HC Deb 21 January 1981 vol 997 cc249-52
7. Mr. Chapman

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the Madrid conference to review the Helsinki agreements.

9. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the Helsinki review conference taking place in Madrid.

14. Mr. Hooley

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the progress of the CSCE discussion in Madrid.

Mr. Blaker

During the first part of the Madrid meeting there was a thorough and frank review of the implementation of the Helsinki Final Act by all signatory States. Among the issues to which particular attention was paid were the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the repression of monitoring groups in the USSR and the deteriorating Soviet record on human rights. The Madrid meeting reconvenes on 27 January to discuss new proposals for improving the implementation of the final act, and to draft a final document.

Mr. Chapman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that considered reply, but will he confirm that after the six-week session adjourned for Christmas, the senior United Kingdom representative at that conference was quoted as saying, with the greatest regret, that not the slightest step forward had been taken? If the USSR refuses to abide by the Helsinki declaration, which I understand includes a commitment to convene a further review conference in two years' time, will Her Majesty's Government seek a united response from Western countries, including EEC countries, which will not necessarily exclude using certain trade and economic measures?

Mr. Blaker

We are already taking certain trade and economic measures vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in the context of the invasion of Afghanistan. I think that my hon. Friend has correctly quoted Mr. Wilberforce, who was at that time leading the British delegation. It is true that the Russian altitude, although it has not been very acrimonious, has not been very constructive about the prospects of the USSR fulfilling the agreement more effectively. We have already put forward new proposals, which will be discussed on the resumption of the conference on 27 January, and we hope that the Russians will show a more constructive attitude then.

Mr. Atkinson

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his fine speech at Madrid and the firm stand that has enabled the Soviet Union and its allies to be held to account for their continued abuse of human rights. Will my hon. Friend pursue an agreement within the Helsinki process for the prevention of the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes?

Mr. Blaker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first remarks. The proposals that we have put forward, with our friends, include proposals on the better observance of human rights, and I have no doubt that the very important question of the abuse of psychiatry will come up.

Mr. Hooley

Now that the Government have renewed negotiations with the Soviet Union for extended trade credits, does that mean that the process of détente and the CSCE will be continued? If so, will the Government take seriously the proposals tabled by France and the Soviet Union for a European disarmament conference?

Mr. Blaker

I am not sure that we have proposed that credits in favour of the Soviet Union from the Government should be renewed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we discontinued them when the Labour Government's agreement expired. We have taken the view that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan delivered a serious blow to detente, and if the Soviet Union continued to behave in that manner detente could not survive. The proposals by France and the Soviet Union for a conference on disarmament are different. We have supported the French proposal, which envisages the improvement of confidence-building measures over the whole of Europe. We shall examine the Soviet proposals, but they seem to us at present to involve declaratory statements rather than practical steps.

Sir Bernard Braine

Why are the discussions taking place at all when so many brave souls, such as the distinguished Czech playwright, Vaclav Havel, and many others, are being persecuted and are in prison for accusing their Governments of not observing both the letter and the spirit of the Helsinki accord? What protests are we making in Madrid about the treatment of such people, who have committed no crime but are merely witnesses to the truth?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Absolutely nothing.

Mr. Blaker

The Government take the view that the Helsinki process inaugurated by the Helsinki Final Act is a useful one in the interests of the West. The evolution of events in Eastern Europe since then shows some confirmation of that. It is true that terrible abuses of human rights continue, but the continuation of the Helsinki process gives us the opportunity to draw attention to those abuses in a public manner. We have been doing that at Madrid, and we have received many letters of congratulation on the stand that the Government have taken. We should continue to draw attention to this matter when the conference resumes.

Mr. McNally

Will the Minister confirm that that statement is very different from the posture of the Conservative Party at the time of the Helsinki Final Act; that the Madrid conference allowed him to raise matters of human rights, and has provided the opportunity for the Prime Minister's U-turn on trade; that his Department's policy follows Lord Trevelyan's dictum that we should continue the dialogue with the Soviet Union at all opportunities, on all issues and at all times; and that the Foreign Office has finally abandoned the cold war posturing of the Prime Minister?

Mr. Blaker

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who is normally fairly sensible, seems to have gone off the rails, especially towards the end of that question. There has been no U-turn on trade. What we said after the invasion of Afghanistan was that trade that was in the interests both of the United Kingdom and of the Soviet Union should continue, in spite of Afghanistan, but that we would support the measures that the United States Government were taking in relation to grain, that we would tighten the rules about the export of high technology to the Soviet Union, and that we would not renew the credit arrangements that the Labour Government made in favour of the Soviet Union.

Viscount Cranborne

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his sterling performance in Madrid. Does he consider that perhaps one of the most effective ways in which to help the cause of human rights in Russia would be to increase Government expenditure on the overseas services provided by the BBC? There is considerable evidence of the effectiveness of those services, as a function not only of defence, but of helping the cause of human rights, as my hon. Friend will see when he reads the recent reports, particularly in the Financial Times, to the effect that the Russians spend a large part of their resources every year on trying to jam those broadcasts.

Mr. Blaker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. I agree with him about the importance of the overseas services of the BBC. We considered that in view of the need to cut public expenditure the BBC external services could not be entirely exempt from cuts, but we are spending a good deal more on them than was being spent two years ago. It is our intention to do the same next year. That will mean an improvement in the reception of those services in general.

Mr. Frank Allaun

At Madrid, will the Government take the initiative over arms reduction? Will they respond to the proposals made by Mr. Brezhnev last month, or will they continue to dance the eternal minuet, in which each side retreats as the other side advances an offer?

Mr. Blaker

The Helsinki forums have not so far been the forums in which we have discussed arms reduction. We have discussed confidence-building measures, and I think it right that we should continue to do that when the conference resumes. Whether at a subsequent stage we should go on to the question of arms reduction is an entirely different and important matter. We must bear in mind that there are many other forums in which arms control and arms reductions are being discussed.