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Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 16 April 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will place in the Library details of his approach to the Russian Government of his proposals as to how the Russian Army should withdraw forces from Afghanistan in order to avoid the possibility of internecine factional bloodshed.

No, Sir. The exchanges which we have had with the Russians are confidential. Our approach is flexible and other Governments are contributing suggestions on how the concept might be put into effect. It would, therefore, be misleading to publish details at this stage.

Do the Government agree with His Eminence the Cardinal Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, that the Russians should not be regarded as bogeymen? May we be assured that these confidential communications are carried out in a sensible spirit, and not in the spirit of lashing the Russians? Lashing the Russians is not the way to get the Red Army out of Afghanistan.

The proposals put forward by my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and endorsed by the Foreign Ministers of the Nine, are not designed to lash the Russians. They are designed to give the Russians a way in which they can withdraw their troops from their aggression in Afghanistan, leading to neutral and non-aligned status for that country.

Has the hon. Gentleman considered the doctrine propounded by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) only a fortnight ago, when he seemed to suggest that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was justified by the fact that atrocities had been committed against Russian advisers within that country? Has he given careful consideration to that extraordinary principle?

I have indeed. It is true that it is dangerous to be a Russian in Afghanistan at the present time, but the remedy is in their own hands. They could withdraw.

Although after the invasion it was right that Western countries should press the Russians to withdraw, is it not now obvious that they have no intention of doing so? Should not the Government base their diplomacy on that assumption?

The Russians are now engaged in a savage colonial war in Afghanistan, to which it is difficult to see an outcome. It must be right to work in the direction in which we are working. The war is being conducted by upwards of 80,000 troops who are engaged in fighting the resistance movement. It must be our aim to encourage and to work towards encouraging them to bring that to an end by withdrawing their troops.

What evidence do the Government have that some circles—at least in the USSR—now realise that the invasion of Afghanistan was a major blunder in every sense of the word? Which item of British Government policy is designed to encourage those circles and to increase their influence?

It is the proposal to which the question was addressed. It is a proposal precisely designed to give the Russians a way out of their aggression.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the nature of those replies, I shall return to this subject in the Adjournment debate which you have kindly given me for next Monday.