HL Deb 03 February 1976 vol 367 cc1225-7

2.52 p.m.


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 what protests they have made on their own initiative or jointly with the EEC to the Czechoslovak Government about the further curtailment of the civil and political rights of the Czechoslovak people contrary to the Final Act of the Helsinki Agreement.


My Lords, I am not aware that there has been any further curtailment of civil and political rights in Czechoslovakia since the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe was signed in Helsinki on 1st August, 1975. Her Majesty's Government have therefore made no protests of the kind described by the noble Lord.


My Lords, the noble Lord will have seen very full reports in the newspapers, including The Times, about the changes in the penal codes in Czechoslovakia. Does not he feel that if attention is drawn too frequently to token and trivial acts by Warsaw bloc countries that are consistent with the Helsinki Agreement, there is a danger that far more serious matters such as this, about which there appears to be some disagreement between us, will have no attention drawn to them at all?


My Lords, I follow the noble Lord to this extent, that we have noted with considerable interest reports of the treatment of dissidents in both Czechoslovakia and some other cognate countries. We have no standing formally to intervene on behalf of individuals so treated in another country. However, we have very much in mind, particularly in consultation with our partners in the Nine, that a much better focus in regard to the contents of Basket Three relating to humanitarian rights should by now be evident in the actions of all countries that are signatories to the Final Act.


My Lords, how could the Czechoslovaks lose any civil or political rights, which they have not had since 1948?


My Lords, as my noble friend reminds us, the Question related to further curtailment and I replied that, so far as I could see, there has been no further curtailment of rights in that country. As to whether the Final Act will serve to help to restore to people in Czechoslovakia and similar countries some of the rights that they lost in 1948, we must wait and see and try to help along that process.


My Lords, when promises solemnly given in the Final Act at Helsinki are broken, is it the intention of Her Majesty's Government to draw attention to that and, together with out partners in the EEC, to protest?


My Lords, as I have said, we and our partners are watching the process very carefully indeed. Naturally, we look to the Review Conference next year which will exercise a kind of audit over the performance of the 35 countries that are signatories to the Final Act. In most of these cases private suasion is preferable and more productive than public protest, and in the meantime, in the most effective way possible, we with our partners, and bilaterally, shall seek to do everything that we can. In fairness, I would point out, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out last week in another place, that we are within sight of agreement with a number of Eastern European countries in regard to improving the conditions of work of British journalists in those countries.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether I am right in assuming that Her Majesty's Government are not guided by what appears in the Press, which seems to be implied in the noble Lord's Question, and that they determine their policy on the reports they receive from the Diplomatic Service?


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. We are, of course, bound to act almost exclusively on the information that comes to us from our own representatives. On the other hand, as my noble friend knows, we take note of what is written by responsible journalists in responsible newspapers, not only in this country but in other countries also.