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European Security And Co-Operation

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest progress of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Substantial progress has been made at the conference. A number of important points remain to be settled, but there have recently been signs that some of these, especially in the Declaration of Principles and on military confidence-building measures, may be on the way to a solution.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he confirm, none the less, that Her Majesty's Government are not yet satisfied, first, with the guarantees offered by the Soviet Union with regard to confidence-building measures and, secondly, with those concerning the freer flow of people and information across frontiers? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to see that there is no further erosion of the Western position on these matters, and make clear to Mr. Brezhnev that he will not get his summer summit meeting unless the Soviet Union makes some concessions on these matters?

I know of the hon Gentleman's interest in these matters. However, I do not believe that that kind of approach will get us very far. There is a process of negotiation going on at present. Each side is putting forward its own proposals. We are working closer to agreement. I hope that we shall get it, because my belief and that of most people who study these matters is that the signing of an agreement by 33 European nations, even though not having as much political content as we might like, would be an historic moment in the history of Europe. For that reason, I believe that we should work for that. Therefore, I do not rule out a summit conference; indeed, in the reverse way, I am trying to achieve one.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the approach which has been suggested by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) seems to indicate that he and some of his right hon. and hon. Friends are not really concerned about achieving genuine disarmament in Europe? In those circumstances, is not it time that the Opposition made it clear that they are serious about taking the steps which they say are necessary on a multilateral basis if they believe that disarmament should take place?

It is not for me to judge the motives of the Opposition, but there is clearly a problem here between achieving a genuine move to détente and a mere propaganda move. I want to see sufficient meat in the agreement—without getting everything that we want—to ensure that it represents something which people in Europe, including people in Eastern Europe, will consider to be an advance over anything that they have seen before, signed by their own Governments and politicians.

Although I go a long way with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said about the interests of people in Eastern Europe outside the Soviet Union, is it not evident that the main reason why the Soviet Union wants a meeting of this conference at summit level is to secure a propaganda victory by putting the seal on achievements since the war in gaining control over peoples and territories? Therefore, in consultation with our Western allies, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the Soviet Union that a meeting at summit level is not essential and that our needs must be met?

I am being asked to comment on the motives of a great many people today. Again, I must disclaim knowledge of the Soviet Union's motives. I do not mind conceding propaganda victories to anyone, if they are peaceful and if they carry the confidence of the people of Europe further forward. That is the task to which we have to bend ourselves As regards not ending this conference with a summit meeting, that must depend on the nature of the final agreement. But I should be deeply disappointed if it did not end with a meeting of Heads of Governments, as it began.

May I associate the Opposition with the view of the Foreign Secretary that these are important negotiations? We wish them well. However, will he now tell the House that he will make it his business to keep us better informed about the progress of negotiations than has been the case to date?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As regards keeping the House informed, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has prompted me consistently to answer Questions, and I am always glad to do so, but the Opposition have been extremely lax in the way that they have failed to ask for foreign affairs debates. I have had literally to force myself upon the House in order to explain my views. I am always willing to keep the House informed on these matters.