HC Deb 11 May 1983 vol 42 cc775-7
12. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the question of religious and cultural freedom in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was discussed during the recent visit of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) to Moscow.

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

During my recent talks in Moscow I reiterated our concern at the Soviet human rights performance and raised several individual cases.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am sure that the House is grateful for that. Does my hon. Friend agree that the continuing repression of religious and cultural freedom, especially of the Christian and Jewish communities, in the Soviet Union is a major obstacle to any chance of improving relations between the Soviet Union and Great Britain? Is not the failure of the Soviet Union to fulfil the human rights aspects of the Helsinki agreement cause for concern about its ability or intention to adhere to the rest of that agreement?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. The Soviet human rights record has deteriorated sharply in recent months. Only this afternoon I was visited by the sister of a Soviet dissident, Mr. Yevdokimov, who has been sentenced to eight years' imprisonment and internal exile for activities which in a normal country would not be considered illegal or unacceptable. It is an unfortunate example of disrespect for human rights.

Mr. Anderson

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the fact that he has taken up those matters in the Soviet Union? Does he agree that the Soveiet Union does itself no good by its continued repression of Christians, Jews and other dissidents? Does he also agree that if our representations are to be more effective we should be seen in the world to be even-handed in criticising violations of human rights in Central America and Chile and other countries, and not just in countries behind the Iron Curtain?

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for the representations being made about human rights violation in the Soviet Union. The Government, like previous Governments, are concerned with human rights violations wherever they occur.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Was my hon. Friend able to explain to the Russians that the excuse that Communism can admit no deviation without itself falling apart is not sufficient for the Western world to be able to devote any credence to their signature on any treaty?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend's question is an indication of the basic insecurity that is felt by Soviet leaders, who are well aware of the unacceptability of their system to the vast majority of those who have the misfortune to live under it.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Bearing in mind Russia's well known tyranny over its own people, does my hon. Friend not think it strange that the Opposition should continue to ask us to trust it by pressing for one-sided nuclear disarmament?

Mr. Rifkind

It is extraordinary that the Opposition should have announced their intention unilaterally to disarm and then to have written to the Soviet Union to ask how it would respond to such a policy.