HL Deb 22 November 1976 vol 377 cc1652-3

11.7 a.m.

Baroness VICKERS

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their view concerning the potential strategic and economic importance to the West of the Svalbard Archipelago and the Barents Sea.


My Lords, Svalbard and the Barents Sea to the east of the Archipelago constitute a region of strategic importance for East/West relations, but the area has been one of low tension for many years, and we hope that it remains so. Under the 1920 Treaty, Norway undertakes not to create or allow the establishment of any naval base in the territories of Svalbard, or to construct any fortifications there, and the territories are not to be used for any warlike purposes. In accordance with the Treaty, the parties have certain rights to exploit the natural resources of the Svalbard Archipelago.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that there is anxiety in the Western World regarding the Soviet's particular interest in this area?


My Lords, we are aware of certain concern by the Norwegians about the situation in this area, and we sympathise with their concern. We expect that activity in this area will not in any way either infringe the terms of the 1920 Treaty or conduce to an impairment of the political and strategic situation in this very sensitive area.


My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm whether there is a civil Soviet airfield on Spitsbergen, which might be a potential infringement?


Yes, my Lords, I can confirm that. There are regular flights between Svalbard and the Soviet Union and between Svalbard and Norway, of course. There are also mining communities from both countries exploiting the coal resources of the Archipelago.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, can the Minister confirm reports that the Russians are firing rockets over the sea area which is in dispute in that part of Norway?


My Lords, the Soviet Union has conducted training operations involving missiles in the high sea in this area.


My Lords, does my noble friend think it is wise for us to go searching for items upon which there can be disputation between Britain and the Soviet Union?


No, my Lords, I do not think so, and I do not think that the noble Baroness thinks so, either. We are, of course, as a responsible Chamber of Parliament entitled, and indeed have a certain duty to look at these important matters from time to time—and, I hope, always in the spirit which the noble Baroness and my noble friend have shown today.