Orders of the Day — Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th July 1970.

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Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham 12:00 am, 6th July 1970

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to take up two particular issues to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in his speech.

First, the one with which the right hon. Gentleman concluded: the war—it is idle now to use any other word—raging in the Middle East. Here, at any rate, there is no difference between the general lines of policy outlined by the right hon. Gentleman and those which we pursued—namely, that the bare bones are the Security Council Resolution and what so far has been added to it; that it is important, through the work of the four or the two Powers to put more flesh on those bones to enable Dr. Jarring to resume his work; and that meanwhile we must endeavour to avoid any action which would tip the balance dangerously one way or the other in the Middle East. Those were policies which the last Government set out to the House, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is of the same mind.

The second issue to which I refer is our approach to the European Economic Community; naturally I refer to it only briefly. I was grateful to the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson). We now see the process of negotiation beginning. I think that it is common ground throughout the House that any British Government were right to open the negotiations and to negotiate in good faith and in good hope of getting fair terms, mindful of British interests and of the great advantages that could come both to Britain and to the countries now in the Community if fair terms could be obtained.

I must add two comments. Was it helpful to our negotiating position with the Six for the Prime Minister, during the General Election, to give the impression that this country was facing a grave economic crisis? After the exchange between the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) the other day, it was clear that there was no foundation in that suggestion. It was unfortunate that it should be made at any time, and particularly unfortunate at a time when it might have damaged important international negotiations. I say "might have damaged" because I do not believe that the countries with which we are negotiating believed this melancholy account of our economy.

Another comment I should make about our approach to the European Economic Community is that it is accepted that one of the serious problems with which we shall have to deal is the effect on our balance of payments of entry into the Community. What used to be called the east of Suez policy of the party opposite will undoubtedly add to the burden of our overseas payments. We had hoped, therefore, to be told a little more about how much was involved in this policy. We are told that the Government are considering it and that the Government will discuss it; but this was not the language they used about it in opposition. They were then clearly committing us to overseas expenditure which would certainly not be consistent with an attempt to enter the European Economic Community at the present time.

I wish to make quite clear that we welcome this and certain other retreats by the Government from some of the matters that they proclaimed in opposition. Wisdom is coming and perhaps will grow with experience.

Having mentioned the Middle East and our approach to the Community, I now turn to look at the general world scene. The Prime Minister, last Thursday, said that what was wanted for foreign policy was a modern and broadly based assessment of where British interests lie."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 79.] I accept that the traditional definition of the purpose of foreign policy is the defence of British interests if those British interests are sufficiently broadly assessed. The Prime Minister, in the latter part of his speech, seemed to hint at that when he pointed out that our overwhelming interest is in the maintenance of world peace.

But where do the biggest threats to world peace come from? I am speaking now not of particular areas, but of the forces which are loose in the world. If we are to maintain the peace of the world we have, first, got to secure less tension between East and West and secondly, we have to secure reconciliation and good will between the white and coloured sections of mankind. The latter is more important because the classification of white and coloured overlaps to a great degree with the classification into richer and poorer and with the classification into older nations and those which have newly come to independence.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned certain permanent features in British foreign policy. The right hon. Gentleman said that our geographical position remained unchanged. We derived a certain reassurance from this. He also said that out size, our population, remained unchanged. But, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, where he was a little defective in imagination was not in noticing the dynamic nature of the forces that now sway human events. The East/West conflict is an example of the coincidence of conflict between ideologies and rivalries between great Powers such as we have not seen since the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

We have a situation in which, of the rival ideologies which compete for men's allegiance, each has as its supporter an enormous power and a group of considerable allies. The white and coloured conflict is something new in its present form in the history of the world. These are not the kind of questions with which Britain has always had to deal. They are questions of the mid-twentieth century, and I want to take first this question of the tension between East and West.

It has gone on ever since the end of the war. Sometimes the tension has been acute to danger point. Sometimes there have been signs of relaxation and of hope. If we look at the present situation, we find evidence on both sides. We cannot forget or ignore the misfortunes of the people of Czechoslovakia, but we must also notice some of the things which the right hon. Gentleman himself rehearsed. There has been a series of events, the first of which—one which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention—I would put as the drafting, the signing and the coming into force of the nonproliferation treaty, in which Great Britain played so considerable a part. It was on the basis of that treaty that it was possible to proceed to the talks now going on between America and Russia on strategic arms limitation, because when the treaty was being drafted one of the difficulties experienced in getting the agreement of the non-nuclear Powers was that they kept saying, "If we are asked to remain non-nuclear, what are the great nuclear Powers going to do about their enormous stockpiles?"

Out of those discussions came the undertaking to do something, of which the talks now proceeding between America and Russia are the present sign. We have those talks. We have the talks in which Germany is engaged, and the talks over Berlin, in which the allied Powers are engaged. In that situation, both optimist and pessimist can find some evidence to support his view. In that situation, surely the nature of British policy, and, so far as she can influence it, that of her allies in N.A.T.O., must be an exact balance of defence and of conciliation.

On defence, it cannot be doubted that up to date Britain has deserved well of N.A.T.O. The right hon. Gentleman referred to events in the Mediterranean and to the N.A.T.O. reaction to them. One can add to that that Britain played a very considerable part in contributing to the measures taken in N.A.T.O. in view of the increase in Soviet forces in the Mediterranean. When my right hon. Friend, the previous Secretary of State for Defence, presented to the House the last White Paper on Defence it was claimed there, and not disputed, that the forces we contribute to N.A.T.O. in Europe are at least as well, possibly better equipped, better trained and better able to do their job than the forces of any country in Europe.

If we add up all the contributions that we make to N.A.T.O. in land, sea and air forces, it cannot be claimed that we are doing less than is required of us in view of our size and our resources, but if we are to have added to that an indefinite commitment in men, in naval craft, and in overseas exchange for an east of Suez policy, the Government who do that ought to examine the position carefully to ensure that they do not endanger the vital contribution that we are making to N.A.T.O.

The previous Government carried out faithfully the defence part of this task, but they were not idle in the task of conciliation. The right hon. Gentleman referred to some of the exchanges which there had been between the Warsaw Pact countries and the countries in N.A.T.O. on the question of European security. I should like to add one or two things to what the right hon. Gentleman said. Two years ago, at Reykjavik, there was a proposal by N.A.T.O. that the two sides should discuss a mutual and balanced reduction of forces in Europe. Later there was a proposal—though admittedly it was a revival of something that had been said earlier by the Warsaw Pact countries—for a European security conference, and that proposal was considered at the conference of N.A.T.O. last December.

At that conference there were, I think, two objections which the N.A.T.O. Powers saw to the Warsaw Pact's proposal for a European security conference as it then stood. First, it made no mention of any discussions of actual reductions of forces. Its agenda was very limited. It might have been said that this would be a conference simply to enable the Soviet Union to secure what she wanted and then wind up the conference. There was also the feeling that there had been insufficient preparation, but it was very much the previous Government's view at that N.A.T.O. meeting last December that, while we could not accept the proposal as it stood, it would be a great error to return a flat "No" and nothing else, and it was particularly at Britain's instance that N.A.T.O. undertook, since it could not accept the exact procedures offered by the Soviet Union, to examine what procedures would do.

It was that which got us, at the recent N.A.T.O. meeting in May, to a position where we were able to send out a message to every country in Europe; where we took the idea of preparation for a conference and set out more definitely and precisely what we meant by it; and to put forward also the concept—and this again was in the first instance a British proposal—for a standing commission on East-West relations. I believe that this concept of a standing commission, or some kind of permanent body, is important, because the points in dispute and argument between East and West are not such as can all be solved at one conference. The Geneva Disarmament Conference would never have produced results if it had been one formal conference to come to an end at a definite time. It was because it was a continuing permanent body that it produced, and I believe will continue to produce, results.

That was as far as we got at the N.A.T.O. meeting in May, but I see that more recently there has been a reply from the Warsaw Pact countries containing, not an exact agreement to our proposals—any more than we agreed exactly to theirs—but an answer which accepts, at any rate in principle, the idea of a permanent body, or standing commission, and an acceptance—though again within a framework suitable to them—of discussions on mutual and balanced force reductions.

It seems to me once again that if the Government—any Government; any Government in N.A.T.O.—feel that the present word from the Warsaw Pact countries is not adequate, it will not be sufficient merely to say "No". We have had one proposal from their side, which we amended. They have made further amendment. It is not over-optimistic to say that there is some movement together, and this, it seems to me, is the opportunity which faces N.A.T.O., and Britain within N.A.T.O., at the present time. No one can say whether we shall really be successful in the task of conciliation. No one Government can command success on this. But we must surely realise that a generation is growing up that is asking itself: has the future nothing better to offer us than two powerful armed camps glaring at each other across the immense walls of armaments that they have piled up? It may be that with the best will in the world, and with all the imagination and skill that can be commanded, the countries of N.A.T.O. will not be able to do better. What would be unforgivable would be for them not to try with all their strength.

The tide between cold war and conciliation has flowed this way and that for 20 years and more. I do not think it over-optimistic to say that that tide is now moving in the direction of conciliation, and it is of vital importance not to lose that tide.

I now turn to the other great issue facing the world—the complex of race and poverty and the rise of nations recently independent. Many of these new nations are now looking with great interest at the behaviour of the older, more powerful countries—ourselves, the United States, the countries of the Community, the Soviet Union and China. It is our hope that they will—with whatever changes of form are necessary to suit their needs—choose democratic forms of government and policies that will promote peace and conciliation.

But what are some of the questions that they will ask? One may imagine the statesmen of one of these newer countries saying, "What is this democracy that you talk about? We know it means the Speaker's Chair, the Mace, the wig, the copy of Erskine May, and this and that, but is it any more than that? Is it any more than procedure? Can these forms of democracy be used to solve social injustices and economic problems?" It will be partly for us and the older democracies to show that we can do that, if we want the world to move in that direction—because when considering a matter like this people pay no attention to precept; they simply study example.

The kind of man that I have in mind will also ask, "Is your democracy for people of all races in your country?" I believe that it is the desire of the Government, at any rate—as it is certainly our desire—that that should be so, but one cannot speak on this matter without referring to what I may call the Jekyll and Hyde problem inside the party opposite on all these questions of race. If we want the newer countries of the world to feel that their lot lies with democratic freedoms rather than with dictatorship it is very much to be hoped on this question Dr. Jekyll will be triumphant.

There is some reason for anxiety in connection with two problems—first, Rhodesia and, secondly, the sale of arms to South Africa. The Government say that they will make another attempt to solve the Rhodesian problem by discussion. I must remind them that we went a very long way indeed. I have not yet found anyone who could show how we could go further without destroying the six principles themselves.

I see a danger if those who now dominate Rhodesia are led to suppose that every time they say "No" a British Government will say, "Oh, well, we must try again and make another effort". If they believe that that is the temper of mind of a British Government there is no reason why they should budge an inch; they have merely to wait until position after position is surrendered to them. But if the Government stand by their assurance that they will not abandon the six principles they must make good up to the hilt what was said in Answers at Question Time today about the maintenance of sanctions while any discussions are on, and surely they must make it clear that if discussions fail sanctions will be rigidly maintained; indeed, I should have thought it right for the Government to say, "The time is ripe for us to consider in the United Nations, and particularly with some of the great industrial countries, how sanctions could be made still more effective".

My own view was that the time was ripe to say that in any case, but if it is proposed to make a further approach to Ian Smith it should be made very clear to him that unless, in the end, he or somebody who can answer for the power in Rhodesia can make an agreement consistent with the six principles, sanctions will be maintained and, as far as possible, increased. I see some hon. Members opposite smile, as they always do at the mention of sanctions. Here again, if we want peace in the world and good relations between white and coloured we shall have to pin what faith we can to Dr. Jekyll opposite.

On the other issue, of South African arms, I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman has been a little less robust than we had expected. After all, 2½ years ago the whole party opposite voted against the Government on this very proposition. I presume that they meant by their vote that if they were in power they would alter the policy. Moreover, this was rubbed in by spokesmen for the party opposite during the election campaign. Now they say—and again I welcome it—"We must think of what the rest of the Commonwealth will think about it". Quite right—but I wish that they had thought that before. It was surely an elementary consideration the moment one began to talk about the subject.

The right hon. Gentleman tried to set this—and apparently will persist in trying to set it—solely in the context of the Simonstown Agreement. But let us notice that the policy pursued by the last Government was pursued from 1964 onwards for a total of nearly six years, and that at no time during that period did the South African Government seek to abrogate the agreement. It cannot be maintained that the supply of arms to South Africa is an obligation placed on this country by virtue of the Simonstown Agreement. In view of the terms of the agreement, and of South Africa's own attitude, the argument that, because of the Simonstown Agreement, we must sell arms to South Africa will not stand up.