Skip to main content

European Disarmament Conference Proposals

Volume 417: debated on Friday 13 February 1981

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.8 a.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the undertaking by Chancellor Schmidt and President Giscard d'Estaing, stated in the communiqué after their summit meeting in Paris on 6th February, to work together to set up a European disarmament conference.

My Lords, the Government support the proposal for a conference on disarmament in Europe tabled at the Madrid CSCE Review Meeting on 9th December by France. We shall be working with our allies for the adoption of this proposal, which would open the way for confidence-building measures applying to the whole of Europe.

My Lords, while I welcome that reply, may I ask the Minister whether he can clarify the nature of the European conference that is proposed? Is he aware that France is limiting it to observational manoeuvres of a larger area and information, while West Germany has been proposing actual measures of disarmament? Will the Government support the fullest terms of reference for this conference, particularly to end the nuclear confrontation in Europe?

My Lords, the French proposal envisages, initially, negotiations on militarily significant, verifiable and binding confidence-building measures, to which the noble Lord refers, applying to the whole of Europe; that is to say, from the Atlantic to the Urals. The results of this initial stage of the conference would be submitted to the next CSCE follow-up meeting, which would examine, in the light of the progress, how efforts towards security and disarmament in Europe should be continued. It is true to say that there are a number of other proposals for conferences of one sort or another put forward by, for example, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and Sweden. Some of them, however, have some shortcomings. In particular, some of them do not go farther east than Germany itself, leaving the area adjacent to the border, but inside the Soviet Union, unaffected.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this is essentially an attempt to strengthen that part of the Helsinki Agreement which hopes for confidence-building measures in Europe, and that it in no way impinges on, hinders or creates difficulties for the very important discussions which are already in train, both in Geneva and in Vienna?

Yes, indeed, my Lords. That is quite correct. The French proposal is, of course, within the context of the Helsinki Final Agreement and the CSCE process, and does not, of itself, envisage—in the first phase, anyway—specific disarmament measures.

My Lords, may we assume that the United States will be included in this conference, if it takes place?

My Lords, the attitude of the new United States administration in this matter has yet to be determined.

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept what I am sure is the appreciation of the whole House for the information which he has freely given? Would this not be an appropriate time to try to repair the very damaged relations between Britain and France, which threaten almost every form of European co-operation, now that he goes with the blessing of many people to this conference, if he goes?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has an unduly gloomy view of relations between the United Kingdom and France. Certainly, we have our disagreements on matters, but they are within the context of our joint membership with the others of the European Community, and I have no doubt that these little difficulties will be resolved in due course.

My Lords, with the indulgence of the House, may I press the point made by my noble friend about the need to continue to involve the United States in these discussions? As they are related to the CSCE, to which the United States is an important party, may we hope that the Government will ensure that the new administration in Washington takes a full part in these discussions?

My Lords, I am afraid that it is beyond my power to ensure that the United States Government participate in these matters. They have, we understand, not yet taken up a formal position on this proposal, but we hope that they will and that they support it.