HC Deb 24 July 1991 vol 195 cc1147-8
5. Mr. Atkinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the forthcoming CSCE conference in Moscow on the human dimension.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

We plan to send a delegation to the CSCE conference in Moscow on the human dimension, subject to developments in the Soviet Union between now and September. Participation in the conference would enable us to press for further improvements in the human rights issues that cause us concern.

Mr. Atkinson

As the conference is less than seven weeks away, will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that he has received cast-iron assurances from the Soviet authorities that representatives of the international human rights organisations and other non-governmental organisations will enjoy the same access to this conference as they did in Copenhagen last year? Is he aware of recent worrying reports that several established Soviet human rights organisations have been told that they will not have access to the conference?

Mr. Hogg

I cannot give my hon. Friend the confirmation that he seeks, but, like him, I attach considerable importance to the openness of the conference. It is very important that NGOs should have same free access to the conference and to the delegates as they had in Paris and Copenhagen. We shall continue to press the Soviet Government on that point and to monitor their response.

Dr. Kim Howells

Does the Minister agree that there is no more important human dimension to our relationship with the Soviet Union and the newly democratised countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary than ensuring some political stability, which will derive from economic stability and from the changes that we all hope will be made sooner rather than later? Does he further agree that more needs to be done to ensure that the Russians are able to buy the food surpluses of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and that by helping the Soviets we shall solve many problems at one stroke?

Mr. Hogg

I certainly accept that we shall not achieve long-lasting political reform in any of those countries, especially in the Soviet Union, without sustainable economic improvement. One cannot speak of western countries placing large sums of money in, for example, the Soviet Union. We have a role in integrating the Soviet Union into the western economy, in transferring information and technical know-how and in encouraging investment. But we must be certain that the Soviet Union not only intends to carry out the economic restructuring that is necessary but is in a position to do so.

Sir Michael Marshall

In the work of the CSCE on human rights, will my hon. and learned Friend assure me that he will continue to watch closely the development of the CSCE parliamentary assembly and its relationship with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which has much expertise on human rights?

Mr. Hogg

I agree with my hon. Friend and I can give that commitment.

Mr. Robertson

In forming a judgment on human rights in the Soviet Union, does the Minister accept that legal civil rights are an important test—but only one test—of human rights in that country? Equally important are people's ability to vote in elections and the construction of a parliamentary process and of lasting democratic institutions. In that context, will the Minister explain why the valuable initiative that was launched by the Foreign Secretary more than a year ago to create a foundation that would allow the British political parties to work with and help the new democracies in the Soviet Union and central and eastern Europe has achieved absolutely nothing? Many other countries have been successfully involving themselves, to their great benefit.

Mr. Hogg

We have put much work into the creation of the institution that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Indeed, we have a fairly elegant creation of our own in mind. There is a little more work to be done to it. I look forward to being in a position to reveal it, but if Opposition Members suppose that they will have public moneys to dish out to their friends they have another think coming.

Mrs. Currie

Am I right in thinking that, as the economy of the Soviet Union goes into substantial collapse, two features of that country are still intact? One is the red army and the other is the KGB, which seems to be spawning clones in other republics in the Soviet Union. Now that the central Government is much weaker, can my hon. and learned Friend guide us as to who is in charge of those institutions and whose finger will be on the nuclear button in the 1990s?

Mr. Hogg

We are seeing a fundamental transition of power in the Soviet Union. Over the next 10 years or so, there will be a complete change in the shape of that country. I should be surprised if all the constituent republics remain within the union. I am sure that much power will be devolved to the republics. That will inevitably dilute the authority and power of the KGB and the red army.