HL Deb 04 April 1974 vol 350 cc1097-122

7.8 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether Government policy is governed by their desire to see democracy restored and human rights fully respected in Communist dominated countries where anti-Jewish and other racial persecutions are practised; and whether, to this end, Her Majesty's Government will take part in any future representations to be made by the United Nations on human rights; and, further, whether the Home Secretary will sympathetically consider applications from refugees from such countries. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the hour is late but I make no apologies for asking the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper because it deals with an important subject. No doubt the Minister who is to reply will note that I used the exact words of the Foreign Secretary in another place when answering a Question about Chile when he regretted the suppression of human rights and the denial of democracy. I thought that I could not do better than quote the authoritative words of the Foreign Secretary. Let me make it clear at once to the House that I have no sympathies with the Fascist régimes; but if the Government are to be consistent in their policy, that policy should apply equally to all who have not restored democracy or who have denied human rights to those within a country's frontiers. My question to Her Majesty's Government is: is this really so?

In Communist dominated countries—Russia for example—Russia's best friend could not but admit that democracy in that country is in short supply; that there are real horrors going on in labour camps of political prisoners; that there is anti-Jewish prejudice and persecution which is racialism. Outside Russia, in a series of one-Party dictatorship Governments in various overseas parts of the world, there are political prisoners and strong anti-racial prejudice, usually against the whites. For Chile the Foreign Secretary promised three things. He said that Her Majesty's Government will stop aid; secondly, that Her Majesty's Government will take part in protests to the United Nations on the suppression of human rights; and thirdly, he said that the Government will aid sympathetically refugees from this country. Those are the three points that the Foreign Secretary made. I want to ask whether the Government will declare now their willingness to do all this for countries of the extreme Left as well as those of the extreme Right? If the Leftists are guilty of doing what the Government condemn in Chile, will the Government extend the same treatment to the Left?

My Lords, in my view, you cannot direct foreign policy, both political and economic, on whether or not you approve of a country's internal policy. That is just what Her Majesty's Government are doing. In doing so, I submit to the House, they are building up avoidable enmities and damaging our economic need for full employment and for a healthy export trade. In fact, my Lords, what this Government are doing is arrogating to themselves the right to divide the countries of the world into what I would term the "goodies" and the "baddies", according to the Government's opinion of the internal policies of each particular country.

Where we disapprove there is no need to praise; but equally there is no purpose in silly gestures like forbidding the Royal yacht to refuel at Simonstown when we depend on Simonstown base for our strategic safety in the South Atlantic. There is no sense in cancelling naval visits to Greece (we talked about that in the House yesterday) when Greece is still an accepted NATO Member. Maybe this pleases the Left here, maybe it pleases the Left in other countries, but it is at a cost to industry and employment. The refusal to supply arms for external protection to South Africa, or to Spain, is in fact what I call political "mugwummpery" at the cost of employment and prospects of our own folks. My Lords, there is a very silly expression going around: "On which side of the barricades are you?" In the world as it is, we do not want barricades: we do not want to erect ideological barricades. But surely Her Majesty's Government should fulfil what should be their first and main interest, the welfare of our people. That is why I ask this Question.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I anticipated that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, would ask his Question in a somewhat wider sense because I feel that this opportunity should be taken of asking the Government to consider certain other previous violations that are taking place. I am sure the House will realise that I personally am concerned, and very deeply concerned, with what is happening not only in some Communist countries, but in other countries as well where we ought to be taking action, particularly in respect of Jewish people. I cannot say that I agree with the line that was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, but I hope the House will forgive me if, in debating this Question, I pursue, for as short a time as I possibly can, what is a terribly important subject.

I need hardly say that all sections of communities who have been, and are, persecuted are my concern, as indeed is every human being. But owing to lack of time, I hope your Lordships will understand if I confine myself to referring to those persecutions which were inflicted on Jews whose plight has been brought particularly to my notice, and which I have endeavoured to assist in alleviating during my life—in addition to helping the other sections of communities. I am sure the noble Lord will agree that his accusations and requests do not relate to all Communist countries, nor to Communist countries alone. I instance the violations of human rights by the Syrians (who are being supplied and spurred on by the U.S.S.R. to-day) against their Jewish citizens—and perhaps one might say, and indeed with some justification, that the Syrians are Communist controlled.

Recently, four young Jewesses from Damascus, Eva Saad, and three sisters, Toni, Laura and Farh Zebah, were murdered in mysterious circumstances near the Lebanese border, apparently while attempting to escape from Syria across the border into Lebanon. Their bodies were brought back to Damascus by the Syrian authorities for burial. A statement was made by Aba Eban two days ago which I think one might bring to the notice of your Lordships. It stated: With the intensification of the wave of protests throughout the world …"— I think probably the objection of the Question being put is that the protests should be brought to notice— … the Syrian Minister of the Interior, Ali Zaza, was forced to admit in his statement, broadcast by Radio Damascus on 14th March, that the young women were indeed murdered by what he termed as gangs of criminals, who were apprehended, confessed to their crimes and will be charged by a State security tribunal With it, the Syrian Minister added insult to injury in naming two Jews, Yosef Shaluh and Azour Zalta, as members of the band. These Jews are known to many former residents of Syria throughout the world and are renowned for their beneficial work and assistance to the needy of the community. Zalta is" [even] "related to Eva Saad, and the callous attempt to brand him with the false accusation of murdering the young woman, or participating in the crime, is a judicial murder and a vile blood libel. Your Lordships will probably know that the Jewish people in Syria are confined to ghettoes in Damascus, Aleppo and Kamishli. They are subject to arbitrary arrest. Imprisonment and torture is the daily lot of this impoverished community, bereft of all legal rights and protection. They are denied freedom of movement, whether within Syria or in regard to leaving the country. Even the Jews holding non-Syrian passports are not permitted to leave Syria. Within the country, Jews are restricted by law to residence in the ghettoes of the places I have mentioned. Special permission is required for them to travel more than five kilometres (about three miles) from their place of residence. Permission must be requested many weeks in advance. They have been deprived of the Franchise. This is the terrible situation in the country of Syria. Now, we are in diplomatic relations with Syria and I hope, and I believe, that the present Government will make representations with a view to clearing that position.

Let me give another illustration of an incident which should not have happened. Egypt are to send us an Ambassador, who I understand, unfortunately, we have accepted, who not only ordered forces in his command to kill men, women and children, but was actually here at one time acting with anti-semitic forces who were well known for their anti-semiticism and who at that time made no pretence at not being anti-semitic. I do hope that something will be done, and if he does come here, that we shall keep a very close watch on the kind of racialist action that he undertook when he was here before and prevent it.

May I now speak about the U.S.S.R. for a short time? As far back as 1967 (I think it was) a Motion was put on the Order Paper in another place by some colleagues of mine and myself against the attitude of the U.S.S.R. to the Jewish community there. It was sponsored by several Members, including myself, and signed by more than 390 altogether—nearly the highest, if not actually the highest, number signing any of the numerous Motions which appeared on the Order Paper during the thirty years of my exper- ience in the other place. The signatories were drawn from all Parties in the House. At that time the Jewish population of the U.S.S.R. were terrorised into remaining silent, but a new generation, of unbelievable, indomitable courage, face the terrible dangers which confronted them when they openly revolted against the heartbreaking and intolerable restrictions which were placed upon them against practising their beliefs, continuing their culture and living as Jews, although they were compelled to describe themselves as such.

It is late, but I hope your Lordships will forgive me for continuing because I think this should be placed on record so that it can be studied by the Government and by others concerned. The situation of the Jewish community in the Soviet Union continues to be grave and alarming, and it also continues to be a special one. A Committee was set up recently by the Council of Europe to investigate the position. It was a high-powered Committee, which issued a report, and the gist of the report was this. The tendency sometimes expressed to group the Jews with "dissidents" in the Soviet Union is erroneous. In a country where the Government spend great effort to develop, or at least to guarantee, the specificity of most minorities, Jews are in a particular situation. Anti-semitism has become State policy. Jewish culture has been destroyed—this is actually from the report of an investigating committee consisting of representatives from every country. Manifestations of it are sanctioned. In a country that prides itself on having developed the obscurest languages, Hebrew and Yiddish are forbidden. The limited but existing minority rights are denied to the Jews, although they are "Hebrew", according to their official nationality identity cards.

Jews remain the only minority without a territory of their own; they number only about 8 per cent. of the population of Birobidjan, their so-called Jewish "autonomous region", and this region has no Jewish facilities whatsoever. While the rest of the Soviet Union has enjoyed a certain measure of liberalisation in the last years, it is sad to note that in 1973 there were fewer synagogues, fewer Jews knowing their own language, fewer Jewish students in universities than in Stalin's time. This has brought many Jews to a painful process of soul-searching and to the conclusion that, more than fifty years after the Russian Revolution, they are unwanted in their own birthplace.

The report goes on to say that there are various "dissident groups" in the Soviet Union—"democrats", "believers", et cetera—who hope to change, to humanise, to liberalise the Soviet régime. These people wish to live in a better Soviet Union. Vast numbers of Jews have by now lost hope that they will ever find their place as Jews in that country. While the "democrats" seek to alter their country, the Jews now wish to leave it, and this is the basic difference between the two struggles.

To-day harassment of Jews is going on. A person who asks for an exit permit is deprived of his livelihood and insulted wherever he goes. Scientists of the highest standing are being rushed from pillar to post, sent to prisons. They are sent to so-called mental hospitals, and every type of what I consider to come under the heading of torture is being exercised. I should like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister, who rendered a service openly in trying to get Jews out from the U.S.S.R., but also to those Members and Ministers on both sides of the House who from time to time have been helpful in this way. But I hope that we shall take definite steps to let the U.S.S.R. know that they cannot deal with their Jewish people in that way. And the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is taking place in Geneva at the present time can be used by us so that it may deal with the position there. I am talking, of course, about the Conference which was originally held in Helsingfors and is now being held in Geneva.

I am hoping that the Government will do what the Board of Deputies of British Jews in this country have asked them to do; that is, to intervene in the debates there, and ensure that others intervene in those debates, so that pressure can be brought not only upon the U.S.S.R., in so far as the Jewish problem is concerned, but upon all peoples who are harassing human beings and who are dealing with them as though they were altogether objects of unconcern. It may be, my Lords, that by this kind of pressure we shall be able to answer the point which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I do not say it will be in the same sense in which he has raised it because, frankly, I do not agree with some of the suggestions he has made. Nevertheless, the core of his complaint is something which is of tremendous importance which we as a democratic country, I am sure, would want to deal with.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will have already noticed that the language in which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has framed his Unstarred Question bears a curious similarity to the language in which the Foreign Secretary replied in another place last week to a Parliamentary Question about Chile. I fully agree with my noble friend that if we are trying to keep alive the spark of human freedom in countries where it is now very dim, and if we are trying to help refugees from those countries, whether they be Communist dictatorships which have been the greatest enemies of human freedom for the last generation or more, or whether they be countries which oppress and stifle the freedom of the Jews, which countries are also enemies of liberty, we ought not to be less active in our dealings with them than with a small South American Republic which has lately been saved from a Communist dictatorship by a military coup d'état.

The only point I wish to put to the Minister of State on this Unstarred Question is a point about Chile, and I shall not discuss anything else except this one matter concerning technical aid. I should like to appeal earnestly to Her Majesty's Government not to maintain their suspension of the small amount of aid—although I think it is very valuable in relation to its amount in terms of money—which we have recently been giving to Chile and which I submit we ought to go on giving. I should like to make it clear that I do not expect the Minister of State to reply to this tonight: it would be quite silly if I did. I am only asking him, very respectfully, to submit it to his colleagues.

I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, very sincerely upon the great resourcefulness and promptness and skill with which he has replied to so many questions, on which he obviously could not be given a detailed reply: he has stonewalled, and sometimes hit a boundary. When I held the same office in your Lordships' House I was sent in 1963 to Peru to represent the Queen at the inauguration of the new régime of President Belaunde, and this new régime had succeeded a military dictatorship. The military dictator who had run Peru for about three years was a General Lindley—an English name; his grandfather was a Yorkshireman who had emigrated to Peru. He himself had not been brought up to speak English, but he looked exactly like a Yorkshireman and he spoke Spanish with a Yorkshire accent. He was a delightful man and he ran this military dictatorship. If your Lordships count the number of military dictatorships which there have been in America over the last 120 years you will find that not one of them has wanted to last very long. They nearly all intended to replace themselves with something else, as General Lindley did when he thought the time had come. He asked Belaunde to become President in a new democratic Parliamentary régime, which Belaunde did, and although that régime lasted only five years I think that was longer than the average régime in Southern America.

When I was there we had been giving, for the previous three years, not a great deal of money but some very valuable technical aid to the people of Peru. The best example I saw of that—and it was wonderful how little it cost—was a fairly large contingent of the British Overseas Youth Organisation who had gone to Lima to help with the housing problem, acquiring a knowledge of house construction. At that time, thousands of peasants were emigrating from the Andes, owing to the increase in population which could not be contained on the rough hill farms there. They emigrated from the Andes to Lima, and the housing situation was appalling: the local authority just could not deal with it. There were not enough builders, or electricians, and so on, and these young British men and women were building and helping the immigrants with their own hands, giving them the know-how to build literally hundreds of prefabricated houses: to put in the electric wiring (because there were no electri- cians), to put in the water supply, and to provide hundreds of these wretched Peruvian immigrants with quite comfortable modern houses.

The encouraging thing about this event was the gratitude of the Peruvians. They were genuinely grateful, and in an age when there is so little gratitude it made one happy to see their reactions. Whatever the régime—it had been a military dictatorship and it was going to be a Belaunde régime—that help by these volunteers from the Overseas Youth Organisation did an enormous amount of good, creating much good feeling between ourselves and the people of Peru. The young men and women got all the praise in the world from Lima, and I only wished that they had sometimes got a little praise from this country. But perhaps owing to the difficulties of organisation for the mass media, or difficulties of transport, I do not think there was ever one word in any broadcast about what these British boys and girls were doing. That was sad. However, they did a very good job.

Our aid now to Chile is not very great. I think the technical aid we gave last year was worth £360,000 or £400,000. It is not likely to be more than £500,000, and it is mostly technical aid which they particularly need now after three and a half years of Allende's Government. I do not say anything about what his real intentions were because I do not know, but in fact he has pretty well ruined for the time being the economy of Chile. The production of the copper mines has fallen by about half, and copper is their main export. Seventy per cent. of their exports depend upon the production and sale of copper and they are much poorer than they were; there is much more unemployment and there is much less hope of recovery at the moment owing to the unconstitutional action of not only nationalising everything against the will of Congress, whose wishes were vetoed by the President, but by the substitution of political management for skilled industrial management in most of the industries in Chile. The result is that they are now in a state of high unemployment and economic distress.

All I want to put to your Lordships is that if we can continue to give this aid it does so much more good to help a man when he is lying bleeding and helpless at the side of the road than when he is healthy and walking briskly to his work. That is why I earnestly put it to the Government that if we can give this small amount of aid now, with high effectiveness in proportion to its value, and not in three or four years' time, it may produce a much better return in international good will and international friendship in the years that are ahead of us.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am attracted to support my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye because of the wording of his Question. We shall listen with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, who will reply to the general question raised. The question of the prevention of emigration from countries like East Germany and Russia is not something we all applaud. It has always been a matter which has perplexed me, by comparison with other things, that Her Majesty's Government have not more persistently stimulated questions in the United Nations by the Committee on Human Rights, because it would seem that this kind of behaviour against emigration is a perplexity. It is not only confined to a few places; one calls to mind the position of the refugees in Palestine going Eastwards. It can be coupled with the restrictions on immigration which could oppose the wishes of certain individuals.

My Lords, more particularly the point I wanted to take up to-day comes under the heading of human relations. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye raised this point. Earlier this week we had a statement from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, who said that the Government … have the right and duty to make clear to them in appropriate ways our deep concern about the way in which internal policies …"—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 2/4/71, col. 802.) and then he spoke of the intensified suppression of human rights. I am puzzled as to how that squares with the absence of action of that kind with regard to the oppression in Uganda. There are no repeated assertions of disapproval of those tactics by the Government.

In the same discussion, there was a statement by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, to the effect that the freedom-loving citizens of Greece approve of the attitude of the British Government, which I have just quoted in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. Those words did not seem to square with the absence of action which might be taken in so many directions, with the disapproval of the ideological line taken regarding the human rights, and the absence of protest with regard to what is happening in Uganda, the Sudan, Burundi, Nigeria or other places. The United Nations Committee, which my noble friend suggests ought to do something in this matter, did not do anything in other matters where human rights were being continually suppressed.

On this question of human rights, there are attitudes arising such as were referred to earlier this week in this House with regard to wages in other countries, which is none of our particular business. But as the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said, it is the obligation of the Government to do what they can on the grounds of human rights to correct any abuses that might exist. It is on those grounds that I am particularly interested in listening to the reply to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye because the "desire to see democracy restored and human rights duly respected …" is the purpose of my brief intervention.

7.46 p.m.


My Lords, may I associate myself with the compliments my noble friend Lord Dundee paid to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. I, too, have greatly admired his skill and fortitude while a Member of this House. He has had great experience in another place. I am particularly glad of the opportunity of saying that because what I have to say in other respects may not be quite as bland as what my noble friend said; and it might even seem to the noble Lord to be rather harsh. But if it should be harsh, the harshness is not directed either at him or at his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, but to what I greatly fear is the false philosophy which lies behind the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government now.

My Lords, we must all be most grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye for raising this Question. I want particularly to concentrate upon the bigger question which lies behind it, on which several of my noble friends have already touched. The big question is this: how do Her Majesty's Government see the function of foreign policy? Do they see the purpose of foreign policy as being to promote the interests of the people of this country first, last and all the time, and in particular to promote the safety of the people of this country? Do they see the purpose of foreign policy as being to promote the power and influence of the country throughout the world? Or do they, on the other hand, see diplomacy as Clausewitz saw war? As my noble friend will remember Clausewitz saw war simply as a continuation of policy by other means.

From what I have heard from the noble Lord and his right honourable friend since the new Government were formed, I am afraid that Her Majesty's Government see diplomacy rather as the carrying on of a General Election campaign by other means. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, looks very startled; I do not think he need. All he has to do is to read the White Paper on renegotiation of the Common Market. He will see that rather more than one page out of a little more than five pages is simply a quotation from the Election Manifesto of the Labour Party, so I think he will agree that there is no cause for raising the eyebrows, and that there is some basis for what I am saying to him.

My Lords, then there is the question which my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, raised, that vain and empty phrase which the Foreign Secretary used about showing which side of the barricades we are on. Those barricades which the Foreign Secretary talks about are very curious, because sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not. If on one side of the barricades are generals and admirals with gold braid up to their armpits, then Her Majesty's Government, through the noble Lord's right honourable friend, immediately jump down on the other side, but if on the one side of the barricades are boot-faced men in belted Ulster coats manipulating an instrument of terror and oppression by the side of which the most evil machinations of the wickedest general or admiral are really like parlour games at a children's Christmas party, there is no question of an antithesis between freedom and democracy; that all seems to dis- appear and the men in Ulster coats and trilby hats have it all their own way. That I think is really at the heart of the Question which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has put on the Order Paper.

Not only do I think this policy of Her Majesty's Government most unwise; I think it is really baseless. Take Greece. A friend of mine who is a distinguished classical scholar and a great lover of Greece said to me a little time ago, "I cannot understand all this fuss about the Greek colonels. After all, this voluble and attractive people have never known stability unless they were ruled either by the Turks or by colonels, and that has applied ever since the days of Colonel Pericles". I think, broadly speaking, that is true. It is a great mistake to judge the Greek people by our standards here. And I think, too, that we have been greatly misled about events in Chile. I do not know whether the noble Lord read—I expect he did—the two very striking articles by Mr. Peregrine Worsthorne in the Sunday Telegraph on the subject of Chile. It seemed to me that here was an honest reporter, not somebody suborned by a dictator Government to write a favourable report but reporting on things as he saw them. Certainly he did not see them as they have been represented. He did not see Allende's Government as a progressive Left-Wing Government overturned by a Fascist dictatorship. He saw it as a Government which had failed Chile utterly, as my noble friend indicated, and which a relatively moderate Opposition had replaced.

On this question of the ideological basis for foreign policy, which I think is the basis of Her Majesty's Government's policy, and I think it is a wrong basis, I would ask the noble Lord a question. It is not only socialist Governments in this country that base their foreign policy on ideology. Sometimes you get a capitalist Government in another country basing its policy on the opposite ideology, and I do not think that has ever been any more successful. I would ask the noble Lord whether he believes that the long delay by the United States in recognising the People's Republic of China—and that was a just as deeply felt ideological concept as anything the Labour Government feel here—really contributed to the peace of the world, really contributed in particular to the peace of South-East Asia? Is it not possible that if the United States had followed the normal practice of dealing with peoples and Governments as one finds them and not taking an ideological stand, we might have been spared a great many of the horrors that South-East Asia has had to go through in recent years?

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I feel moved to say just a few words, because this short debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye has turned out to be a debate of considerable importance. As he said himself, the core of his complaint is really whether the Government's attitude to foreign policy, to countries of different régimes and beliefs, is, if I may use a famous phrase, even handed. This theme was echoed by my noble friend Lord Coleraine, who made a plea that one should deal with peoples and Governments as one finds them. This particular debate is geared to human rights, and I would have thought, and hoped, that between the two major Parties in this country—and I am sure this applies to the Liberal Party, although they have not taken part tonight—there is no dispute, surely, about the need to use our influence to try to extend fundamental human rights overseas. But, of course, there remains the question of how we try to use our influence. It was in the time of a Labour Government that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948. It was in the time of a Conservative Government that the European Convention on Human Rights came into force, and of course we renewed certain provisions of it only recently.

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, who suddenly seems to have left us, although usually he is such an assiduous attender in this House, spoke with immense personal feeling about the problems of the Jewish community, particularly in Communist countries. I should like him to have been here and therefore I will defer what I was about to say for a minute or two in case he has the opportunity to return to the House.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness, my noble friend told me that he had to slip out for a moment or two but hoped to get back before the noble Baroness spoke, but if that was not possible he asked me to give her his apologies.


My Lords, I am very grateful for that intimation. Perhaps it is as well to refer to what the noble Lord said because we cannot wait at this hour in the uncertainty as to whether he will return. I felt that, as always, he spoke with enormous feeling. He has often asked me Questions in this House in relation to the Jewish community, and particularly those members of the Jewish community who are within the Communist countries. He spoke also about the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. He will no doubt recall—and I hope he will read this in Hansard—that we have always made it a major part of our policy at this particular Conference to insist on some movement in the increased flow, not only of information and ideas, but also of people between East and West.

We are very well aware, and always were when we had the responsibility of Government, that there are very great and deep feelings in this country about the treatment of non-conformist elements, if one can so call them, in the Soviet Union, especially potential Jewish emigrants. We made this public feeling known to the Soviet Government. But I think it is also right to say that there is a limit to which one can go in conveying these deeply held feelings: because, of course, it is a longstanding principle of international affairs that they should if possible be conducted on the basis of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. It is for this reason that I should like to refer to the comments made by my noble friends about Chile.

We had a Question in this House on Chile, and unfortunately the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, was not in a position to reply to us because a Statement was going to be made in another place. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Dundee about the value of aid to countries, like Chile, in South America. I had the opportunity, a very interesting chance, to attend UNCTAD 3 meeting in Santiago, and I am absolutely certain that our aid, although small, did a great deal. I agree with my noble friend that it seems very unfortunate that we should try to cut off what is the equivalent of about half a million pounds in technical aid. One can say that it is not very much, but it means a great deal to a country whose needs are so very great.

In this context, I must question whether the separation of the O.D.A.—the Overseas Development Administration—from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will in fact achieve what it is said to do; because, as I understand it, the present Government have said that the reason behind this move was that no political considerations would come into the administration of aid, and that the criteria would be only development need. That is all very well, but when we look at Chile it seems to me that the reason for cutting off the development aid, small though it was, which we had been giving was entirely because Her Majesty's Government disapproved of the réegime at present in authority in Chile. That seems to me the most political reason of all for refusing aid.

I have always thought there is a great deal to be said for having the Overseas Development Administration in constant touch with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, because there are considerations which one cannot divorce from one's policy on giving aid. For example, my noble friend Lord Barnby referred to Uganda. It really was impossible to continue the aid in those circumstances, and I suppose it could have been said that it was a political consideration. Then, of course, there are the financial considerations. Only this week we had a reply from the noble Lord about aid to India, about a new interest-free loan to be given on top of the aid presently given, which is very considerable. How are we going to supply this loan? We are going to do so by borrowing money, on which we pay interest, and we are then going to give the loan free of interest. It seems to me that aid is inevitably bound up with the strategy, and of course the resources, of any Government. Therefore I cannot be convinced that an aid programme is better handled by separating the O.D.A. from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

When I give the two examples of Uganda and financial resources. I do not mean to imply that one should cut off aid, or increase aid, according to whether one believes in the political complexion of the country concerned. There are a great many repercussions which can come from doing this kind of thing. For example, I would like to ask the noble Lord what action the Government intend to take in view of the possible suspension of copper shipments to this country from Chile following the stopping of technical assistance by this country? Secondly, what are their views on the change in Anglo-Chilean relations, especially in relation to the I.M.F. economic report on Chile and the rescheduling of Chile's foreign debt? It is political considerations of this kind that have to be taken into account, and they have nothing to do with the complexion of the Government concerned. That being so, I would ask the noble Lord to try to satisfy some of those who have spoken, and who have spoken from a very deep conviction.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I offer my apologies to her for not being present during her speech? I had left the Chamber for a few minutes. I have been here all the afternoon.


My Lords, it was not quite clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi said, when he said that the noble Lord had left the Chamber for a few minutes, whether it was possible for him to return or not. As I did not wish to detain the House too long, I am afraid I dealt with some of the important matters he raised. Perhaps he will look at them in Hansard.

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for making this debate possible. He has raised matters which transcend political partisanship and political expediency. He has reminded us of principles to which we all subscribe and for which we all strive to do our very best. There is unity in this country and this Parliament for the restoration, where possible, of democracy, and certainly for the upholding of human rights and their expansion where-ever possible.

The noble Lord's Question raises, in turn, three points, of which he reminded us in his speech. He asked whether Government policy is governed by a desire to see democracy restored and human rights fully respected in Communist-dominated countries, as well, presumably, as in other countries. The answer is, "Of course". But the method of upholding and promoting democracy and human rights in all countries must vary according to the relations we have with them, and the opportunities we have of asserting by appropriate means our views and our persuasions. For instance, in this very debate we have heard references to Palestinians as well as Jews. Views and attitudes vary within that comparatively small section of territory in the world. Who is oppressing whom? It is not an easy matter for any Government, of whatever complexion, that subscribes to the central purpose of upholding democracy and human rights, to decide in a generalised way how it should, in the interest of those objectives, respond to developments in various and varying countries. Certainly we are for democracy and human rights in all countries, whatever the complexion of the Government. That is the basic answer to the first point raised in the Question asked by the noble Lord and put forward in his speech.

The second question he put—and it is contained in the Question he put down on the Order Paper—was whether, to this end, we will play our full part in the United Nations. Thirdly, he asked whether the Home Secretary will sympathetically consider applications from refugees from such countries, from Communist-dominated countries, and I am quite sure that he would join me in amending that practically to include other countries as well.

May I briefly, but I hope helpfully, deal with those three points which he has raised and which have been spoken to also by other noble Lords in this debate. First of all, the question of whether Government policy is governed by a desire to see democracy and human rights upheld and expanded. Noble Lords will have read the Queen's Speech and the Labour Party Manifesto and also the Statement by the Foreign Secretary on March 19 in another place when he said: We shall make it our business to back and stimulate this multilateral diplomacy by developing relations with the countries of Eastern Europe up to the limit that the situation in each case allows and we shall look for opportunities to build a safer and more productive relationship with the Soviet Union. That applies, of course, to our relations and our foreign policy towards all countries. However, the Government believe that they should make full use of such bilateral influence as they possess in addition to the use of these multilateral approaches, and in this we are following the precedent of the Party opposite.

Referring to the position and the policy of the Soviet Union and its satellites, it is a fact that the attention of the Soviet authorities, and of the authorities in control of other countries associated with it, has been drawn on many occasions in the past to the strength of feeling in Britain among people of all Parties about the limitation of the rights of dissidents, including in particular people of the Jewish faith. We have drawn attention to the negative effect of certain Soviet domestic policies on British public opinion which make the improvement of Anglo-Soviet relations that much more difficult to achieve. I have absolutely no doubt that when suitable occasions arise this point will again be made to the Soviet authorities and to other countries which follow policies similar to theirs.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I was glad to hear what he said, that Her Majesty's Government of whatever side dissociate themselves, and have always dissociated themselves, from certain aspects of Soviet policy. But if it is unnecessary in pursuit of getting a more humane Soviet attitude, on, say, the Jewish problem, to levy insults at the Soviet Government why is it necessary to level insults at the Greek Government and the Chilean Government?


My Lords, it is a matter of opinion whether in fact the attitude or any gesture made by the British Government was an insult. I could not agree that it was an insult. I would insist that it was an indication of deep British disapprobation of policy as it has been conducted for some years now in Greece, a country and people for whom we in this country have longstanding affection and respect. The feeling is not confined to my side of the House, as the noble Lord well knows. It was not an insult; it was a protest, a protest from a longstanding friend carrying with it a deep hope that as soon as possible Greece will be restored to the democratic comity of nations, particularly as it is a member of NATO, an Alliance which was formed to defend and to uphold democracy.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord what similar act of disapprobation Her Majesty's Government are considering extending to those Communist countries where there is Jewish persecution?


Of course, my Lords, we are not in the same relation to them. We have a relationship with Greece which enables us to show in appropriate ways what we feel about the course they are pursuing. In a similar way we have in relation to Chile an appropriate way of making known our disapproval. We are not extending technical assistance or aid to the Soviet Union, so it could not be suspended or withdrawn. We were in that relation with Chile. I am hoping that out of this debate there may come, not a final consensus as to how we face these difficult and complex problems, but the start of an assessment as to how this country should follow a constructive policy of promoting democracy and human rights across the board.

May I make this point?—and it is not a hypothetical point. If indeed we were extending technical assistance or aid to the Soviet Union, would there not be a reasonable demand in more than one quarter of this House or another place for that to be suspended to show our disapproval of the treatment of the Jews in the Soviet Union? I merely mention that, not because I want to engage in anything like an exacerbated exchange on this matter, but because I am very conscious—and I hope the House will come with me on this—of the need for us constantly to think out our attitudes in foreign relations. It is not a simple matter. The world is full of countries—and new countries—where our relations are changing almost from day to day. At the same time there is a specific gravity of conviction in this country that we cannot stand by without saying or doing something, whatever that is in a given case, when we see the kind of dic- tatorship against which we have fought in two wars superseding what looks like an emerging democracy in a country like Chile.


My Lords, would my noble friend let me know whether he will give instructions to those who are at present representing us at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe to the effect that we deplore the kind of actions being taken by the U.S.S.R. and Syria and that we are in full agreement that proper steps should be taken to ensure fair treatment for all people?


My Lords, I am glad to go on to the second point because I think that the noble Lord who initiated this debate quite seriously wanted us to look at this second question as well, which was (and I hope I paraphrase it in a reasonably fair way), whether Her Majesty's Government will support in the United Nations Organisation multilateral attempts to improve matters in those countries where these things are happening. Here I join with the noble Baroness and my noble friend in saying that we made absolutely clear at the very commencement of this Government's period of office our belief that the cause of human rights is best pursued through international and multilateral action. There are difficulties and pitfalls, I agree, in bilateral action, and it is best and safest—not always, but usually—to pursue the policy through international and multilateral action, mainly through the United Nations and its related agencies, but also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, reminded us, and as my noble friend Lord Janner has just repeated, in the very important discussions now proceeding, and initiated by the previous Government, with our full support, in Helsinki, in Vienna—the locale does not matter—and at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Geneva. We are working together, and certainly not in contradiction of each other, in the United Nations, and I think everybody will agree that our country is second to none in the way it has upheld the Charter of the United Nations, particularly in regard to Articles 55 and 56 which relate to the points raised by my noble friend, and also now, since last year, in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Geneva.

May I detain the House for a short time on the second point? One of the most important topics under discussion in the Conference on Security and Co-operation is Item III, which some people insist on referring to in the obnoxious jargon of our times as Basket III. This is what the noble Baroness quite rightly directed our attention to. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, is one of the principles which this country and like-minded countries would wish to see endorsed in the declaration which is to be produced by the Conference. How are we working for this? We are working together with other Western delegations for real progress towards freer movement. This touches very closely the points which my noble friend Lord Janner quite rightly raised, and which the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, emphasised—the question of freedom of movement within a country and from one country to another, including the freedom within reason to emigrate and the duty within certain limits to accept immigration—the two things go together—as well as family reunification. One of the most repulsive aspects of the kind of oppression that we see in some countries today, in what is almost the final quarter of the twentieth century, is how husbands and wives can by authoritative decision be parted, and how permission for a husband to emigrate can be given, but not permission to take his family with him.

So far as the Western initiative is concerned—and this country, I entirely agree, is in the van of that initiative—the Conference on Security and Co-operation is working hard through the appropriate sub-committees under Item III to get a statement which will ultimately be accepted within the decisions of the Conference. The sub-committees are those dealing with movement, and there are other sub-committees dealing with education and culture, and they are required by their terms of reference to bear in mind the contributions and rights of national minorities or regional cultures. On all these sub-committee—and they are working committees and not just discussional ones—delegates are working to achieve practical statements which we hope the whole Conference will adopt and subsequently implement throughout the countries of Europe. We are represented on all these sub-committees and while we could not divulge what goes on in them, and would not be expected to do so, I can assure the House, as I know the noble Baroness could, that the British contribution in these vital sub-committees, and indeed in the Conference as a whole is very substantial indeed. If the Conference is successful it should offer better prospects for individuals in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, including of course Soviet Jews.

I turn to the third point raised in the Question, which is the position of refugees from Communist and other countries which follow oppressive policies. The noble Lord asked for a clear indication of Government policy on this point and I give it. I want to say quite clearly that the Home Secretary will consider applications from such refugees sympathetically. Applications for asylum normally arise when the people concerned are already in the United Kingdom. Of the Soviet Jews, of whom rather more than 30,000 now appear to be leaving Russia annually, only a comparative few with connections in this country seek to come here. Such persons do not always meet the normal criteria of admission, but the immigration rules provide that a foreign national who does not otherwise qualify for admission should not be refused leave to enter if the only country to which he can be removed is one to which he is unwilling to go, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group or political opinion. These criteria are fully in accord with Article 1 of the Convention on the status of refugees and these factors would be taken into account. In the event, most applicants for political asylum here are allowed to remain here and to take employment.

I shall not detain the House with certain encouraging figures on this score, except to say that if the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, or some other Member would care to put down a Question to elicit the figures they will find them interesting and encouraging. This country is playing its part in making available to the victims of oppression abroad a home and a new opportunity of life.

I have dealt with the three points raised by the noble Lord, and I have given an assurance to this House that Her Majesty's Government are indeed dedicated to doing their utmost to uphold and expand so far as possible democracy and human rights wherever they are in peril, whatever the nature of the Government of those countries. Secondly, we are, as we always have been under successive Administrations, playing our part and from time to time taking an honourable initiative in the multilateral field. I gave two examples of this—the United Nations and the very important Conference whose work is now proceeding in Europe. Thirdly, I am glad to give a renewed assurance that victims of oppression who cannot go to any other country are assured of sympathetic consideration by this country, which has been our practice in the past.


My Lords, the Board of Deputies of British Jews stated in the letter that they are acting in co-operation with the World Jewish Congress, and they referred to other features which might be dealt with. I am very much obliged to my noble friend for the assurance he has given that the matters to which he has referred are being attended to. But I would ask him to be good enough to look at the other items which have been mentioned to see whether he can do anything about them.


My Lords, certainly. My noble friend raised a number of specific points about specific people. It is up to him to put those points directly, or in some other way, to my Department. We shall always look at everything he puts to us. May I say that I personally feel greatly advantaged by listening to this debate? I cannot pretend that complete, final answers are possible about the techniques of conducting foreign relations, especially in days when events and conditions change so quickly. I understand the desire that there should be a basic principle on which this country should stand in dealing with countries of varying ideological persuasion. But I hope noble Lords will not think that simply stating it settles the matter.

I have fairly gently given an example of how, if our relations with the Soviet Union were somewhat different, perhaps the climate and the balance of debate in this House might be different. If the relations we have had with Chile were the relations we had with the Soviet Union it might be different, but this is not so. Therefore, we must proceed from case to case and do our best to fashion our reactions in pursuit of our objectives as genuinely and as best we can in each case. It is certain that the Labour Government, the social democratic Government of this country, yield to no other Party in their devotion to democracy and human rights.

The Government do not pretend that they have all the answers all the time in this difficult and vital field, and certainly from time to time I shall be very grateful for the opportunity of discussing these matters in this House, of listening as well as attempting to answer questions addresed to me.