HL Deb 31 July 1975 vol 363 cc1180-2

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in the Conference on Mutual Force Reductions in Central Europe; how long the discussions are expected to continue; and what indications the Soviet Union have given of their willingness to accept a reliable system of verification of any agreed Forces and arms reductions.


My Lords, although the negotiations have made very little substantive progress I think it true to say that each side now has a much clearer understanding of the position of the other. I do not expect rapid progress, but I very much hope that the successful conclusion of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe will give a new impetus to the talks. We and our Allies naturally expect any reductions made as a result of an MBFR agreement to be adequately verified. But I cannot at present comment on the Soviet attitude to this issue as both sides have agreed not to disclose details of the talks.


My Lords, why did Her Majesty's Government absolutely insist that the Conference on Mutual Force Reductions must be held at the same time as the Conference on Security and Co-operation, unless they were determined that some progress at least must be made with verified disarmament before they would be willing to attend a Summit meeting? Is it not clear from two years of discussion in Vienna that the Warsaw Pact countries have shown themselves unwilling to reduce their over-large forces by one single man or one single weapon? What, therefore, is the explanation of Her Majesty's Government's complete turnabout in policy in this respect?


My Lords, I do not think that there has been a turnabout in policy. I think it was agreed at the inception of these two important conferences—somewhat before the time of this Administration—that they should proceed separately. There were very strong practical and technical reasons why this should be. We hope and I put it no higher than that—that the substantial advance in the CSCE Conference and the signatures in Helsinki will give a new impetus to these talks. Once more I want to assure the noble Lord and the House—as my right honourable friends and I have repeatedly done in this House and in the other place—that we shall insist on a proper procedure of verification; and moreover, that we shall not in any way lower our guard in Europe until there is a satisfactory outcome to these talks.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that very many people will be pleased that the Government are to insist on verification and be firm about it, but that as things stand now there is a feeling, as regards the propaganda value of these conferences at this stage, that the Western World is losing out?


My Lords, I cannot accept that view. I respect the noble Lord's views and opinions, but I do not think it will be found, on balance, that the Western World have lost out in the results of either conference. We should wait a little before we come to any generalised conclusions about the impact of the CSCE, and certainly we should persist in Vienna in these talks. The fact that they are complex and difficult and have not as yet yielded substantive progress is, I think, an argument why we should persist, always bearing in mind the reservations that the noble Lord and I have expressed this afternoon.


My Lords, may I ask whether the mutual aid balanced reduction of so-called tactical nuclear missiles has so far been discussed in the Conference and, if not, whether it is going to be?


My Lords, we and our allies have taken the view so far that the purpose of this Conference is to discuss the reduction of ground forces in Central Europe. If we can make a success of those negotiations, it may well be possible to move on to higher and even more complex matters.


My Lords, in confirmation of what the noble Lord has said, have not Mr. Callaghan, Mr. Ford and Mr. Brezhnev all indicated that if Helsinki results in a great sphere of agreement the climate will have been created for success at the Vienna Conference on armaments?


Of course, my Lords, if the decisions to which 35 countries have acceded are carried out in practice there is very great hope indeed for Europe and for the world.


My Lords, will the noble Lord please take account of the sincere and widely-held view that holding a Summit meeting in these circumstances may result in jubilation in the Kremlin, in depression behind the Iron Curtain and in wishful thinking in the democracies?