HC Deb 07 December 1977 vol 940 cc771-3W
40. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest progress of the Belgrade Review Conference.

Dr. Owen

The meeting began on 4th October with a round of statements in open plenary, during which the United Kingdom was represented by my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It continued with an exchange of views in closed plenary, which ended on 14th October. The subsidiary working bodies covering the three main "Baskets" of the Final Act began work on 17th October, and the other two, dealing with questions concerning the Mediterranean and follow-up to the Belgrade meeting, a few days later. Full details of the procedures being followed at the meeting, and of its agenda, are contained in the decisions of the preparatory meeting held in Belgrade during the summer, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

By the end of the third week of November the subsidiary working bodies had moved on from the review of implementation to the discussion of proposals for improving implementation, in which they are still engaged. During this discussion, delegations are free to continue to refer to aspects of implementation. The subsidiary working bodies are due to complete their work by 16th December, though if necessary it will be possible for the plenary to set up working groups thereafter for the purpose of drafting the concluding document of the meeting.

Eastern countries have not engaged in a full dialogue on implementation—and on only a small number of occasions have they replied to the points made by Western delegations. But it would not be realistic to expect them to admit that they have failed to implement the Final Act, and at least they have listened to Western comments and criticisms which have been both forceful and detailed—across the full range covered by the Final Act. This itself is an important new phenomenon in East-West relations. The principle has been firmly established that all CSCE States have the right to comment in whatever way they feel is appropriate on the implementation record of other signatory States and Western countries have made clear their view that the Principle on Non-Intervention contained in the Final Act neither conflicts with this right nor lessens in any way the commitment of all participating States to give effect to all its provisions.

Acting in close co-operation with our EEC partners and NATO allies, the United Kingdom delegation at Belgrade has played a major part in the exchange of views on the implementation record so far, commenting often, and frankly, on shortcomings in implementation by other participating States. The delegation is fully briefed on the details of a great number of individual cases in the Soviet Union and other East European States, in which the provisions of the Final Act appear not to have been respected. Its members will continue to draw on that briefing as appropriate. But as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House on 29th November, the Belgrade meeting is not a forum in which individual cases can be resolved.

As I have said, the meeting is now engaged in exchanging views on the more than 80 proposals for improving implementation which have so far been put forward. As with the review of implementation, the United Kingdom is playing a prominent and constructive role in this process. In lending their support to the incorporation of any new proposals in the concluding document of the meeting, the Government will wish to ensure that the document pays adequate attention to those aspects of the Final Act which are relevant to the lives and role of individuals. It is clearly vital that the existing balance of the Final Act should be maintained.

It is stated in the decisions of the Belgrade preparatory meeting that the participating States should make every effort to agree on the concluding document of the main meeting not later than 22nd December 1977. But there is provision for the meeting to reconvene, if necessary, in mid-January and it was decided at the preparatory meeting that it would not end until agreement had been reached on a final document. The Government are anxious for the meeting to come to a swift and constructive end. But many of the subjects on its agenda are both important and complex. They clearly need to be discussed with all possible dispatch, but they must not be skimped. Over the coming weeks, the Government will aim, in consultation with our partners and allies, for the earliest possible agreement on a satisfactory concluding document. But have no intention of agreeing to a document which does not reflect the real concerns which are central to the British approach and to the interest of hon. Members in the CSCE process.

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