Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC Stmnt: [Prime Minister’s Visit to the Soviet Union]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [174/137-53]
Editorial comments: 1530-1600.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 8985
Themes: Monarchy, Civil liberties, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Higher & further education, Industry, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Law & order, Religion & morality
[column 137]

USSR (Prime Minister's Visit)

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on my visit to the Soviet Union from 8 to 10 June at the invitation of President Gorbachev, in the course of which I visited Moscow, the Ukraine and Armenia.

I held very constructive and friendly talks with President Gorbachev, which enabled us to take forward some of the matters discussed at the United States-Soviet summit the previous week. I also had talks with Prime Minister Ryzhkov, Defence Minister Yazov, together with the Soviet chiefs of staff, and the newly elected mayor of Moscow, Mr. Popov. In addition, I met a group of Jewish refuseniks.

I congratulated President Gorbachev on the very successful summit in Washington, and assured him of Britain's continuing support for policies of economic reform and greater democracy within the Soviet Union. We too easily forget how remarkable are the changes that have already taken place, and how much they have taken forward the cause of freedom.

The greater part of our discussion dealt with the future security of Europe following the unification of Germany. We are entering a new period in relations between east and west. That was underlined by the statements issued last week by the NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting in Turnberry and by Warsaw pact Ministers in Moscow, which reflect the move away from confrontation towards a more co-operative relationship. President Gorbachev and I agreed that the presence of American forces in Europe is a stabilising factor, and that they should remain.

I explained our view that a united Germany should be a member of NATO—indeed, that would be the natural result of unification. We believe that it would contribute to Europe's stability. However, we recognised the sensitivities for the Soviet Union and had put forward various proposals to allay those sensitivities, including the strengthening of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe as a forum for regular political consultation between east and west—though not as a substitute for NATO. We saw that forum as a means to involve the Soviet Union fully in discussion of Europe's future.

President Gorbachev said that the Soviet Union had not reached any final view on those matters. He too made a number of proposals, including a joint declaration between NATO and the Warsaw pact, underlining the defensive nature of both alliances, and signalling a rapprochement between them. We agreed that those matters should be pursued further between Foreign Ministers. I am confident that a solution that is satisfactory to everyone, and which enhances the security of Europe as a whole, can be found.

Our discussion also covered the situation in the Baltic states. President Gorbachev made it clear that he accepted the principle of self-determination but that it must be exercised through constitutional channels. He emphasised that the use of force or diktat would be contrary to everything else that he was trying to achieve in the Soviet Union. I said that we believed that the people of the Baltic states were entitled to the independence that they clearly [column 138]wanted. As there was no difference about the principle of self-determination, I hoped that discussions could soon be started to resolve the many practical problems.

On economic matters, President Gorbachev said that the Soviet Union was now putting in place the infrastructure of a market economy. He recognised that that would be a massive task.

We also dealt with a number of regional and bilateral issues, including the question of emigration of Soviet jews. A list of outstanding refusenik cases was handed over to the Soviet authorities.

With Mr. Ryzhkov, I discussed the severe difficulties which face the Soviet economy and how the United Kingdom might help, in particular through management training and other advice, for instance on small business formation. We signed a number of agreements enlarging our economic and cultural co-operation. I was also able to announce the Government's decision to establish 10 new lectureships in Soviet studies at British universities.

With Marshall Yazov and his military colleagues, I made clear Britain's determination to keep a secure defence including nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union is of course carrying out substantial modernisation of its own nuclear weapons, of which it has a very large quantity. Indeed, even after Trident comes into service, our nuclear deterrent will be a smaller proportion of Soviet nuclear weapons than in 1970, when Polaris came into service.

I subsequently visited Kiev for the “British days in the Soviet Union” exhibition. Our firms are doing an excellent job in promoting their skills and technology in the Ukraine. The exhibit which depicts the life of an ordinary British family is most impressive, and is attracting enormous numbers of people. While in Kiev, I also addressed the members of the Ukraine's Supreme Soviet and answered questions. Further, I laid a wreath at the memorial of Babi Yar, where 30,000 Jewish women and children were massacred during the German occupation of the Ukraine.

In Armenia, I opened the new primary school for 400 children in Leninakan. That has been financed both by a contribution from the Government and by private donations, following the disastrous earthquake in 1988, and has been built by a team of British workmen. The gratitude displayed by the people of Leninakan and Armenia to Britain for this help was very moving.

The changes taking place in the Soviet Union offer an historic opportunity for the people of that country to move towards full democracy and a market economy. I believe that those are the most exciting developments to have taken place since the end of the second world war. At the same time, with German unification, the withdrawal of Soviet forces from eastern Europe and the prospect of an agreement to reduce conventional forces, we are entering a new and more positive period in Europe. Britain is playing a full and constructive part in both those processes, while always maintaining our sure defence through NATO.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I first thank the Prime Minister for her statement on her visit to the Soviet Union, which came at a particularly propitious time, in the same week as the Warsaw pact ceased to exist as a military alliance and NATO, in the terms of the Turnberry communiqué, extended the

“hand of friendship and co-operation”

to [column 138]

“the Soviet Union and to all other European countries.”

The Prime Minister has been right to praise President Gorbachev for his courage in pursuing domestic reform and changes in international policy. Did she tell President Gorbachev that her support for his efforts includes active steps to conclude further agreements to limit both nuclear and conventional weapons and forces in Europe?

Could the Prime Minister tell us what practical subscription to that process she offered to make? Did President Gorbachev take the opportunity of the Prime Minister's visit to give her any indication of the proposal that he has made in the Supreme Soviet today that Germany should be a member of both NATO and the changed Warsaw pact? If he did, what attitude did she express to that approach?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, at her meeting with the Soviet military high command she said that the British Government do not now regard the Soviet Union as an enemy and will support a joint declaration by NATO and the Warsaw pact, to the effect that they are both defensive organisations? Does the Prime Minister accept that, in order to build upon such a development, it would be sensible to establish the conference on security and co-operation in Europe as a continuing functional institution through which NATO member countries, the remaining Warsaw pact countries and those countries which belong to neither grouping can safeguard their own security, systematically foster the political, diplomatic and other exchanges which are the ingredients of common security for both west and east and promote the continuing advance of human rights?

In her discussions on the future of Germany, did the Prime Minister convey to President Gorbachev that there is a widespread view in the west that the future of Europe includes a Germany that is united, that is a member of NATO and that has a smaller Bundeswehr and no non-German forces in what has been the German Democratic Republic?

Did the Prime Minister also convey the fact that, as an alliance of free and democratic nations, NATO would not station nuclear weapons in Germany without the express consent of the German people? Now that the elections throughout the east of our continent are confirming and consolidating the changes of the last six months, will the Prime Minister join other western leaders and President Gorbachev in working with determination for a new structure of European security which meets the future needs of our continent and its peoples?

The Prime Minister

After we have completed the first round of conventional force talks, which must be completed in time for a new CSCE, it is expected that there may be a further round of talks. It is possible that aircraft may not be dealt with in the first round, but other talks may follow it on other station forces in Europe. As for Mr. Gorbachev 's proposal that Germany could be a member of both NATO and the Warsaw pact, I think that I have made our position clear; it follows from the unification of Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany is a very staunch member of NATO. East Germany is joining and becoming unified with West Germany under article 23. It follows that the whole of Germany will continue to be a staunch member of NATO. That, I believe, is what Germany wants. It is certainly what NATO wants. It is [column 140]right for NATO and it is right for the security of Europe. I doubt very much whether one country can be a member of two different pacts.

As for my discussions with the military, NATO has always been a defensive alliance. It is quite clear that the Warsaw pact is now altering its terms to become a defensive alliance. I made it clear that we should always need a sure defence. Each country will need a sure defence, because we never know where another threat may come from. There have been times when we have had to engage in out-of-area activities in order to protect our freedom at home and our trade routes. It will always be necessary, in my view—as I told them—to have a sure defence, including nuclear weapons, because there has been no deterrent anything like as strong as nuclear weapons to deter war.

The CSCE is a forum that includes 35 signatories from the United States and Canada right across central Europe to the Soviet Union. I made a speech about that a few weeks ago in Cambridge, when I proposed that we should enlarge the use of that forum and that foreign Ministers should meet regularly twice a year so that we could continually have discussions with people with whom we do not have regular discussions. I thought that that would be a way of including the United States, the Soviet Union and eastern European countries in regular discussions with us. NATO is to take on a more political role, so our transatlantic relationship will continue only through NATO. However, it will go right across the European divide. That divide is diminishing and we hope that it will diminish further, but that is a task for the CSCE.

With regard to the unification of Germany, a smaller Bundeswehr is under consideration as part of the reassurance that the Soviet Union will need if Germany is to remain a full member of NATO, as I believe she must. With regard to NATO, Germany is a member of NATO, so of course one could not station nuclear weapons in Germany without the consent of NATO. Nuclear weapons are stationed in Germany. They are a fundamental part of the present agreed NATO strategy of flexible response——

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

It is immoral and outrageous.

The Prime Minister

—a strategy that was endorsed at the Turnberry meeting of NATO. We believe in a war-free Europe and nuclear weapons have kept a war-free Europe. There is nothing immoral in that.

With regard to new defence structures for the whole of Europe, I made it clear at the press conference that I do not think that it is time for that. We must continue to work through NATO which has been our shield and our security, the Warsaw pact and the other forums that I have mentioned through CSCE and get the next conventional forces agreement signed so that we can have a CSCE conference, possibly by the end of this year.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In order that I may call as many hon. Members as possible, may I ask for single questions please? Then I shall be able to accommodate most of the hon. Members who are standing.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

On a day when the House welcomes a delegation of parliamentarians from the German Democratic Republic, who in three weeks time enter into economic and monetary union throughout [column 141]Germany, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to wish them well and reiterate what she said earlier about the Government's commitment to membership of NATO which those German parliamentarians maintain they wish to enjoy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I gladly respond to my hon. Friend's invitation. The economic and monetary union between the two Germanies comes into effect at the beginning of July. It will be a great step forward and will lead to unification. East Germany is perhaps the most fortunate of the eastern European countries in that it can plug straight into the structure of a market economy—its banking system, its legal system and its company law system. I hope that they will do extremely well and we wish them well when full unification occurs. We believe that they shall continue to be a full member of NATO.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Does the Prime Minister agree that a reconstructed NATO would result in a United Kingdom again becoming the guarantor of European freedom? Does she further agree that a Royal Air Force base on the United Kingdom would be a vital factor in discharging that responsibility?

The Prime Minister

In NATO, we are all responsible for one another's security. Of course, as I made clear through my visit, we shall retain our own independent nuclear deterrent. Of course, it is absolutely vital that we maintain a full ability to have anti-submarine warfare and full air cover of the home base.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

We on this side of the House welcome my right hon. Friend's statement of her success in the Soviet Union. Can she tell us whether General Yazov understood as much as the political leadership of Russia understands that the Warsaw pact is dead and that he and his generals must start reducing their armaments promptly?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, Russia has a colossal military might and she keeps very well up to date both her conventional weapons and her nuclear weapons. She has produced far more intercontinental ballistic missiles in the past year than the United States has. We understand that, but our reading of the Warsaw pact has always been that it consisted very considerably of Soviet Union military might. It is staying together at the moment as a very different pact, with a different military philosophy, which is one of defence. As my hon. Friend knows, the Soviet forces are expected to come out of Hungary and Czhechoslovakia fairly soon.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I congratulate the Prime Minister on a successful visit to the Soviet Union. I would not wish in any way to detract from the warmth of her reception, but how she must wish and hope for the day when she gets the same reception in Liverpool and Leicester as she got in Leninakan.

Does the right hon. Lady not think it odd that, at Turnberry on 7 June, she was saying that we must have the most modern nuclear weapons that we can lay our hands on, placed as close to the Soviet Union as we can get them, whether the Germans want them or not, and the next day in Moscow she said that the cold war was over? Is she [column 141]aware that she is giving the strong impression that the cold war may be coming to an end in her head, but it certainly is not coming to an end in her heart?

The Prime Minister

That is a very muddled question, but I shall do my level best to answer it. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that we will always have to have a strong defence because we never know what may happen in the future—on the other side of Europe or in the middle east or because of attacks on our trade routes, without which we could not survive as a free country. Therefore, we must keep a strong conventional defence and a strong nuclear defence. There has never been a deterrent as strong as a nuclear deterrent to deter anyone who would wish to attack this country or its overseas territories. That was made very clear.

As for the reception given in this country, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would wish that his party had won one election since the last war, let alone three.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with Mr. Gorbachev the problems of the defence of the Soviet Union, in view of the strengthened NATO which will come about as a result of the East Germans joining NATO? Surely that is the most outstanding problem, and one that has probably led to the slowdown in the conventional arms talks in Vienna. Did my right hon. Friend discuss that matter with Mr. Gorbachev?

The Prime Minister

We had hoped that the CFE talks would be completed. I believe that they will be completed in time for a CSCE conference this year. As I said in my statement, it is clear that the Soviet Union is sensitive to the change in the position of Germany, in that East Germany will now become a member of NATO as she unifies with West Germany. For that reason, we tried to find some ways to allay the Soviet Union's fears.

A reduction in the size of the Bundeswehr was one, but the United States and Britain are working on a number of other proposals. Obviously, people in a country that lost 27 million people during the last war are especially sensitive to this change. We know of our own apprehensions, so we should be able to understand theirs and make special provision to meet them—but not at the cost of a unified Germany not being in NATO.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

When the Prime Minister met Soviet Defence Minister Yazov and his chiefs of staff—a potentially crucial meeting—was the future of Soviet troops in East Germany touched upon? How receptive was what is, in effect, the Soviet defence council to the Prime Minister's assurances that an enlarged NATO will play a stabilising role, that no unilateral advantage is being sought and that now partnership can succeed confrontation?

The Prime Minister

We did not specifically discuss with Marshal Yazov the future of the troops in East Germany. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that matter has been discussed in several forums and between Foreign Ministers. Most people accept that there must be a transitional period during which Soviet forces remain in East Germany. It has been suggested that the cost of taking them from East Germany to quarters elsewhere should be met partly by the Federal Republic of Germany, [column 143]but that is a matter for Germany. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is part of the process of alleviating the sensitivities of the Soviet Union.

I think that it is well understood in both alliances that the presence of American forces in Germany is a stabilising factor for peace. It is also understood in the Soviet Union that it is good for the Soviet Union to have American forces in Europe. I think that most of us believe that, had American forces stayed in Europe between world war 1 and 1939, there would never have been a second world war. Therefore, we must never make the mistake of doing without them again.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

My right hon. Friend was right to stress what this country can give in training the Soviet people and in the academic area to help them in their difficult transition away from communism. Did she go further with President Gorbachev and with Prime Minister Ryzhkov in explaining to them that the social market economy, as practised under her Government, is the only way to guarantee personal freedom and personal responsibility, and that any idea of a halfway house, with state direction, high taxation and social engineering, would be destined to failure, as we have seen under the British Labour party whenever it has had power?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His point is now fully understood—certainly at the top in the Soviet Union and by many who want reforms to go even faster. I never expected to hear the virtues of Milton Friedman extolled as eloquently as I heard in the Soviet Union this time, both by President Gorbachev and by Mr. Popov. They know the extent of the changes that they must make. Indeed, President Gorbachev pointed out that it would require massive legislation—about 30 pieces of legislation—to set up the fundamental structures of banking, company law, private property and contract law, none of which they have. It is a massive task and they know precisely what they want to do. The question is how to do it and it is with that “how” that we can help them.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

When the Prime Minister visited the graves of 30,000 Jewish victims at Babi Yar, did it lead her to reflect on the recent decision of the House of Lords on the War Crimes Bill and to decide what our response should be in this House?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will understand that it brought back all the fears and agonies as one thought of the things that those people had suffered—not in some bygone century, but in this century and in the lifetime of some of us. Of course one thought of it. One cannot go to such a place without thinking of it and without feeling it. The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed how I cast my vote in the free vote on the occasion to which he referred. I have not changed my mind.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's success in Russia. Does she believe that this is the moment to consider the total demilitarisation of Germany, East and West, and the repatriation of the British Army of the Rhine?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the total demilitarisation of Germany, East and West, would contribute to security. I should not be sure how long that could last. The only thing is a sure defence, with Germany in NATO. Germany has been a staunch member of NATO [column 144]and, in particular, neither Chancellor Kohl nor Mr. Genscher has ever faltered. Our only guarantee of a sure defence is to have adequate weapons and nuclear weapons to deter anyone. Wars are caused by the weakness of nations, not by their strength.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Prime Minister aware that her offer of help with management training will have been welcomed, but that it is wholly inadequate for the economic crisis that would be engendered by the move to the market economy? Could she not offer something far more substantial in terms of economic assistance to the Soviet Union? If she does so, will she ensure that the funds are not taken from our allocation to the third-world countries, which is already inadequate?

The Prime Minister

Many western European countries, and the United States, are helping extensively with management training and with bringing people to our countries to see how we do it. It may not be a great deal, but it is a start——

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)


The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would stop interjecting—[An Hon. Member: “He has a peanut brain.” ] That may be right. The Soviet Union can have any advice that it wishes to have in how to construct company law and in how to set up banks. Such advice will also be given by Germany, by France and by the United States. The Soviet Union can also have any advice that it seeks on how to distribute the powers between the federal Government and the several republics. Hitherto, the Soviet Union has not had devolved powers in the way that the United States, Canada or Australia have had them. There is a wealth of both good will and practical help available, and we can help, too, with small businesses. We have also set up lectureships dealing with the Soviet Union because we did not feel that enough studies of the Soviet Union were being conducted in our universities.

In the end, however, the Soviets will have to do it themselves. It is one thing to train managers in how to manage here, within the whole structure of the free market economy; it is quite another for them to go back to the Soviet Union, where bureaucracy still reigns. That is why it is so important that the Supreme Soviet should get through the 30 main legislative measures that will enable a free market economy to begin to operate.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the Russians the need for increased parliamentary and political answerability as the CSCE progresses? Does she feel, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats seems to feel, that the EEC is the best body to achieve that, or is it perhaps the Council of Europe, where many of those countries already have visitor status and in respect of which they have applied for full membership?

The Prime Minister

I did not discuss those specific matters with President Gorbachev. The freedom of speech in the Soviet Union and the challenges now made in respect of every policy would not have been possible five, or even three years ago. The atmosphere is very lively indeed. When I was in the Ukraine, I went to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukraine—a new Supreme Soviet, newly [column 145]gathered together—and the questions that its representatives asked me were no-holds-barred questions, which I answered with my customary diplomacy.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Given the declared wish of Chancelllor Kohl and the West German coalition Government to complete political unification before Christmas and to hold all-German elections in that time scale, did the Prime Minister get the impression that President Gorbachev was prepared or able to deal with all the outstanding issues in the two-plus-four process, as well as all the external issues, to enable such a deadline to be met?

The Prime Minister

It is possible, but it will not be easy. I think that a great deal will depend on the measures that we can find to allay the Soviet Unions fears about the unified Germany being in NATO. Those measures are still in their infancy. I think that the idea only came up at the United States-Soviet summit. It was taken up at Turnberry and is being discussed by Foreign Ministers now. Obviously we shall have to try to find a mixture of measures to allay those fears. When that has been done, there will be the will to go ahead and solve the external aspects of unification. We are hopeful about getting the problem solved this year.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which she handles British interests in foreign affairs and defence abroad; it is outstanding. I also congratulate her on the amazing reception that she received in Armenia. I do not think that any overseas visitor could have received a warmer welcome.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what specific discussions she had with President Mikhail Gorbachev and his colleagues about the Soviet economy, because it is upon the success of that economy that the continuation of perestroika and glasnost depends?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend. I think that, by giving me such a reception, the Armenians were thanking Britain—giving us enormous thanks—for the school that we are giving them. It is a lovely primary school. They came over to see a similar school in this country and we have taken advice to ensure that the new school is earthquake-proof. It will probably be one of the best primary schools in the Soviet Union, and the Armenians are delighted with the future that it offers their children.

I discussed the Soviet economy with President Gorbachev and Mr. Ryzhkov. The Soviet economy has enormous problems, not only with production but with transport and distribution. For example, about 30 or 40 per cent. of its agricultural production never reaches the market because of the lack of storage and of a good system of distribution.

We are helping with that through the food processing part of our exhibition here. If we can do something about that on know-how lines to turn the agricultural produce into products that can be stored properly, that will be a great advance. President Gorbachev is aware that it is difficult to put the whole framework of freedom into place, including the introduction of private property. It is [column 146]interesting that we were told in Armenia that only 7 per cent. of co-operative land is privately owned, but it produces 34 per cent. of the food.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Did President Gorbachev say of his talks with President Bush that they could agree much deeper nuclear cuts if it were not for Britain and its nuclear weapons, particularly Trident, being a stumbling block? Did the Prime Minister tell President Gorbachev when Britain would directly join the disarmament process of offering nuclear cuts of our own?

The Prime Minister

The Labour party is always wanting to give up Britain's nuclear deterrent. Trident will have only four boats, one of which will always be on station. Indeed, for most of the time we will probably have two on station. That is vital for a nuclear deterrent. When Trident is fully commissioned, it will comprise the same proportion of the then reduced Soviet nuclear weapons following the strategic arms reduction talks as Polaris comprised when it first came into service. Even after the 50 per cent. cuts by the Soviet Union, Trident will not comprise a bigger proportion than Polaris, so much has the Soviet Union nuclear capability been increased since 1970. It is vital that we do not give up our nuclear deterrent.

Mr. William Powell (Corby)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of how welcome is the announcement about extra lectureships in Russian and Soviet studies in our universities. That is long overdue, and we need to expand that area of learning. Was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister able to discuss further the future of Berlin and in particular when the four powers will withdraw their military resources from Berlin and hand over air traffic control to the German authorities?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for the Government's decision on more lectureships in universities. We do not have enough here, and with the new situation developing, we need more for those people who want to study those subjects.

We did not go into detail over the two-plus-four talks over Berlin. I feel that those will not be resolved until we have the other possibility, to which I have referred, of allaying Soviet fears about unification. I made it very clear that we want the two-plus-four talks on Berlin to be fully agreed so that we can get a peace settlement. Any arrangements that we then make with the unified Germany would not be under the remnants of the occupation forces, but by virtue of a new agreement between each of us and the new Germany. We wish to get a full peace settlement, but it is quite a target to get it all completed by the end of this year.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Does the Prime Minister accept that the whole House expresses gratitude to her for her statement that she believes that the Baltic states are entitled to the independence which they are seeking? Does she envisage that the CSCE process or the European political co-operation process can assist in monitoring the movement towards independence or guaranteeing that the outcome is as we in this House would all wish it to be?

The Prime Minister

It is vital that the talks on the practicalities should begin. The practicalities will be enormous. First, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the [column 147]territory which at present comprises Lithuania is not the territory that was the subject of the protocol between Hitler 's Germany and Stalin 's Soviet Union. There will be problems about access to the sea for the Soviet Union and with regard to defence forces, weaponry and nuclear power stations there.

It is vital that they get down to detailed discussions; undoubtedly, all the economies are tied in together in a detailed way. We cannot say what will come out of those discussions. If they are related to the Helsinki accords, the hon. Gentleman will recall that we did not recognise the legal annexation of those three Baltic states, but we recognised the de facto annexation.

The Helsinki accords state that borders shall never be violated and that they can be changed only by agreement. To reach such an agreement, negotiations will have to take place between the Baltic states and the federal Government of the Soviet Union. I am sure that, if they need any advice or details of patterns of devolution or patterns of how the former, almost colonial, territories become independent, we shall be in a good position to give that advice.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is it not highly unlikely, and contrary to all human experience and the lessons of history, that Mr. Gorbachev will be able to make the transition from dictator to elected leader of a democratic country? In those circumstances, would it not be unwise for us to rely on him being able to carry out his present intentions?

The Prime Minister

None of the events that have occurred would even have been started without Mikhail Gorbachevhim—it has been a fantastic achievement to get this far—and I believe and hope that he will be in a position to carry them through. It is a very unusual transition to freedom. Most demands for freedom come from the bottom, as they have done in some east European countries—for example, in Poland and Czechoslovakia—but sometimes the rulers at the top—for example, President Gorbachev, and in Hungary—have said, “Communism will not do. We must change it.” In such cases, the movement has started from the top to try to persuade the people to change to a different way of life to achieve dignity and prosperity.

I agree that this is the largest change that will ever have come about, to go from a complete dictatorship to a free society, persuading many people who are not yet ready to take responsibility that they should take it and will be able to take it and that it will bring them not only dignity but greater prosperity. I think I would be a bit more optimistic than my hon. Friend.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is not the real challenge for Mr. Gorbachev to get food into Soviet shops and consumer durable goods on to Soviet shelves? What initiative is the right hon. Lady taking, from the point of view of our Departments of State, in particular the Department of Trade and Industry, to ensure that joint ventures in every way and in every sector to realise that objective are established to expedite the transition in the Soviet economy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The people want food and more goods in the shops and not to have to queue for so long every day to get [column 148]the bare necessities of life. But that is easier to say than to do. They come here and look at our supermarkets and are absolutely amazed that it can be done.

I hope that we shall be able to help with advice on food processing, but they just do not have the structures for distribution. I refer not only to the roads and railways but to the whole infrastructure, including what is involved in getting food to wholesalers and then to retailers. They have none of that structure, and it will not be easy for them to get it.

We already have some joint ventures in the Soviet Union, as have some other European countries, and we signed two more while I was in Kiev. It is not easy for free enterprise to operate against a background of bureaucracy, when it has agreements under which it will supply part of the components to make a particular form of product and the Soviet Union will provide the others. Frequently, those which are due from the Soviet Union run very late—they are not used to doing things on time—so it is not easy to continue a joint venture and make a profit or even to plough back investments. A great deal remains to be done, and while we always give a certain formula for doing it, it is a question of translating that into practice, and that is rather more difficult.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on keeping human rights on the front burner at a time when she must have been preoccupied with matters of world peace and world economic security. Was she encouraged by the responses that she got from President Gorbachev to her questions about the future of the Russian refuseniks who have so wrongfully been refused the right to leave?

The Prime Minister

When we talked to President Gorbachev about human rights and the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate, he would say, “Look, they can go. Look at the numbers going. As far as I am concerned, there is no blockage.” Nevertheless, there are in fact a number of cases of people who cannot get out because, under the present law, they might have to obtain the signed agreement of some of their relatives, and that is not always forthcoming.

Refuseniks with whom I had a meal and a meeting told me that some of them had been trying to get out for nearly 15 years and that their exit visas had been blocked. We have put their cases to the Soviet Union and it is clear that another law has still to go through the Supreme Soviet, which is what President Bush is waiting for in return for his trade agreement. We must look carefully at that law to see that it will gain the exit visas of those who have wanted to come out for so long.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her concern with the refuseniks and especially for her visit to Babi Yar, and for her staunch support for the effort to have our war crimes legislation changed, which she has reiterated today. Did she discuss the worries about the anti-Semitic activities of Pamyat with President Gorbachev, and if so, what did he reply?

The Prime Minister

I did not discuss them on this occasion, but I have talked about them on previous occasions. At that time we were pleading for more synagogues to be able to have their normal times of worship and the usual equipment and apparatus that they need for them. I have also talked to Mr. Gorbachev about [column 149]the increasing freedom of speech that has been given to the Soviet Union, which has, alas, brought out many hatreds and much venom. When meeting some of the refuseniks before, I learned that many of them are having a much more difficult time now than before. That has led to many Jewish people applying to leave the Soviet Union who would never have wanted to leave because it has been their home for generations; some of them are fearful for the future and for their children's future.

This is one of the great tragedies: freedom can be used sometimes for good and sometimes for evil. We have raised this matter on previous occasions, and of course I spoke to the present refuseniks about it.

Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)

Following my right hon. Friend's visit to the Ukraine and Armenia, does she feel able to share with the House any assessment that she has made of the strength of demand for more self-determination in those and other republics; and how does she address Britain's interest? Is it served by the retention and maintenance of a strong unitary Soviet Union or by the flourishing of a greater independence?

The Prime Minister

It is obvious, as one goes about and sees many people after two or three years of increasing freedom of speech and an increasing capacity to vote for different people and even for different parties, that many aspiring politicians have come to the fore and are now real politicians who want to exercise real power and real responsibility. It is obvious that, in the republics, they are seeking far greater devolution of powers than they have now.

The trouble is that the centralisation of powers in Moscow has been total. Although they have had Governments in the republics, they have not really been able to set their own budgets or exercise much power. Undoubtedly, as I saw in the Ukraine and elsewhere, they want a clear sign of what powers remain with the federation and what powers go to the separate republics. There are many models from which they can choose; they can look at the United States, Canadian or Australian models—[Laughter.]—or at our own. They have in fact to learn to make a constitutional law for the first time. That comes easier to us; we have made such laws for many countries, and we too could help the republics if they wanted that. There is a strong move towards more powers for the separate republics.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

In view of President Gorbachev 's considerable movement of position towards a united Germany, why is the Prime Minister stubbornly insisting that a united Germany must be a full member of NATO and its integrated military structure? Instead of continuing an outdated but nevertheless potentially dangerous confrontation between nuclear powers, would it not be better to work out a coherent and more positive strategy for all European security, involving the Soviet Union and eastern European countries, and to work towards a nuclear-free Germany, a nuclear-free Europe and eventually a nuclear-free world?

The Prime Minister

To borrow a phrase that has been used several times, first on this side of the Atlantic and then on the other, if one had alliances with no nuclear weapons, one would be making Europe free for [column 150]conventional war. Everyone should know that conventional weapons, however strong, are not enough to stop war. We knew that from world war 1 and world war 2. Since the end of the last war, we have had the longest period of peace in Europe for centuries. That has been achieved because nuclear weapons have stopped any war, and they have therefore been the greatest guardians of the peace. I believe that we must keep them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to have regard for the subsequent business. I shall allow questions to continue for a further 10 minutes—that will allow a full hour of questions to the Prime Minister—and then we must go on.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

During the Prime Minister's successful visit to the Soviet Union, did she and President Gorbachev discuss the possibility of a visit by Her Majesty the Queen?

The Prime Minister

We did not discuss it on this occasion. We have it in mind for a future occasion.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

The Prime Minister gave an interesting response to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on his question about Trident, on which she touched during her speech. In the light of the decision of President Bush not to modernise the Lance missile, and given the fact that the technology for Trident comes from the United States, has she envisaged a situation in which President Bush and Mr. Gorbachev might decide upon the fate of the Trident missile? Is that not a good enough reason, among other reasons, for us to participate in overall negotiations for the reduction of nuclear weapons?

The Prime Minister

No. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the association between the United States and this country over atomic weapons is of very long standing. In negotiations, it has always staunchly stuck up for our view point and for the special relationship that it has with us. We shall need United States technology for the modernisation of Trident, as we needed it for the delivery mechanism of Trident. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the nuclear warhead is our production.

Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm the rumour that, during several hours of talks, President Gorbachev did not once use the word “socialism” ? If so, next time she sees him, will she ask President Gorbachev to make available someone from his office to come to London to see whether similar enlightenment can be injected into the Labour party?

The Prime Minister

We were talking pretty nearly all the time about the economy—the free market economy, the necessary changes, its desirability—and I cannot remember one reference to socialism. That is because President Gorbachev is looking to the future.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Can the Prime Minister throw light on press reports about the much-needed £7 billion aid package to the Soviet Union from the western countries? If so, what part do she, her Government and British business expect to play in this? Would not her efforts be better directed at such an aim rather than at modernisation of nuclear weapons, which every opinion poll in West Germany shows the German people do not want on their soil?

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The Prime Minister

It is always difficult to throw light on any press reports. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a report to which I partially referred—that there has been talk of West Germany helping considerably with finances to the Soviet Union, particularly for the considerable number of troops that are in East Germany, which would have to stay for a transitional period and then move back to different quarters in the Soviet Union, and possibly adding some more to that. We do it through our know-how agreements with eastern European countries as well. There is also a line of credit.

The hon. Gentleman denigrates nuclear weapons, but it is only because this country was staunch on the stationing of nuclear weapons and on Pershing and cruise and then President Reagan was staunch on the strategic defence initiative that, finally, the Soviet Union was made to realise that it could never win on the latest technology of military machines. It was that staunchness that brought the Soviets to that realisation. It would be far better to try to improve the Soviet economic performance by a market economy than carry on with the terrible dead hand of socialism.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

During the course of her most successful visit, did my right hon. Friend have the chance to discuss with President Gorbachev the western frontier of the Soviet Union—that part that takes in the piece of Poland that the Soviet Union won through the disgraceful Soviet-Nazi German pact of 1939? Did she perhaps suggest to him that, since it is now 50 years since the war ended, it is time for the Soviet Union to give up any vestige or gain that came from the disagreeable agreement between those countries? Could I press my right hon. Friend a shade further——

Mr. Speaker

No. One question, please; more than that is not fair.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

May I ask whether my right hon. Friend discussed with President Gorbachev allowing that part of Poland a measure of self-determination?

The Prime Minister

No. We did not go further than discussing the Baltic states. Inevitably one makes reference to the western part of the Ukraine, which also came from Poland as part of the 1939 agreement. That part that came from Poland consisted of Ukrainians who previously came from the Ukraine, and they were probably pleased to get back to the Ukraine.

My hon. Friend knows that the history of central Europe has been a turbulent one and much land has been first the possession of one country and then another. The point of the Helsinki accord signed in 1975 was to stabilise existing frontiers and not to change them at all except by agreement. That is why we have said that, obviously, negotiations must start with the Baltic states. I do not know of any suggested change of the western Ukranian border. I have not heard of any because itself was partly in Poland, then in the Ukraine, then in Poland, then in the Ukraine. I am afraid that there have been many difficult periods in that territory.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

When the Prime Minister was in the Soviet Union selling second-hand capitalism, did she explain to the ordinary working-class people of that country about the cardboard city in the heart of London, about the hundreds of [column 152]thousands of young people in this country who turn to the blind alley of drugs, about the universal hatred of the poll tax, or about the millions of ordinary, decent working-class families in this country for whom capitalism cannot provide a decent standard of living? Is she aware that the one thing she has in common with President Gorbachev is that, if they stood this week for direct election, neither of them would have a chance of winning?

The Prime Minister

Second-hand capitalism is infinitely more valuable than first-hand socialism, which gives a rotten deal to the ordinary citizen. It denies them freedom and prosperity. People came to the British exhibition in the Ukraine, which was a carefully researched exhibition of a person working in a factory and his wife, the housing in which they lived and the goods and car that they had. Those who visited the exhibition were absolutely amazed; they said that the truth had been kept from them and that if that was capitalism, they wanted it.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

During her very successful visit, was the Prime Minister able to give any assurance to Mr. Gorbachev that Britain would not sign any treaty incorporating East Germany into the European Economic Community if the automatic consequence of that would be to erect the common external tariff and import levies between East Germany and east Europe? Does she agree that any such move would hold back freedom of trade instead of improving it because at present east Europe uses the inner-German trade agreement to facilitate trade? Was she able to give any assurance on that important issue for people?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend never misses an opportunity. As he knows, the unification of Germany will come about through article 23, under which the people of East Germany can apply automatically to join West Germany. I agree that that will cause us problems with the goods from East Germany, which are essentially still made under the Communist system, highly subsidised and without any of the structure of a market economy. We have to be wary of those. In addition, we must make special arrangements and establish a transition period for the common agricultural policy. We hope that those derogations will be as short as possible, but goods from communist countries made under a completely different set of rules cannot circulate freely in the Community.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

The Prime Minister rightly places heavy emphasis on the importance of NATO, but does she accept that France is a member of the treaty, not of the organisation, which creates some difficulty for NATO in carrying out its operations?

Will the Prime Minister seriously reconsider the problems of institutionalising the CSCE? Europe already has institutions, such as the Council of Europe, the Western European Union and the EEC, but the difference between them and an institutionalised CSCE is that, in those other institutions, parliaments are represented, whereas in an institutionalised CSCE only Governments will be represented, and that would mean a serious diminution in the democratic nature of the discussions that would take place.

The Prime Minister

France left the military structure of NATO under de Gaulle, and NATO's headquarters moved from Paris to Brussels. I have always thought that that was a retrograde move and hoped that one day France [column 153]would rejoin. However, we exercise increasingly frequently with French troops and co-operation with NATO is improving greatly, but it is not a recipe that I would advise anyone else to follow.

The CSCE is the only structure in all those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned which embraces the western Atlantic countries—the United States and Canada—right across to the Soviet Union. The others do not. Therefore, we think it much better for its Foreign Ministers to meet more regularly so that America the Soviet Union and the European countries—Nordic countries, west European and central European countries—can meet together. I do not think that it would be possible to have a great amalgam of parliamentary occasions—35 countries would be far too many. I have not forgotten the role of the Council of Europe. It is evident that east European countries—Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia—could be ready to join the Council of Europe long before they were ready to join the EC.