HC Deb 12 April 1989 vol 150 cc901-3
11. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made on human rights violations to the Government of Romania.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I raised Romania's appalling human rights record with the Romanian Foreign Minister in Vienna on 6 March. We deplore the Romanian Government's failure to meet their commitments under the Helsinki agreements and, in particular, their continuing policy of systematisation. We urge them to heed international calls for an end to repression and intimidation.

Mr. Flynn

The Government are to be congratulated on their leadership of the European protest against Ceausescu, a leader who increasingly oppresses his own people with the primitive cruelty and arrogance of a mediaeval tyrant. However, is it not time for the Government to lead a new initiative against the process of systemisation—a process of cultural pogroms—which is sending the process of civilisation into reverse in Romania, and against the most savage breaches of human rights in any country in Europe? Would it not be a start to the new initiative if Britain stripped from Ceausescu the honour that was given to him in 1978 in the same way that we have taken honours from past Members of the House and other citizens of this country when they no longer deserve those honours?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House will have sympathy with the vehemence with which the hon. Gentleman condemns what is happening in Romania. Condemnation is being expressed not only by Western countries because it is notable that even the Soviet Union and other Warsaw pact partners of Romania have failed to support that country in recent proceedings before the European Commission of human rights. Condemnation of that cultural and human savagery is widespread.

However, the award to which the hon. Gentleman referred was conferred long ago as part of the longstanding arrangements for the exchange of courtesies during state visits. Although there have been occasions in wartime when our enemies in recent conflicts have had their awards taken away, there is no precedent for depriving the holder of an honorary award in peacetime. It is not judged right to depart from that rule in this case. However, that does not in any sense diminish my sympathy with the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Bernard Braine

In view of the appalling human rights record of Romania under the corrupt and repressive Ceausescu regime, the fact that it has become an acute embarrassment even to its Warsaw pact partners, the creation of a major refugee problem by the enforced devillagisation that is taking place in Transylvania and in view of the fact that our own ambassador has been manhandled by the police in that country, is it not high time to show our disgust and our repugnance with this regime and to withdraw our ambassador?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand totally why my right hon. Friend makes that point so strongly. One of the purposes of retaining an ambassador there is to continue to fight against the very conditions that my right hon. Friend describes. He is right that our ambassador and members of his staff were grotesquely ill-treated on an occasion when they were trying to establish contact with the historian, Doina Cornea, who has been outrageously treated. It is also right that more recently our embassy was able to establish contact with her, which has been of value. It confirms that she is continuing to be extremely badly treated, both in encirclement and in being deprived of communication with the outside world. That in itself justifies a continued presence there, although my right hon. Friend's statement of anguish about what is going on in Romania is equally justified.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Can the Secretary of State tell us what representations have been made to the Romanian authorities? Is it not time that words of condemnation were backed by action?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As was conceded by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) in his supplementary question, the United Kingdom has been playing a leading part in mobilising action by the Community in demarche after demarche. We have been making representations with continuous vigour. We have also been able to block progress on the negotiations that were due to take place between the Community and Romania. So we have intervened effectively in the way that was open to us. We shall continue to mobilise as much condemnation as we can of the intolerable conduct of the Romanian Government.

Mr. William Powell

My right hon. and learned Friend's robust denunciation of the despicable regime in Bucharest will be widely welcomed in the House, in the country and across all countries of Europe. My right hon. and learned Friend has said that there is no precedent for stripping the President of the Romanian Republic of honours that have been accorded to him. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there are times when new precedents must be set? This is probably a case where we should begin the process.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I take note of my hon. Friend's point. Perhaps the most important point is the immense strength of feeling expressed on all sides of the House. I am sure that that in itself will underline a crucial message to the Government of Romania. One only hopes that it may make some difference to their conduct.

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