HC Deb 24 April 1985 vol 77 cc871-2
21. Mr. Watts

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his visit to Czechoslovakia

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I visited Czechoslovakia from 10 to 11 April. During the visit I met the President and Prime Minister and had talks with the Foreign Minister. I also called on Cardinal Tomasek, and met a wide cross-section of Czechoslovak society. The main theme of the official talks was East-West relations. I underlined the West's sincere wish to reduce levels of weapons through genuinely balanced and verifiable agreements. I stressed our concern for human rights throughout Europe. I also discussed bilateral relations, including trade

Mr. Watts

I welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about his visit. Does he agree that one of the best ways of increasing our beneficial influence in the countries of eastern Europe and improving our relations with them is by extending our contacts through the expansion of trade? Will he comment further on the prospects for increasing trade between the United Kingdom and Czechoslovakia?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with my hon. Friend that trade can play a significant part in improving contacts in other ways. It was for that reason that I discussed the levels of bilateral trade with Czechoslovak Ministers. We agreed that there was scope for a large increase in trade. I have already passed details of my talks to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who will be visiting Czechoslovakia in May

Mr. Mason

In his talks on human rights with the Czechoslovak regime, did the right hon. and learned Gentleman enlist their aid in his efforts to apply pressure on the Soviet Union to release more Soviet Jews to Israel?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I did not seek to enlist the aid of the Governments in eastern Europe on that very important issue, which we continue to press with the Soviet Union

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his successful tour to Czechoslovakia. Will he expand on his discussions with Cardinal Tomasek? Did he have any other meetings with leaders of the very oppressed Church?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I met other representatives of the Church briefly and informally, but with Cardinal Tomasek I was able to have quite a full discussion of the problems of the Church, to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention—for example, the appointment of bishops, the admission of candidates for religious qualification and freedom of assembly. He regarded the meeting as important. I raised some of the matters with the President of the Czechoslovak Government

Mr. Winnick

If, as I believe, it was right to speak of human rights in Czechoslovakia, is not it equally right to speak of human rights in other countries which the right hon. and learned Gentleman visits—for example, Latin America and Pakistan? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many people in Britain, certainly in the Labour movement, remain deeply concerned about the way in which a number of people in Czechoslovakia—certainly those associated with the regime in 1968— continue to be persecuted and harassed by the Czech authorities? The Czech Government should recognise the deep feeling which exists in Britain over this matter.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the fact that concern in this country about respect for human rights in Czechoslovakia is widespread. It was on that basis that I raised the questions that I did. I agree that it is important to be ready to do so, as appropriate, in the many cases where that is necessary.

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