HC Deb 18 November 1987 vol 122 cc1045-6
1. Mr. Roger King

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on Soviet violations of human rights.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

There have been some developments in Soviet human rights performance recently, in particular the release of a number of prisoners of conscience and a modest increase in Jewish and other emigration. But there is a long way to go. Individual gestures are no substitute for the abolition of repressive legislation and an end to the use of state power to crush individual rights. We continue to press the Soviet authorities on these matters, both in bilateral contacts and at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Vienna.

Mr. King

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he aware that in my constituency Dr. Dick Rogers is one of the leading campaigners for the freedom of Anna Chertkova, a Soviet dissident who has been imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital for her religious beliefs since 1973? Will he impress on the Russian people, and especially on the Russian Government, that if they want rapprochement with the West and with this country such behaviour towards people who are imprisoned for their religious beliefs must stop?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that it is unacceptable to persecute those who seek no more than the freedom to profess their religious faith. The case of Anna Chertkova has, as he will know, been the understandable subject of an extensive campaign throughout the country in which his constituent has taken part. The case has been raised in the House on several occasions and was debated here as recently as 6 November. I hope that that serves to underline the importance attached to that case by all hon. Members.

Mr. Mullin

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we would be in a better position to lecture the Soviet Union on human rights if our own gaols did not contain so many innocent prisoners? I refer especially to the 11 innocent people who were convicted in connection with the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings and the six innocent people convicted—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That case is sub judice.

Dr. Blackburn

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept from me, as the vice-chairman of the all-party committee for Soviet Jewry, that there is widespread support from hon. Members of all parties for the cause of Soviet Jewry? Will he continue his efforts with the full support of the House and rejoice with me that the Kholmiansky family, who are mentioned in question No. 92, have been released during the past 24 hours?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that good news on one individual case. As he will know, we continue to stress consistently and tenaciously the importance that we attach to a substantial improvement in the freedom of emigration, not just of Jewish citizens, but of others from the Soviet Union. It is true that there has been an improvement in the total number of Jewish people who have left the Soviet Union this year. That number is between 6,000 and 7,000, but it still compares unfavourably with the peak total of 51,000 who left in 1979.