HC Deb 04 July 1984 vol 63 cc318-28 3.53 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about my visit to Moscow. On 1 and 2 July, I had five hours of talks with Mr. Gromyko and a substantial discussion with Mr. Chernenko.

I looked upon the visit as one step in our long-term policy of promoting a better understanding between East and West, with the aim of increasing security at a lower level of arms.

I wanted first to give the Soviet leadership a clear account of our views and to hear a direct explanation of theirs. I wished, too, to explore possible areas of common interest which might provide opportunities for cooperation and negotiation.

I have to tell the House that I detected no significant change in the Soviet position on the resumption of nuclear arms talks. The Russians displayed continuing scepticism about the West's commitment to an improvement in East-West relations, and to progress in the arms control negotiations in Vienna, Geneva and Stockholm.

On the basis of recent extensive consultations within NATO, at the London Summit and at the European Council, I made it plain to the Soviet leaders that Western Governments were sincere in their desire for a better understanding between East and West and for agreements on arms control.

I told them that people in the West could not understand the Soviet refusal to resume nuclear negotiations. Sooner or later those problems would have to be settled by negotiation. The longer the Soviet Union stayed away from the negotiating table, the more difficult the problems would become and the more the dangers and the costs would rise.

The recent Soviet proposal for talks on arms control in outer space, and the American response, naturally featured in the talks. The Russians described the American response as negative and hedged about with preconditions. After specific confirmation from the White House, I was able to tell the Soviet leaders that that description was mistaken. The US position was that there were no preconditions. I urged them to set the matter beyond any doubt through confidential discussions with the Americans, and to do what was necessary to ensure that the talks opened in September.

I emphasised to Mr. Gromyko the widespread and deep concern in the West that the Soviet Union were failing to honour their human rights commitments under the Helsinki and Madrid agreements. This represented a real obstacle to the creation of lasting trust between East and West.

I raised the cases of Dr. Sakharov and Mrs. Bonner, Mr. Anatoly Shcharansky, Father Gleb Yakunin and Mr. Anatoly Koryagin as important examples of the. Soviet Union's failure in that respect. I urged the Soviet Union to deal positively with these and other cases.

I also referred to a number of cases of particular interest to Britain. Those were mostly concerned with family reunification. We looked to the Soviet Union to respond much more positively to requests for exit visas.

I raised a number of other bilateral questions. I stressed in particular the importance we attached to increasing trade. British exporters should be given a good opportunity to bid for contracts. I also raised the question of better telephone and other facilities for our business men and journalists in Moscow. I extended an invitation to Mr. Gromyko to visit Britain in 1985.

Mr. Gromyko and I were able to discuss a number of international questions, which included the Iran-Iraq war, the Middle East, Southern Africa, Poland and Afghanistan. I stressed in particular the need for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and a peaceful settlement, as called for in five successive resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly.

In my call on Mr. Chernenko I concentrated on East-West relations and arms control. I told him that we found it impossible to understand the almost automatic rejection by the Soviet Union of Western proposals. I urged him to recognise that all Western Governments were earnest in their desire to see a resumption of negotiations on nuclear arms questions, and to see the Soviet Union return to the negotiating table without delay.

The visit provided a useful opportunity to expound and carry forward our long-term policy towards the Soviet Union and on the East-West relations generally.

I did not go to Moscow with any expectation of rapid results. I was not, therefore, surprised by the disappointingly negative nature of the Soviet response. They remain apparently unwilling to make a fresh appraisal of the seriousness of the West's approach.

I hope that my visit will lead to more discussions and exchanges with the Soviet Union. It is important to sustain the search for improved relations between East and West on a realistic and long-term basis, and for real progress to be made on arms control. Neither we nor our Allies intend to take no for an answer.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

Having heard the Foreign Secretary, we must share his disappointment at the negative outcome of his visit to Moscow. Those of us who have visited the Soviet Union recently know how relations are chilling and how dangerous that is for the whole world. Therefore, we welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman visited Moscow as part of a process of bridge building — a process that must increase and accelerate.

However, what could have been a major opportunity to rebuild the dialogue appears to have been squandered, and the visit has become only one more opportunity for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be snubbed and dismissed. That should be no surprise to us because, rather than concentrating on establishing and exploring acknowledged areas of common concern to both the Soviety Union and the West—such as the Gulf war, the comprehensive test ban treaty negotiations and the chemical warfare negotiations — the right hon. and learned Gentleman appears to have adopted the role of cheer leader for what even Mr. Walter Mondale described yesterday as posturing and game-playing in the United States election campaign.

We all know of and deplore the unreality of the Soviet position on refusing to return to negotiations on missile reductions. But that position will possibly exist until there is a United States President running the country rather than stomping the country. Why, therefore, did the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow himself to become bogged down in the details of a wrangle over the anti-satellite talks, especially as the United States position becomes increasingly confused? The right hon. and learned Gentleman's "no preconditions" explanation on Monday was at clear variance with Washington's explanation on the same day.

The Foreign Secretary has told us that he said that after specific confirmation from the White House, the United States position was that there were no preconditions. Today's edition of the International Herald Tribune makes it quite clear that on Monday United States officials clearly said that they would feel free to raise the issue of a resumption of talks on nuclear medium-range and strategic missiles in any September talks in Vienna. Therefore, we must ask whether confirmation was sought in the White House from the same official who assured the Foreign Secretary that there was to be no invasion of Grenada.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he raised the question of the Iran-Iraq war. Did he actually develop that point, as the Soviets have already signalled concern akin to ours about the way in which the conflict could spread? Was that not a real area about which to get dialogue under way?

Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman raise the question of the comprehensive test ban treaty negotiations? This country is a full member of that forum, unlike other negotiations. Genuine and concerted progress could be made in that area. Is Britain dragging its feet on the banning of all tests for good reasons or because the West wants to go ahead with further nuclear tests and does not want negotiations to interrupt that programme?

We welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised the question of human rights in the Soviet Union, which we regularly raise from both sides in this House. On the cases that he mentioned, does he feel that there is any possibility of a softening of attitude by the Soviet Union?

Finally, on this important issue, which is of vital concern to us all, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us about the next step after Moscow? The Secretary of State for Defence has already changed his position from confronting the Soviet Union to analysing it, and the evil empire rhetoric of the Prime Minister has apparently been wiped from the history books. What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now do to prevent the present iciness of relationships turning into a nuclear winter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Although it was put some time ago, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opening remark, when he welcomed my visit to Moscow. However, I seriously regret that he could not sustain the seriousness of his opening observation when he recognised, from his experience, the deeply chilling atmosphere with which we all have to contend in trying to rebuild a bridge of confidence between the East and the West.

It was precisely for that reason that I discussed a number of matters of common concern, including the Gulf war. It was possible to establish some community of interest between the Soviet Union and ourselves on that matter. We also discussed human rights, about which I know the whole House is concerned. However, I regret that there was no sign of a positive response—but that is no reason for not raising the matter.

The hon. Gentleman fell into an error of his own making in suggesting that I went there to play my part as a cheer leader for the United States. The message that I was trying to get across in the Soviet Union was precisely the same message that President Mitterrand, Foreign Minister Genscher, Foreign Minister Andreotti and all the Western leaders have tried to get across during recent weeks and months, having considered the issues both separately and jointly in the context of the Western Alliance. Are all those people to be branded as cheer leaders for the United States?

The reality is that the West has been trying, by every means it knows, to get across to the Soviet Union the sincerity of our commitment to the search for peace. Because the exchange with the United States about arms control in space arose shortly before and during my visit to Moscow, that matter attracted a great deal of attention. The bulk of my discussions, however, were devoted to other issues. Surely, in the interests of the West and Britain, it was right for me to press the Soviet leaders on their attitude to their outer space proposals. Their attitude is either confused—in which case they should clarify it, as I suggested—or negative, in which case that should be exposed.

My aim—and I make no apology for it—is to help ensure that the September meeting in Vienna on outer space arms control, proposed by the Soviet Union, takes place. I would very much like the support of Opposition Members for that cause. I am sorry to have to say that the hon. Gentleman has on this occasion, rather uncharacteristically, put forward a party political performance that fell short of the importance of the issue. Opposition Members should join us in pressing the Soviet Union on the need to return to talks, rather than seeking almost instinctively to undermine the credibility of proposals put forward by our allies.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

I appreciate the sincerity and purpose of my right hon. and learned Friend's visit to Moscow, and also appreciate every word that he said and all the points that he raised, but presumably the Soviet Government were aware of the British Government's views on all the issues, with the possible exception of the new American talks on outer space. Why is it that, as far as we know, every word of real importance that he issued while he was in Moscow was censored and never reached the people whom, presumably, he went to Moscow to address? As I said, the Kremlin already knew the British Government's view. Did that censorship extend to the satellite countries so that only the Kremlin knows what it already knew before my right hon. and learned Friend made his visit?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I wish that I could share my hon. Friend's optimism about the extent to which the Kremlin leaders understand the foundations of the western position. The paradox is that there is such a gap between their proclaimed intentions and their understanding of the seriousness of our attempt to come to terms with them. For that reason, it was important that I should expound plainly, clearly and repeatedly to both Mr. Chernenko and Mr. Gromyko exactly what we sought and why. I emphasised to them that I was putting a case that had already been put by a whole series of other western leaders. That, in itself, makes the visit worth while.

Of course I join my hon. Friend in regretting that large sections of my speech were censored or not reported in some of the Soviet press—[Interruption.] Opposition Members may interrupt frivolously, but surely they would wish the case that I was making on human rights and Afghanistan to be reported in the Soviet press. Sadly, that did not happen. However, I had the opportunity to make a speech before an audience of several dozen senior Soviet leaders—members of the Soviet Government. I assure the House that the speech will be read by many beyond that. That is an additional justification for my visit.

Of course we wish for freer communications, but the important point is that we should continue to try—as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) recognised, and I give him credit for it—to get the case across consistently on all sides.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that one of the lessons of the chilling reception about which he spoke is that there should never again be a seven-year gap between visits of British Foreign Secretaries and Soviet Foreign Ministers? Will Mr. Gromyko come to this country next year on a return visit? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that in future, in good times and bad, there will be continuing contact to assure a more orderly relationship between the West and the Soviet bloc?

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what was said about the comprehensive test ban negotiations? These are the only major negotiations to which Britain is a party with the United States, and considerable progress has been made in them. The Foreign Secretary did not mention chemical weapon discussions, which were to be a British initiative. What discussions did he initiate about them?

In view of the substantial revision of the NATO estimates of the Warsaw Pact forces, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether he thinks that it is possible to make progress on mutual and balanced force reductions? We welcome the fact that discussions on satellites in outer space are likely to take place, and we hope that they will take place in Vienna in September. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that they are no more than a continuation of what took place between 1977 and 1979, and that in this and many other areas we are now seeking to put the clock back to the level of dialogue which existed in 1979?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the importance that the right hon. Gentleman attaches to the need for sustained contact between the East and the West. He will appreciate that since he held my office there have been serious actions by the Soviet Union which have done little to improve the prospects for good contacts between East and West. I refer to the invasion of Afghanistan and to the problems in Poland. Those and other actions have cast a real and serious blight over East-West relationships.

I have already mentioned all the topics to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I emphasised the need for progress on chemical weapons talks. I referred to the comprehensive test ban proposals and to the importance of their verification.

I emphasised the seriousness with which the West made proposals about the MBFR talks, but received the not uncharacteristic response to the effect that our proposals, although built on eastern proposals, were seen as killing time. That shows how far we must go to carry forward our search for arms control agreements.

Regarding contacts, I remind the House that during the past 12 months the Prime Minister and I have visited Hungary, and the Soviet Union at the time of President Andropov's funeral. I have seen Mr. Gromyko four times since last September.

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

The right hon. and learned Gentleman got nowhere.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Member may jibe as cheaply as he likes that we got nowhere. If he expects four visits to break the ice and the log jam, he is more foolish than I thought him to be. The Government and all other Western Governments must undertake this long-term exercise on behalf of the world. The Government are committed to that search.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Opposition's response today, which falls far below the level of events, is deplorable? Does he further agree that his steady and persistent presentation of the West's case in Moscow can have done nothing but good and must earn him the gratitude of the country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I find it easy to agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

The Foreign Secretary's statement consisted of a list of matters that he raised with Mr. Gromyko, but he did not tell us of any replies he received, which would have been of interest to us and would have filled out our picture of his visit. Did Mr. Gromyko point out the Foreign Secretary's impudence at asking the Soviet Union to disarm while this country is arming itself to the teeth, ordering new Trident missiles and refusing even to allow those missiles to be counted in the West's armoury?

When the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of people on hunger strike in the Soviet Union, did Mr. Gromyko draw his attention to the fact that the Government allowed 10 people, including a Member of this House, to die on hunger strike in Northern Ireland?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Not even the Soviet Foreign Minister raised that last point with me.

Regarding arms control, I pointed out to the Soviet leaders that during the past four years the Soviet Union has continued to deploy a growing and massive number of intermediate range missile warheads in the direction of Western Europe. Throughout that period, the West was prepared to continue the search for arms control agreements. Even today, when the number of Eastern intermediate range missile warheads in Europe exceeds 1,300, the United States warheads amount to only 25.

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

What did Mr. Gromyko say?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I will come to that.

I pointed out that, in those circumstances, it was sensible for the Soviet Union to be prepared to return to nuclear arms control talks without conditions, as the West was willing to do. However, Mr. Gromyko remained sceptical and unwilling to appraise or reappraise the case that all Western leaders have consistently made. That is the tragedy and the sadness of the gap that must be bridged. My case was the same as that put forward by many Western statesmen before me.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that too many people expect too much too soon from summit conferences and foreign ministerial visits? Despite the carping of the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who is not present and is no doubt carping elsewhere, does the Foreign Secretary agree that that gentleman and his cohorts have no more to offer now than they did at the general election when they were roundly defeated on the subject? Will he accept congratulations on trying to raise the level of our bilateral relations with the Soviet Union? Will he also utterly deplore being criticised for trying to bring the United States and the Soviet Union to the conference table? Will he continue his efforts?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I accept both the congratulations and the advice of my hon. Friend. I agree that too often too many people expect too much too soon from summit meetings. On East-West negotiations, many Western Foreign Ministers and Heads of State have gone to Moscow to make the same case, but we are receiving too little too slowly.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

If the Foreign Secretary wishes the House to consider as sincere his effort to build bridges, should he not first dissociate himself from the Prime Minister's remarks made on four occasions in the past 12 months that the Soviet Union is an evil and vile society and that the Soviet leaders such as Mr. Chernenko and Mr. Gromyko are thoroughly untrustworthy? Is it not time that the Foreign Secretary was big enough to say. to the world that Britain wishes to get rid of the past and to start some fresh bridge building with a purpose?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not accept the opening point in the hon. Gentleman's comments, nor do I think that it would be fruitful for either side to begin combing the rhetoric used. For example, if I were to start with the quality and tone of the speech made by Mr. Gromyko to me on Monday, I believe that that would be regarded as profoundly unhelpful to the prospect of restoring trust.

The important point is to put aside the unattractive long-range rhetoric which comes from the Soviet Union. That is what I was seeking to do during hour after hour of talks. I was saying, "Why not come to the negotiating table? There is no virtue in leaving the main negotiating table with an empty chair marked 'Soviet Union'."

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In view of the subsequent business and the ten-minute Bill, I shall allow questions on this important statement to continue until 4.30 pm.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his frankness in Moscow, especially on the subject of human rights, was welcomed warmly by many of us who feel that it is a delusion to believe that there can be any detente or progress in East-West relations unless the Soviet leaders are made to understand the abhorrence with which civilised Governments all over the world regard their continued ill treatment of dissidents, the abuse of psychiatry, the refusal to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate, and their refusal to implement their own signatures on the Helsinki accord? Also, will my right hon. and learned Friend say what emerged from his exchange of views on the subject of Poland?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Regrettably, I received no response from Mr. Gromyko on the points that I made on Poland which were about the importance of restoring a reasonable dialogue and relationship between the people of Poland and the Polish Government. I am sure that the House agrees that the way in which a country fulfils its obligations to human rights is important for its international appearance and reputation. In my public speech, as well as privately, I made it plain that the Soviet Union was not seen to be acting on that matter in accordance with its obligations. I said that deeds counted more than words, and that unless there was an improved performance, it would be difficult to build a foundation for long-lasting confidence between East and West.

Mr. John David Taylor (Strangford)

What was Mr. Gromyko's reply to the Foreign Secretary's invitation to him to visit the United Kingdom in 1985? Was there any discussion on the possibility of a visit by the Prime Minister to Moscow? In view of Afghanistan's request this week to the EEC that it should allow Afghan planes to fly once again into Europe, what was the Russian response to his request that there should be a withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Mr. Gromyko made it clear that he would be considering my invitation with his colleagues and would be responding in due course. I believe that that is a fairly customary response to such an invitation.

I did not talk about an intended visit, either way, by Mr. Chernenko or by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. At present there are no plans for that. Most surprisingly, there was no reply from Mr. Gromyko about Afghanistan; he moved to a new subject. The subject of airline rights was not raised.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Apart from the regrettable censorship of my right hon. and learned Friend's statement in Moscow, did he ask the leadership of this super-power why it was frightened to allow Her Majesty's ambassador to make his moderate Queen's birthday broadcast? Will he consider asking our broadcasting media to offer the equivalent time to the Soviet ambassador to put his views to the British people if the Soviet leaders allow the British voice to be heard in the Soviet Union?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall consider the last point. I did specifically raise the subject of the refusal to broadcast Her Majesty's ambassador's speech. Other ambassadors have been faced with similar experiences. I drew attention to the need to improve freedom of communication both ways and, above all, from the West to the Soviet Union and its people.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

It is right that human rights issues should be raised with the Soviet leadership, although it is always better that it should be done by those with clean hands. How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman be taken seriously in Moscow when it is plain that much of this country's defence and foreign policies are but an extension of United States foreign policy? It is clear that in many ways the Foreign Secretary is acting as a kind of errand boy for the United States President.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Member has repeated, once again, the least substantial point of those that have been made about my visit. I have already said that my talks covered the whole range of East-West issues. On the central point, I was carrying the same message as that carried by the leaders of all major Western European countries in recent months — that they, like we, are sincere in the search for a better relationship, and that the United States leadership, and President Reagan in particular, is equally sincere. He has made it plain on many occasions that he would like nothing better than to achieve a breakthrough towards more effective arms control.

The approach adopted by the hon. Gentleman underlines once again the extent to which too many Opposition Members pay lip service to our alliance while in their hearts lies the policy of neutralism and nonalignment which is founded on nothing but antagonism to our principal north Atlantic ally.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Although it was a useful visit in that it succeeded in highlighting the completely negative approach of the Soviet regime, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that few people in this country will be prepared to roll out any carpet for Mr. Gromyko unless there is some evidence that he will come here with a more open mind on the subject of arms control, multilateral disarmament and the recognition of human rights?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the view expressed by my hon. Friend. I am not sure that I want to offer any precise forecast about the number of carpets that would be rolled out for such a visit.

It is important that meetings between the leaders of East and West should take place in the West as well as in the East. It is important that an increasing number of Soviet and Eastern leaders should have an insight not just into the conditions in which we live in the West but into the way in which people in the West feel about these matters. That is the basis upon which one must judge this approach.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

On the subject of the effect of rhetoric, does the Foreign Secretary agree that his visit to Moscow has at least convinced him that aggressive rhetoric is counterproductive in the admittedly difficult search for improved relations between East and West?

At the beginning of his statement, the Foreign Secretary said that he went to Moscow to explore possible areas of common interest which might provide opportunities for co-operation and negotiation, but we were not told subsequently what matters gave him any encouragement. Were there any?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

In earlier answers I identified some of the arms control negotiations where it might be possible to find scope for progress—for example, the Stockholm talks, the conference on disarmament in Europe, the talks on chemical weapons and, although it was not encouraging, the Vienna talks on MBFR and a common position on the approach to the Iran-Iraq war. There were other matters upon which views were more widely divergent.

I believe that those who speak for and advise the West have for a long time shown an awareness of the need, as the hon. Gentleman put it, to avoid aggressive rhetoric. There is, of course, no mischief in making it plain, as is done on both sides of the divide, that we have a way of life in which we believe, and that there is a way of life in which others believe which is not acceptable to us. I believe that there is a limit to the sensitivity that Soviet leaders can feel about this when they consider the kind of language that they use so frequently. It is important for them to understand that hours of speeches have come from Western leaders saying, "We want nothing better than to see you come back to the bargaining table without conditions." Without that there is no chance of convincing each other, which is what we want to do.

Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)

When my right hon. and learned Friend was discussing the middle east, did he raise the subject of the possibility of holding a conference early next year in which the parties directly involved in the Arab-Israeli dispute would participate with the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and France, aimed at trying to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We discussed the possibility of a conference on the middle east. We did not go into the participation at such a conference. The proposal was raised by Mr. Gromyko. I said that we did not think that the time was yet ripe for such a conference, although it might have a part to play. I was principally concerned to discover how far the Soviet Union would be willing, in our joint search, to produce a more united approach than the Arabs and to discover how far the Soviet Union would be able to bring her influence to bear on Syria to produce greater coherence on the Arab side.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that any progress between the Soviet Union and the West is bound to be piecemeal and done step by step? There will be no landslides. How is it that when the Soviet Union has offered to discuss missiles in outer space, in spite of saying that the West will not make any preconditions, the Foreign Secretary and President Reagan set down a monumental precondition? They have said that all missiles must be discussed when the Soviet offer relates to missiles in outer space. Why do we pretend that we are offering no conditions when we have imposed a monumental one?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I was happy to think that the hon. Gentleman was offering words of wisdom in the first part of his question, but I am not happy to agree with what he said in the second part. The United States response was unconditional. The United States said that it was prepared to respond to the Soviet invitation to discuss arms in outer space. The United States also sought the opportunity to discuss other nuclear weapons. It does not seem a monumental obstacle to the chance of progress to suggest that the entire agenda, as opposed to only part of it, should be on the table.

Mr. George Robertson

The Foreign Secretary accused me of bringing party politics to the House. I shall take that as a compliment.

With regard to the comprehensive test ban treaty negotiations, the Foreign Secretary said that he raised the subject in Moscow but he did not mention the subject in the statement. As this is a crucial matter in which Britain has a role to play, can he say whether he mentioned it and what the British stance is?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have not mentioned every item of all of the many arms control debates that are taking place and which came up in our discussions. I have already explained that solutions to the complex problems of verification are important before we can have the prospect of resuming negotiations effectively. I was not complaining that the hon. Gentleman indulged in party politics in the House. On these matters, I sense a wide common feeling in the House that we should try to promote dialogue between East and West. Uncharacteristically, he demeaned his approach to that important issue.