmark of success or otherwise of the Helsinki Conference.

The other issue is Portugal. Here again, the Prime Minister touched on the matter in his Statement. There is ample evidence that there has been interference in the internal affairs of Portugal. We shall watch very carefully in the light of the Helsinki Conference to see whether that interference now stops. Having said that, however, let us welcome this as a step forward and not be grudging about it. Let us reserve our judgment and see how it works.


My Lords, we on these Benches of course also wholeheartedly welcome the conclusion of the Helsinki Conference. It is excellent that no less than 30 Heads of State, representing most of the countries North of the Tropic of Cancer, including the two super-Powers, should have condemned sin in a detailed and agreed fashion and have solemnly promised to be good. It is true that the leaders of these States and many others have repeatedly done much the same thing since the end of World War I with no noticeably good results, but this time it is, after all, possible that the appalling prospect of a nuclear holocaust may result in at least some of the promises being made to stick.

But noble Lords will forgive me if I briefly quote Gibbon. He says: It is not usually in the language of edicts and manifestoes that we should search for the real character and the secret motives of princes. In other words, as the Government have of course recognised and as the noble Lord has just said, the proof of the Helsinki pudding is in the eating.

In conclusion and speaking, I trust, for all my colleagues, I can only deplore the fact that on all the great issues on which it is hoped that the Helsinki Conference will soon have a favourable effect, including Portugal and the Conference on the Mutual Reduction of Armaments, the individual countries of Europe are likely, I fear, to play, at best, a subsidiary not take us very far in détente. role. Therefore, I repeat the hope that, by combining ever more closely, they may, with North America, be able to preserve free institutions in a world which seems increasingly intent on the adoption of directed or dictatorial systems.


My Lords—


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend but I believe that it is a convention of the House that I should reply immediately to the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Opposition. Very briefly, I welcome both reactions to my right honourable friend's statement. I do not disagree with anything that has been said this afternoon. We must look to the future for action to implement these agreements. They are not binding except in a psychological and moral way. They are yardsticks against which the behaviour and performance of all signatories will be judged in the future. I particularly welcome the two tests of confidence which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, suggested. Certainly, we shall watch carefully for evidence of constructive co-operation at the Vienna Conference. As the noble Lord said, simply to complete this conference without practical evidence of progress in Vienna will not take us very far in détente.

Secondly, we look to non-interference in the affairs of sovereign States, particularly at this juncture. We look to the future of Western type democracy in Portugal as a second test of good intentions. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, also made an intervention which was very acceptable and helpful. He said that we all united in condemning sin. I would add that we did it in six languages.


My Lords, the conventions of this House never cease to puzzle me. I doubt whether my intervention will be quite so helpful as those two to which my noble friend insisted on replying. May I ask my noble friend, as one who has had responsibility for dealing with sinners, how he defends the Statement by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister which describes this as a beginning when it refers to his signature on a document described as "the final act"?

Secondly, does my noble friend realise that, to the Soviet Union, this does of course look like the final act, in that we have recognised the division of Europe. That is what they meant by the final act. To us, I would hope that that cannot be true. Thirdly, may I ask my noble friend if it is true, as has been widely reported, that the Foreign Secretary, when in Hungary, actually addressed Mr. Kadar and said, "To understand all is to forgive all." if I may say so, if that is true that would be to the Soviets the final act. To some of us it would be the final betrayal.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his understanding of the conventions of courtesy which rule this House as well as the other place, where he played an equally distinguished part. With regard to the three points he raised, I shall deal first with the Statement by the Prime Minister that this is a hopeful beginning. I do not think that anybody will cavil at that very cautious expression of optimism. The term "Final Act" is a term of art, as he well knows. It is the final act of the conference; it is not the final act for Europe or for the settlement of the world. It is the close to the Conference in terms of an instrument of agreement.

Secondly, my noble friend spoke of the Soviet Union assuming that this series of agreements will settle the frontiers of Europe for all time. What it does is to attempt to outlaw the change of frontiers in Europe, by force or by the threat of force. It lays down clearly, and it has been accepted by East and West, that such frontiers can be changed, but by peaceful means, by negotiation, by agreement. Thirdly, my noble friend referred to something which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in Hungary. I am afraid that I do not have the text of that speech by me, but I shall examine it with great interest and see how the phrase which my noble friend quoted fits into the context of what my right honourable friend said in Hungary.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord who read the Statement would accept a supplement to the extremely weighty texts which were enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington? The supplement which I would suggest is this: that many of us will begin to believe in the reality of the signatures which were appended to the Final Act at Helsinki when it is possible for the ordinary man and woman in Moscow, in Leningrad, and in other parts of the Soviet Union to buy, without interference, even the more disreputable and degraded examples of the Press of the Western World, or to buy books ad lib issued by authors in that part of the world.


My Lords, when my noble friend, like, I hope, other noble Lords, studies this voluminous document during the Recess he will find that quite a substantial part of it is devoted specifically to enabling the freer passage of information, and indeed of periodicals, from one country to another. I entirely agree with him and with all noble Lords who have so far taken part in this exchange that the proof of this pudding will be in the eating. Hopefully it will lead to fewer and fewer restrictions on the movement of people and of papers for information, and for trade as well. But the 35 signatories must live up to their signatures. As the American President said, it is not the promises which we have made that count but the promises that we shall keep. Therefore, on a note of cautious optimism, particularly on the exchange of even the most disreputable publications, I join my noble friend in expressing the same hope.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us welcome the effort, while noting the warnings given from both sides of the House? Nevertheless, as Mark Twain said, events are in the saddle and are riding mankind. Although I was originally against the Common Market, I accept the referendum, and the Common Market is a demonstration of the movement of peoples. Even those in Eastern Europe—the Yugoslavs and others—are moving into Western Europe to work. This in itself is a tendency of modern times which I think Russia is now beginning to accept. After suffering 20 million dead and 35 million casualties in the last war, they, too, do not want to see a holocaust.


My Lords, I do not want to delay the discussion, but as older Members of this House will remember, for eight years I have been a rather lonely voice in urging that the Conference on Security and Co-operation should take place. The Prime Minister's Statement today dealt with wider issues than Helsinki, and all of us very much hope that his discussions with the leaders of other countries, and his discussions in Stockholm with the leaders of European Socialist Parties will lead to democracy in Portugal, and that the Helsinki discussions will lead to a solution of the problem in Cyprus.

I welcome the tremendous scope of the agreements which have been reached at Helsinki. But I accept the view that they will be worth while only if they are implemented. My regret is that the proposals for implementation are so weak. They urge only that there shall be a meeting of officials in two years' time. I should like to have seen immediately the United Nations Commission for European Co-operation setting up Working Parties for carrying out the economic agreements which have been reached, and I should like to have seen the European Commission for Human Rights made an All-European Commission so that the promises of the Soviet Union about human rights might have been maintained.

I welcome the Statement of the Minister that the Government, with bilateral arrangements with other territories, will proceed to carry out the agreements which have been reached at Helsinki. But if this great hope on paper is to be realised, it must be accompanied by implementation, and that does not mean only the agreement of the Communist countries to human rights; it means also the agreement of the West in the pledges which have been given regarding economic co-operation.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies to the further points raised, would he accept another supplement to the speech by the noble Lord. Lord Carrington? Is he aware that having watched very carefully what was declared at Helsinki and having read all the newspapers, and what documents were available on this subject, I venture to recommend to Her Majesty's Government and to Western Europe that they strengthen their defences as far as they possibly can?


My Lords, certainly Her Majesty's Government will take full note of what a distinguished former Secretary of State for Defence has to say on this subject. My noble friend Lord Brockway raised a number of points, but I shall confine myself to one of them. He referred to there being no means of supervising implementation. That is not the position. It is not proposed that there should be a meeting of officials after two years. There will be a full conference to see how the thing has worked. In the meantime, there will be constant discussions at official level—possibly at Ministerial level, if that is necessary. But for two years all the signatories will have a chance to live up to their signatures; and certainly at the end of two years there will be a full conference to see how they have behaved.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question relating to Stockholm rather than to Helsinki? Though the question may sound tendentious it is not meant to be offensive. Is there in fact a precedent for Her Majesty's First Minister and Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs attending in their official capacity a Socialist Party gathering in Europe or anywhere else? Is it not more fitting that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should be representing the British people, and not a section of the British people as they seem to have done at Stockholm?


My Lords, I could not enlighten the noble Lord on precedents in this matter. If there is not the precedent, it is high time that one was created, and it has been created. I see no reason why the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should not attend, as democratic Socialists, a meeting of other Heads of States and leaders of similar Parties to discuss the best way in which they, as democratic Socialists, can further the cause of democracy.


My Lords, may I suggest that as we have another State- ment and as we also have a heavy business programme—and we have been on this for half an hour—perhaps we could take the second Statement and then proceed to the next business as quickly as possible?