HC Deb 17 January 1979 vol 960 cc1696-8
14. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about the extent to which those provisions of the Helsinki Agreement relating to freedom of religion have been observed by the signatory States during the last year.

Mr. Luard

These provisions have been observed satisfactorily by most signatory States, but during the past year serious difficulties continued to be encountered by religios believers in the Soviet Union and in certain East European countries.

Mr. Sainsbury

Does the Minister recognise that priority is given in the principles of the Helsinki Agreement to freedom of religion and that that is a matter of great concern to many British people? What steps are being taken to monitor these aspects of the Final Act? Will the observance of religious freedom be given sufficient priority at the next review conference in Madrid?

Mr. Luard

We try to monitor the observance of this issue and all other aspects of the Helsinki Agreement. All human rights aspects of the Helsinki Agreement will be carefully discussed and examined at the next conference in Madrid in a year or two's time. According to our present information there is restriction because the number of places open for worship to religious believers remains artificially limited. There is discrimination and pressure against believers and their families, and the supply of religious literature remains inadequate.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is my hon. Friend aware that of late there has been a welcome increase in the number of people of the Jewish faith who have been permitted to leave the Soviet Union? In the circumstances, will he prevail on the Soviet authorities to release Professor Alexander Lerner and those who have been held at home or in exile, such as Ida Nudel and Vladimir Slepak, who have been waiting for a long time to leave and who are held in Russia, totally contrary to the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act?

Mr. Luard

I am aware that there has been a welcome increase in the number of Jews allowed to leave the Soviet Union in the past year or so. We hope and trust that that trend will continue. It is not normally open to us to raise the cases of individual Jews who are not our own nationals, but I hope that my hon. and learned Friend and all organisations that are concerned about this matter will continue to stress the importance of particular individuals being allowed to leave.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is every opportunity taken by Ministers and by Her Majesty's missions in the countries concerned to draw to the attention of the Governments there the concern felt by the British people for the free practice of religion, whether it be Christian, Jewish Moslem or any other, and the effect that this has on relations and good feelings between the peoples?

Mr. Luard

The House knows that Ministers consistently express their concern about human rights in the Soviet Union, both in public, as in the House, and sometimes when we meet our Soviet opposite numbers. I shall try to ensure that this aspect is raised on suitable occasions.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Minister aware that one Christian leader, Pastor Vins, has suffered serious persecution under the Soviet regime? Is he aware that action has been taken against his family, and that his son has been charged and is in prison? Will he make it clear to the Soviet authorities that believers in Britain are greatly alarmed, especially about the Vins family being picked out for such treatment?

Mr. Luard

I hope that the Soviet Government are very much aware of the deep concern that is felt among all sections of the British people and in the House about such restrictions on religion. I hope that the Soviet Embassy in Britain will report the hon. Gentleman's remarks to its Government.

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