HL Deb 16 January 1979 vol 397 cc865-76

3.34 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, I would like to make a Statement about the meeting with President Carter, President Giscard d'Estaing and Chancellor Schmidt which I attended at Guadeloupe on 4th, 5th and 6th January.

"Our purpose was to discuss political and security developments of common concern but not questions of a primarily economic nature. In particular we wished to consult about the present position on defence, detente, and disarmament. The vital issues before us were how our people could live more securely in peace: how their security could be better assured.

"We began by examining the interrelationships between ourselves, the Soviet Union and China. We agreed that significant progress had been made in relaxing tension between the Soviet Union and the West and that we would do all within our power to maintain this. We marked the significant emergence of China on to the world scene, and the recognition of the Peoples' Republic of China by the United States, and examined the possible consequences. It is our conclusion that it is in the interests of peace and global security that China should make its proper contribution to strengthening international stability and we took a positive position on the need to develop closer relations between China and the West. But these new relations will not be at the expense of any other country. Our relations with the Soviet Union are as important to us as our relations with China: and we emphasised that our relations with the Soviet Union must remain central to the development of detente and that she must not be left in doubt that this is so.

"We discussed the requests that China has made for supplies of arms and I explained that the British Government is ready to negotiate the sale of Harrier aircraft, which we regard as essentially a defensive aircraft, provided this is balanced by substantially increased trade in other fields which would bring significant benefit to our civilian export industries.

"Much time was taken up in discussion about Strategic Arms Limitation. The negotiations for a SALT II agreement are now near a conclusion and the new agreement will be an important contribution to stability and detente. Her Majesty's Government earnestly hope that, following its conclusion, it will be speedily ratified. President Giscard and Chancellor Schmidt both expressed their support for early ratification.

"We also had a long discussion about our positions on the next discussions that will follow the new SALT II agreement and in particular whether the so-called grey areas should be included in any further negotiations, whether in SALT III or separately. This question is one which directly affects the interests and security of Britain, France and Germany. The time is not ripe for any decisions yet and none were taken: but it was extremely valuable to have this opportunity of discussing these serious issues in depth with my colleagues. We have agreed to remain in close touch about the next steps.

"We also had a useful discussion about the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions negotiations and the new French proposal for a European Disarmament Conference.

"Finally, we took the opportunity of our meeting to exchange views on shorter-term foreign policy issues such as the situation in Iran, Turkey, the Middle East and Southern Africa. As regards the last, I was glad to find that President Carter and I were in full agreement that the Anglo-American proposals remain the basis for a negotiated settlement in Rhodesia and on the need to continue our joint efforts.

"This meeting between the leaders of the three Western nuclear Powers and of the Federal Republic of Germany, at which we were able to discuss, informally and in privacy, the central issues of peace and security was by general consent of great value and importance, not only to our respective countries but to the Western alliance as a whole. It would not have been right or possible for us to take decisions without consultation with our other allies and partners—and we took no final positions. But we did reach closer understanding of each other's points of view and improved our perception of the central political and security issues which lie ahead. The deliberate informality of the meeting helped us in this objective, and that is a matter of considerable importance for the people of our countries and for the successful pursuit of further negotiations in the field of arms limitation without injuring the security of the Western alliance.

"Following the meeting in Guadeloupe, I paid a short official visit to Barbados, at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Mr. Tom Adams. This visit was taken for granted by the Government and people of Barbados who would not have understood if I had visited a French Island and then left without visiting a neighbouring Commonwealth country to discuss the problems and prospects of the Eastern Caribbean. My discussions with Mr. Adams and his Ministers covered a number of bilateral matters including trade and aid. Our talks, and my reception as the first British Prime Minister to visit the Island since independence, confirmed that Britain has a good and true friend in that important region."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement concerning a meeting which was certainly apposite in terms of time, and it would seem from what he has said that all is well in a perfect world. However, of course that is far from so. I should like to ask one or two detailed questions. On the question of SALT II, does the fact that Her Majesty's Government express the hope of a speedy ratification by the United States Congress mean that in Her Majesty's Government's view SALT II will reflect our proper concern about European security, in that it will take account of the possible Russian deployment of SS-20s on the European front and also of the possibility of European countries deploying, if they were so to wish in times to come, the Cruise missile?

As regards Iran, whatever may be the outcome of the terrible difficulties which beset that country today, was it made abundantly clear that we attach the greatest importance to the sustaining of close ties with that country, which is a friend of ours of long standing? To what extent was concern expressed, when discussing Iran and the Middle East, about the possible effects of what may happen in Iran on security in the Gulf in particular, and in the Middle East as a whole?

As regards Harriers, do we now take it that Her Majesty's Government have finally reached the decision which should have been reached many moons ago and are prepared to sell Harriers to the Chinese People's Republic? However, most important of all, was consideration given at this conference to the setting up of some permanent inter-Governmental forum whose duty it would be to keep a continuing watch over the threats of various kinds (both overt and covert) outside the NATO area—threats to the interests of the Western world and to our friends elsewhere? At present, there are certainly plenty of examples in all our minds in what is a very troubled world indeed. The setting up of some such machinery outside the NATO machinery and outside the geographical area of NATO seems to me to be of prime importance. If nothing of that character came out of such a meeting, then I must say that I wonder what its purpose was.


My Lords, no doubt these high level discussions were useful—perhaps even very useful. I do not therefore associate myself with the criticism apparently made of the Prime Minister that they were held in the sunshine and that he enjoyed himself while bathing. I do not think that that is a criticism at all.

As regards the constructive point made by the noble Lord, Lord Soames, I also feel that it would be a good thing to investigate such a possibility and I hope that the Government will give consideration to it. The discussions themselves related mostly to what might be called the three 'Ds'—namely, defence, detente and disarmament—as well as other important aspects of foreign policy. Would it consequently be possible to tell us whether the Prime Minister was accompanied by any experts from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or did he rely entirely on his own expertise during the talks with his colleagues on these grave matters?

As regards the inter-relation of the three 'Ds', would the Government agree that no real ddtente with the Soviet Union is possible unless the defence of the West, and more especially the conventional defence of the West, is what is known as "credible"—that is to say, if, over the years, the Soviet Union is persuaded and convinced that any forward initiative of whatever kind on its part will not be worth the candle?

Will the Government not also agree that, unless the problem of the so-called "grey areas", to which the noble Lord, Lord Soames, very rightly made reference, and which I imagine was the most important of all the matters discussed in these high level talks, is tackled fairly soon, the defence of Western Europe is in some danger of becoming "incredible"?

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am rather sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Soames, used phrases such as "many moons ago" in relation to the sale of Harriers. This was a very important decision and it had to be carefully surveyed. As noble Lords know, I replied to a debate in your Lordships' House on this selfsame question. It must also be borne in mind that any agreement must inevitably be linked with other trade negotiations. So, as I have said, we are anxious to see an early conclusion, but we cannot just jump at it. It is not a question that we have been dilatory as regards this matter. On the other hand, some people have criticised us for daring to suggest that we should play off China and the Soviet Union. What has come out of the talks is that we want good relations with both countries and I think that that point comes through.

I agree with the noble Lord on the question of nuclear weapons and the "grey areas", if I may use that term which has been used by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I think the noble Lord is quite right to raise these matters. Of course, we must bear them in mind and I have noted carefully what the noble Lord has said. I certainly agree with him that it is important that we should have adequate defence resources. Naturally, our strategy is founded basically on NATO. I know that the noble Lord has suggested that there should be a wider organisation. That certainly is a matter for consideration. I could not say whether it was actually discussed at Guadeloupe, but I shall certainly follow it up and inform the noble Lord.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for his remarks. Defence, détente and disarmament are very important. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister had, of course, expert advice. The discussions were very informal, but he certainly had expert advice available.


My Lords, may we know who advised him?


My Lords, I cannot spell out the names of the different people and I am sure your Lordships would not expect me to do so. I understand that he had expert advice. After all, when he went to Barbados he discussed with the Barbados Government the sugar production of that island and the need for aid—a very important matter for the Caribbean. However, he is well aware of the problems. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was a successful Foreign Secretary and I hope your Lordships will give him some credit for having brain matter.


My Lords, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that those of us who do not sit on the Front Bench would like the same indulgence extended to us as has been extended to the two Front Bench speakers? In framing my questions in an interrogative form, I ask for no more indulgence than has, in fact, been given to those speakers, but I ask for the same.


My Lords, it is merely the convention of the House that the two Front Benches speak first when replying to a Statement of this kind and then the matter is thrown open to the Back Benches.


My Lords, that is not the point that I am making. I want to be allowed to put my questions in precisely the same form as the questions put by the Front Bench speakers and so long as I am given that indulgence, well and good. Before the Leader of the House falls for the bait of wanting to have a wider organisation as a kind of watchdog, will he be good enough to have a look at the histories of the watchdogs in the Middle East which, after all, for a while barked with the full support of the Tory Government? Perhaps he would read the debate which took place on 4th June, 1951, which was opened by the late Sir Anthony Eden, on the subject of Persia in which, of course, scorn was poured on the operations of the Tudeh Party. Perhaps he could say whether the successor of the late Mr. Mossadeq, Mr. Bakhtiar, will save the remnants of what is regarded as a major British interest. Would he be good enough to look at what has happened to CENTO, to that great belt which was going to cordon off Russia and Communism from the West, at what has happened in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey?

Several noble Lords: Order, order!


My Lords, I am anxious to be courteous to the noble Lord, but I think that he is going a long way round to reach his main point.


My Lords, in actual fact a Statement by the Prime Minister, repeated in this House, on the subject of Iran could then be used by the Tory Party, and would apparently put them in the position as if they had always been the wise guys on Middle East and Persian questions, when in fact the reverse is true. It is they, the Tory Party, who landed us in the mess in the Middle East and now they want another watchdog, presumably a successor to CENTO. Is the noble Lord the Leader of the House not aware that they are doing precisely the same in Europe? It is the job of the Prime Minister, in Guadeloupe or elsewhere, to serve primarily the interests of the British people; he is not here to underline, dot the i's or cross the t's of what basically is a Common Market policy of a uniform system of defence, which is really what the Common Market is about.


My Lords, I have taken careful note of what the noble Lord has said and I shall certainly follow up the references that he has made. However, I should be here another half hour if I were to answer every point.

I should like to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Soames, on Iran. Following the departure of the Shah, the situation in Iran remains highly confused and volatile. In those circumstances, outside comment is unlikely to be helpful. I am sure that noble Lords from all sides of the House will join me in hoping that peace and order will soon return to Iran. After all, it was a friendly country and we conduct considerable trade with this part of the world.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether consideration was given to the Russian takeover in Afghanistan and to the implications of that takeover on the security, on the one side, of Pakistan and India and, on the other, of Iran and the Persian Gulf?


My Lords, I have nothing to say on that matter. I mentioned the Soviet Union generally in relation to China and in the wider issue, but nothing specifically.


My Lords, does my noble friend not realise that he appears to have failed to clarify the mystery about the grey areas? Why was a decision about the grey areas—which, of course, involves the defence of the West—deferred? Does he also realise that détente between the United States of America and the Soviet Union—which so far is confined only to some vague understanding about the use of ballistic missiles—is hardly likely to prove beneficial to the Western States? Can he explain the reason for this decision to defer consideration?


My Lords, in the earlier part of the Statement I mentioned that there was a long discussion about the discussions that will follow the new SALT II agreement, and in particular whether: the so-called grey areas should be included in any further negotiations, whether in SALT III or separately". Of course, I agree with my noble friend that this affects us; it affects nuclear weapons and their systems, strategically already covered by SALT II. Of course, the grey areas are the nuclear weapons intermediate between strategic nuclear weapons and conventional forces. Those are the problems that were discussed. I am simply saying that it was thought that the time is not yet ripe for any decisions, and none was taken. However, they had a discussion which was extremely valuable. We have agreed to remain in close touch about the next steps to be taken. I have emphasised that.


My Lords, first I should like to echo other noble Lords who have expressed strong approval of the Prime Minister's initiative in going to Guadeloupe and in having these discussions at this time. It seems to me to be most appropriate. However, I should like to follow up the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, on the subject of the relationship with the Soviet Union, which during these proceedings has annexed another independent country to its empire, as I ventured to profess to your Lordships last year. Is it right for me to interpret the upshot of this meeting as meaning something to the effect that we are compelled by the state of the world to conduct what might be called two policies vis-à-vis the Soviet Union? Clearly there must be a desperate attempt to prevent the universal destruction which increased armaments would bring about. We must keep that in a very serious, positive compartment. But in our other relationships—for instance, those concerning politics, human rights and everything else—with the Soviet Union we must not give way in order to try to purchase other points which, if we do give way we shall not obtain from the Russians.


My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks which the noble Lord has made about the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was right to attend this important summit. He would have been criticised if he had not attended it. In view of some of the silly criticisms that have been made, people should put this point in its proper perspective. Yes, I agree with the noble Lord that our relations with Russia must be guided by two seemingly different policies. We need to be firm and strong; we need to be certain about our role in any defence organisation and there must be no waveringin that respect. The Russians must know that we are strong in the sense that we are with other Powers in Europe and outside Europe. I have in mind the American Alliance. However, at the same time we want trade with the Soviet Union. We do not want to play China off against the Soviet Union, which I stressed previously. I think that that is the right approach.


My Lords, can the Minister say whether the three European Heads of Governments in Guadeloupe took the opportunity to discuss the question of the European Monetary System, and, if so, can he say anything on that subject?


My Lords, I do not think it was discussed in the sense that the issues I have mentioned were discussed. I cannot say whether one of the Prime Ministers or Leaders spoke informally about it, but it was not part of the main theme of the Conference. However, I recognise that it is a very important point and from the point of view of Europe it is important to have a final decision on this.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord a very short question, simply perhaps for the purpose of it being taken into account by him. I believe that in this House there has been no criticism of the Prime Minister for going either to Guadeloupe, where his presence was essential, or to Barbados, where his presence was useful; and I see no reason why he should not enjoy himself bathing if he goes there. But will the noble Lord bear in mind that whenever the Prime Minister is away from this country, even for a short time, it is absolutely vital that he should put an acting Prime Minister in charge of the Government here, which was always the tradition before, so that someone is effectively in control here on the spot, and not merely a titular deputy Prime Minister?


My Lords, I noted that, but I do not think that there was any breakdown here. Ministers who were responsible for policy in the domestic field were well aware of their responsibilities. Apart from that, the Prime Minister kept in touch with his office; communications were very good. I am grateful for what the noble and learned Lord said about bathing. I remember when he had a swim once at a conference at Scarborough. I thought he was right to enjoy himself, and I hope that the Prime Minister enjoyed his swim. He is well aware of our problems, and I think it is right that he should exert world leadership, and this is what our Prime Minister has been doing.


My Lords, does my noble friend recall that he mentioned Turkey as one of the subjects discussed by the conference? May we take it that the conference took into account the serious troubles afflicting Turkey at the present moment, which are leaving a very bad gap in the NATO arrangements for the defence of Western Europe? Did they also discuss any alternative for rilling that gap?


My Lords, the situation in Turkey, the Middle East and Southern Africa was discussed. I cannot say that the specific points raised by my noble friend were considered, but generally there was a discussion.


My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House realise that I am sure that on all sides of the House we welcome his firm and clear statement about our relations with the Soviet Union? However, 20 or 30 years in the lives of nations are not very much. It does not help our relations with the Soviet Union, or with anyone else, to have created the mess in Persia which was created by the Americans by their interference in their affairs, backed up by Conservative administrations. They were only too glad to get rid of Mr. Mossadeq, never mind how they did it, but having done it, and having left the mess, they have to accept the responsibility and not blame the Russians for it.


My Lords, I noted what my noble friend said previously, and he has re-emphasised another point. I will bear in mind what he has said, and will be in touch with him. I do not mind continuing these questions, but there is another Statement and we have had half-an-hour on this one. I hope that noble Lords will feel that I have tried to answer at least most of the points.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question?


No, my Lords, I am sorry, much as I like the noble Baroness.