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Stockholm Conference

Volume 79: debated on Wednesday 22 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on recent developments at the Stockholm conference on confidence-building measures.

We are working with our allies to get more discussion on the details of our proposals for confidence-building measures. We will work hard for progress during the current, sixth, session which began last week.

While it is very welcome that discussions are taking place, must we not judge the talks by their practical results? Can my hon. Friend confirm that confidence depends ultimately on carrying out a number of commitments that have political and humanitarian aspects, as well as military ones?

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. Of course, we must remember that this conference is not, strictly speeaking, an arms control conference but stems, as he suggests, from the CSCE process, which goes wider than arms control. The objective of Britain and our allies, on which we put forward proposals, is to get practical confidence-building measures that will lead to greater harmony between both sides and might lead to a better climate for arms control negotiations.

What is the Minister doing to try to increase public interest in these talks which have been going on for a long time and which are to continue for some time yet? Should not the Government increase the amount of information that is available to the public instead of relying on an occasional question at Question Time in the House, with very little information in the newspapers, so that the public can support — or otherwise—the policies which we are pursuing at these important talks?

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. Certainly the British Government are most anxious to get across information about what is taking place in various arms control and other talks. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence produce a great deal of information about arms control talks. That information is available to the public, and is made available.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, with the whole mechanics of arms control creaking dangerously at the seams, the talks need to be given added and more important impetus?

If my hon. Friend is referring to the Stockholm talks, he must be assured that we are giving them the greatest possible support. That is why it is good that the procedure for the new session has been improved so that there will be two working committees and we can focus attention on the practical proposals which the British Government and our allies in the Western worn: have produced, so as to get down to the nuts and bolts of confidence-building.