HC Deb 18 March 1987 vol 112 cc920-2
11. Mr. Allen McKay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will seek opportunities to raise the question of the reunification of divided families both with the Soviet Foreign Minister and at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe review conference in Vienna.

13. Mr. Lawrence

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has received any official response from the Soviet authorities to representations which he and his ministerial colleagues have made during the past six months on individual cases of abuse of human rights in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Mr. Renton

There has been no official response. But a number of cases that we have raised over the past six months have now been resolved, for example, those of Irina Ratushinskaya, Josef Begun and Alexander Ogorodnikov, who are now at liberty. We shall continue to press for further improvements in human rights and family reunification cases in bilateral contacts with the Soviet Government and at the Vienna CSCE review meeting.

Mr. McKay

Bearing in mind that there are more than 9,000 Soviet Jews who have been waiting for more than five years for permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union, will the Foreign Secretary advise the Prime Minister that, when she meets Mr. Gorbachev, she should make it clear to him that Her Majesty's Government will not be satisfied until all those Soviet Jews who wish to emigrate to other countries are allowed to do so?

Mr. Renton

I very much take the hon. Gentleman's point. When I was in Moscow in January I was promised by Mr. Kashlev, the head of the Russian delegation in Vienna, that the number of exit visas this year would increase by an order of several magnitudes from that of last year. However, so far I notice that for February there have only been 146 exit visas for Soviet Jews, compared with more than 4,000 per month in 1979. Therefore, I am sure that my right hon. Friends will have the hon. Gentleman's point in mind when they go to Moscow next week.

Mr. Lawrence

May I, too, thank my hon. Friend for the work that he is doing in this area? May I ask him, when he next meets the Russians, to tell them that, happy as we are that they are ending their abuse of human rights in respect of a few individual cases, they cannot persuade the West that they are serious about their undertakings on peace and security which have been entered into internationally if they are breaking wholesale their international undertakings on human rights? Will he also say that, instead of doing a bit here and there to keep the West sweet, they should honour those international undertakings to the full?

Mr. Renton

I very much agree with my hon. and learned Friend. As I have said, we must now think not only about the famous few who are in the spotlight, but about the thousands who are either still in prison as prisoners of conscience for their beliefs or who have been waiting 10 or 15 years for an exit visa. My right hon. Friends will certainly have those points in mind next week.

Mr. Mikardo

While I join warmly in the appreciation expressed to the Government for their work and the work of others in this area, may I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that, in making representations in Moscow about the crime of keeping families divided, our hand would be strengthened if we stopped keeping some families divided?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman's analogy is somewhat obscure to me, but I thank him for the tribute that he paid. It is important that we should continue to put pressure on the Soviet Union over the whole area of human rights and to make certain that the promises that are now being made from the top are genuinely fulfilled to help the human rights position of the many thousands who are still suffering in Soviet Russia.

Mr. Dykes

May I, too, express appreciation for the many hours of work that my hon. Friend has put in on human rights and divided families with the Soviets? Is he aware that the fourth Member of Parliament who was recently refused a visa, namely, me, was refused on the day when a Soviet fireman was here receiving honours for his work at Chernobyl? Will he confirm that Soviet visitors, including political visitors, are free to come here on individual or official visits and that they do so frequently? Will he kindly explain to Mr. Zamyatin that the crucial difference on the divided family syndrome is that our problems arise because people want to come into the country, whereas in the Soviet Union people want to leave?

Mr. Renton

I am sorry that my hon. Friend was not able to obtain his entry visa to the Soviet Union, but I hope that he will continue to apply and, that on another occasion he will be successful. It is, indeed, ironic that it is only from the Soviet Union that literally thousands of people are wishing to obtain exit visas and to leave. There is no such record from this country or the United States. That is a point that we must continually press on the Soviet authorities, including the Soviet ambassador in London.

Mr. Mason

Is the Minister aware that in 1985,; when Mr. Gorbachev came to office, there were 383,000 outstanding invitations to Soviet Jews from their friends and relatives to go to other countries? In his first year of office he released fewer than 1,000, last year he released 1,100, and this year the figure is about the same. Therefore, will the Minister call upon the Prime Minister to draw Mr. Gorbachev's attention to those figures? Is the Minister further aware that in January this year Soviet emigration rules were tightened to make it even more difficult for Soviet Jews to emigrate?

Mr. Renton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I have already commented on the rapid fall-off in exit visas for Soviet Jews and others, particularly since the high point reached in 1979, when more than 50,000 exit visas were granted. That compares with last year's total of 5,000, of which 1,000 were for Jews. We shall continue to stress that point. I note the right hon. Gentleman's point about the change in the emigration rules and I raised it in Moscow. I was told that, nevertheless, the authorities expected a great increase in exit visas this year. We are waiting to see that happen, but so far it has not. The proof of the pudding will lie in the eating. We shall continue to press vigorously for it.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

May I add my voice to those urging my hon. Friend to explain once again to the Russian authorities that, despite some window dressing, their refusal to honour their obligations with regard to human rights will cast some doubt upon their sincerity in disarmament negotiations?

Mr. Renton

I believe that what we have to do now is accept what Mr. Gorbachev and some of his Ministers are saying with caution, but put it to the test. We have to test them—and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friends will have this in mind in Moscow next week—to see whether the major changes which they have promised they are envisaging really will happen. I certainly take my hon. Friend's point that until there is a radical change in the human rights position in the Soviet Union it is difficult to accept wholeheartedly all that they promise us about arms control.

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