HL Deb 13 March 1978 vol 389 cc1053-60

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government a Question of which I have given Private Notice; namely: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement regarding the conclusions of the Belgrade Conference on the implementation of the Helsinki Final Act.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will make a Statement on the Belgrade Conference:

"My Lords, the course of the Belgrade meeting, the British contribution to it and the Government's view of its outcome are described in detail in a White Paper which was published on 10th March. This includes as annexes the full text of the concluding document, of the speeches that I made during the opening and closing phases of the meeting, and of the various proposals put forward by the United Kingdom during the meeting.

"When my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a Statement last December in another place on the progress being made at Belgrade, he emphasised the Government's desire that the meeting should end constructively, with all the participants subscribing to a balanced and substantial concluding document. The meeting proceeded throughout by consensus, and in the event this proved impossible. Western countries were prepared to negotiate on the basis of a draft document put forward by the neutral and non-aligned group of countries, but the Russians and their allies refused to do so and showed no disposition to make any concessions of substance in the key areas of human rights and human contacts which have always been central to Western interest in the CSCE follow-up process. Faced with this unbalanced Soviet approach, the United Kingdom and its partners and allies were left with no option but to agree to a short and mainly factual concluding document. I should like to put on record the Government's deep regret that, despite the best endeavours of our own and other Western delegations, and neutral and non-aligned countries, an opportunity to further the development of détente has thus been missed.

"However, the results of Belgrade should not be dismissed as without value. Preparations for it concentrated the minds of all concerned on the need to honour their commitments, which led to some progress being made, both in the run-up to the Belgrade meeting and during it. The successful completion of the review of implementation has firmly established the right of all the participating States to criticise quite frankly the record of all other CSCE States in implementing the Final Act; and the discussion of proposals for improving implementation has focused attention on the areas where improvement is most needed. The ideas put forward at Belgrade remain for future discussion.

"The concluding document itself, moreover, is by no means worthless. It contains both a reaffirmation by the participating States of the validity and importance of the Final Act, including the human rights provisions, and a commitment on their part to meet again at Madrid in 1980. It also contains agreement to convene three meetings of experts: at Montreux in October 1978 to discuss the peaceful settlement of disputes; at Bonn in June 1978 where a "Scientific Forum" will be held; and at La Valletta in February 1979 to discuss various economic, scientific and cultural questions affecting the Mediterranean.

"The CSCE process thus remains very much alive. In the run-up to the Madrid meeting the Government will continue to implement their obligations fully and completely. They will expect others to do the same. And, as in the past, and as at Belgrade itself, they will not hestitate to speak out in those cases where the provisions of the Final Act are inadequately implemented or ignored by others."


My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that Statement, may I say that, while we are all disappointed at what happened at Belgrade, I do not think it should be regarded as disastrous. The Helsinki Final Act recommended co-operation, and indeed integration, in many wide spheres—military, economic, environmental and cultural, as well as in the fields of science, technology, information, education and human rights. The Belgrade Conference did many constructive things on these issues, but world opinion and the media have almost entirely concentrated on the issue of human rights. My Lords, I welcome the pressure on human rights. To deny freedom of human rights—


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I respect my noble friend when he asks Questions and, indeed, makes speeches on international affairs, but a Statement which is made by a Minister leads to questioning of the Minister. I know there are arguments about whether we should have a little latitude, but I would hope that my noble friend would confine himself to questioning.


My Lords, as I understand it, when a Statement is made comments can be made upon that Statement. That has always been the precedent in this House, from both the Front Benches and from others. I do not want to keep the House long. I was saying that I welcome the pressure on human rights. To deny freedom of expression is to imprison the mind and to mutilate personality—a spiritual crime—and to deny freedom of movement is to deny the human family. But what I want to say is that when there are between 80 and 100 nations denying human rights, we have to keep a balance. In my view, at Belgrade the British delegation did so: the American and Soviet Union delegations did not. I particularly regret the action of the Soviet Union in refusing to accept the declaration of the non-aligned Governments.

I conclude by asking Her Majesty's Government this: Before the conference at Madrid in 1980, will they bring pressure to bear that negotiations will proceed on a bilateral and multilateral basis for agreement on the Helsinki Act; and especially if the conference on integration of energy, transport and pollution under the auspices of the United Economic Commission will still take place?


My Lords, the answer to the last two questions is, yes. The answer to the multilateral question put by my noble friend is also, yes. I welcome his contribution, whether in interrogative or assertive form, and I am sure that the appropriate quarters, where-ever they are, will take due notice of everything that he has said.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, may I from this side of the House welcome the retirement of the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, from Belgrade where undoubtedly he personally made a very valuable contribution on behalf of the United Kingdom? I should like to say that from these Benches. His Statement has been a very full one—possibly more full and explanatory than the final document which came out of Belgrade—and for this we are grateful.

I understand that I am really only allowed to put a question, but in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has made a few comments, perhaps I, too, could make one or two comments before putting a question myself. The main point which I should like to make is that, reading the balance sheet of the meeting in Belgrade, it would look as though the Soviet has gained considerably and the West has lost ground. I should like the noble Lord the Minister to comment on that. The Soviet has gained recognition of Eastern boundaries, they have gained Western technology, they have gained time to re-arm, they have systematically, continuously and daily violated human rights in the Soviet Union, and they have got away with it once again.

When are the West going to cry halt to this continued disregard of the values which we hold in the West at the expense of the West and indeed at the expense of the rest of the world when we look at what is happening in Africa? Was the situation of the Horn raised during the Conference at Belgrade, and what do Western Governments propose to do about the continued intervention of the Soviet Union in other parts of the world?

Détente is not just for Western Europe; détente is for the whole of the world, and the Soviet must be made to recognise this fact. Finally, as a question to the Minister, what, if anything, does he think the West has gained from the meeting in Belgrade, and what do they propose to do to make a better balance in East/West relations by 1980 when the next meeting is held in Madrid?


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her kind references to my efforts. I think I may say impartially that the White Paper to which she refers will bear study. We have presented all the relevant documents, except of course that they are not yet available for printing by Governments. As regards the final statements of the various delegations, I think that when we take this White Paper which contains our statement in conjunction with the various statements made, not only by individual Western delegations but also by neutral and non-aligned, and possibly by one or two Eastern European delegations, we shall find that, despite the brevity of the concluding document, the totality of what was said in the closing sessions of the conference must on balance represent a gain for the West and its objectives.

Anyway, I commend the study of the totality of the documentation to the House. Certainly, I think your Lordships will agree that the very balanced leading article in The Times last Friday would reflect the general view of most delegations at Belgrade. As to the other questions raised, I agree with the noble Baroness that détente, like peace, is indivisible, and strongly and frequently did we say so and will continue to say so.


My Lords, in view of the evident failure of this conference—because whatever the Government may say, it has, in the full sense, been a failure—would the Government not agree that we may shortly have to come to a conclusion that, whatever our hopes may be, the long-term objectives of the East and the West are incompatible? In other words, is it not the case that détente, for instance, has one meaning on one side of the Iron Curtain and a totally different meaning on the other side? If that is so, and if we should come to that conclusion, would they not also agree that it is not necessarily the end of the world, and that it is far more important—as I have always thought myself—to get agreement on MBFR at Vienna and, indeed, in the disarmament talks generally than to try ineffectively to reconcile totally irreconcilible political philosophies?


My Lords, I think I am right in saving that Standing Orders lay clown that there shall not be debate on a Statement unless the House is so resolved. Is the House resolved that there should be a debate on this Government Statement?


My Lords, we are not debating this; we are having questions.


My Lords—


My Lords, I think I ought to answer the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, first. I do not agree that this was a failure. It did not reach the expectations of the West, but perhaps our expectations were too high. I agree with the noble Lord that there is a very big chasm, a dichotomy of philosophy and system in Europe, that cannot be bridged overnight or at one conference. To that extent I do agree, but we must start and we must persist.

As to concrete measures of disarmament, I agree, and the proper fora for those discussions are the fora of experts—that is, MBFR in Vienna and CCB in Geneva. However, as we have constantly said, the support and the proportion of détente through CSCE can have a very good effect upon the practical discussions both in Vienna and in Geneva, and indeed on the United Nations Special Session on disarmament which is due to begin on 23rd May. As for this conference having been a failure, I could not disagree more. I think it fell short of expectations, but it was by no means disastrous. Indeed it was not discouraged.


My Lords, the noble Lord twice referred to non-aligned countries. In a sense I thought he was referring to countries that attended the nonaligned conference in Algiers. Is he aware that, if that is his intention, he is either misleading the House or misleading himself? Not one single country that is non-aligned in that sense was a party to the proposition advanced by the Minister. Or is it a fact that his Department has misled him, and that when he is talking about "non-aligned" he really means "non-committed"?


My Lords, I will accept the occasional instruction from the noble Lord on the use of the English language; after all, he is an Englishman, I am not. It may be that in my imperfect knowledge of the English language I mislead myself into thinking that non-aligned is probably non-committed to one side or another, but perhaps there is some shade of difference that he may instruct me in, in greater detail. The point is perfectly clear to all noble Lords—is it not?—that, so far, we have all been confronted by the fact that, up to now, the so-called Third World has almost automatically been committed to the Communist posture. This is no longer true; it is gradually changing. I saw this for myself in Belgrade and I, for one, welcome this situation.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his efforts, in many respects successful efforts, to keep the question of human rights open instead of being closed by filibustering on the part of the Russian authorities. In view of the fact that there are so many immediate problems related to inhuman treatment, particularly with regard to an attempt to introduce once again trials founded upon no foundation at all in the USSR and actions in other countries, may I ask whether he will take immediate steps to continue the bilateral approaches to which he has referred, and, in particular, not only with the Soviet Union but with other countries which are practising violent breaches? Would he be good enough to say that he will take up these matters as speedily as possible and try to stop an attempt, for example, to bring a case against Scharansky which we all know is a faked-up case?


My Lords, we have made absolutely clear to the Soviet Union and others that the kinds of trial described by my noble friend would have a deplorable effect on the prospects of détente. Indeed, we have made it clear that we should not be able to see a congeniality between practices and procedures of that kind and the whole purpose and future of the Final Act. We have made this clear and will continue to do so.

Before I sit down, I would say to my noble friend, as to this sickening history of religious as well as other forms of repression and discrimination, that if before that conference anybody was ignorant of the attitude of the British Government and people, he can hardly be so now.


My Lords, in case there is any dispute between myself and the Minister on this question, will be publish in the Official Report a list of those countries which fall within his conception of "non-aligned"?


Certainly, my Lords, I think that I can pretty certainly undertake to do that—in the best English.