Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1975 Aug 5 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons Statement [European Security and Cooperation Conference] (Helsinki)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [897/230-42]
Editorial comments: Around 1530-1556. MT spoke at c233.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4583
Themes: Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)
[column 230]

EUROPEAN SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION CONFERENCE

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement.

As the House will know, my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I attended the third and final stage of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Helsinki last week. The text of my speech has already been published as a White Paper. In accordance with what was agreed at the conference, Her Majesty's Government, in common with all other participating Governments, are also publishing the full text of the Final Act signed at Helsinki, which includes the texts of all the documents adopted at the conference.

The conference included the Heads of State or Government of all countries, except Albania, directly concerned with security and co-operation in Europe. It was not merely an occasion for making speeches and signing documents. It was rather the opportunity for countries scarred by the experience of war 30 years ago, and convinced of the need to end the sterile divisions which followed it, to look towards new and more constructive relationships on the basis of an agreed code of behaviour and undertakings to [column 231]advance co-operation of all kinds and permit the freer flow of people, ideas and information.

Two years from now our representatives will meet in Belgrade to assess the results and recommend action for the future. I can assure the House that for their part Her Majesty's Government will do all in their power to honour and fulfil the undertakings we have accepted in the Final Act. We are also ready to consider making bilateral agreements with other participating States to carry through its provisions.

The Final Act has been variously described. It is not of course a peace treaty, nor is it any other kind of legally binding agreement. It is rather a set of political undertakings which will at the very least provide a yardstick against which future behaviour can be measured and judged. These undertakings apply to all the participating States on the basis of complete equality, irrespective of their social, economic or political systems. At best—and I am thinking here particularly of the articles relating to the rights of individuals, journalists and business men—they should provide the basis for the development of more fruitful and constructive relationships.

This conference represented no more than a beginning, but I hope that the House will agree that it is a beginning in the right direction. Those who worked so arduously for two years, with instructions given by the Prime Minister of successive Governments in this country, to negotiate the Final Act did not attempt to cover all European problems. The limited measures which were agreed should have their value in creating the first elements of confidence without which further progress will not be possible. But, as the House knows, the problems of military security are being dealt with elsewhere—for Central Europe, in the conference on force reductions at Vienna; in the strategic nuclear field, in the SALT negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union; and in disarmament discussions generally.

The Vienna negotiations have not made the progress for which we had all hoped, and the disparity of forces between the Warsaw Pact and NATO is as great as [column 232]ever. I expressed our disappointment at the slow progress so far, and a number of those who spoke after me expressed, as I did, the hope that now that the basis for a better political relationship has been established at Helsinki we shall be able to make the progress necessary at Vienna. That should now have the highest priority in the development of East-West relations, together with the negotiation of SALT II.

It is my firm hope that the new spirit of co-operation which was demonstrated at this conference will extend beyond it. I have particularly in mind the economic problems which face the world and the dangers of further nuclear proliferation. What we have achieved in CSCE will be judged by history by our success in extroverting our achievement to a wider world.

The conference also provided the occasion for me to have separate meetings with nearly all the participating Heads of State or Government, including bilateral meetings with the Presidents of the United States, France and Finland, the Federal German Chancellor, Mr. Brezhnev, the Italian Prime Minister—who is, of course, also currently in the Chair of the EEC Council of Ministers—and the Prime Minister of Greece and Turkey. My right hon. Friend and I had meetings with other East European leaders and with President Tito, and we also had a meeting with President Costa Gomes of Portugal, at which we expressed the very grave concern felt by Her Majesty's Government and, I am sure, the whole House at recent developments in Portugal. I raised the question of Portugal also with the leader of the Soviet delegation.

On my way back from Helsinki on 2nd August my right hon. Friend and I attended in Stockholm a meeting convened by the Swedish Prime Minister of Socialist Heads of Government and Party Leaders, at which Dr. Mario Soares, the Leader of the Portuguese Socialist Party, was also present. This gave us an opportunity to express once again to Dr. Soares the importance we attach to a speedy return to what is known as pluralistic democracy in Portugal—[Interruption.]—it is not a laughing matter—a point which I had already strongly emphasised in my talk with President Costa Gomes [column 233]at Helsinki. I also told the meeting that I had described the future of Portugal as one test, and an early test, of détente during my talk with Mr. Brezhnev. The meeting also discussed the world economic situation and, Prime Minister Rabin of Israel being present, the position of Israel and all of us in relation to possible action against Israel at the forthcoming General Assembly of the United Nations. We expressed our full support for the doctrine of the universality of the United Nations, as I had in my opening speech at the Helsinki conference.

Mrs. Thatcher

I thank Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister for making that statement. Is he aware that if the political undertakings given at Helsinki are observed a real advance will have come about in East-West relationships? In the meantime, neither some of the excellent speeches nor the signatures have altered the underlying position one bit. Therefore, may I put two main points to the Prime Minister?

First, what actual steps does the right hon. Gentleman expect the Soviet Union to take in the coming year or so if it is to prove that the agreement is a living reality and not a formality? For example, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that he had raised the question of Portugal with the Soviet Union. He did not say what reply he received. Will he tell the House what the answer was? Does he expect real progress on the freer movement of peoples and ideas across the Soviet frontier? I know that he is as concerned about that matter as the rest of the House is.

Secondly, may I ask the Prime Minister about his own interpretation of Mr. Brezhnev 's speech, in view of the previous speech of Mr. Brezhnev which became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine? I read the translations, and found them somewhat ambiguous. Does the Prime Minister take the view that the events which led to the occurrence in Czechoslovakia in 1968 cannot be repeated if the Helsinki agreement is to be honoured in reality?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady said that the political undertakings given—she went on to talk about their fulfillment—represented real progress. Most of us—certainly from the West, but some others as well—said that the real test would not be the undertakings [column 234]signed but the progress in fulfilling them. I said that in my opening speech at the conference, as the right hon. Lady knows, and this was also the chief message of President Ford when he spoke on the Friday morning. As the right hon. Lady has made clear, these matters have to be reviewed afterwards. The Belgrade conference is meant to review the progress in fulfilling the undertakings reached at Helsinki and then to discover to what extent we can build on those undertakings, which we all agree were limited and did not go as far as we would have liked. The actual undertakings must be the subject of continuous monitoring and, finally, the test of Belgrade.

I stressed free movement in my speech and went into it in more detail later. It includes not merely free movement in Europe. I said that there was no reason why people in Europe should not be free to travel, to read what they want, to hear what they want, to settle where they want and to marry whom they want. I said that this was the test we would apply on these matters. However, I went further and said that this also relates to the movements of citizens to States beyond the European borders. I have in mind, as I have emphasised many times, Soviet Jews being free to move to the Middle East.

The right hon. Lady asked about the next steps to be taken. One of the real tests will be in relation to the mutual reductions in forces, because a number of people on the eastern side of what has been the Great Divide in Europe have said that they are not ready to make progress on this until they have the Helsinki agreement. It will be a real test whether we make progress, and it will be in the interests of all concerned and of the economies of both the East and the West. The right hon. Lady will have noticed that as a first consequence, within hours of the signature, the agreement between the German Federal Republic and the Polish Government, which involves the free movement of people from Poland to Germany, came into effect and 120,000 people who sought to return to Germany will be allowed to do so. That is not a bad first dividend. We want to see this followed up.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the Brezhnev Doctrine. She will know that I have said publicly here—and this has [column 235]been the view of many keen and suspicious Western observers in the past—that what happened in Cszechoslovakia could not have happened had the Helsinki agreement come first. [Hon. Members: “Oh!” ] This may be laughed at but there are some quite serious Heads of Government. I do not know why Opposition Members arrogate to themselves a greater degree of knowledge of world affairs than the President of the United States or Dr. Kissinger, who have both signed these agreements. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might not have done. This was the view that was expressed by a number of leaders at Helsinki.

The right hon. Lady referred to Portugal. I have said that not only myself but other Social Democratic leaders in Western Europe—for example, Herr Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Sweden and the Netherlands and others—spoke in the very strongest terms to President Costa Gomes. I hope that what we have said has registered. Also in my talk with Mr. Brezhnev I said, as has been said by some of my other colleagues from Western Europe, that we would regard the future events in Portugal as being the first test of the spirit of détente signed at Helsinki.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Liberal Party welcomes the approach that he has made in emphasising that this is a first step in the right direction but that in the end it all has to be judged on results?

I know that it is difficult to be more specific, but could the right hon. Gentleman explain in more detail how he hopes to monitor progress between now and two years hence, when the Belgrade conference is held, on the freer movement of people, information and the like? For example, does he regard the jamming of overseas broadcasts as a criterion? Does he think that the entitlement of Soviet citizens to leave the Soviet Union if they so wish is a criterion? I agree that this is a difficult matter, but I am sure that we should all appreciate a clearer idea of how the right hon. Gentleman hopes to monitor the situation.

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether the meeting which he said he had with the Prime Minister of Greece and Turkey gave him any reason to hope for an early settlement in Cyprus?

[column 236]

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming what I have said, and I agree with him that what really counts will be the results which follow the signing of the agreement.

On the matter of monitoring various of the decisions relating, above all, to human freedom, all the signatories will be in a position to do this. There are well-established criteria. For example, it would be easy to test whether broadcasts are being jammed, and whether there is greater freedom of movement of journalists between East and West and in respect of what they write.

On the subject of Greece and Turkey, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I met President Makarios and the Prime Minister of Greece and Turkey. We all know of the serious impasse that has been reached because of certain attitudes there and of everything that has happened since the vote of the American Congress. However, the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that as a result of the initiative taken at the meeting of the Heads of Government of the European Community last week there is now a hope of an initiative, or hope of an honest broker position being taken up by the President of the European Council—that is to say, Italy—on behalf of the Community.

Mr. Dalyell

Was anything said in discussions with the Portuguese about the question of Angola?

The Prime Minister

Yes, we discussed with the Portuguese mainly internal questions in relation to Portugal and expressed our views, which I am sure will be shared by all hon. Members, about developments there. There is a tragic series of developments in Angola. A massive evacuation is taking place, and we should be prepared to play our part in helping in that evacuation if it were considered necessary or helpful.

Mr. Churchill

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is the wish of this House and the British people as a whole that the establishment of democracy in Portugal should go ahead? Is he further aware that we view with increasing concern and, indeed, disgust the way in which unarmed members of democratic parties in Portugal have recently been shot down in cold blood in the streets? [column 237]Is he aware that we are deeply concerned at the way in which the Portuguese Communist Party is apparently riding to power despite the clear verdict of the Portuguese electorate, which voted anti-Communist four to one? Will the Prime Minister say whether he was able to obtain any reassurance whatever from Mr. Brezhnev that the present unacceptable level of Soviet interference in the internal affairs of a NATO country will be diminished, and, if not, would he regard this as a clear breach of the Helsinki agreement?

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman and agree with everything he has said. Indeed, I agree with the vehemence with which he put it. If he does not mind, I should like to refer to the useful meeting that he and I had on these questions after he returned from Portugal and a few days before I went to Helsinki. I found what he told me useful, and nearly all of it was confirmed by Mario Soares in Stockholm last week, when he set out, with brutal frankness over a period of 90 minutes, the whole situation that democracy faces in Portugal.

As I have said, we have expressed our deep concern–I used stronger words to the Portuguese President, as did my right hon. Friend—about this, and so did other Western leaders. I hope that this has registered. [Interruption.] I am talking at present about the President of Portugal. We know that a great deal of soul-searching, manoeuvring and so on is taking place in Portugal. The European Community has made clear, even against the advice of some Portuguese democrats, that it is prepared to give maximum aid and economic co-operation only on the basis of a pluralistic democracy and not, as it was urged, in any circumstances. I think this is right.

With regard to the Soviet Union, this point was made very clearly by some of my Western colleagues, and finally, on the last night, by myself. I am sure that Mr. Brezhnev will now consider very seriously what was said. [Interruption.] We are more concerned with getting a democratic solution in Portugal than with the titters of hon. Members opposite, as, I am sure, is the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), who put this question. I am sure, from what was said to me, that Mr. Brezhnev will consider very [column 238]seriously what was said by me and by others, and that he will be aware that many of us on the Western side regard the future attitude of the Soviet Union to Portugal as being the first test of the spirit of Helsinki.

Mr. Luard

Will the Prime Minister agree that the arrangements for a followup will be crucial to the long-term success of the conference, and is not a period of two years rather a long time to wait for a full stocktaking, at Belgrade? Will the Prime Minister therefore consider proposing that there should be regular meetings at Foreign Minister level between leaders in Eastern and Western Europe, including the President of the United States, to consider the progress that has been made, particularly in improving freedom of movement, of ideas and of people, between East and West Europe?

The Prime Minister

That was the agreement we signed—that two years from now there should be a full stock-taking, that we should see how far the spirit has become reality, and, following that, how far we can build on the under-takings given at Helsinki. These meetings take place all the time. There will be very shortly, I understand, a meeting between the President of the United States and Mr. Brezhnev. There are regular meeting taking place all the time between East and West. Meetings are planned between Ministers in this country and Ministers of countries in Eastern Europe. There will be, therefore, a continuing stocktaking and continuous monitoring. It does not mean that we all go away and do not meet one another until the two years are up.

Sir John Rodgers

When the Prime Minister spoke to General Gomes and Dr. Soares about the necessity of building a pluralistic democratic society, did he stress to both of them, and particularly to Dr. Soares, the need to recognise centre parties such as the Christian Democratic Party, and that they should be allowed to partake in future elections?

The Prime Minister

Yes, indeed. When the President of Portugal said that he wanted a Socialist democracy, and called Dr. Soares a Socialist, I was not sure whether he meant that kind of Socialist democracy, but I said that in a pluralistic democracy any leader, whether [column 239]Socialist or anything else, must face the possibility, as I once did, of a change of Government. We emphasised to the President and to Dr. Soares that we mean a genuine democracy, through the ballot system, under which a Government is formed and is accountable in the future elections. Certain Mario Soares, with the full support of the Socialist leaders at Stockholm, wants to see a democratic system. He would like to win the elections in Portugal but recognises that in the system he wants there will be variations from time to time. So certainly the answer is “Yes, that is what we were contemplating” .

Mr. James Lamond

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations to him and to his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for the way in which they assisted in bringing about the success of the Helsinki conference, and in particular for his constructive speech in opening the conference, which was in marked contrast to the remarks of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition before he left for Helsinki?

Will my right hon. Friend agree that, while it is important to see that there is free movement of individuals between East and West Europe, the real significance of this conference was that it paved the way for a reduction in the arms expenditure of all of the nations involved in the conference—which together account for 80 per cent. of the total arms expenditure in the world—so that resources may be freed to assist the Third World and so carry out the destiny of Europe as a whole?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right in what he says about 80 per cent. of the arms expenditure of the world. Calculations have been made about that. I doubt whether a single one of these countries does not want to see a reduction of that arms expenditure, consistent with the safety of the country concerned.

With regard to the attitude of parties in this country, it really ought to be said to hon. Members opposite who criticise or jibe that the success of the conference had to be prepared over many years. The instructions given by my predecessor, the former Prime Minister, were material in helping to secure the success of the [column 240]conference. It was a continuing process and has been going on now for very many years.

My hon. Friend referred to the speech of the right hon. Lady. She will be glad to know that it made no impact whatsoever on the conference in Helsinki. I think that, on reconsideration, she will probably want to charge it up to experience.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Will the Prime Minister accept that the fact that he and Mr. Brezhnev discussed Portugal is an implied admission by the Russians of active interference in the internal affairs of another country? Will he also tell the House whether, in his discussions with Mr. Brezhnev about interference in the internal affairs of other countries, he mentioned clandestine as well as open interference, and whether he received any assurances or had any reactions from Mr. Brezhnev about continuing subversion in Western democratic countries?

The Prime Minister

The fact that Mr. Brezhnev was willing to discuss this, and not rely on the usual stock phrases used on these occasions, certainly did not imply an admission on his part of any complicity in what is going on in Portugal today. One or two of my colleagues who, in consultation with myself, and following the discussions in Brussels a fortnight earlier, raised it with him got the standard reply that there was no interference. I took some encouragement from the fact that some of these points seemed to be registering.

I want to make this distinction to the right hon. Gentleman. I think it is a fair one. There is some evidence, and it has been fairly widely publicised—indeed, some was given to me by the hon. Member for Stretford when we met—of financial assistance from East European countries to party machines, or a party machine, in Portugal. That is a different thing from Government help and support. I think it was important to register—[Interruption.] I am dealing with a very serious subject, and I am saying that it was important to make clear to the Soviet Union that, in terms of their actions as a Government, this will be taken as a test of the détente spirit. We all emphasised this at Helsinki.

[column 241]

Mrs. Bain

In view of the concern shown by the Prime Minister in his statement about the dangers of further nuclear proliferation, will be indicate to the House whether he expects any progress to be made, between now and the Belgrade conference, with regard to the possible limitation of the Polaris and Poseidon bases and their eventual removal from Scottish soil?

The Prime Minister

I did not hear that specifically mentioned by the Heads of Government, but certainly the hon. Lady is right in emphasising the importance that we all attach to nuclear proliferation. We all hope that, following the Helsinki agreement, there will be more rapid progress made on SALT II, the limitation of the international nuclear arms race, as well as the force reduction in central Europe.

There was also some concern, as I said in my opening speech, about the question of nuclear proliferation and the extension to non-nuclear States. The hon. Lady, when she reads the White Paper, will see exactly what I said on that. It received a wide measure of support at Helsinki.

Mr. John Mendelson

As the Prime Minister is now being so closely questioned by the Opposition on whether there has been a link between the force reduction discussions in Vienna and the Helsinki and Geneva conferences, does he recall that when Lord Home was in charge of our foreign affairs, he pointed out several times from the Dispatch Box that we should not link the two together, and that it was his policy not to do so, that the only way in which the Geneva and Helsinki conferences could be brought to a successful conclusion would be by not doing so, and that the Conservative Government was as responsible for the severance between the two as any other of the participating Governments? Has our foreign policy changed? Are we now in favour of making rapid progress with these force reductions?

Is the Prime Minister aware that the friends of political democracy in Portugal were glad that he took the opportunity to have these discussions? However, as all those who have recently visited Portugal will know, this is not a simple [column 242]problem, as the military, who were responsible for the revolution, are working against a backcloth of 48 years of dictatorship dominated by a secret police created by Heinrich Himmler. In that period no member of the Conservative Party ever criticised the dictatorship in Portugal. Only now are the Opposition so vociferous in their defence of democracy in Portugal. Will the Prime Minister ignore the protests of the Opposition and convey to the people of Portugal that those who wish Portuguese democracy well are all the more concerned that political parties and trade unions should have the fullest freedom?

The Prime Minister

One of the great difficulties in Portugal is that, although the situation has become worse since the original revolution in April 1974, before that there were 50 years of Fascism and very little economic advance, which must be made up.

My hon. Friend expressed strictures. I recall, as Leader of the Opposition, opposing the visit of Dr. Caetano and being howled down by the Conservatives, and what they said about that, even though the reason I gave was the Wiriyamu massacre. They denied that, although the evidence has since proved that I was right. Therefore, I am not taking criticism from the Opposition in their support of Portuguese Fascism.

My hon. Friend is right in what he says about force reductions and the statement of Lord Home. Lord Home said that we should not link the two matters together in this period of the run-up to the Helsinki conference. Both points should be followed, but one should not be made a condition of the other. My hon. Friend asked whether the policy had been changed. The policy has not been changed. I repeat what I said in my speech at Helsinki. Some people who have spoken about this have justified the lack of progress on force reductions in central Europe by the fact that they wanted to see the Helsinki agreement signed first. I said “All right, but I hope that is right” . If the signature of the Helsinki agreement means more rapid progress on this and on other disarmament matters, we would welcome it, but we would see how far that was tested by the results.