HC Deb 18 February 1987 vol 110 cc902-4
8. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement of progress at the current Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe review conference in Vienna.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Vienna meeting has now moved on from the review of implementation to discussion of new initiatives. On 4 February, together with the other Western countries, our delegation tabled an ambitious three-stage action programme designed to ensure concrete progress on human rights, not only at Vienna, but thereafter.

Mr. Atkinson

Although we must all be encouraged by what Mr. Gorbachev has been saying recently, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the true test is the full implementation by the Soviet Union of the Helsinki Final Act, not least its human rights provisions? Will he consider tabling further initiatives at Vienna to allow for the guaranteed protection of Helsinki monitoring groups and for citizens of all the participating states to have the right of individual petition to a human rights commission within the Helsinki process? That would show that Mr. Gorbachev means business.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I welcome and understand my hon. Friend's endorsement of the importance of the Helsinki monitoring groups. Like him, we look for action to deliver the consequences of the words spoken on human rights by the Soviet Union. The proposals that we have tabled at the Vienna conference contain ideas to deal with the problems to which my hon. Friend referred. The first stage would provide arrangements whereby Governments and other interested groups could raise individual grievances along the lines that my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Beith

Is it not important that there should be a positive response from the West to the limited, but nevertheless very important, actions which have been taken by Mr. Gorbachev in pursuit of his words, if only to make it clear to those who might challenge what he is doing that the achievement of real progress on human rights, while there are still thousands in prisons and psychiatric camps for reasons of conscience, is fundamental to the West's perception of whether we can do business with the Soviet Union?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House will agree with the hon. Gentlman. There has been a widespread welcome for the decisions and actions that have taken place in the direction of improving respect for human rights and setting individual people free on a significant scale, but we must always remember that that is only a small portion of the much larger problem with which we want the Soviet Union and its allies to deal.

Mr. Lawrence

Although we all appreciate and welcome the improved intentions on human rights from the Soviet Union, on implementation, is there any evidence that the Soviets are allowing more refuseniks to leave the Soviet Union, that they are releasing prisoners of conscience from imprisonment and that they are allowing greater freedom of religion and religious culture in the Soviet Union?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is a matter of making a careful judgment. There has been some improvement in respect of the treatment of individual cases. There has been an improvement, for example, although in a differenct area, with the ending of the jamming of the BBC Russian service. But all this takes place from a wretchedly low base. Massive abuses still exist. The January figures for Jewish emigration remained modest. There is vast room for improvement in all these matters, including attitudes towards religious and political dissent, and we await with interest a fulfilment of the promises.

Mr. Winnick

Should we not warmly welcome the progress that has been made during the past few months, with the apparent release of 140 prisoners? One hopes that the Soviet Union will follow this with the release of all those who have been imprisoned because of their political or religious beliefs. Would not the views of Conservative Members be taken more seriously if their anxiety about human rights was not confined to Eastern Europe, but included countries such as Chile?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Having started off not too badly, the hon. Gentleman relapsed to his customary form at the end. Let us draw together both sides of the House on this. Of course we all welcome the fact that individuals are being freed and that there is some movement in the direction of more respect for human rights by the Soviet Union. We do not yet even know that all the 140 people identified to be freed have been freed. Let us welcome what has happened, but let us never cease to remind the Soviet Union that there is a great deal more to be done.

Mr. Sackville

Does my right hon. and learned Friend welcome the announcement last night of the release of Dr. Anatoly Koryagin? Does he agree that the release of a small number of prominent dissidents and political prisoners, and their consequent removal from Western news bulletins, does not of itself denote a real alteration in the stance of the Soviet Union towards dissidents?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is right to be both welcoming and wary. It is good in human terms that some releases have taken place, and it is good if they foreshadow much bigger change, but the changes have a disproportionately large impact on media reception in the West. Let us welcome what has happened, but let us go on pressing for a great deal more of a much more fundamental kind to happen.

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