HC Deb 09 February 1983 vol 36 cc989-90
9. Mr. Woodall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if Her Majesty's Government are considering any new initiative to persuade the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to allow Anatoly Shcharansky to leave that country; and if Her Majesty's Government will consider combining with other European countries in an approach to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Rifkind)

My right hon. Friend summoned the Soviet ambassador on 7 February and asked him to convey to the Soviet Government an urgent appeal for Mr. Shcharansky's immediate release on humanitarian grounds. In present circumstances, we believe that bilateral approaches and raising the issue at the Madrid meeting are the right way of dealing with this matter.

Mr. Woodall

Will the Minister accept that that is a most helpful answer? As he has stated, his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has expressed her concern and sympathy for Mr. Shcharansky, as have other European Heads of State. Will the Minister suggest to his right hon. Friend that a concerted approach by Heads of State might secure the release of this poor, unfortunate gentleman?

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments. Several Governments are expressing their views in the clearest possible terms, and the Soviet Union is being left in no doubt that Mr. Shcharansky, who is a member of the Helsinki monitoring group, is of special importance because of the present talks in Madrid.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

What reply would Her Majesty's Government make to a demand by the Soviet Union that a prisoner in one of Her Majesty's prisons should be set at liberty?

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman should realise that Mr. Shcharansky's status as a member of the Helsinki monitoring group seeking to ensure that the Soviet Union observes the agreements into which it entered at the Helsinki conference gives a special interest to he rest of the world to draw to the attention of the Soviet Union its failure to comply with its obligations.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my hon. Friend aware that nearly all hon. Members, especially those who are concerned with human rights, and the all party Committees will be delighted with the initiative that my right hon. Friend has taken?

Mr. Winnick

What about Chile?

Mr. Lawrence

Will he carry on with the same enthusiasm to pursue the Russians in their determination to deprive Soviet Jews of their basic human rights, which are important to hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. It is clear that Mr. Shcharansky's case is important, not only for the reasons that I mentioned, but because he has become a symbol of the desire of people to choose whether they wish to live in the Soviet Union or to leave. That right has been increasingly denied them by the Soviet Union, again contrary to the Helsinki agreement.

Mr. James Lamond

What answer would the Foreign Office give to a request by the Soviet Union for the immediate release of political prisoners who have from time to time been on hunger strike in prisons in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman does a disservice to this country and to Parliament by trying to equate the free and correct trial of a person charged with a criminal offence with the bogus charges that are made against many Soviet citizens for indulging in actions of which the Soviet Government disapprove.

Mrs. Knight

I thank my hon. Friend for all that he said and for all that he is doing for Mr. Shcharansky. Will he never cease to make an effort for the pathetic and numerous batallion of other people who wish to leave that country but are not allowed to do so?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the fact that, although Mr. Shcharansky's case is well known around the world, tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of people who are unknown in Britain have similar problems.

Mr. George Robertson

As the Opposition believe in human rights throughout the world, we fully support the humanitarian calls to free Anatoly Shcharansky from the Soviet Union. Is the Minister aware that we believe that his continued imprisonment in the Soviet Union can only sour relations between East and West, and will he continue to exert the maximum pressure on the Soviet Government to respond to international feeling?

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It will assist us in our representations to be able to say that my right hon. Friend speaks for both sides of the House on this matter.