HL Deb 14 October 1986 vol 480 cc677-80

2.50 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have had any discussions with the Government of Denmark concerning the forthcoming conference of the World Peace Council in Copenhagen.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, our view of the World Peace Council as a disguised instrument of Soviet foreign policy is well known to our NATO allies, including Denmark. It is for the Danish Government to decide their own policy towards the council's forthcoming congress in Copenhagen. We have not, therefore, held specific bilateral discussions on this subject.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does not the Minister of State agree that it is a matter of profound regret that this Soviet front organisation is for the first time holding its bogus peace conference in a NATO country? Is the noble Baroness aware that some of us remember that in 1950, when the organisation tried to hold its conference in the United Kingdom, the government of the day refused to issue visas to the delegates and the World Peace Council had to take its Trojan horse elsewhere?

Does not the noble Baroness further agree that there should be a common NATO policy and approach to these impudent attempts on the part of the Soviet Union to peddle its propaganda in NATO capitals?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that it is a matter of regret that this conference is being held, and that it is the first time that an attempt has been made to hold this conference in a NATO capital since the attempt in 1950, when the congress had to move itself from the proposed venue of Sheffield to Warsaw.

I recognise the very strong feelings which the noble Lord has on this matter, and I read with interest his article on it. I believe he will have recognised that there was a response from the Danish Foreign Minister setting out the Danish Government's view on the matter. Our views on the activities of the congress itself are in agreement.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if there is truth in the allegation by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the World Peace Council is behind the World Congress for the International Year of Peace in Copenhagen, it has succeeded to an extent which is against its own interests? Is the Minister aware that there are at that conference a large number of non-aligned nations who are not pro-Soviet, and even representatives of Western peace movements?

Is the noble Baroness further aware—she has no reason to be—that I am speaking there this weekend and will deliver, as a non-aligned person, the same speech as I delivered in this House? Does not the Minister agree that in view of the failure of the summit conference in Iceland it is enormously important that peace movements should be exerting their influence for peace?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as a matter of fact, I knew that the noble Lord was going to that conference in Copenhagen and I assumed that he would be speaking at it. It is a matter of regret that many people should be sufficiently misguided to wish to attend the conference, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, will recognise that among others who have not been allowed to attend are members of such organisations behind the Iron Curtain as Charter 77; so it is not a very representative group.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that while many people—indeed, most people—in this country fully share the Government's view on the record of this hoary old Soviet warhorse, yet many would also feel that NATO is strong enough to stand up to the organisation holding a conference in a NATO country?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am quite sure that we all agree that NATO is strong enough to stand up and make perfectly plain its view on negotiations at world level. I make quite plain our view about this particular organisation because I think it is the kind of organisation which can mislead some people into thinking that it is doing one thing when in fact it is not.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the agenda includes items such as the elimination of weapons in space—presumably that means the SDI but not Russian anti-missiles—the removal of all foreign military bases and the dissolution of military blocs such as NATO? Have not those for a long time been the foreign policy aims of the Soviet Union? Indeed, there is some resemblance also to official Labour Party policy.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have not looked in detail at the agenda for the conference, but I think that my noble friend and I both agree that the conference is not the forum which is likely to make any progress on the real questions concerning the reduction of nuclear weapons in the world.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, is this conference, if held, likely to have any noticeable influence on public opinion anywhere except possibly in Denmark?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I could not say what effect it will have on public opinion here. Judging from reports we have seen of the numbers attending it, there will be nothing like so many delegates as originally expected. We must hope that it will not have very much effect.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that it is probably less mischievous to leave this sort of organisation to sound off where it likes rather than to give it added publicity by trying to object?

Baroness Young

My Lords, this is all very much a matter of judgment, but I believe that it is important we should be warned about these matters, even if, as we hope, they are not successful in achieving their end.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, have we not learnt by now that any organisation with the word "peace" in its title is fraudulent?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord may look at organisations such as that and be able to interpret what the word "peace" in that context means. We have to remember that there are generations coming along who are perhaps not so familiar with all the lengthy propaganda which often precedes such events, and it is important that they should be told of the dangers of these organisations.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that in the letter from the Danish Foreign Minister in The Times last Friday he was saying that it appears so many problems and difficulties have occurred to the organisers in the promotion of this meeting that it is becoming counterproductive, and that the true face and origin of the World Peace Council is becoming much more apparent to the Danish people than if the Danish Government had tried to suppress the conference from the beginning?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, and the point that the Danish Foreign Minister is making is that Danish society is strong enough to withstand the congress, as is NATO. As it happens, the organisation does not seem to have been very successful and has not attracted as many delegates as expected. Nevertheless, it is right that we should be warned about these organisations and the dangers to those who are unaware of their activities.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the only comment I have read in any section of the British press concerning this proposed conference has been extremely hostile to it? Is it not extremely hard for anyone in this country to discover anything, anywhere, mentioning it in favourable terms? Your Lordships may therefore rest easy in your beds.