HL Deb 31 October 1975 vol 365 cc739-42

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that the USSR is breaking her undertaking given in the Final Act signed at the Helsinki Conference by refusing to grant permission to those who wish to emigrate from the USSR (including the territories occupied and annexed by her during the Second World War); and whether Her Majesty's Government will endeavour to persuade the USSR to abide by her agreement and allow to depart those who have applied and will apply to emigrate, including the scientist Benjamin Levich and his wife who have been informed that the specific promise that they would be allowed to leave has been revoked.


My Lords, it is too early to speak of a breach of the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference. The Government intend to implement the provisions of the Final Act, and expect all other participating States to do likewise. All entered into a firm political commitment to do so. The House will be aware of the Government's view that individual cases of this kind can be pursued more effectively through private discussion than through public declaration. But, as my right honourable friend the Minister of State said in another place on 29th October, we shall continue to draw the attention of the Soviet authorities to this sort of case.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for the reply that he has given, may I ask him whether he is aware of the fact that those who apply for exit permits are still being subjected to very serious harassment; that many are being charged with fictitious crimes, or false alleged crimes; and that the vast majority are being given no opportunity to get out? Is my noble friend further aware that, instead of the situation becoming better, so far as emigration is concerned it has become worse? In view of the fact that this was a definite promise, does not the case of Levich and his wife require immediate attention?—because the authorities in the USSR have withdrawn that promise which they gave even prior to the Helsingfors Treaty and, having withdrawn that promise they are subjecting the Leviches to very grievous hardship.


My Lords, the evidence which my noble friend has given is unfortunately true in many respects, and may be true in individual cases. We strongly deplore these practices and policies, and our purpose in co-operating at Helsinki and in affixing our signature with those of 35 other countries, including the Soviet Union, was to make some progress towards resolving these humanitarian problems. The progress of the implementation of the Final Act will of course be reviewed in 1977, but in the meantime we shall be constantly consulting our friends and allies in the Community and in NATO as to cases of this kind and also as to general progress along the lines envisaged by the Final Act.


My Lords, while welcoming what the noble Lord has said and agreeing with him that, in general, these things are better handled by private representation, may I ask him whether, when these representations are made, he would consider making it clear that the facts which the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has brought to the attention of the House are not unknown to the great majority of the people of this country and that they must inevitably have an effect on Anglo-Soviet relations?


My Lords, if I may take the most important point of the noble Lord's interjection—and it is an important point which the noble Lord has made—we entirely agree that the progress of détente, which the Soviet Union and its allies regard as being of great importance, can only be impaired by a lack of implementation over a long enough period of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. As to the first point which the noble Lord made, indeed it is well that all understand that there is a very strong and active public opinion in this country, and indeed throughout the whole democratic world, which deplores and abhors these practices.


My Lords, while agreeing with everything that has been said by both the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lord Janner, and while supporting private movements in this matter, may I ask whether it would be better if we used the Helsinki Conference as a means of asserting the principle of free movement between countries, which is even more important? If we worked on that principle, that is far more important than even individual efforts made by private people in particular cases.


My Lords, I think the two are equal in importance. The provision in the Final Act relates to a policy for the freer movement of individuals and groups, including, of course, people who are motivated by national, religious or ideological reasons; but within that larger purpose there is clearly the need—in appropriate ways which the noble Lord has described, possibly by private intercession rather than public declaration—to assist in individual cases. I would not wish to specify which individual cases. From time to time our Prime Minister and other leaders in this country intercede on behalf of individuals in a private way, always with a view to their action being productive rather than counter-productive in that particular case.


But, my Lords, in contradistinction to what the noble Baroness has suggested, is it not a test of the sincerity of our principles that we apply them in individual cases; and are not principles which are not applied in individual cases wholly worthless?


Yes, my Lords; I entirely agree, and I have no doubt that the noble Baroness would go along with that, too. There is the general purpose of the Final Act, but, as the noble and learned Lord has reminded us, general purposes are valid only if they are applied to individuals.


My Lords, while not endorsing everything that is in this Question, may I ask the Minister whether he will raise privately, as has been suggested, the case of Benjamin Levich, and whether he will consider negotiations to extend the Human Rights Commission in Western Europe to the whole of Europe, permitting Governments to raise questions of this kind?


My Lords, I take note of both points; the individual point and also the point of policy which my noble friend has raised.

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