HC Deb 02 April 1987 vol 113 cc1217-31 3.32 pm
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I should like to make a statement, Mr. Speaker— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind both sides of the House that these are important matters.

The Prime Minister

I should like to make a statement, Mr. Speaker, about the visit which I paid to the Soviet Union from 28 March to 1 April, accompanied by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

I was able to carry out a very full and interesting programme arranged by the Soviet authorities, for whose hospitality and welcome I am very grateful.

The most important aspect of my visit was of course the very extensive talks which I had with General Secretary Gorbachev. These covered the following subjects: first, the prospects for agreements on reductions in nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons; second, the fundamental differences between our two political systems and their wider consequences; third, Mr. Gorbachev's programme of restructuring of Soviet society and the Soviet economy; fourth, international regional problems; and fifth, human rights.

In our talks on arms control we agreed that priority should be given to an agreement on intermediate range nuclear weapons, with strict verification, with constraints on shorter-range systems and with immediate follow-on negotiations to deal more fully with shorter-range systems.

We did not reach agreement on NATO's belief that the West should have a right to match Soviet shorter-range systems, or over the precise systems which should be covered in the follow-on negotations.

I should add that I made it clear to Mr. Gorbachev that the United Kingdom would not be prepared to accept the denuclearisation of Europe, which would leave us dangerously exposed to Soviet superiority in conventional and other forces.

We also agreed that priority should be given to negotiating a ban on all chemical weapons. The United Kingdom has made important proposals on this in Geneva and Mr. Gorbachev indicated that the Soviet Union could broadly accept our approach.

We agreed that there should be early negotiations on reductions in conventional forces, in which, as the House knows, the Soviet Union has a substantial preponderance. I expressed our support for a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic nuclear weapons. Mr. Gorbachev made clear the Soviet view that this matter was linked to agreement on SDI.

I made a number of proposals for achieving greater predictability in this field which Mr. Gorbachev will consider. Deployment of an advanced strategic defence system would of course be a matter for negotiations, as President Reagan and I agreed at Camp David in December 1984.

I do not underestimate the differences which remain between us on these matters. It was none the less clear from our talks that we agree that progress on arms control requires a step-by-step approach with clearly identified priorities, and that we are largely in agreement on what those priorities shall be. This is a useful and positive step, and I am hopeful that a satisfactory agreement can be reached on intermediate nuclear forces by the end of this year.

In our discussion of regional problems, I explained to Mr. Gorbachev the reasons for Western apprehensions about Soviet policies and intentions. I said— and the Foreign Secretary made the same point to Mr. Shevardnadze—that the United Kingdom could support the creation of a neutral, non-aligned Afghanistan, and had indeed presented proposals for it as long ago as 1980. However, this could not be achieved until the Soviet occupation was ended and elections were held.

On human rights problems, I welcomed the steps which had already been taken, while expressing the hope that more prisoners of conscience and dissidents would be released, and that Jews would be allowed to leave the country should they wish to do so. I emphasised that we were not interfering in the Soviet Union's internal affairs: the Soviet Government had accepted the commitments in the Helsinki Final Act on the freer movement of people and ideas, and we were asking that these be observed. Mr. Gorbachev said that the Soviet Government considered all humanitarian cases very carefully, and would continue to deal with them attentively, with positive results where possible.

I told Mr. Gorbachev of our welcome for his polices of openness, restructuring and democratisation. We wish him all success in his endeavours. They point the way to the greater trust and confidence that will be needed if we are to reach agreement on arms control and in other areas.

My talks with Prime Minister Ryzhkov concentrated on bilateral matters, particularly trade. We agreed to work together to achieve by 1990 a volume of £2.5 billion in our bilateral trade. During my visit, contracts and letters of intent were signed or initialled amounting to nearly £400 million. So we have made a good start towards the target which we have set ourselves.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary held extensive and very useful talks on a wide range of international regional problems with the Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr. Shevardnadze, including in particular the middle east and Iran-Iraq. They also signed three intergovernmental agreements and a memorandum of understanding: on space co-operation, providing for cooperation between our scientists in a wide range of space sciences; on information and culture. It will encourage contacts and exchanges, in particular giving an opportunity for schoolchildren to visit Soviet families in their homes. It also provides for free and normal reception of radio broadcasts. We welcome the end of jamming of BBC broadcasts.

The third agreement was on improvement and upgrading of the United Kingdom—Soviet Union hotline; and the fourth was on sites for new embassies in Moscow and London. Copies of the texts have been placed in the Library of the House.

In addition to my talks, I visited the ancient monastery and church of Zagorsk, and took part in a service there as a visible demonstration of support for those who continue to maintain their tradition of faith and worship in the Soviet Union. I toured a new housing development on the outskirts of Moscow, and gave an interview to Soviet television in which I was able freely to set out Western policies and concerns and which was broadcast in full. And I paid a most enjoyable and interesting visit to the Soviet Republic of Georgia.

Wherever I went, I was struck by the spontaneous warmth and friendliness of my reception by the people of the Soviet Union. I believe that this augurs well for our future relations.

Outside my official programme I had meetings with a delegation from the Soviet Committee for the Defence of Peace; a group of writers, artists and intellectuals; Dr. Sakharov and Mrs. Bonner, with whom I had a most interesting exchange on arms control and developments within the Soviet Union; and a group of Jewish refuseniks. In the course of this I was able to present to Mr. Josif Begun the award from the All-Party Committee on Soviet Jewry.

My visit took place at a most interesting and crucial moment in the development of the Soviet Union. I firmly believe that it is in our interest to welcome and encourage the course on which Mr. Gorbachev has embarked. Our political systems will remain very different and we shall continue to hold widely divergent views on many international problems, but Mr. Gorbachev and I were able to discuss these differences frankly in a spirit of friendship. When I took my leave of him, Mr. Gorbachev expressed the Soviet Union's willingness for wider cooperation in every field with the United Kingdom. That was a positive end to a most constructive and valuable visit.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

First, I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and express pleasure at the way in which either chemistry or travel has succeeded in broadening her mind about the Soviet Union—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Kinnock

On the business done with Mr. Gorbachev, was his broad acceptance of the British proposals on a chemical weapon ban treaty the same as the Soviet Union's acceptance on 3 November 1986? Secondly, is the welcome agreement on joint space research the same as the one that was signed and published on 2 October 1986? Thirdly, will the right hon. Lady confirm that most of the companies involved in cultural exchanges have already made their own arrangements without any Government interest? Is she proposing to increase the Government's commitment to provide financial help with the expenses of the exchange between the National Theatre and the Mayakovsky theatre from the present sum of £12,500, given that the cost of the enterprise is £500,000?

On trade, will the Prime Minister accept that the bilateral trade arrangements made in Moscow are welcome and necessary, especially as the trade balance with the USSR has moved from a surplus of 6 per cent. in 1979–80 to a deficit of 24 per cent. in 1985–86?

Will the Prime Minister tell us whether on anti-ballistic missiles systems she had American agreement on her proposals for research timetables within the narrow interpretation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972? On nuclear weapons—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Prime Minister was heard in silence—it does not help for hon. Members on both sides of the House to point fingers—and the same courtesy should be extended to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Kinnock

President Reagan has said recently, and plainly, that he wants the elimination of all nuclear weapons because they are uncivilised and immoral. Mr. Gorbachev expresses exactly the same view. In view of those strong statements, does the right hon. Lady still maintain her belief that a world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous than one with them, despite the clearly different convictions of both our ally and her new friend?

On civil and human rights, is the Prime Minister aware that her statement that Mr. Gorbachev's agreement to give case by case consideration to human rights issues was, as she put it, much better than we would have ever got two years ago is in some danger of being misleading? The truth is that well over two years ago I and, I am sure, others received precisely those undertakings in precisely those words from Mr. Chernenko and Mr. Gorbachev, and many of them have been honoured. Can she now tell me—[Interruption.] We can see how concerned Conservative Members are about civil and human rights in the world. They are about as enthusiastic about them as they are about civil and human rights in South Africa.

Can the Prime Minister now tell me, first—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House not to make gestures across the Chamber.

Mr. Kinnock

Can the Prime Minister tell me what progress she now anticipates in restoring movement under the Helsinki accords, at least to the levels of the late 1970s—a cause that many of us have been pursuing for a long time? Secondly, when does she believe that the 25 or 50 cases involving the reunification of British and Russian members of families will be resolved in the interests of those families?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman asked first about the agreement on space proposals. The director-general of the British National Space Centre signed a protocol in Moscow last October on co-operation in civil space sciences. The present agreement builds upon that. It consolidates and formalises existing collaboration between United Kingdom universities—Birmingham and London—and the Soviet space research institute, and provides for co-operation in classical space sciences—for example, X-ray astronomy, high energy astro-physics, solar and terrestrial physics and life and material sciences. Those include, for example, the effects of weightlessness in space—I am not sure how long the right hon. Gentleman wants me to go on.

Mr. Kinnock

Read it all out.

The Prime Minister

The memorandum of culture, builds on, but is separate from, the existing biennial cultural agreement, which was renewed for 1987–89 in January. It has nine new features. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman seems to treat the matter with some levity.

The Departments on both sides worked extremely hard to get the agreements ready for signature, and to take them further than any agreements have ever been taken. That applies particularly to the agreements on cultural matters, which go into more detail than ever before. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to give credit where it is due.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the contracts and memorandum of understanding on trade that were signed. The companies concerned were out there; they are in touch with the Department of Trade and Industry, the Treasury and the Export Credits Guarantee Department. Those companies worked hard to get the contracts—or memorandum of understanding—signed while they were there, and so did the Soviet side.

With regard to the ABM system, I had, of course, discussed the proposals that I have put forward with the United States Government, and they knew precisely what I was going to put forward.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the elimination of all nuclear weapons. That may be a distant dream, but I do not think that it is practical. One founds one's defence policies not on dreams, but on security. For the next 20 years at least the security of this country and of the West will be founded on the nuclear deterrent. That is accepted by the United States Government as well as by us, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that they have abandoned any suggestion of a second 50 per cent. reduction of inter-continental ballistic missiles. In any case, they were thinking of replacing those with cruise missiles and other weapons. The Americans are not abandoning the nuclear deterrent—unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who would give up all our defence and security.

In regard to civil and human rights, the number of people who have been released from prison in the past two months has been much better. Two years ago, it would have been almost unthinkable that I should see Dr. Sakharov and Mrs. Bonner in the British embassy. That was remarkable, and that is precisely what I said. It was unthinkable that so many should be released. There has been an increasing number of prison releases in the past days. I should have hoped, too, that the right hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that.

I am well aware that soon after the Helsinki accords were signed many more Soviet Jews were allowed out of the Soviet Union. The figure went up to about 30,000 a year in the years immediately following. Unfortunately, it was sharply reduced to well below 1,100 a year. Of course, that is a matter that one raises with them, because the way in which they honour the Helsinki accords is an indicator of the way in which they would honour any other agreement, including those on arms control.

One continually put that point to them. One added to it that for years and years to come—probably always— the overwhelming majority of Jewish people in the Soviet Union will stay in the Soviet Union because it is their home, and that they should have far greater rights to freedom of worship than they have now. One also put to them that the Chief Rabbi would like to discuss these matters. [Interruption.] Yes, we shall go on. The refuseniks whom I saw said to us, "Please continue—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many people, both inside and outside the House, are interested in this subject.

The Prime Minister

The refuseniks whom I saw thanked not one side but both sides of the House and the British people for the way in which we have constantly raised human rights causes. It is absurd that the right hon.. Gentleman should try to make a party political point.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that her visit to the Soviet Union and the way in which she carried it off is universally admired and approved and that, despite the grudging, indeed carping, criticisms of the Leader of the Opposition, the view of the House is that she has done our nation and the cause of peace a great service?—

Can my right hon. Friend give any more information about the progress that she has made on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan? Whereas she did a great deal to improve relations between Britain and the Soviet Union, and indeed the West, it seems that until that withdrawal takes place there is bound to be an extraordinary strain between the West and the Soviet Union.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his opening comments. It was a significant visit at what could be a turning point in history.

My right hon. Firend the Foreign Secretary and I raised the problem of Afghanistan. It is quite clear that the Soviet Union would like to withdraw. It is also clear that it does not know quite how to go about it or what to do. We pointed out that the withdrawal of troops should be accompanied by free elections for people to determine their own future. This is one of those occasions on which there is a considerable difference between the two sides. We believe in a plural society, and they do not. Communism is a fundamental part of their constitution. They have no clear idea of the way in which they wish to go. We have made it clear that one of the touchstones by which we shall judge them and by which we shall judge more openness in their society is how soon they withdraw the occupation troops.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Will the Prime Minister note that there will be a general and genuine welcome for what she did in Moscow and that the personal rapport that she achieved with Mr. Gorbachev, which will come as no surprise to observers of Mr. Gorbachev but will perhaps come as a surprise to some observers of her own previous style, will also be genuinely welcomed? Will not the real test of what was done with the time this week come at Geneva, and what signal is she now giving to the United State about how those talks should go?

When she lit a candle at Zagorsk, did she remember that there still remains in place the whole massive totalitarian system and that there are many people still praying, some of them in secret and in psychiatric hospitals? Will Mr. Gorbachev continue to be willing and able to continue the pace of change remarkably achieved so far?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman asks about the intermediate nuclear weapons negotiations at Geneva. Of course, we are also in touch with the United States to indicate the areas of agreement and the areas which, as I said in my statement, have yet to be thrashed out. That really concerns what the agreement will be on the shorter range missiles where we would like the right to have equal limits on warheads. That is not yet agreed with the Soviet Union. We believe that it would be the right way to go.

At the moment in the draft treaty before the two sides at Geneva, it is said that there should be constraints upon shorter range missiles and immediate follow-on negotiations. It is in refining precisely what those constraints will be that the difficulties will come. There are other problems still to be resolved, the first of which is verification. I made it clear to them that we would have preferred global zero-zero on intermediate nuclear weapons, and the moment one says that each side can keep 100, even though they are well away from western European territory, one has extra problems of verification in saying that it is precisely 100 and no more that are kept. If they wanted to reduce the verification tasks they would go to global-global zero, which we would accept and so would the United States. Therefore, there is quite a bit to thrash out and verification has always presented some difficulties.

We pointed out that freedom of worship is absolutely fundamental to us in Britain and we expect that with increasing openness all people should have freedom of worship. The Foreign Secretary and I took with us a considerable list of people who are penalised and some who are in prison for their religious beliefs. That is not accepted in the Soviet Union, but those who have come out in recent months asked us particularly to raise the problems of those who are prisoners of conscience because they said that they do not get as much publicity as others and sometimes they may feel that they are forgotten. There is quite a long way to go, but the important thing is that with increasing openness a fresh start has been made. One can only welcome that very warmly.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

In view of the Prime Minister's outstanding success in the Soviet Union, may I propose to her that now is the time to ask the United States and our other NATO allies to broaden the methods by which we communicate one with the other in order that consultation about future discussions on arms negotiations shall be taken with each and every one of the NATO allies and not have just the United States representing one view at Geneva?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct. It is important to keep the consultations on a regular basis. We recently met those who are doing the negotiating as they have been around each and every NATO partner with their ideas to try to get the reaction across Europe. It is very important that we meet more frequently. As my hon. Friend is aware, we meet our European partners very often and ask our United States partners to come through London more frequently so that we may discuss these matters with them more often.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Will the right hon. Lady ensure that a very early opportunity is given to this House to have a full debate on the radical transformation which is in progress in both the foreign policy and the defence policy of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I understand that it is likely that there will shortly be a foreign affairs debate. We will very soon have the annual statement on defence which, of course, will be open to full debate. I do not think that there has been a major change in defence policy of the type that the right hon. Gentleman envisages. As he has heard, there has been a very vigorous exchange between the Soviet Union and ourselves as to precisely why we fully believe in the nuclear deterrent and deterrence at every level and that we simply will not stand for the denuclearisation of Europe.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Referring back to an earlier question, may I re-emphasise to my right hon. Friend the importance of a settlement to the Afghan problem? Did she also find time, in what must have been a lengthy session, to raise the question of any relaxation between both sides on the continuing shoot-to-kill orders from east to west across the Berlin wall, which she has described as an abomination, recalling, too, that this is the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin, and that the wall represents a situation that is unacceptable to free people everywhere?

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, the Berlin wall is the most visible sign of the way in which borders operate round a Communist society. It will be a long time, if indeed it ever happens, before people there enjoy the freedom which we enjoy. One must not be under any illusion that any country which has Communism in its basic constitution, and which does not have an independent judiciary in its basic constitution, is a different country from the one which we know. [Interruption.] There would not be free trade unions or the freedoms that we enjoy.

For the first time since the revolution 70 years ago, there is now an understanding that the Soviet system, as it exists at present, is not working. It must become a more open society with a more incentive-based economy and more distribution of responsibility. We should welcome that change of direction, and hope that increasing openness will lead to increasing discussion, and that that will lead to an increasing security with neighbours

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Does the Prime Minister accept that, happily, there is an area of common ground in this House and that her welcome representations about human rights in general, and the Jewish refuseniks in particular, are in the appreciated and respected tradition of her predecessors, especially Lord Wilson of Rievaulx? However, did she receive any assurance that Josif Begun, Ida Nudel and Vladimir Slepak, who have been allowed out of prison and exile, have any real hope of also being allowed out of the Soviet Union? When she saw Mr. Begun and, happily, was able to present to him the award of the all-party committee, did she afterwards have the opportunity to protest to the Soviet authorities about the exclusion from the original ceremony of hon. Members from both sides of this House and their spouses?

The Prime Minister

On the latter point, no, I did not. On the other point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I was unable to see Mrs. Nudel. I wanted to see her because I met her sister in Jerusalem, and we have all been active in pursuing her case. At the moment, she is in Odessa, a long way away, and did not get our communication in time to make the journey to Moscow. I think that she would have done so if she could. We received a telephone call from her about her disappointment.

Mr. and Mrs. Begun stressed "There is a great deal to be done. Will the West please continue to make representations?" Without that, they do not think that the changes which have come about, which are a comparatively small but welcome start, would have taken place. In many ways, they think that the morale of the refuseniks is kept up because they know that other people speak up, and will continue to speak up, on their behalf. If we continue to do that, and if there is greater openness, I think and hope that the Soviet Union will realise that it is judged on its performance in such matters. That is why Mr. Gorbachev said that he will consider individual cases and he hopes that that will have a positive result.

I should report to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and to other hon. Members, that the refuseniks are concerned that the Soviet authorities appear to have a tendency to say that it is those who have families outside, and where there is cause for the re-unification of families, who will have priority. There is a feeling that that might be to the exclusion of others who wish to leave who do not have a split family outside. That is giving rise to some concern.

Sir John Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those Conservative Members who have had meetings with the Kremlin and with General Secretary Gorbachev welcome the fact that a British Prime Minister has a dialogue with the General Secretary?

My right hon. Friend mentioned Europe. Is not one of our difficulties in this country the fact that in two weeks' time Prime Minister Chirac will pay a similar visit? Will my right hon. Friend turn her mind to the future and consider the way in which we in Europe can ensure that there is adequate verification from a European point of view, admittedly within NATO? What progress has she made in that direction?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. Prime Minister Chirac will be coming over for a long meeting in a couple of weeks. My hon. Friend will recall that just before I went to the Soviet Union I went to see President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl to discuss our European approach, especially the stance that we would take on intermediate nuclear weapons and short range weapons. We are all absolutely adamant that there should be no question of the denuclearisation of Europe or the decoupling of Europe from the United States. We intend to have further contacts to see precisely how we should tackle that problem, especially as it will be an issue on the negotiating table in Geneva.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

As the Prime Minister has now begun to realise that the people of the Soviet Union have the same hopes and aspirations as we have, and that they have no aggressive intent against this country, will she take a much more positive attitude and go to the bargaining table with some concessions that she will make instead of placing every sort of obstacle in the path of disarmament, as she has done in the past?

The Prime Minister

No, I shall never put our defence or security in jeopardy as the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends have done in their approach to unilateral nuclear disarmament. I made that perfectly clear. It is because I make that perfectly clear that I am invited to the Soviet Union and to other countries. They know that I shall not say anything different there on this matter from what I say anywhere else, whether talking to Mr. Gorbachev or on Soviet television. Before I went there, many people did not seem to know that it was the Soviet Union which stationed the SS20s and refused to take them down, and that it was only after it refused to do so for four years that we stationed cruise and Pershing. It is only now that it is proposed to take out both. The firmness and determination effectively to defend the security of this country is vital, and will always continue to be so.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the strong line that she took over Afghanistan. Did she or my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary raise the problems of Angola, Ethiopia, and Aden in talks with the Soviet leader?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I spoke about Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique and the many places in which the Soviet Union seems to have effective determination of some policies, and the way in which it provides arms and not food. It is left to the West to give aid in the form of food. As my right hon. Friend is aware, we have friendly relationships with Mozambique and have helped that country for a considerable time when it has been short of food. We raised with Mr. Gorbachev the external policy of the Soviet Union because we are interested not only in its ideas on internal policy, but on the effect of that on its external policy in places such as those which my right hon. Friend mentioned.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

How does the Prime Minister reconcile her statement today and that which she made in Moscow, insisting on her rejection of a denuclearisation of Europe and her rejection of the reduction of nuclear weapons in other areas also, with the non-proliferation treaty, of which we are signatories, which has as its preamble a commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons? Does she not yet understand, and did she not give Mr. Gorbachev the chance to explain, that if she and we insist on the maintenance of nuclear weapons, several other countries will do the same? Therefore, her policy will mean the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons and the destruction of the universe by that means.

Cannot the right hon. Lady begin to learn from those who are trying to teach her, including Mr. Gorbachev? I congratulate her on the way in which she has assisted Mr. Gorbachev's re-election. We are all in favour of him getting back, if not of her.

The Prime Minister

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we, the United States and NATO have agreed to a 50 per cent. reduction in intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Soviet Union and the United States, but that Mr. Gorbachev has not. He links that to SDI. There could be a massive reduction in strategic nuclear weapons if he were to agree.

Secondly, we would prefer the zero-zero option on intermediate range weapons. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Soviet Union created and stationed intermediate range weapons. If it had not done that, the problem need never have arisen. We want the right to equal numbers of shorter range weapons, and when people attempt to stop us from having that we have good grounds for suspecting their reasons.

Conventional weapons have never been enough to stop war, as the second world war showed. Even when the Soviet Union was more heavily supplied with conventional weapons than Germany, it did not prevent Hitler from attacking it. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that in the last war the race was to get nuclear weapons first. Had it been Hitler, we would not be sitting here now. Conventional weapons have not been sufficient to stop conventional war, whereas nuclear weapons have stopped both conventional and nuclear war. We want and intend to achieve peace and security, and that means having a nuclear deterrent.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset. South)

My right hon. Friend will be pleased at the gratitude of the oppressed Afghan people for what she said in Moscow. Did she discuss the conversations of the past four months held between Pakistani representatives and the Government of the Soviet Union in Moscow? In particular, did Mr. Gorbachev say anything about possible Soviet flexibility on a reduction from 18 months for the transfer and evacuation periods for Soviet troops?

The Prime Minister

No, I did not discuss those particular matters. I was anxious to stress the need for the Soviet forces of occupation in Afghanistan to be withdrawn and for free elections to be held. I made those main objectives absolutely clear, but the other matters did not arise.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Does the Prime Minister not now realise that working with one of the most able and genuine leaders in the world is much more rewarding in trying to cope with the world's problems than whatever contacts she may care to maintain with the limited puppet in the White House? Does she not now wish that she had made this visit somewhat earlier in her 12 years of leadership of the Conservative party so that there might have been fewer doubts about its purpose?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is in his usual unconstructive form. One of the valuable results from the visit was to get across our record on nuclear weapons and that of the Soviet Union to people who had never previously heard that the Soviet Union invented and stationed intermediate range weapons first and that the United Kingdom destroyed its chemical weapons in 1959 and the United States has not modernised its while the Soviet Union has increased and modernised hers. That had not been heard in the Soviet Union before. It is only since Mr. Gorbachev came to power that I would have been allowed to have an interview on Soviet television with three interviewers which went out in full. I was interested to hear that people questioned about the interview said, "We begin to understand now for the first time why the West fears the Soviet Union." We had to put the record straight, and we did so effectively.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that people throughout the country are grateful to her for her forthright championship of the rights of conscience in the Soviet Union? Will she use her influence in that direction on behalf of the brave young people of the jazz section of the musicians' union in Czechoslovakia who are suffering in prison today because of their principles?

The Prime Minister

Yes, we must proceed with all human rights cases on the basis of the Helsinki accords. That gives us a standing to pursue all these cases. My right hon. Friend raises another interesting point to do with the increasing openness and incentive economy in the Soviet Union, namely, whether there is to be the same move in the satellite countries and what effect that would have.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that the House is interested in the warmth of her reaction to Mr. Gorbachev? She reacted warmly to him when she first met him in Britain, but then went cool and resumed her old cold war posture. May we take it that she will not go cool this time, at least not until after the general election?

The Prime Minister

Mr. Gorbachev came in 1984 at the invitation of the British Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "The IPU."]—rather, the IPU, and I had five hours of talks with him at Chequers. That was long before he held his present position, and it established the basis of a relationship which has enabled us to talk openly further. The right hon. Gentleman has perhaps not yet fully realised the enormity of the change that Mr. Gorbachev is trying to bring about in Soviet politics. That movement to greater openness and an incentive economy is making it an important time both to have closer contacts and to achieve from the Soviet Union's higher regard for the Helsinki accords and from more visits much closer trust and confidence which are necessary for further arms control agreements.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

Bearing in mind the distinct possibility of the Soviet Union reestablishing diplomatic relations with Israel, has my right hon. Friend anything to say as a result of her prolonged talks about the possibility of the Soviet Union participating in the middle east peace process?

The Prime Minister

We spoke briefly about that, but I do not think there is anything further to report to the House. My hon. Friend is aware of the proposal that there should be an international conference, not directly involved in the negotiations, but as a framework for direct negotiations between Israel and King Hussein with an appropriate group of Palestinians. The United States has now accepted the principle of an international conference, but a great deal more work needs to be done on precisely how it should operate and whom it should consist of. We shall try to achieve further steps in that direction.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

As one who has for many years been critical of the internal regime in the Soviet Union and the lack of human rights of the Soviet people, will the Prime Minister take it from me that we greatly welcome the open and frank discussions that took place between her and Mr. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union? Is it not clear that those open discussions could not have taken place and that she could not have gone on Soviet television and said what she did if Mr. Gorbachev and Soviet leaders had not opened the way for that? Therefore, is it not clear that if we are not to help the old Stalinist forces to regain control and turn back the wheels of history, we need to help that progress further, particularly by giving greater support to the proposals of Mr. Gorbachev and others to get rid of nuclear weapons throughout Europe?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his remarks. I believe that, in a way, he is saying the same as I am with regard to the internal policies of the Soviet Union. Though those policies are still based on Communism in the Soviet constitution, there is now, as a matter of policy, since Mr. Gorbachev's speech of 27 January, a greater openness and discussion. There is a rather different economic system, not: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs but, "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work". There is also a much greater degree of dispersing responsibilities.

It is that beginning of a different policy—we do not know yet how it will work—that offers new opportunities. I think that the hon. Gentleman is right about that. It is absolutely in our interests, as well as the interests of the people of the Soviet Union, that we should encourage those things, because greater freedom is obviously good for all mankind. I believe that it will lead to greater prosperity and to greater understanding. However, I must make it clear that changes are brought about not by speeches or intentions, but by practical results. We shall do everything we can to look for and encourage practical results, but no one in a responsible Government position would ever put at risk our security and defence. One mistake could be absolutely fatal.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I applaud not only the achievements, but the stamina of my right hon. Friend. Is she aware that millions of Christians, Jews and Moslems are glad that she and her right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary testified to the principle of religious freedom? As my right hon. Friend moved about, did she sense the profound, continuing religious feeling among many Russians that often puts many in the West to shame?

The Prime Minister

The services at Zagorsk were remarkable, and the number of people who came out from those great cathedrals equally remarkable. The church in which services are held at this time of the year was absolutely full, not only with older people, but with families coming to worship together. The people to whom I spoke outside also said that they liked the church that they went to. In that area, they certainly can go to that particular church freely. I regret to say that that freedom does not extend throughout the Soviet Union. We simply must keep up the need to stand up for those people and persist in pursuing their cases.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

In the light of her experience and the changes that she has identified, will the Prime Minister use her influence with those who take entrenched positions on both sides of the Atlantic, and who feel that a richer, more efficient Soviet Union means a menacing Russia, to show that they are mistaken and that they should respond in a more up-to-date way?

The Prime Minister

I have said how we have responded. It is a turning point in the Soviet Union and we hope that the intentions will come to fruition. I believe that it would be in the interests not only of the Soviet Union and its people if those intentions came to fruition, but also of the West. A much more open society, more freedom of discussion and movement would be in the interests of Europe and of the rest of the world.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

As one who also sought to raise the question of human rights with General Secretary Gorbachev last year, may I say to my right hon. Friend how much I admired the way she did so this time, emphasising the importance that we attach to this question without at the same time making it an absolute barrier to achieving a first step towards reducing the nuclear balance between East and West?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend has said, and as right hon. and hon. Members are aware, it is a difficult balance to achieve, because the Soviets are extremely sensitive if one tries to interfere in their internal affairs, even though we point out that we have a totally independent judiciary, a rule of law, and a plural society quite different from theirs. What gives us a standing is the Helsinki accords, when the Soviets agreed to a freer movement of ideas and people. We must never forget that, and we must pursue that point. I have the impression that the Soviets are very much aware of the accords' importance in the context of not only better relations in trading and other matters, but of achieving more reductions in weapons of all kinds.

If over a period of years one achieves better confidence and trust, one can travel in the Soviet Union freely and one can see what is going on freely, those represent the essential conditions when one does not need to have as many weapons, provided they are always balanced. One must never be weak, because it is weakness that attracts wars and not strength.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I must have regard to the fact that there is another statement, and then the business statement. I will allow questions to continue for another five minutes and then we must move on.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Does the Prime Minister accept that one of the reasons for having discussions between the leaders of nation states is that we would hope to make the world a safer place? Are we correct in understanding that the right hon. Lady had up to 13 hours of discussions with General Secretary Gorbachev? Are we correct in assuming that neither of those individuals made any meaningful concessions in relation to strategic, INF or battlefield arms reductions? How can we assume that the world is a safer place after those discussions?

The Prime Minister

I note that the hon. Gentleman is trying to play the whole thing down. I believe that it was a very constructive visit. We discussed at great length, more thoroughly than I have done with any other leader, the differences in beliefs, the consequences that flow from that, the problems that Mr. Gorbachev is likely to face when making changes in the Soviet Union, and arms control.

We were able to learn at first hand from Mr. Gorbachev about his plans for restructuring and for a more open society. That is important. We agreed that we think that it is in our interests that, as Mr. Sakharov said, "An open society is safer for its neighbours".

Secondly, I gave Mr. Gorbachev our view on a wide number of international issues. I hoped that the original doctrine of Communism—world domination by the Communist system—would be dropped, because I thought it caused great concern and fear in the West.

I also believe that the way in which the people came out to talk to me and the fact that I was able to talk more freely than any other leader on television helps to make the world a more secure place.—[Interruption.] It is through friendship and understanding that we will be able to verify a number of matters on arms control and human rights issues, and secure bilateral agreements. I believe that that does help to make the world a safer place.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her successful visit. With regard to the philosophical portions of her conversations with Mr. Gorbachev, I wonder whether she can tell us something about how she sees the similarities between her economic reforms in Britain and Mr. Gorbachev's proposals for Russia, and what about the similarities in the opposition to them in both countries?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware of the point that my hon. Friend is making. It took quite a time to turn Britain round from Socialism to a country with a high standard of living, respect in the world, strong defence and so on. Therefore, it will take much longer to turn round the Soviet system.

One is very much aware that, when one is embarking on change, there are many people who oppose it and one needs the help of those who believe in it. From time to time, I drew just a hint of a parallel in that respect.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

In view of the Prime Minister's remarks, did the General Secretary, in his discussions with her, confirm the view expressed by Gennady Genasimov—and I quote—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must paraphrase.

Mr. Howarth

The view was that the Prime Minister's trip was a campaign of self-advertisment on the eve of the British general election.

The Prime Minister

If that is all that the hon. Gentleman has to ask, it is not worth the time.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Will my right hon. Friend expand on her talks with Mr. Sakharov on the important issue of human rights? Is she aware that last Sunday the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made a vicious personal attach on her on British television in which he stated that Mr. Sakharov had declined to meet her? Has the right hon. Gentleman got it wrong yet again?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) often gets it wrong. Mr. Sakharov did not decline to meet us. He was with Mrs. Bonner, whom we also saw in London. He is very grateful for the activities in this country on his behalf over the years and once again he welcomed very much the new open society. I had read the speeches that he made at the open forum. There is a great deal more to be done, and he asked if we would please continue to speak up on behalf of those who are not yet free to speak for themselves.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Prime Minister has intimated there might be a further opportunity to debate this matter. Perhaps we shall hear something about it this afternoon. I shall bear in mind on that occasion those hon. Members who have not been called.