HL Deb 27 September 1976 vol 374 cc9-11

3.11 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the United Nations Commission for European Co-operation have formulated proposals to implement the Helsinki Final Act on co-operation in economic and environmental spheres.


My Lords, at the plenary meeting of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which was held from 30th March to 9th April, careful consideration was given to the way in which the ECE might play the fullest possible role in the implementation of the relevant provisions of the Final Act. With this in mind, the members of the Commission, including ourselves and our partners, put forward many proposals for the work programme. These are now being put into effect by the subsidiary bodies of the Commission.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he is able to tell us in some degree the proposals which are now under consideration? Would he not now agree that, while the criticism of the Soviet Union in its treatment of dissidents is justified, the instrument of the Helsinki Act was economic co-operation? Is it not the case that in June the Soviet Union proposed a discussion on pollution, transport, power and engineering, and has not COMECON proposed closer co-operation with the ECE? Will there be a response to both those initiatives?


My Lords, it is indeed true that some months ago the Soviet Union put forward interesting proposals for, as they call it, pan-European conferences on three subjects. The Final Act signed in Helsinki, however, specifically names the Economic Commission for Europe as being the proper vehicle for the development of such European co-operative policies. It has seemed to us and to a great many other signatories of the Final Act that the right and proper course to take is to involve the ECE increasingly in the consideration of such proposals. Since last April, that is exactly what has happened. In addition, the plenary meeting held in April instructed the executive secretary of the ECE to write a report specifically on the Soviet proposals.


My Lords, in view of the fact that the review conference is to be held in June next year, may I ask the Minister whether it is not possible, between now and then, to seek implementation of these proposals, which were the very heart of the Helsinki Act and about which, because of delay, very little has been done?


My Lords, that, in fact, is happening, as I indicated in my first reply. Subsidiary bodies, as they are called, of the ECE are now working on a number of practical matters on which they will report as soon as possible. It so happens that a plenary meeting of the ECE is due to be held early next year—that is, in 1977—and I should imagine that that would be a very useful run-up indeed for the review conference which is to be held somewhat later that year in Belgrade.


My Lords, in view of the constant breaches of the Helsinki Agreement which the USSR are committing in relation to people who are being detained by them, imprisoned by them and maltreated by them, may I ask my noble friend whether he will see to it that they fulfil that side of the Agreement as well as any other aspect of it?—because from a humanitarian point of view there is no doubt that that side of it is most important.


My Lords, certainly it is our policy and intention that all signatories of this very hopeful agreement in Helsinki shall implement it in toto and not selectively.