HC Deb 03 March 1982 vol 19 cc257-60
6. Mr. Douglas

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the most recent discussions between his Department and the Polish Government on the issue of human rights.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Humphrey Atkins)

Her Majesty's Government have made it very clear to the Polish authorities that we deplore the massive violation of human and civil rights in Poland. We have called on the Polish Government to lift martial law, release those detained without trial and resume a dialogue with the Church and Solidarity as soon as possible.

Mr. Douglas

I welcome that reply. Has the Minister had talks with and received the views of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the number of people in internment? Will he indicate the Government's anxiety over the fate of Mr. Lech Walesa? His continued incarceration should be deplored by all who want to see human rights extolled in this country and elsewhere.

Mr. Atkins

We are in close touch with the International Committee of the Red Cross because of the handling of the humanitarian food aid that we and other countries are sending to Poland. Of course we deplore the detention of Lech Walesa without trial, just as we deplore the detention of anyone else. He is still detained, but he was recently visited by a Polish priest and appeared to be in good health.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed reports in today's papers of a speech by his right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) expressing criticism of sanctions against Poland? Does he agree with the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that the West can influence the situation in Poland only by pursuing a policy of detente in the long term?

Mr. Atkins

I have seen newspaper reports of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) apparently said in the United States yesterday, but I am too old a hand to rely entirely on newspaper reports.

Sir Frederic Bennett

In his earlier reply my right hon. Friend mentioned the importance of lifting martial law. Does he agree that we must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that the situation will be ameliorated by the lifting of martial law, which would not necessarily lead to the release of political prisoners or the return of human rights? There is no martial law in the Soviet Union and there are certainly no human rights there.

Mr. Atkins

I agree with my hon. Friend, who may have noticed the communiqué, issued following discussions in Russia yesterday between President Brezhnev and General Jaruzelski, to the effect that any attempts to change the socio-political system further will be cut short in a most resolute manner. That applies not just to martial law. It is clear from that communiqué that there is no change of heart so far on the part of the Polish authorities.

Mr. Winnick

The Labour Party sympathies entirely with the Polish working people against the junta. When will the Prime Minister speak out clearly and sharply over the evil repression in South Africa and in El Salvador—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are questions about El Salvador on the Order Paper.

Mr. Winnick

With respect, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This question is about Poland.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, but there is a comparison.

Mr. Winnick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I will take the hon. Gentleman's point of order after Question Time. [Interruption.] Order. I am not entering into an argument with the hon. Gentleman.

7. Sir Patrick Wall

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is satisfied with the steps the fifteen North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nations have taken to formulate an agreed policy of response to any further unfavourable developments in Poland.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

The response of Her Majesty's Government and our North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies to the situation in Poland was set out in the ministerial declaration of 11 January. That declaration also outlined measures which might be taken if the situation in Poland showed no improvement. A number of such measures have now been taken. Should the situation in Poland deteriorate further—we all hope it will not—NATO will certainly respond as indicated.

Sir Patrick Wall

In view of the lack of allied co-operation over Afghanistan and Soviet sanctions—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am grateful for that assistance. The question is confined to Poland.

Sir Patrick Wall

In view of the lack of allied co-operation in the former cases, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, should the Soviet Union take over Poland, allied co-operation has already been agreed and will be immediate?

Mr. Atkins

We have made it clear in NATO that any move by the Soviet Union to interfere directly in the affairs of Poland will be met immediately by the measures and rebuffs that we have described in the statement to which I referred.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever we may feel about martial law in Poland, that is no reason for breaking off or discouraging East-West peace talks? What good will it do the Polish, British or any other people if we continue the arms race, which can only have the same result as all past arms races?

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman will surely have noticed that the discussions in general between the United States and the Soviet Union about the reduction of future theatre nuclear weapons are still going on. Furthermore, the review conference in Madrid relating to the Helsinki Final Act is also continuing.

Mr. John Townend

If the situation in Poland deteriorates, will one of the options being considered by the Government and our NATO Allies be that the sporting relationships between the West and the Communist bloc should be put on the same basis as those with South Africa?

Mr. Atkins

There are no sporting relationships between ourselves and the Soviet Union at the moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Of course there are."] There are no events scheduled between ourselves and the Soviet Union at the moment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Where is Aston Villa now?

Mr. Atkins

I refer the House to the statement issued on 11 January to which I have referred.

8. Mr. Renton

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he considers that the joint European Economic Community initiative with regard to Poland is making any progress.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

The position of the Ten remains as set out in the declaration of Foreign Ministers on 4 January, a copy of which was placed in the Library. The Community has discontinued food sales at special prices to Poland, and funds for that purpose have been diverted to humanitarian aid. European Community Foreign Ministers agreed on 23 February to allocate a further £4.5 million for this aid. There have not so far been the changes in Polish policies that we would wish to see.

Mr. Renton

Is it not a matter of deep regret that, despite the horror felt in the whole of the Western world about martial law being imposed in Poland, none of the measures so far taken by the EEC has had any effect whatever? Is it not clear that the military regime in Poland, supported by Russia, will in the end be influenced only by a totoal embargo on grain exports to the Eastern bloc?

Mr. Atkins

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes". On the second part, I believe that the restrictions on credit upon which the Community has embarked in relation to Poland are having an effect.

Mr. Newens

Will the Lord Privy Seal make it clear that many of us who have been deeply concerned about human rights in other parts of the world are equally anxious about the situation in Poland? Is he aware that we are most concerned that he should make it clear everywhere that the Opposition are anxious that immediate steps are taken to release political prisoners and to provide proper freedom for the Polish people?

Mr. Atkins

I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman's support.

Mr. Heffer

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that some of us believe that the proposed sanctions are entirely cosmetic? Does he agree that sanctions, such as 2 per cent. of imports worth £140 million relating to luxury goods, are not the way to proceed? Would it not be better for the Ten to enter into discussions with the Polish Government about the release of prisoners and the removal of martial law than to have a pretence of action which adds up to nothing?

Mr. Atkins

As I said earlier, we are in touch with representatives of the Polish Government. We have made precisely the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, but so far to no effect whatever.

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