HL Deb 04 February 1976 vol 367 cc1289-93

2.58 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 whether they are satisfied that the declarations by the Soviet Union relating to détente have been implemented.


My Lords, if my noble friend is referring to the undertakings by the Soviet Government as one of the co-signatories of the Helsinki Final Act, we are not yet satisfied. All the signatories of the Final Act have undertaken to put their decisions fully into effect, and we are keeping a close watch on developments. There will be a review meeting at Belgrade in 1977, and we hope that by then all signatory States will have made considerable advances in carrying out their undertakings at Helsinki.


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will understand that I am far from objecting to conferences at Helsinki or the attempt to achieve détente, and indeed I would welcome further steps in that direction. But would he not agree with me that what has happened in Angola and the continued suppression in Soviet Russia of eminent scientists, litterateurs and other people, is hardly consistent with the winning of declarations at Helsinki.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have made absolutely clear to all concerned that they regard the paramount need of Angola and, indeed, any other country similarly situated, as being the withdrawal of all external military influences. We continue to make that point clear to those concerned. On the second point about the implementation of Basket 3, as it is called, we expect that considerable advances will have been made by about this time next year when we review the progress of implementation of Helsinki by all the signatories of the Final Act, particularly in regard to cases of individual freedom of movement and freedom of ideas.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, in view of the very helpful replies of the noble Lord the Minister, may I ask whether he would say that it is wise for this Government to wait until 1977 before any review is made of the position with regard to détente? In view of the speech of the right honourable lady Mrs. Thatcher and the reaction to it which followed the Statement made in the NATO review by the Secretary of State for Defence, is the Minister able to tell us what steps are being taken to set up an all-Party defence committee? Does the Minister consider 1977 is a satisfactory date for which to wait? Can he also tell us whether there is any implementation of an all-Party defence committee for this Parliament?


My Lords, at this short notice I cannot address myself to the second part of the supplementary question of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, on a matter of this importance. On the first part of her supplementary question, I did not say that we shall not be looking at the progress of the Helsinki Act before 1977. That is the date of the general review of progress. In the meantime, through various channels and particularly in consultation with our friends and partners in the EEC, we shall be watching developments very closely.


My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister state the reason why Russia was not prepared to attach her signature to the Helsinki agreement?


My Lords, I do not know whether I heard aright my noble friend Lord Slater. The Soviet Union attached its signature to the Final Act. As I understand my noble friend, he is naturally anxious that having attached her signature to the Final Act, the Soviet Union should live up to that signature.


My Lords, while recognising that past experience does not lead us to take all declarations by the Soviet Union at their face value, may I ask whether the noble Lord the Minister would agree that, in attempting to assess the actions and intentions of the Soviet Union, some account must be taken of the distrust that exists between the Soviet Union and China?


Yes, my Lords, of course. I take this opportunity of saying that, while we must continue to repeat that we expect all the signatories of Helsinki to live up to their signatures, there are now signs—small, but favourable signs—that the Soviet Union is beginning to implement certain important parts of the Final Act. For instance, the Soviet Union for the first time has notified other Powers of impending major military manoeuvres—one on the borders of Turkey. They have invited neighbouring States to observe; this we welcome. Of course, the Western Powers have already given these notifications on more than one occasion. That is a start.

On the important question of human rights, and of the free passage and exchange of ideas which my noble friend Lord Shinwell rightly emphasised, I am glad to say that there is the beginning of an agreement on the rights of British journalists in the Soviet Union.Pari passu this goes with the extension of working rights of Russian journalists in this country. I do not want to overstress these points, but I think it is fair to report that there are now the beginnings of implementation. It will be our policy and duty to avoid any act or word which will be counterproductive to that hopeful beginning.


My Lords, with reference to all the declarations emerging from Helsinki, does my noble friend's right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs get on to the hot line to Helsinki to venture something of a rebuke? Is it not somewhat incongruous that, although nothing appears to have been done in that direction, when Iceland appears to indulge in some alleged illegal adventure, we become almost furious about it? At the same time, with regard to the reference made by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, to Mrs. Thatcher's request for a committee of defence, is my noble friend aware that that subject has frequently been raised in the past few years, not only in another place but in your Lordships' House?


Yes, my Lords; if I can recall all the questions in what I hope is the final act in this exchange with my noble friend Lord Shinwell, it is not a matter of rebuke. Détente is not a gift made by one side to another. It is an essential common answer to a very real common danger. Therefore, there is no room for rebuke, but every room for discussion; indeed, there is every room for strong criticism of performance. This brings me to the second point about the activities of certain honourable and right honourable ladies and gentlemen in our democratic society. Nothing can help détente more than the free play of democratic argument and discussion. There is every reason why the representative of a foreign embassy should write to our newspapers explaining his Government's position, and I hope every reason why a representative in one of our embassies should write to the newspapers of that country explaining our position.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, we have spent 19 minutes on this Question and have not yet concluded the second Question on the Order Paper. I think our sense of generosity has now been exceeded. I suspect there are many noble Lords present who are waiting to take part in the debate on the horseracing industry. May I suggest that we deal with the third Question on the Order Paper, and come back to this interesting matter on another occasion.