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East-West Relations

Volume 15: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1981

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on East-West relations.

Her Majesty's Government will continue to work for a lasting improvement in East-West relations. A vital condition for this, however, is the full implementation by all parties of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that in the light of the Polish tragedy, it is increasingly important for the Government and people of this country generally to try to develop closer links with the individual nations and people of Eastern Europe, with the long-term objective of helping them to reduce their economic dependence on the Soviet Union? On the more immediate point, has my right hon. Friend any news of the rumours that appear to be circulating to the effect that Russian aircraft have landed in Warsaw with at least military supplies on board? Will he bring us up to date on the latest position?

Yes, Sir. I quite agree with my hon. Friend on the first part of his question. We are very anxious to remain in close touch with the Polish Government and with what is happening in that country. Therefore, the action that they have taken over the last 48 hours is extremely unhelpful, because they have severed communications. It is very difficult to be in touch with what is happening in Poland, and any hope of making progress in restoring good relations between our two Governments seems to be at a standstill.

I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer on the point about aircraft. Information out of Poland is scarce and unreliable at present, and I am not able to confirm or deny what he said.

Does not the Lord Privy Seal agree, however, that if Soviet aircraft have ferried Soviet troops to Warsaw this would inevitably present very serious risks to the progress of negotiations for a settlement? I take it that Her Majesty's Government will continue to insist that of all aspects of the Helsinki agreement, the most important single one is non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Yes, Sir. I think that it has been made perfectly clear, not only by ourselves but by our partners, that any direct interference by the Soviet Government in Poland would create the most grave situation that any of us has known for many years. We shall continue to try to contact the Polish Government to discover what is happening so that we can keep the House and the country informed, but at present, as I say, owing to the clampdown on the distribution of news and communications, it is very difficult to know exactly what is happening.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is growing concern, I think on both sides of the House, about the deterioration of what I might call West-West relations in regard to our connection with the East? Over the Middle East there has been a deplorable difference of opinion between the United States and Britain, and over Poland the communiqué issued by the European Ministers yesterday seems to have been considerably less forthright in its condemnation of recent events in Poland than the American view as expressed by the Secretary of State in the United States. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no question of financial or physical aid to Poland or of any favourable settlement with Poland of its indebtedness until we have clear evidence that the Polish Government are resuming a dialogue with Solidarity and the Church?

I do not believe that there is as much difference between ourselves and our United States allies as my right hon. Friend makes out. We have made it clear that we do not accept the current situation; so have they. We have made it clear that we attach importance to General Jaruzelski's assurance that the current measures are temporary; so have they. We have made it clear that while we are prepared to proceed with existing agreements on the economic front, we are not taking any further decision on future agreements and future assistance; and so have the United States Government. I believe that our positions are very close together, as they should be.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the worst tragedy for the Polish people would be to see all the gains made in the past 18 months towards greater civil liberties destroyed? Therefore, is it not important that the extremists, be they within the Polish Communist Party, in the Soviet Union, or in Solidarity, should be warned of the terrible bloodshed that will undoubtedly prevail in Poland if moderation does not come about? Should not that warning come clearly from all shades of opinion in Britain?

Yes, Sir. I find myself in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. I am not always in agreement with him, but I am in this case. The worst thing that could happen would be an intervention by an outside Power in Poland. Our efforts must be directed towards ensuring that a dialogue between the Government of Poland and Solidarity should start immediately.

What evidence does my right hon. Friend have in support of recent reports that the Commander-in-Chief of the Warsaw Pact forces is at present in Poland? Why do Her Majesty's Government not have access, through allied satellite photography, to information about major airlift movements, if they have been taking place between the Soviet Union and Poland? Will my right hon. Friend consider sending for the Soviet ambassador and making representations in the strongest terms that any intervention, either by the two Soviet armoured divisions at present in occupation of Poland today or the 50 divisions surrounding that country, would be regarded as a most serious development?

This last message has been made quite clear to the Russians already. As regards our intelligence about the movement of Russian troops, clearly my hon. Friend would not expect me to go into details in the House, but we have certain intelligence about these matters. At present there is no cause for immediate alarm.

As for the presence of the Soviet general in Warsaw in the last day or two, we have reports of that, but they are unconfirmed. As I said a moment ago, one of our difficulties is that although there is communication between the Government and our chargé d'affaires in Warsaw, the main difficulty is that he is not in a position to gather as much information as we would like.