Nato and United Nations Meetings

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1978.

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Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:00 am, 6th June 1978

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on my visits last week to Washington for the North Atlantic Council meeting, and to New York to address the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. Copies of the NATO communiqué, with accompanying documents on the NATO study of East-West relations, and on the Long-Term Defence Programme, and of my speech to the United Nations, have been placed in the Library.

The North Atlantic Council meeting took place against a background of concern about world economic problems and about the state of East-West relations. There was agreement that the strength of our defence in NATO is related to the strength of our economies, and on the need for the major industrial nations at the forthcoming summit at Bonn to stimulate economic recovery.

Our discussion of East-West relations was based on a study undertaken since our meeting in London last year. The communiqué makes clear that we remain determined to pursue as constructive and positive a relationship as possible with the Soviet Union and the other East European countries". We discussed the reasons for the decline in confidence since the Helsinki Conference in 1975. Among them are human rights and the unacceptability of continued Soviet and Cuban exploitation of particular factors of instability in Africa.

I expressed my appreciation of the humanitarian operation which the French and Belgian Governments undertook to safeguard the lives of their and our citizens in the Shaba province of Zaire. But there is no intention that NATO should become involved in Africa. Instead, we emphasised that situations of instability and regional conflict in the developing world should not be viewed exclusively in an East-West context, and we reaffirmed the importance we attached to encouraging peaceful settlements through negotiation by the countries and regional organisations themselves.

In response to the unremitting growth in Soviet military capability, the allied leaders endorsed the results of work on the long-term defence programme which they had commissioned following President Carter's initiative at the London meeting a year ago. The alliance now has a clear guide to the improvements on which its members should concentrate and co-operate in defence plans for the years ahead. In our own case, the Government's decision, in line with others, to increase defence spending by 3 per cent. in real terms in each of the next two years enables us to play our full part in this programme, which should lead to greater co-operation in research and production between the allies.

I emphasised that both our security and good economic sense give us the strongest interest in controlling increases in armaments and securing a measure of disarmament. The NATO countries are committed to following this approach. But progress depends on a positive attitude on the part of the Warsaw Pact countries. In this connection I proposed, and it was agreed, that we should be ready to give renewed political impetus to the MBFR negotiations, by lifting these long-drawn-out negotiations to Foreign Minister level at an appropriate moment. It was also agreed, on my suggestion, that we should make fuller use of the alliance machinery for consultation on arms control and disarmament issues. This will be valuable as a means of following up the results of the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament.

In my speech to the United Nations I made clear that so long as it is necessary to strengthen our defences in the alliance we shall do so. But we should prefer, and will work for, maintaining security at diminishing levels of armed force by means of multilateral, balanced and verified agreements on arms control. We also need—and this can be done straight away —greater restraint by Governments in the use of armed force as an instrument of foreign policy. I emphasised the need for renewed efforts to bring existing negotiations to a successful conclusion.

As an earnest of our own intentions I was able to tell the Assembly that in the interests of achieving early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty, we were ready to put forward new proposals in the tripartite negotiations in Geneva. In my view these should open up the way to rapid progress on the outstanding issues. I stressed the central importance of a SALT II agreement if the world is to be saved from the risks of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race. I believe that such an agreement can be reached.

I also gave an outline of the new initiatives which the Government consider could be taken. These include the provision, with other nuclear Powers, of far-reaching and permanent assurances to the non-nuclear States that nuclear weapons will not be used against them; the establishment of further nuclear weapon-free zones; the encouragement of those States which prefer not to adhere to the nonproliferation treaty to accept full-scale safeguards on their nuclear facilities and how to work towards restraint of nuclear armouries in Europe.

I also put forward suggestions for improving the control of conventional armaments and for increasing regional security by such means as the further exchange of information and of observers, and technical means of surveillance; agreement on restricting conventional arms sales; and a United Nations study covering the problems of peace-keeping and of converting arms production facilities to civil purposes.

Through these and other specific, practical steps the members of the United Nations could put into effect a programme of action on which we should be called to account at a further special session which, I suggested. should take place in 1981. I found a wide measure of support for this approach, and not only from close friends and allies. Our delegation to the special session will now work to achieve a consensus on a final document which will mark our commitment, state our objectives and provide machinery for achieving a safer world.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

May I put two questions to the Prime Minister, one concerning the NATO summit and the other about the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament? Why, when the United States is beginning to take the lead in pursuing a more robust policy towards Soviet expansionism in Africa, does the Prime Minister fail so pointedly to support it? Is he not aware that, by playing down the Soviet threat and failing to support a determined Western response, he is indirectly encouraging the Russians to continue their African incursions?

Secondly, I refer to the Prime Minister's speech to the Special Session on Disarmament and to that part of it in which he referred to his preference for each Government reducing its armaments as it perceived its adversary reducing its. How does the right hon. Gentleman justify the action of his Government in reducing and unilaterally cutting the United Kingdom defence budget by nearly £10,000 million?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

We have already dealt with the first question during Question Time today. There is no question that the United States wishes to be directly involved in military intervention in Africa, and it is reckless of the right hon. Lady even to suggest that it might so wish. Our policies are closely related and both of us fully appreciate the nature of the Soviet threat and of the response that has to be made to it.

As regards reducing United Kingdom armaments, we have done so over a period and now we have decided that it is necessary to increase them again by 3 per cent., in line with our NATO allies—

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

That shows that you reduced them too much.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It shows that over the past two or three years we have been able to make an economic gain by so doing. However, we are ready to meet whatever threat arises. The Soviet Union fully understands that, but it also understands that the Government are not anti-Soviet for its own sake. We intend to live with the Soviet Union in the world and not to set up an artificial confrontation with it.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is strong support from Labour Benches, at any rate, for his clear recognition of the dangers of a commitment to certain African societies merely because they seem to exhibit a strong anti-Soviet line?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes. As I have pointed out—this was the only difference, I think, between myself and some of the American Administration, but not all of it by any means—these matters should not be construed in an East-West context exclusively. It is obvious that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has not read the NATO communiqué where my words are completely reproduced—namely, that these matters should not be viewed exclusively in an East-West context. If the Opposition persist in that line, they will be doing great damage to Britain as well as to their own prospects.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomery

Was there any discussion between NATO leaders at the NATO summit with regard to Africa on the desirability of having a formal exchange of views with the Chinese on the Russian-Cuban involvement in Africa?

As for the disarmament proposals at the United Nations, will the Prime Minister give the House his view on the real impediments to the total and complete implementation of the nuclear test ban treaty?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

There was no discussion about China at the NATO summit. As NATO does not propose to concern itself as an alliance with issues that are outside Europe and outside its present boundaries, whatever its involvement, there would clearly be no attempt on its part to have discussions with China.

Two issues have been standing in the way of the conclusion of a comprehensive test ban treaty. One issue is whether the treaty should be for a period or should be permanent. The second issue is that of verification—whether there should be international inspection and the question of what can be done to ensure that the treaty is being carried out. I believe that the first issue can now be settled and that the second may be overcome.

Photo of Mr Roderick MacFarquhar Mr Roderick MacFarquhar , Belper

In view of my right hon. Friend's statement that NATO will not get involved in outside issues as such, will he explain the status of the talks at official level under the French aegis about Zaire and state his views on the role of Western assistance to African nations by providing permanent forces there?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The talks yesterday were called for the purpose of discussing what should be done to help Zaire's economic problems. That does not mean necessarily the existing regime, although at present that seems to be the only regime. The talks included such matters as food aid, fuel supplies, vehicles spares, medicines and longer-term economic aid. There will be another meeting on 13th June and 14th June—it was planned some time ago—in respect of longer-term assistance to Zaire.

There is no Western policy on general assistance to other African countries. There are Western attitudes, but that is a different matter. Each case will have to be considered on its merits when the time comes.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torbay

Will the Prime Minister say a word or two more about the Paris talks? Surely the talks were concerned not merely with Zaire and short-term or even long-term assistance but with whether there were feasibilities of managing to arrange a more widely representative pan-African force that would be able to intervene in situations such as that which has arisen during the past few days? The Prime Minister's remarks did not seem to give any indication that that is what took place at Paris yesterday. Surely that did take place.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I was reporting what was agreed. There was no agreement on the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises. One Government were concerned about the matter but there was no agreement on it.

Photo of Mr John Watkinson Mr John Watkinson , Gloucestershire West

Was it generally accepted that there should be no linkage between problems in Africa and developments of the SALT II talks? Is there general agreement that the delay on MBFR talks is linked with the delay on SALT talks? Does my right hon. Friend's proposal to lift MBFR talks to Foreign Minister level have broad acceptance on the Western side? Has the proposal been put to the Russians?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

There is no linkage in Government policy between the general issue of detente and the completion of SALT II. The President of the United States has made clear to me and, I believe, has subsequently made public that he would not propose to delay an agreement on the present strategic arms limitation talks any longer than is necessary to iron out existing difficulties. I am sure that the House will approve of that. As for the relationship between MBFR talks and SALT II, it is fair to say that because of the concentration of the Soviet Union and the United States upon their strategic arms limitation talks we have not been able to make much progress on MBFR. We are now reaching the prospect of a successful conclusion of SALT II, which I believe will happen this year. We may now begin to raise the level of the MBFR talks. That is why I suggested that Foreign Ministers should take that in hand. There was general agreement on that proposal, and that was reflected in the communiqué.

Photo of Mr Maurice Macmillan Mr Maurice Macmillan , Farnham

In emphasising that the situation in Africa must not be seen in terms of an East-West conflict—

Photo of Mr Maurice Macmillan Mr Maurice Macmillan , Farnham

—exclusively, is the Prime Minister seeking to tell the House that Russian policy in Africa is not being carried out deliberately to weaken the European strength on which Africa largely depends and thus to threaten the whole Western economy?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Gentleman will understand why I interpolated "exclusively". These matters are not mutually exclusive. It is clear that there are severe problems in Africa, as I explained earlier at Question Time. It is also clear that the Soviet Union and the Cubans will, as always, take opportunistic advantage of the problems. It is far better for the West and other friends of Africa to devote themselves to trying to help Africa solve the basic problems than to deal with the symptoms.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his support for the concept of a United Nations peacekeeping reserve will be much welcomed? However, is he aware that his rather half-apologetic excuse for British arms sales around the world was not so satisfactory? Will he review the Government's policy in that issue?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says about the peacekeeping force. I made no halfhearted statements about arms sales by Britain. We account for 5 per cent. of the world's arms sales. Let those who account for 95 per cent. of arms sales account for themselves. It is true and clear, as must be apparent to my hon. Friend, that to withdraw arms sales from any particular area would not permanently leave a vacuum. It would encourage others to enter the vacuum. That is why I suggested that there should be a conference—I hope that it will be a technical conference, although it will have political overtones—between the major suppliers of arms and the recipients of arms, who are constantly asking for arms, to ascertain whether we can reach any agreement. It is a difficult matter, but we would be prepared to enter into it constructively. That is why I went on to say that we would welcome a study of how to convert some parts of our armaments production to civil uses throughout the world.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

How does the Prime Minister believe that further Russian and Cuban aggression in Africa should be prevented? I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that we should pay attention to the basic causes and not to the symptoms. If that is to be our approach, may not further Cuban and Russian aggression deny us the opportunity of dealing with the basic cause?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The hon. Gentleman is drawing attention to a real dilemma. It is one from which I do not try to escape. We need the help of all—I hope not especially on a party basis—to try to solve the problem. I am trying to get some balance into the argument—at times that has been singularly missing—and to suggest in discussion with African countries—not exclusively with European countries—how we can solve these problems. I have been alarmed at the reactions of some of the African countries at what has taken place so far. I am glad that we have been able to interpolate a note of sanity.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest obstacle preventing progress on balanced force reductions is the disagreement between the Powers about numbers? Therefore, will he now go all out to secure the appointment of official military observers so that there may be some basic agreement about the discussions and the numbers upon which those discussions should be based?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

There is a growing exchange of observers to promote confidence building between the two sides—the Warsaw Pact and the NATO countries. We have been very glad to notify the Soviet Union of some of our own manoeuvres and it in turn has notified us of some of its. We must remember that we are living in a powder keg situation. There can be no room for taking propagandist attitudes.

On the question of numbers, we have had disclosure by the Soviet Union of the total numbers of their troops, and we have disclosed ours. But there is an inevitable argument whether they are of the same categories. I suggested to the United Nations, as one of the issues which could be followed up, complete disclosure of military budgets as a start. I do not believe that the Soviet Union and others have disclosed their budgets completely. We have. I said that we were willing to take part in a test bed experiment if a number of countries would do so in order that we could have a complete exchange of our expenditure on these matters. I have been both impressed and depressed by the consequences—the possibilities—of another arms race unless we get some agreement on these issues. That is why I am trying not to raise the temperature with the Soviet Union or anybody else, but to lower it.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

At the NATO summit what emphasis did the Prime Minister put upon the threat to minerals in Southern Africa and to the sea routes round the continent of Africa?

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Will my right hon. Friend consider sympathetically the French proposals for a realistic and limited approach to disarmament based on a series of regional agreements, which some of us consider more likely to be successful than the prolonged and generalised discussions which have dragged on over the years?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I understand that the French proposal is that the present talks which are going on, which concern central Europe, should be extended to cover Europe from the Urals to the Atlantic. We are having enough problems at the moment with Central Europe. I should not by any means rule out the French proposal but I do not think that it should supplant what we are trying to do now. In my speech at the United Nations I said that we should be glad to have further talks with the French Government on this matter.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Bromley Orpington

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is the chronic instability of many regimes in Africa that makes so dangerous the presence there of a Communist army which is prepared to intervene on one side or another? Apart from all that waffle, what are the Prime Minister and his colleagues going to do about it?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am aware that it is the chronic instability of a number of these regimes which is causing the problem, but it is much easier to analyse the problem than to prescribe the remedy. I should be very glad to have suggestions from the hon. Gentleman. We are continuing to study the matter.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition frequently has instant solutions for problems. Perhaps we shall have a referendum on this subject. What I was anxious to do and succeeded in doing last week was to point out that these were extremely complex problems and that we needed a longer time in which to decide our attitude rather than to make an instant response. That is the view that the other countries take, and that is what our present discussions are concerned with. But let there be no doubt on the part of the Soviet Union—indeed, that there is no doubt has been conveyed both publicly and privately by me—that what is happening in Africa in the build up of arms and on human rights is bound to jeopardise further progress of detente. They understand that and they, too, must take this into account.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to allow questions until 4 o'clock. There are two Standing Order No. 9 applications to come and a Ten-Minute Bill before we get to the main business. If those who are called will ask quick questions, I can get others in.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

May not the Special Session of the United Nations be our last chance to halt the arms race? As the aim is disarmament, is it not distinctly unhelpful if, at the same moment, NATO is calling for still greater arms expenditure and some of its leaders, like the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, are constantly sniping at detente?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not know whether this is the last chance, but certainly I see signs of an arms race developing. If we do not get a SALT II agreement, I think that it would be catastrophic for the economies both of the Soviet Union and of the United States. That is why I insist on the necessity for this agreement. I agree that it looks a little odd that we should be increasing our arms expenditure at this time, but the Russians understand perfectly why we are doing it. They know that there is a disparity, although they do not admit it. It is important that when we have a balance in the world, as we have at present, the Soviet Union should understand that we intend to maintain the balance, that we are willing to reduce that balance at any time, but that our will cannot be doubted about the necessity for maintaining a proper, defensive stance. We intend to do that.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

Will the Prime Minister reaffirm the view that he expressed earlier—that the problems of Africa should be solved solely by the Africans? If so, what proposals will he put forward either at the United Nations or at NATO for the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and Soviet troops from Ethiopia?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes, Sir. This is not only my view but the view of the Organisation of African Unity. It laid down this principle in the middle 1950s. I am interested to find that there is growing concern in Africa about the presence of Cuban troops. With respect, I do not need to say anything more this afternoon about my attitude on Cuban advisers or on troops in Africa. That has been made utterly clear to the Cuban Government and elsewhere. The question is, how do we persuade them to leave?

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow

In view of the need to make it clear that we have no intention whatsoever of returning to cold war postures, will my right hon. Friend make clear to the House that it is still our intention to reduce the percentage of our GNP spent on defence at least to the average of that spent by our partners in NATO?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes, Sir. I should like to see us spending no more than the same percentage as our partners in NATO. Indeed, that has been one of the reasons why we have been reducing it. I cannot promise that this will continue. It depends, to some extent, on the nature of the threat. The United States, the Federal Republic of Germany and ourselves are the biggest suppliers of defence in Western Europe and we have a responsibility to bear there. But I think that the Soviet Union understands the British position on this matter, and I am happy that it does.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

When the Prime Minister announced in the United Nations last week that the United Kingdom Government had decided to extend their aid expenditure by 6 per cent. per annum in each of the next four years, did he have in mind the statement made by the Foreign Secretary on 12th December that the developing nations are already spending on armaments more than three times the value of what they receive in aid? When was that decision taken and will it be reconsidered?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am aware of and said both of those things in my speech. I pointed out that the developing countries were spending three times as much on arms—and the hon. and learned Gentleman is quite correct—as they receive in aid. That was why I thought it important that we should go ahead with discussions between the suppliers of arms and those who wish to purchase them in order to get some agreement on this matter. We shall not reconsider our decision on aid. That has already been made clear to the House, and it is for the House to adjudicate upon it.

Photo of Mr George Rodgers Mr George Rodgers , Chorley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a dangerous illusion about, particularly in the minds of Opposition Members, that any African nation which is anti-Communist is automatically democratic and virtuous? Will he dispose of that illusion instantly and remind Opposition Members that it is to the long-term advantage of the Soviet Union if we are seen to support corrupt regimes in South Africa?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes, Sir. I think that it is important that we should not have, I repeat, an East-West confrontation. I do not think that either side would enjoy much long-term benefit out of it, but a lot of medium-term misery would be brought to the people of Africa.

Our objective and policy—we do not yet have clear answers to all the questions—is to try to obviate the need for such confrontation by seeing how the basic causes can be removed. Some of them are long standing. It will require co-operation and initiative by the African countries themselves if we are to do that.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , Thanet East

In the light of the successful French rescue operation of the civilians in Zaire, do the Government now have any plans to strengthen or expand Britain's paratroop capability?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The operations that the French carried out could be repeated by us if it became necessary in most of the situations that I can envisage and have been asked about.

Later

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Kinross and West Perthshire

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to raise this matter again, but again I was the only Scottish Member who stood through the entire time when questions were being asked of the Prime Minister and who was not called. We are not yet devolved and some of us are not even on drugs so perhaps more notice should be taken of the Scots.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) is suffering from an inferiority complex. It is by chance that the hon. and learned Member happened to be the last Member to be standing. I do not work out in my mind whether an hon. Member is Scottish Conservative or Scottish Labour. It is the first day back. I shall do my best for the hon. and learned Member in the distant future.