Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons Statement [Guadeloupe Summit]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [960/1497-1506]
Editorial comments: MT spoke at c1499.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3440
Themes: Defence (arms control), Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (USA)
&em [column 1497]


The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

With permission, I would like to make a statement about the meeting with President Carter, President Giscard d'Estaing and Chancellor Schmidt, which I attended at Guadeloupe on 4th, 5th and 6th January.

Our purpose was to discuss political and security developments of common concern but not questions of a primarily economic nature. In particular, we wished to consult about the present position on defence, detente, and disarmament. The vital issues before us were how our people could live more securely in peace and how their security could be better assured.

We began by examining the interrelationships between ourselves, the Soviet Union and China. We agreed that significant progress had been made in relaxing tension between the Soviet Union and the West and that we would do all within our power to maintain this. We marked the significant emergence of China on to the world scene and the recognition of the Peoples' Republic of China by the United States, and examined the possible consequences.

It is our conclusion that it is in the interests of peace and global security that China should make its proper contribution to strengthening international stability, and we took a positive position on the need to develop closer relations between China and the West. But these new relations will not be at the expense of any other country. Our relations with the Soviet Union are as important to us as are our relations with China, and we emphasised that our relations with the Soviet Union must remain central to the development of detente and that she must not be left in doubt that this is so.

We discussed the requests that China has made for supplies of arms, and I explained that the British Government are ready to negotiate the sale of Harrier aircraft, which we regard as essentially a defensive aircraft, provided that this is balanced by substantially increased trade in other fields which would bring significant benefit to our civilian export industries. [column 1498]

Much time was taken up in discussion about strategic arms limitation. The negotiations for a SALT II agreement are now near a conclusion and the new agreement will be an important contribution to stability and detente. Her Majesty's Government earnestly hope that, following its conclusion, it will be speedily ratified. President Giscard and Chancellor Schmidt both expressed their support for early ratification.

We also had a long discussion about our positions on the next discussions that will follow the new SALT II agreement and, in particular, whether the so-called grey areas should be included in any further negotiations, whether in SALT III or separately. This question is one that directly affects the interests and security of Britain, France and Germany. The time is not ripe for any decisions yet, and none were taken, but it was extremely valuable to have this opportunity of discussing these serious issues in depth with my colleagues. We have agreed to remain in close touch about the next steps.

We also had a useful discussion about the mutual and balanced force reduction negotiations and the new French proposal for a European disarmament conference.

Finally, we took the opportunity of our meeting to exchange views on shorterterm foreign policy issues such as the situation in Iran, Turkey, the Middle East and Southern Africa. As regards the last, I was glad to find that President Carter and I were in full agreement that the Anglo-American proposals remain the basis for a negotiated settlement in Rhodesia and on the need to continue our joint efforts.

This meeting between the leaders of the three Western nuclear Powers and of the Federal Republic of Germany, at which we were able to discuss, informally and in privacy, the central issues of peace and security, was, by general consent, of great value and importance, not only to our respective countries but to the Western Alliance as a whole. It would not have been right or possible for us to take decisions without consultation with our other allies and partners, and we took no final positions. But we did reach closer understanding of each other's points of view and improved our perception of the central political and security issues which lie ahead. The deliberate [column 1499]informality of the meeting helped us in this objective. That is a matter of considerable importance for the people of our countries and for the successful pursuit of further negotiations in the field of arms limitation without injuring the security of the Western Alliance.

Following the meeting in Guadeloupe, I paid a short official visit to Barbados, at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Mr. Tom Adams. This visit was taken for granted by the Government and people of Barbados, who would not have understood if I had visited a French island and then left without visiting a neighbouring Commonwealth country to discuss the problems and prospects of the eastern Caribbean. My discussions with Mr. Adams and his Ministers covered a number of bilateral matters, including trade and aid. Our talks, and my reception as the first British Prime Minister to visit the island since independence, confirmed that Britain has a good and true friend in that important region.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put three brief points to James Callaghanthe Prime Minister? Was he told by President Carter that the Americans were going to cancel their plans to manufacture, under licence, the improved version of the Harrier? A number of the components were to be subcontracted here, and we would have received considerable income from the licence fees. Did the Prime Minister have any indication that an announcement was to be made very shortly after the Guadeloupe meeting?

Secondly, I refer to SALT. SALT II is very worrying, for a number of reasons. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the provisions of SALT II will not inhibit the ability of this country to provide a successor to the Polaris?

Thirdly, we have not yet had a full statement on Rhodesia. What the Prime Minister said in this statement was rather different from what he said when I questioned him last time. Then he seemed quite ready to depart from the Anglo-American proposals for Rhodesia and thought that it was possible to secure a settlement on a different basis. Will he indicate to the House some of his plans for his future policy towards Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

President Carter did not give me any information about American intentions on the improved [column 1500]version of Harrier, despite the reports that are appearing. I understand that the matter is under discussion in relation to the United States budget and I have no doubt that when a final decision is taken the President will inform me. Indeed, he may decide that the matter should not go ahead. As everybody knows, a great deal of in-fighting goes on in some of the American institutions.

Secondly, I do not accept that the SALT II agreement will be worrying, for a number of reasons. Reservations have been expressed about it, but some of the information that has appeared, even in the most well-informed newspapers, has not been wholly accurate. On the question of our ability to provide a successor to Polaris, that is a decision that will need to be taken in the next two years. There is certainly nothing in SALT II that will prevent any British Government from reaching the appropriate decisions. The proposals that are concerned with the cruise missile would not inhibit development there if it were required.

As to Rhodesia, it is just a question of the number of statements that have to be made. With the permission of the House, I should like to make a statement on Rhodesia tomorrow.

Mr. Hooson

Did the other leaders express objections, or in any way indicate any reservations, about our decision to sell the Harrier jump-jet to China on the terms indicated by the Prime Minister? Secondly, were the leaders concerned about the deteriorating economic position in Turkey and the uncertainty that is raised in the NATO Alliance with regard to Turkey's present position? Were any plans made, first, to give economic aid to Turkey and, secondly, to resolve her political differences with Greece?

The Prime Minister

I am at a slight but not overwhelming difficulty with regard to the first question, because it was agreed between us that, on the whole, we would not report the views of others, but only our own. But I think that in this case it is open to me to say that no objection was raised. Indeed, France and other countries have also been approached by the Chinese for weapons, and there was a general discussion between us. I do not wish to go any further than that. If there had been [column 1501]objection, the hon. and learned Gentleman can be sure that I would have taken it seriously into account.

There was a long discussion about Turkey, and it was agreed between us that the Federal Republic of Germany, which has close connections with Turkey, should take the lead in discussing how improvements can be made and how help can be given in addition to the present help given through the International Monetary Fund to assist her economic position. But a number of countries will be associated with the lead that I hope Germany will be able to give.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is the Prime Minister aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has just confirmed that the Government have no intention of proceeding to a new generation of nuclear weapons? Will he confirm that nothing he has just said contradicts that?

The Prime Minister

There is never any contradiction between the Secretary of State for Defence and myself. The decision on whether to proceed will have to be taken by the next Government. Important decisions and issues of policy that will affect the whole future of Europe will have to be considered, and I do not think that we should rush into an immediate decision without considering the political consequences of the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by others.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Can the Prime Minister say what practical effects, if any, the talks will have on Government policy?

The Prime Minister

I think that they confirmed the broad support that we have been giving to the strategic arms limitation talks. They increased our understanding of the great concern of the Federal Republic of Germany about her own safety, especially in view of the growing number of Soviet missiles that are being deployed—the SS20 in particular. The Chancellor made quite clear his extreme concern about this. I think that this will influence our consideration of the way in which we negotiate in the next round of arms limitations, because the fact that the Soviet Union has this large advantage in what are called “grey areas” , as distinct [column 1502]from the artificial and nominal strategic situation, must be of concern to all of us, and especially to Germany, which is in the front line.

Mr. MacFarquhar

I welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend about trade with China, but does not he agree that in view of the great discussion on our relations with Russia and China it was extraordinary that Japan should not have been represented at this summit, since its security is highly involved both with that subject and with SALT III? Does not he also agree that if we are to have better economic relations between Japan and the Western industrial countries it is important that Japan should be associated with all our discussions at the top level?

The Prime Minister

The French President issued these invitations and there was general agreement that the talks should be between the four of us, since we have been discussing among ourselves our attitude both to the present strategic arms limitation talks and to the future. On economic matters, it is quite true that when the Tokyo summit is held, as I dare say it will be during the summer months, Japan has a growing political significance, but basically we were talking about the nuclear situation, on the security side, in which the four of us are intimately concerned.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that another major statement is to follow, and also a Ten-Minute Bill, before we come to the main business of the day. I therefore propose to call four more hon. Members from each side of the House.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

In the course of discussing the atomic role, did the Prime Minister and his colleagues refer to the tactical situation in Western Europe, notably the capacity to reinforce Western Europe from the United Kingdom in the light of the absence of any significant air defence of Great Britain?

The Prime Minister

I do not accept the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, which is not true. Tactical nuclear weapons were discussed, but [column 1503]basically our concern was about the so-called—I think, artificially called—grey areas, which in my view involve strategic weapons just as much as do the present negotiations. The question whether weapons are launched from Washington of Moscow to destroy each other seems to me to be just the same as the question whether Cologne, Liege or London is destroyed, because whatever one calls the weapons will make no difference to the result.

Mr. Pavitt

I welcome the limited steps in SALT and accept that these important negotiations are to proceed step by step, but does my right hon. Friend recall the powerful and moving speech by Lord Noel-Baker at the Labour Party conference? Will he bear in mind the lessons of that speech in his future policy-making?

The Prime Minister

Yes. My noble Friend Lord Noel-Baker made a remarkable speech, and it will certainly always have an impact on us. We were discussing how to improve our security while at the same time increasing the prospects of peace. That was the whole basis of the discussions.

Mr. Whitney

When the Prime Minister and his colleagues reached the conclusion that significant progress had been made in relaxing tension with the Soviet Union, did they take account of the recent activities of the Soviet Union and its satellites in Africa and South-East Asia, and the significance of those activities on Western interests?

The Prime Minister

Yes, we did take those activities into account. They were considered very seriously. It is our general conclusion that the Soviet Union wishes to adhere to a policy of detente, although it will certainly take advantage of targets of opportunity wherever they arise, but as far as possible it will try to avoid the intersection of its attitude towards these particular targets. There are places where they do intersect.

Mr. Watkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that detente could be improved this year if advances could be made in the mutual and balanced force reduction talks in Vienna? Did he again raise the Government's suggestion that momentum be given to these talks by [column 1504]raising them to Foreign Secretary level? If this subject was not discussed, will he raise it this year?

The Prime Minister

How the next round of talks should be taken has been a matter for discussion. Of course, France is not a member of the present talks, which in a considerable way is a disadvantage. The French President has put forward an alternative proposition for extending the talks from the Atlantic to the Urals. I am not sure how this proposition would be received in the Soviet Union, for example, and I would be loth to depart from the present MBFR discussions in order to start an entirely fresh scenario.

Mr. Walters

In regard to Iran, did the Prime Minister feel that serious progress was made in formulating a joint Western policy to deal with a situation that could have enormous significance to Western interests in a key strategic area?

The Prime Minister

We had a serious discussion about the attitude that should be taken. We were meeting in the middle of an unresolved situation. I therefore do not claim that we reached a precise decision on what the attitude of the West should be. But there was a mind-clearing of the matter—[Interruption.] It is a difficult situation. The Shah left only today. It is not really a matter for laughter. I think it is true to say that as our officials continue to meet we shall try to evolve a situation that will safeguard the interests of the West but will at the same time permit the people of Iran to choose their own leaders properly and, I hope, democratically.

Mr. Grocott

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although he described the Harrier as being essentially a defensive aircraft, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was honest enough to admit earlier, during Question Time, that it was almost impossible to distinguish between an offensive and a defensive weapon? If that is the case in this highly dangerous area, would it not be better for there to be a whole review of our arms sales policies and of the question whether we should have such a policy before we proceed with sales to China?

[column 1505]

The Prime Minister

On the question of semantics, I do not wish to get into dictionary definitions but I can think of some weapons that I would clearly call offensive and others that I would clearly call defensive. I do not think that one can draw a sharp line between the two, although basically, in so far as the Soviet Union may express any fear about the supply of Harriers, we would regard it as being broadly a defensive weapon in terms of relations between China and the Soviet Union.

Mr. Amery

The Prime Minister stated that he attaches as much importance to good relations with the Soviet Union as he does to those with China. Does he agree that the Chinese are not, as far as one can judge, taking any offensive action against Western interests anywhere, whereas the Soviet Union is doing so by the maintenance of Soviet and Cuban troops in Angola and Ethiopia, by its operations in Afghanistan, by its declared policies over Iran, and by its support for the Vietnamese aggression against Cambodia? How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile acceptance of these facts with saying that we can pursue an evenhanded policy towards two countries, one of which is not being offensive to us while the other certainly is?

The Prime Minister

We reconcile it because we believe that it is in our interests to do so and to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union. Let me cast the right hon. Gentleman's mind back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. Does he believe that the prospects for peace in the West would be improved if we were to return to the atmosphere of the days of the Berlin airlift, which he and I lived through?

It seems to me that we should make it clear to the Soviet Union that we do not intend to play the China card against it but that we have to take account of the fact that China is emerging. We should be most short-sighted if we were to show no concern for future relations with the Soviet Union, which in a few years will have a new leadership, which should come to power believing that the West wants to establish and maintain peaceful and good relations with that great country. It would be madness to do otherwise while the Soviet Union is willing to continue discussions and negotiations [column 1506]on reducing strategic and other nuclear arms.

Mr. Christopher Price

May I ask the Prime Minister about the substantial economic aid that has been promised to Turkey? In view of the Turks' recent new reservations against Dr. Waldheim 's proposals for a solution to the Cyprus problem, was any linkage proposed between this substantial aid and real progress towards a solution in Cyprus?

The Prime Minister

It is the experience of those who have conducted negotiations with the Turks that linkage of this sort is the certain way to disaster. That is what the United States found in the matter of cutting off arms supplies to Turkey. No linkage has been made, but I certainly hope that there could be discussions in parallel, following the initiative taken on the Anglo-American-Canadian proposals on the future of Cyprus, which have been taken up by Dr. Waldheim. We should like to see the Turks responding to these proposals and some progress being made.