HL Deb 04 May 1977 vol 382 cc995-1060

2.51 p.m.

Lord GLADWYN rose to draw attention to the need for Her Majesty's Government, when considering their relationship with other Governments, to have regard to the extent to which those Governments observe their obligations under the Universal Declaration and the two International Covenants on Human Rights; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in raising this important question on behalf of my colleagues, I shall not weary your Lordships with any detailed account of what human rights and fundamental freedoms are, or what they may be deemed to be. They have, of course, now been enshrined in many classical treaties, notably the Charter of the United Nations; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; the European Statute of Human Rights of 1950, which alone, I think I am right in saying (as we are now noting, perhaps to our disadvantage, in Strasbourg), provides for the legal enforcement of the judgments of a court; the two International Covenants of 1966, with the so-called optional protocol on individual petitions, which so far as we are concerned came into force only at the end of last year; to say nothing of the non-binding but elaborate Declaration of Helsinki of 1975.

There is also, I believe I am right in saying, a Commission of no less than 73 States coming under the general jurisdiction of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations which meets once a year in Geneva, and concerns itself very largely with such matters as minorities and so on. I do not think that we need perhaps pay undue attention to that particular body in the present context.

The fact is that so far as the formulation of legal documents and safeguards is concerned, nothing more can now be done. Every conceivable freedom and right has been solemnly laid down in the documents which I have mentioned, from the right to strike, to leave the country, to receive a fair trial, to assemble freely, to send your child to a school of your own choice—you have merely to think of a right and it is included. The two Covenants were likewise approved unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations, though only about half the members have actually signed and only 43 have ratified them up to now, including, it need hardly be said, the Soviet Union and her Satellite States, which, as we know, are always in the vanguard of freedom! Only six—and they are all Western Europeans —have accepted Article 41, which empowers an 18-man committee, charged with the duty of supervising the execution of the Covenants, to consider complaints of violation of their engagements brought by one State party against another State party. In any case, it is only on 43 States that the two Covenants are now legally binding, subject to certain minor reservations, though, as we have seen, on the general principle of human rights all the members of the United Nations agree.

The point, my Lords, is that even if all the gaps were filled and the various treaties and protocols were universally ratified, the position would not necessarily be greatly improved, for it is undeniable that a large number—in fact, the great majority—of States which have, as I say, in principle underwritten the most far-reaching obligations, simply do not carry them out, or at any rate do not carry some of them out. Either the rule of law—for that is what it comes down to—has been abrogated as a result of some revolution involving the suppression of Parliamentary Government and its replacement by a ruthless dictatorship of the Left or the Right—the internal effects of which are often not very distinguishable—or the obligations have been assumed by a Government which pays lip-service to, for instance, the right of the individual to free speech, the right of free assembly and so on, but cannot in practice give practical effect to these obligations because they run counter to the whole philosophy on which such régimes have from the outset been based.

In Communist countries, not to put too fine a point on it, any overt opposition to the established authority is in itself something scandalous and intolerable as potentially undermining the whole fabric of the State. The State, so it is felt in those countries, is all-powerful because it is itself the only safeguard of the wellbeing of the population, the alternative being anarchy. More especially is this the case in Russia, where, since the foundation of the Russian power or vlast, as it is called, I think, the very idea of opposition has always had a slightly unpatriotic connotation. Inside the government machine, of course, the opposition does exist, but it must be kept secret. The only way of changing the vlast is thus some kind of internal coup d'etat. The Supreme Soviet, as we all know, is in no way a sovereign body, and there is no such thing as public opinion. So it follows that "human rights" as conceived in the West, at any rate, is something rather incomprehensible to the average Russian mind; that is to say, to the bulk of the people who, for the last 60 years, have been cut off from all real contact with Western thought.

Now, happily, there are some among the Soviet intelligentsia who, as a result of their own efforts or perhaps as a result of contacts made in the pursuit of their studies, do know what human rights really mean and who can appreciate that their denial is really, in the end, the equivalent of slavery. But they are at present very few; and it is unlikely, I am afraid, that they will, for many years at any rate, be able to change the whole nature of the Soviet régime. The great Solzhenitsyn is a voice crying in the wilderness, and he will do no such thing; he will not be able to change the Soviet régime. His role, as I see it, is to put the tolerant and easy-going Western democracies on guard against the very real danger that one day they also may lose their freedom. The brave Sakharov may go on trying, and our hopes and our sympathies all go, I am sure, unanimously out towards him. But whatever our hopes may be, there is at present no real likelihood that he will succeed; and, as we know, another intellectual called Medvedev believes that, however brave, his attitude may to some extent be misguided. Anyhow, that is what he thinks.

The bleak fact is that the Soviet system, however inefficient and, in the long run, as I am sure we all think, self-defeating, is clamped down on the Russian people without too much discontent among the masses, and in any case with the approval of the very powerful Armed Forces and what may perhaps be described as general acceptance by the new bourgeoisie; that is to say, the "apparatchiks", the technocrats, the bulk of the dragooned but well-paid artists and writers, the doctors, the scientists and so on. Of course, I do not say that there is not much discontent in the Union—more especially in the so-called "submerged nationalities" —but the chances are, I am afraid, that it will not disrupt the Union, at any rate so far as we can see ahead at the present time.

Just as human rights in the Western sense are something rather incomprehensible to the bulk of the Russians, so are they probably incomprehensible to the bulk of the 800-million Chinese. There, also, anyone who, rightly or wrongly, wants to conduct things differently from what the rulers of the country deem to be right from time to time is a sort of traitor—like the so-called "Gang of Four", who must be firmly suppressed by one means or another if anarchy is to be avoided. It follows that, whatever our hopes may be, the whole basis of the great Helsinki Agreement is questionable. I only say "questionable". If the Communist powers maintain, as they do maintain, that human rights are perfectly acceptable except when their exercise might endanger the totalitarian régime—in which case they are the equivalent of treason—how can we expect them (that is, the Communists) to abide in all respects by the various obligations which, as we see it, they should invariably observe?

In this sphere—I do not know whether I am carrying all noble Lords with me, but I hope so—there is no ground for real understanding. It is useless to think that we can somehow or another liberalise the Soviet, or for that matter, the Chinese régime. The only understanding possible is one firmly based on some ascertainable co-incidence of interests. I will repeat that; for it is what I believe. The only understanding possible is one firmly based on some ascertainable co-incidence of interests. We should certainly never give anything away in negotiations without receiving something porportionately valuable in return. That is not to say that by bringing pressure to bear on the Soviet Government—and notably by constantly drawing attention to the difference between its words and its actions, to say nothing perhaps of taking a tough line on credit if things do not improve—Western Governments may not occasionally be able to moderate the illiberal actions of that Government; notably in the case of obtaining exit visas for separated spouses, or even as regards the incarceration of intellectuals, mostly Jewish, I think, in lunatic asylums.

Up to this point, I feel that all or, at least, most of us would agree with the general line taken by President Carter. I think it is absolutely right. This is also what we shall, no doubt, try to achieve in Belgrade where it might not be entirely out of order for us to draw the attention of our host Government to certain apparent lapses regarding human rights. I should be grateful if the Government could give us some assurance that this will be their general attitude in the forthcoming Conference.

My Lords, in the Soviet Satellite States, however, the situation is obviously different. There, for the most part, the governments are maintained in power by Russian bayonets. Yet the people, again, I think, for the most part, have not forgotten what freedom means: a judiciary, for instance, independent of the State; the right to transfer property, free elections, a free Press, uncensored literary activity, freedom to emigrate, and so on. A generation has grown up, it is true, which has not enjoyed any of these things; but the old tradition persists. It is in their blood, so to speak. If ever the Russian occupying armies should withdraw, it would result in régimes only too willing to come to some kind of arrangement or agreement with the Western democracies.

In Eastern Europe, therefore, the real question is this. Do we want positively to encourage such tendencies by our propaganda (notably, of course, in broadcasts) thereby perhaps running the risk of provoking uprisings against the Russian domination which might well be brutally suppressed, as they were in 1953, 1956, 1968 and, I think, subsequently, on one or two occasions also; or do we prefer to let sleeping dogs lie in the belief, or rather in the hope, that some day the rays of freedom emanating from a happy and successful West of "mixed economies" which has emerged from the slump will, by themselves, melt the totalitarian iceberg and produce a revulsion against Communism not only in Eurasia but all over the world?

We should not necessarily be put off, I suggest, by violent Russian objections if we decide to pursue the first course. After all, the Soviet Government feels itself at liberty to denounce what it calls "capitalist" (in other words, free) societies everywhere, so why should we not be at liberty mutatis mutandis to do the same? But I doubt whether it would be wise. If pushed beyond a certain point, it might well result in a rupture of ordinary diplomatic relations, the maintenance of which is probably in our long-term political and economic interests and even in the interests of those whom it should be our main concern to assist.

Besides, morals apart, would it help if there were some fearful internal disturbances in Eastern Europe? Let us, therefore, so to speak, always keep our end up; let us give our moral support—I do not know whether the Government will go as far as this—to the "Charter 77" initiative in Czechoslovakia which simply seeks to induce the Czech Government to abide by Helsinki. But let us not seek actively to disrupt the established order in the satellite countries, however reprehensible we may, ourselves, consider it to be.

So, my Lords, we come to consider the large number of so-called Third World or developing countries in which all liberty has now been ruthlessly suppressed. These range from States such as Cambodia. which probably holds the record for sheer horror, something like one-fifth of the entire nation having been slaughtered for the sole reason that they were people who lived in towns and could, for the most part, read and write; but a strong runner-up is the dictatorship of Amin in Uganda where whole tribes have been decimated in beastly fashion. Nor is the position much better, I should imagine, in such countries as Ethiopia or the Central African Republic. Actual genocide apart, no one imagines, indeed, that anything like real respect for human rights, as defined, observed and consecrated in the Covenants, prevails in more than a few black African States at the present time; nor for that matter in many Arab States, as well. Here I may be wrong, but I feel that Islam is somehow, behind the scenes, endeavouring to reform society on lines perhaps differing from those favoured by Western philosophers over the years.

My Lords, passing to Asia, I suppose that the Indian sub-Continent may be considered as a region where the Rule of Law, in principle at any rate, still persists in the sense that it has not actually been suppressed. Indeed, we must all sincerely welcome the return of India to such a régime after its virtual suppression by Mrs. Gandhi; but its application, even there, is pretty tenuous, especially in Pakistan and Ceylon; while still further East, in Burma and Vietnam, tyranny of a totalitarian nature is the order of the day. Nor can freedom in the Western sense be said to prevail in Indonesia where millions of Communists were massacred not long ago, or even in the Philippines where the situation today seems to be grim.

My Lords, almost alone in this vast area, Japan and, to some extent, Malaysia and Thailand, stand out as places where the individual is, to some extent, respected and can, in principle at any rate, have some recourse against the arbitrary power of the State. All this is bad enough, but to those countries where human rights are, in varying degrees, suppressed, we must clearly now add the greater part of Latin America, with, so I am told, the partial exception of Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia and the West Indies. Cuba apart, these are more or less Right Wing régimes—more especially Chile—and therefore come in for more general condemnation than equally ruthless Governments of a different political complexion. But considered purely objectively, they are for the most part no worse than other States which I have mentioned in other continents, and indeed some may he thought to be less barbarous than those in a general way, though the Chilean and perhaps more especially the Argentine Government stand out, I am afraid, as particularly flagrant and brutal offenders.

I have left the most contentious examples to the last: South Africa and Rhodesia. Nobody can maintain that human rights as laid down in the various treaties are observed in the Republic of South Africa. The very essence of apartheid violates all the generous intentions of those who formulated them in the late 1940s or even before the war. Yet it is unjust that South Africa should be the sole object of criticism in the United Nations when no condemnation is apparently made of other countries such as Uganda or Cambodia, whose Governments are by any standards far more horrible than the South African Government. No criticism of them, apparently, is permitted at all. Except when they have become unspeakably frightful and clearly guilty of genocide, we, rightly, maintain diplomatic and trade relations with all Governments which flagrantly violate human rights, and we also condemn interference from outside in their internal affairs, whether it be on the part of Cuba or anybody else, such interference necessarily involving the interference of other interested parties. I think I am reflecting the Government's view on this.

So it should be with South Africa. We shall, I hope, continue to bring such pressure as we can on the Government of the Republic to modify its racial laws and certainly to clear out of Namibia, where its presence now has no legal justification at all. But an armed crusade against South Africa with the clear object not merely of defending human rights, but, in addition, of imposing a series of black Marxist dictatorships in place of rule by a very substantial white minority, is something which could only lead to general war, the outcome of which no one could predict except that everybody would be much the worse off if it happened.

Rhodesia, from the point of view of human rights, seems to me to be rather a special case. The position of the enormous black majority in that country is from that point of view, by and large, much better than it is in some other countries. But it is obvious that there must shortly be a transfer of power and there is little doubt that, by one means or another, this will fairly soon take place. Whether human rights will actually be preserved by the successor régime seems, in view of our recent experiences, to be questionable.

Well, my Lords, I have tried in the short time available to indicate what, in this deplorable situation, our general attitude might be. The sad fact is that human rights as laid down in the various treaties are now, to a very large extent, only protected, or fully protected, in the richer and non-Communist nations, or at least those with long Parliamentary traditions—and here we can note with joy that of recent years they have been revived in Spain, Portugal and Greece. But whether we like it or not, in nearly all other countries ideology or tribal rivalries or economic distress or population pressure, or just general misery, has resulted in some form of dictatorship, usually—though not always—maleficent, and this state of affairs is likely to continue at least for so long as the present world recession endures.

I do not know whether I carry all your Lordships with me, but I suggest that human rights are part of the good life; they are a luxury if you will, to which the poorer nations may one day attain, but only if their economic situation should improve materially. True there are one or two countries which have recently become rich very quickly where human rights have also been suppressed, and sometimes brutally suppressed; but this does not alter the fact that extreme poverty is just not compatible with freedom. The nine countries of the E.E.C., where, after all, human rights are not only observed but are legally enforceable, should hence—and this is a major suggestion of mine—co-ordinate their attitude towards violations of these admirable principles in other parts of the world. They should co-ordinate their attitude. Thus if it is thought good—as it might be—to intercede on behalf of any oppressed persons or minorities, whose case may be advanced by such admirable institutions as Amnesty International, such action should, if possible, be taken jointly.

In the United Nations, too, while we shall be unable to get any decision condemning the abuse of human rights elsewhere than in Southern Africa, South America and Israel, we ought also to speak with one voice in condemnation of the "double standard" attitude of the majority and to try to get suitable publicity for our point of view. I should like again to ask the Government to confirm that this is broadly speaking also their general point of view.

Such an attitude, if we adopt it collectively within the Community, will be denounced by a majority in the United Nations as supercilious neo-colonialism, advanced purely as a cover for the basic materialism of Western society. Of course that accusation will be made. Indeed, an effort is, I believe, now being made to establish a new Human Rights Convention based on rival concepts such as the right to eat, the right to share in the standard of living of the richer nations, and so on. How this can be reduced to legal form is not easy to understand. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack can explain how that can be done. I think it will be rather difficult.

So far as the existing conventions are concerned, in any case the whole issue will no doubt be boiled down, if possible, to the simple one of an assault against the governing white minority in the Republic of South Africa. This, after all, has the merit of keeping an unperceived beam in a great number of national eyes. Here we in the West—and I think this must go also for the United States Government—are caught between our disapproval of apartheid and our certainly not unjustified suspicion that an armed crusade against South Africa would be designed, at least by some—and we know who they are—not so much to "liberate" a few million blacks, as to place them under a dictatorial rule with the chief object of undermining the free societies of the West.

There is no easy way out of this dilemma. We cannot and we should not abandon our efforts to persuade the South African Government to reform their economy so as to bring more and more of the nonwhite members of the Republic into positions of responsibility ending up in a genuinely multiracial society. But neither must we subscribe to a popular view that any such progress can be achieved only by the direct application of force.

If we have learned anything in the dreadful wars, nearly always undeclared, that have taken place since the end of World War II, it surely is that the application of force on a national scale in pursuit of any ideology only makes the resulting situation infinitely worse. It is perfectly true, as Machiavelli said, that unarmed prophets cannot be expected to influence the political situation very much one way or the other; but equally the use of arms in our modern world is something incompatible with any ideological success. As Tacitus prophetically remarked, "they create a solitude and call it peace".

As I see it, we shall do well if we preserve human rights as among ourselves here in Europe. If we do, there is at least a chance, as I have said, that they will gradually take root elsewhere, notably in Eastern Europe for a start. If we do not, well that will mean that we ourselves shall gradually be subjected to rival totalitarian influences coming from the East; which is exactly what Solzhenitzyn has been trying to say for so long and which we are so reluctant to believe. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.


I should like to ask one question of my noble friend, if I may, arising out of his very interesting speech. I am sure he will agree that in Eastern Europe, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were the acid tests. Does he or does he not think that we should have done more than we did in those cases?


My Lords, I tried to make my attitude clear. I said, particularly with regard to Czechoslovakia, that the Government would be well advised to give moral support to the Charter 77 Movement. I also suggested that if by propaganda we hinted that it would be a good thing for the Czechs to rebel against their Government. then that would be a bad thing.

3.20 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, with his very wide experience of diplomacy and knowledge of international affairs, has not only covered the world for us this afternoon but has given many of us an opportunity of debating what I believe to be one of the most important issues for our own country, concerning the relationship between ourselves and other Governments. In addition to that, the Government must consider their relationship towards their own citizens if they are going to make a stand on the issue of human rights in the world. It is, of course, an enormous subject and it is only possible, in the comparatively short time available to each speaker, for me to touch on just a few guide-lines and to speak in the broadest of terms.

First of all, I think it should be clarified that under Article 13 of the United Nations Charter all Member States of the United Nations are legally bound to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. So much importance was laid on that aspect of international obligations to all Member States that it is mentioned no fewer than seven times in the text of the Charter. Organs of the United Nations—some of them successful, some not quite so successful and some which have even been total failures so far—were specifically set up for the purpose of developing and promoting such respect for human rights; so it is not only the Covenants and Declarations to which the noble Lord referred, but also the Charter itself, and it is legally binding on every Member State of the United Nations.

I should like to turn for a few minutes to our own system in this country, because if we are going to take a moral stand and not blame ourselves, as we blame others, for double standards, we should very seriously and clearly look at the many defects which are becoming apparent in our own system in this country with regard to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of our own citizens. So great has been the legislation in recent years, and so little have been the corresponding protections in respect of that legislation in the eyes of the citizen, that we are gradually seeing an erosion of our fundamental freedoms as we have always maintained them.

In our society as a whole, in our educational system, in the freedom of expression and in the right to work, to name only a few, the corresponding lack of administrative and judicial procedures for the redress of injury to a citizen by any of the public authorities or Government Departments is therefore becoming increasingly serious. We are now having a number of complaints brought against the Government at Strasbourg, not because, I personally believe, we are very much worse than any other country in Western Europe, but because our internal system has not been providing the remedies necessary, with the increasing flow of legislation which has been coming from the Government. What is happening is that the domestic remedies available to the citizen are becoming rapidly exhausted and there are no alternatives but to go to Strasbourg.

Of course, it should be said in our favour—and I firmly believe that it is one of the great stands of the West as opposed to other parts of the world—that we as a country, and our Government in particular, are prepared to go publicly to an international forum to have revealed the patent weaknesses in our system. I believe that is indeed our great strength. With other Western democracies, members of the Council of Europe, we accept the right of the individual to petition in Strasbourg against any action of Government. I would repeat that I believe this is one of the great strengths of our country as well as being at present perhaps one of its weaknesses.

The European attitude and approach to human rights is based on a sharing of common standards and basic values, which I personally would call of a Christian ethic, influenced by the thinking of classical philosophers. We share in Western Europe, as a concept of law, a standard of conduct for our own community. That standard of conduct we are prepared to defend and, with the lacunae I have mentioned, to see it enforced. But the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was an attempt to set up not only a European standard but a world standard of values. Since that Universal Declaration, the tragedy, however, has been that there is no universal standard of values. It is the absence of that which has led other nations not only to exploit the double standards but consistently to deny and violate human rights themselves, and at the same time to politicise certain issues at the United Nations. In that way, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, reminded us the other day, the abolition of colonialism, racism, and discrimination was favoured above equally important human rights which have been consistently neglected and overlooked.

One result of that has been that while denying human rights to their own citizens, some countries have supported and maximised these particular issues for political ends. They have directed attacks to specific countries, while claiming for themselves the right of non-interference in their internal affairs. But I am sure that we in this House shall all agree that human rights are of universal and international concern. President Carter has done a great service in turning world attention to that. He recognises that for evil to conquer it is enough for good men to do nothing. He also recognises the duty of his own Government to put their house in order. They have not ratified the major international Covenants such as the International Covenant on Human Rights, the Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination or the Convention on Genocide. The President, however, has undertaken to ensure that he gets the support of Congress so to do.

One action I should have thought our Government should take in the forum of the United Nations is at all times to press other Governments to ratify these Conventions, because I believe they have a great psychological and moral value. Those countries which have ratified the international Covenants are, of course, under a direct legal obligation to observe and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of their citizens. Perhaps it is fair to say that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Affairs is one which does not lay a direct and immediate obligation on countries; the objectives laid down in the Covenant are to be reached by progressive stages. Therefore, that does not have quite the same immediate and direct effect as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

However, I concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said: that those countries which have ratified should be pressed to allow their citizens to petition individually under the optional Protocol, because if they are going to accept the legal obligations under the Covenent they should allow their citizens the right to use any implementing machinery available. They should therefore allow themselves to be reported to the Human Rights Committee. If those Governments do not do so, their ratification is meaningless in terms of observance. It acts merely as a sort of front to the world, but does not protect their own citizens, and in fact serves to allow those countries to have representatives on the Human Rights Committee and to condemn others.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the West is now going to allow itself to be judged by East countries and other countries of the world with no reciprocal right so to do, as the situation is at present, unless these other countries are persuaded and encouraged that they should agree to Article 41, which allows State parties to bring before the Human Rights Committee violations in other State party's countries; and also, of course to the optional protocol, to which I have referred, which allows a petition from an individual to the Human Rights Committee. Perhaps the Minister, in replying, will be able to give us a little information on the progress being made by that Committee, which I believe has recently met for the first time in New York. I do not know whether any public statements have been made on its activities or whether any decisions have been come to about the way in which it is to conduct its proceedings, and I should be grateful to have some reply from the Minister on this subject, if that is possible.

But it is in the context of détente and the Helsinki Agreement that we may particularly welcome President Carter's stand for human rights, because he recognises that the initiative must be taken in the West to contest the ideological struggle which continues, not only despite but because of the European concept of détente. We have only to remember those famous words in Pravda of 1973: The struggle will continue until the complete and final victory of Communism is achieved". It is this issue of human rights and fundamental freedoms around which the struggle will evolve because, by definition, no totalitarian State, including a Marxist or Socialist collectivist State, can guarantee the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the individual. Indeed, the individual is subordinated to the demands of the State, and his actions and thoughts are controlled by the State for the benefit of the State.

Recognising this in relation to such régimes we must be more selective and intensify our information services, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, pointed out, and not decrease them. We must not cut down our overseas services, which are the voice of freedom for millions, but increase them. If I may add a personal note here, the only news service that I heard when I was in China was the news on the BBC, which said that certain activities were taking place in Peking, and I was able to inform our interpreters, who were currently accompanying us around China, of what was going on in their own country. When they asked "Where did you hear it?" and I said that I heard it from London, the effect was electric.

Another action which we must take, and which I hope the Government will continue to take, is to support dissident movements wherever they themselves demand support, knowing the possible consequences. We cannot forget that there are between 1 million and 1½ million political prisoners in an estimated 500 prisons, prison camps and psychiatric prisons in the Soviet Union, and that the dissidents themselves have demanded the maximum publicity for what is going on in their country. Let us remember that in those prisons are not only Jews; not only political prisoners; but Christians, including Baptists, and every kind of individual, regardless of wealth, status or whatever one likes to call it, merely because they have cut across the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression in that country.

We have already had the outstanding speeches of Solzhenitsyn referred to. In fact, I do not think that you can consider in global terms the question of human rights without mentioning the names of either Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov, and we should not be ignoring their voices. Just because they have said the same thing so often does not mean that it is any the less true. We have had only to see what has happened to the group who have been monitoring the observance of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Agreement. It was announced in The Times only the other day that seven more have been imprisoned by the Soviet Union.

Should the Government stand by in silence, while giving vast technological and economic assistance to such a country? These are not normal commercial trade relations, exchanging the products of our countries for mutual benefit. This is an aspect of the subject to which we must be turning our attention. We have economic and other aid agreements with 47 countries, under the Lomé Convention, and it is indeed right for Western industrialised countries to contribute to the raising of economic and social standards in those parts of the world which are underdeveloped. But is it necessarily right to assist, in particular, national liberation movements with economic aid, when the sole aim of these so-called liberation movements is to set up some Marxist puppet government and so aid, once more, the Soviet Union in its imperialist and expansionist programme?

These and similar issues should be considered, not unilaterally or in isolation by ourselves but, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, so rightly pointed out, with our partners in the European Community with whom we should consult, co-operate and co-ordinate our strategies; and also, of course, with America and our NATO allies. Interdependence between nations must guide our policies in human rights issues, just as much as it does in economic and monetary fields. It may well be that public action is not always the best method for success. Much can be achieved by diplomatic and private negotiation, and in this case I think that there is a fine balance of judgment when to use the weapon of diplomacy and when to use the words and actions of toughness and decision.

But it is surely in the interests of all of us, not only to encourage friendly relations with Governments throughout the world through our economic, commercial and trade relations, but to be more selective in our aid; to use our political leverage; above all, to use the vast economic strength of the European Community—the largest trading bloc in the world—not as a threat, but as something to be taken account of by those who, according to our standards, consistently and systematically violate human rights and fundamental freedoms. I believe that in this way we shall be able to make a positive contribution to the maintenance of peaceful relations, without which, of course, there can be no human rights for anybody.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask whether she has anything to add to her most interesting and comprehensive speech about infringements of human rights committed by the various guerrilla movements across the world? I am thinking of the kidnappings in Italy, of the imprisonment of Sir Geoffrey Jackson for six months in Uruguay, and of the guerrillas in the Argentine and even in Northern Ireland.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, I have no personal information other than that which is, of course, repeatedly put into the Press, and I should be interested to hear what the Government have to say on this subject. Certainly, the increase in violence in internal situations has corresponded to the avoidance of external and intcrnational conflict, and it is one of the great problems of the world. Regrettably, I do not propose to offer the noble Lord a solution.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am, not unnaturally, attracted to this Motion, because it is essentially a moral issue, and I am particularly grateful for the quality and comprehensiveness of the introductory speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. He will not expect me to follow him too diligently in the sketches he gave of Communist ideology and practice. I think that there are many other aspects of the Communist position which would need to be stated in order to get a balanced view. But I most heartily agree with him in his penultimate comment, that force will not provide a solution. In fact, it would prompt me to the further exploration of the possibility of some kind of unilateral action in a very large degree of disarmament, if not of absolute pacifism. But let that be.

I want to say something about this as a moral issue of which we are conscious and which we deplore in its rapacity, in its deprivation of human rights—things which are now so widespread on the earth as to include almost every country, and if we begin to make a catalogue we should certainly not leave out places such as Iran and Ethiopia. It was in 1895 that a divine of the City Temple was prompted to make an observation about the Armenian massacres. That great divine began his sermon with the exclamatory comment "God damn the Sultan!". That was an electric occasion, but subsequently it was found that the follow-up to this particular invitation was not so clear-cut as the invitation itself. The fact that probably God would need earthly agencies in order to fulfil that particular process was by no means so exactly put to the Churches or to the community as was the initial declamation. This constitutes a perennial and continuing problem.

I am appalled, as this House is appalled, at the widespread denial of human rights: from the Right, from the Left, from the Centre. I am quite sure that something should be done in order to meet this particular enormity in a world which—I will break a gentle lance with the noble Baroness who has just sat down—in general has tended to improve during the years in which I have been acquainted with matters of private and personal liberty. However, in order to face adequately the challenge I am sure that it is imperative to look much more closely at the available means whereby that challenge can be met.

As the noble Lord, Lord Janner, knows, not so long ago it was my privilege to be a delegate at a conference in Brussels about Soviet Jewry. The evidence there was overwhelming, frightening. But there were certain alleviating circumstances, or there were certain elements of comfort and reassurance. As I listened to impassioned speeches and to evidence which was incontrovertible, it was clear to me that when sufficient publicity is given to particular cases there is at least a chance that there will be a cessation of the more brutal forms of the denial of human rights. Also, it was clear to me that there were many individual cases in which such publicity had made a great deal of difference for good. Perhaps, therefore, the first comment I would make is that the widest possible publicity, in a world where communication is much more available than ever it was before, should not be derided as an unimportant contribution to the alleviation of this problem.

There is another aspect of the problem which initially needs rather closer attention. It was also my privilege the other day to head a deputation to the Soviet Embassy on behalf of Christians who are persecuted in the Soviet Union. It was not an entirely happy occasion because, somewhat uncomfortably for us, the Soviet Ambassador's man spoke to us a good deal about our own problems and about what is happening in Northern Ireland. Although he was not particularly well informed, certainly he was able to raise very difficult and awkward questions.

However, what is important is that we were able to remind him—and in this case I think he had forgotten it or perhaps had never known it—that the condition of the Christian in Russia is determined by two principles. One is freedom of religious observance; the other is freedom of nonreligious propaganda. Nobody would equate this with freedom in the broadest sense of the word. But it is true that in many cases in the Soviet Union those who are punished—and from the standpoint of absolute justice I think incorrectly and wrongly punished—are punished because they have broken a law which is the internal law of the community: a law which represents things which I deplore but which nevertheless is a law that has as its obligation the fulfilment of what the Soviet people themselves believe, or some of them do, to be for the ultimate good of that vast community.

Though I, for one, am quite sure that such liberties now as are enjoyed by Christians, particularly Baptists, in the Soviet Union, are in many cases minimal, yet I believe also that there has been a change. It is to the credit of the Russian Orthodox Church—which, by the way, is now able to export its magazines in English; I receive one about every month—that there is evidence of the way in which the Russian Orthodox Church is able to champion to some extent the freedom at least to distribute Bibles and the freedom at least to hold meetings for religious purposes outside the framework of the Church. I believe once again that the widest possible publicity can have quite appreciable effects even in a so-called totalitarian country which, by the way, is changing and, I believe, is necessarily changing for the better. That is my belief, and I think that there are creditable pieces of evidence to support it.

This is no final answer. One is prompted to ask: what more can be done and what activities can be promulgated and carried out by Governments? As I say, I was very glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that he does not advocate the use of force. I want to examine for a moment or two the use of sanctions, as I believe that they are also capable of being wrongly interpreted and, indeed, in some cases wrongly applied. I do not believe that to isolate a community because of the Governmental ferocity of its laws is a justifiable position in terms of the Christian ethics to which the noble Baroness made reference and which she coupled with the classical philosophers. I found her argument fascinating and I should have liked to hear more. But surely it is true that you have a responsibility not only to a Government which may be in fault but also to those who are under its heel.

There are millions of people for whom we still have a responsibility not to isolate them, not to treat them as pariahs and not to withdraw from them. If I may draw an inference here from Holy Writ, the Friend of publicans and sinners believed it possible to exercise the creative activity of justice within a framework in which hospitality and comradeship, even with those who are malefactors, were not excluded. We ought to do, or try to do, something like that. It is an attitude which requires a very close examination of cultural and other activities.

Wherever those cultural and other activities obviously include a principle which we detest, at that point I believe that we should be perfectly justified in withdrawing from them because of the evil impact of their application in the minds at least of those who suffer from them or partake of them. However, when it comes to the application of sanctions, I believe that there ought to be a clear distinction between sanctions concerned to bring a country to its senses and sanctions concerned to bring a country to its knees. I believe that the second of those alternatives must necessarily be a prelude to the very violence which the noble Lord himself detests and which he suggests is quite inapplicable to the problem with which we are confronted.

I want to take another matter. I believe that there is widespread evidence of a cynicism that is prevalent in the world today, in which human rights are not only denigrated but derided. Those human rights belong to a world society which in large measure is no longer animated by those principles of absolute or eternal justice to which again the noble Baroness made reference. I agree with Mr. Michael Foot who said some time ago that of all the evils which he has had to tackle he believes that cynicism is by far the most dangerous. The lack of any sufficient argument which takes craftiness and turns it into craftmanship, the attitude by which human rights are regarded as pawns in a game—these things are most terribly exploited within the most pestiferous aspect of our modern civilisation: the arms race. Unless something is done to create a spirit at least of credibility, that nation States are concerned not merely to foster their own financial and capitalist interests, how can we expect those nations to be held in regard and to be regarded with credibility when they profess their interest in the wellbeing of those to whom they are prepared to sell the very means of death?

Not so long ago an institution called the Counter-Information Society published some records and was financed, as I understand it, partly by the World Council of Churches, bless them! What they were able to show was the way in which international, multinational industrial organisations cynically disregard any questions of public morality in the self-interest of their own prosperity. This I think is incontestable. In the case of ICI, it is £20 million for the manufacture of armaments, at least in South Africa; Plessey for its contribution to electronic circuits. I am not sure what they are Methodistically. I know what a Methodist circuit is, but I am fairly sure that these particular circuits have nothing to do with piety and are in fact closely associated with the arms industry. It is a sombre reflection that the scout car which initiated in Zimbabwe not so long ago the murder of about 700 Africans was stocked with stuff of lethal nature produced in South Africa under licence from a British firm.

These are facts which belong to the wider concept of what should be done. "Judge not that ye be not judged" is excellent advice: it is excellent advice because the credibility of any attempt that we make to prosper the methods and the programmes of social justice and individual freedom ultimately depend on whether, as has been referred to, there is not a beam in our own eye when we are endeavouring to remove motes or larger tree trunks from the eyes of other people.

I should like to conclude by saying how much I admire the initiatory activities of the new President of the United States of America. When he was a candidate I felt he smiled too much and was a bit woolly, but the more I listen to him, and particularly attending, as I did, to what he had to say to three people the other night on a television programme, the more I believe that he has the right end of the stick. Not to be too pompous about it, I believe it is possible within the world at the moment to awaken a sense of common decency in the wake of so many of the things in which humanity in general and great nations in particular have come to be somewhat ashamed. If Mr. Carter can be the spearhead of such an activity, I believe he can do more in creating the climate of social justice than a great many of the resolutions which hitherto have been more or less nugatory. In that regard I believe there must be—and I am sure there will be—a cessation of the incessant programme of armament increase and a general disposition to ratify those Conventions which already have been commonly agreed. To press on with that is of the most tremendous importance, but to press on with it within a new climate, which I believe Mr. Carter and others can begin to induce, is the prospect of its success.

3.53 p.m.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, could scarcely have put a more challenging Motion on the Order Paper, because he asks us to apply our minds to the most difficult of all questions, the reconciliation of idealism with practice, and that in the international field, which is the most daunting of all. In a well documented and well reasoned speech, which of course we expect of him, the noble Lord has advanced the proposition that the foreign policy of Britain and of other individual nations should have, and should be seen to have, a moral and an ethical content and a moral direction. Few of us who live in the democracies, and certainly nobody in this House, would quarrel with that; and the particular instrument which he would like to see activated and sustained is a Bill of Human Rights: such a Bill as, for example, my noble friend Lady Elles has reminded us is obligatory on nations under the Charter of the United Nations.

All of us could agree that this could represent the ideal in international living, and as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has just said, I believe most of us would welcome the fact that President Carter has lately placed the prestige and the authority of the President of the United States behind such an ambition. I agree with him; that is worth a lot. I believe that the declaration was timely in a world which is in danger of becoming totally amoral, and that Governments of all sorts should be reminded at regular intervals that one of the prime responsibilities of Governments is to sustain the dignity of man. We neglect that at our peril.

My Lords, that preface is necessary because one almost feels a sense of guilt in asking the question which must in honesty follow: What happens? How do we conduct ourselves when the incantation ends and the action begins? For the cold hard fact of international life is that there is not only no common interpretation of human rights; as the Speaker of the House of Commons reminded us in Westminster Hall only this morining, there is no common system, no common values. Democracy has one interpretation of human rights; the Communists have another—and they are poles apart. The countries of the Third World, particularly those which have one-Party States, have yet another interpretation.

If, then, as the price of doing business, or as a part of doing business in the foreign field we, as democracies, are to require that countries adopt standards of ethical behaviour of which we approve, some very potent questions will arise and will have to be asked and answered. I shall come to some conclusion on this shortly. But there is one question. Do we, as a deliberate part of our policy, want to use human rights as a bargaining factor in international negotiations in relation to, let us say, advantages in trade or advantages in security; in other words, to make human rights part of a deal?

I am inclined to think that I interpret the noble Lord, Lord Soper, aright, in that he thinks they stand on their own merits and should not be a matter of horse-trading. I agree. If I may say so with respect, I think there is one element of this equation in which President Carter was completely right. If nations are to be condemned for failure to observe human rights then no exceptions can be made on the plea of political convenience. I take it we shall all hold that General Amin, for example, should be totally condemned, and not least by the African countries who are his neighbours and are part of the Commonwealth of Nations. If South Africa is to be put in the dock for her conduct of apartheid, so should the Soviet Union for her persecution of the Jews and for the fact of the Berlin Wall. If Chile, so, too, Cambodia, and so on. There must be no double standards if human rights are to be required of every nation.

It is necessary at this point to remind ourselves that there is another rule of international living which is agreed as being essential to a peaceful world, and for this reason it was incorporated in the Charter of the United Nations by the authors; that is, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. If that rule is broken the peace of the world ends. But let us be clear. In the context of human rights the traffic in accusation and condemnation will not be only one way. It seems to us, and I think we may be excused for so thinking, somewhat ironic that we alone should at present stand accused before the International Court of Justice for cruelty in Northern Ireland, but it is so, my Lords; Southern Ireland has taken us to the Court; they have done just that. As a conscientious democracy, we submit ourselves to the international rules, as has been pointed out just now. Would any other country, Communist or Third World, do likewise? I very much doubt it. I will make one prophecy now with some certainty. We are about to introduce into this Parliament, so I understand, a citizenship Bill. I will bet my bottom dollar that in the context of immigration we shall be challenged by one or more of the countries of the Third World on the grounds that we are going to infringe human rights by the separation of families.

My Lords, we have to be prepared, if we require human rights from others, to be challenged by other countries who have their own interpretations of human rights which are not ours. So while advocating human rights—and the noble Lord must be right to do so—we have to recognise that the interpretations of human rights are legion, and many have a thinly veiled political content. Yet again—and this always introduces a kind of sense of guilt —we are bound to ask, in so far as we act to secure adoption of human rights and seek to require them of others, how far do we risk turning the world into an arena of bickering animosity, division and danger, to an even greater degree than it is today, even perhaps to incite such a rising in Eastern Europe as took place with such terrible consequences not so very long ago? My Lords, we are always going to be faced, when we are dealing with Communists or when we are dealing with other countries who have an entirely different interpretation of human rights, with dilemmas of this kind.

So how do we proceed, for example, in meetings with Governments whose standards of human rights are, in our view, virtually non-existent, or at any rate totally divergent from our own? Possibly in this matter one ounce of fact and experience can be worth a ton of theory. The Allied experience on the approaches to the Helsinki Conference of two years ago can, I think, give a useful pointer to Belgrade, and it is well worth our consideration in the context of this Motion and in the aftermath of President Carter's declaration—because the Americans will have to decide how they proceed when they, too, come to Belgrade.

In any civilised scenario, and within any interpretation of human rights, the Berlin Wall is obscene. But on the road to Helsinki the Allies had to decide whether, in the face of that situation and in the face of the blatant Russian persecution of the Jews, we should simply refuse to negotiate until these wrongs had been righted. It was a tenable proposition, on any moral count, and it is a tenable proposition now, that you should say to the Soviet Union, "Nothing doing until you put these evils right". But we —and in the term "we" I mean those who were in the Conservative Government and those in the Socialist Government who inherited from us the Helsinki Conference—had to weigh in the balance the interests of the Jews in the Soviet Union and the fate of the West and East Berliners; and we had to face the fact that, should we refuse to negotiate at all until these wrongs were righted, that might take years and years with nothing at all being done.

We could not disguise from ourselves that there was this moral dilemma, a dilemma of the kind which is bound to exist in this kind of situation when you deal with the Soviet Union. But, my Lords, we decided, rightly or wrongly, that a week spent in debate on human rights would be an exercise in sterility and frustration from which nothing would emerge, because, let us face it, the Communist dialecticians can make a dog's dinner of any debate on any moral subject at all. So we spent some time in stating our case on human rights. Then we turned to the tried processes of diplomacy to try to gain some concrete advantages under a number of separate headings. Your Lordships will remember they were called "baskets", and they contained items on trade, on social contacts, and a whole number of other things. But what was the result in relation to Berlin, at least the indirect result: 60,000 additional West Berliners have been able to visit East Berlin in the last two years, 60,000 more than were able to visit Berlin before. My Lords, the Helsinki Conference, to my mind, could be said in some ways to be a bad business, but that kind of result, even though it was indirect, was better than nothing.

So for Belgrade, as we come to Belgrade, as very shortly we can, I believe that the preparations are being conducted in NATO and in the Council of Ministers of the Community, and that is well. Again following the pattern of Helsinki, I believe it is necessary that the Russians should be told that they are offending against the basic code of human rights. If they know that we know that they are doing this and yet we remain silent, they will have no respect for us at all. So that should be done. Then we should turn to and resort to the traditional processes of diplomacy, to seek more constructive ways and means of coexistence, giving credit, therefore, to Russia for any concrete achievement that has followed Helsinki, but telling the Russians plainly that to add to a long list of unfulfilled promises has no attraction for us whatever. We need détente, but we need détente that can be measured in facts.

My Lords, in conclusion, are there any general conclusions that we can draw from the noble Lord's Motion? I believe that there are. First that the foreign policies of the democracies should be influenced by moral and ethical considerations, and the lead given by the President of the United States should be followed by others; secondly, that all Governments should be constantly reminded that it is an obligation to respect the dignity of man; thirdly, that they should be reminded, all of us should be reminded, that the United Nations Charter, in respect to human rights, puts a legal obligation upon nations.

I believe that we should ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations to review this obligation and to make proposals whereby this obligation should be brought constantly to the notice of the nations who are members. Then when it comes to meetings between peoples who interpret human rights in entirely different values, one must conclude, I believe, that meetings are better than nothing, and that the best way to increase the area of understanding, tolerance and co-operation, is to meet and talk and to exercise the arts of diplomacy. My Lords, the results will come when the dialectics end and the diplomacy begins. I cannot say that I am entirely satisfied with these conclusions, but then this is an unsatisfying international society in which we live. Nevertheless, I think that if we follow these broad rules, it may be, although a long road, the surest road to peace.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly hope that the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, was not being prophetic when he said that as a result of the Green Paper on citizenship, which has recently been published by the Government, there would be a chance of dividing the heads of families from their dependants. As I read the Green Paper, no such suggestion is contained in it. If such a suggestion were to be made, many Members of your Lordships' House would be at the forefront of the ranks of those who would condemn the Government, and such an issue could not wait to be determined by an international tribunal.

The noble Lord said that we are dealing with countries that have an entirely different conception of human rights. Yet, in relation to the forthcoming discussions with the Soviet Union, he rightly said that they are offending against what we consider to be a basic code. Mankind shares certain basic ideas in common, otherwise it is clear that we should never have been able to agree on the wording of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, although I agree with my noble friend Lord Gladwyn, that except in the very extreme cases we should maintain trade and diplomatic relations with countries that infringe the basic code of human rights, there is something here which is justiciable in an international sense and, therefore, there is some point in a debate such as this.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that we were dealing with a moral issue. I quite agree with him. If one goes back in the history of human rights to the beginning of the 19th century when it first became a subject for discussion, one can see that it has always been treated as a moral issue. The noble Lord may remember the famous letters of Mr. Gladstone to Lord Aberdeen after he had been to see the horrors of the Neapolitan regime visited upon the political prisoners who were incarcerated in their thousands in noisome dungeons. In a letter of incandescent indignation, Mr. Gladstone described the regime of King Ferdinand Bomba as "the negation of God erected into a system of government"—a phrase which would apply to many of the dictatorships about which we have spoken this afternoon, including in particular those of Southern Africa where the dictatorship is based upon differences of colour.

However, we are no longer the top nation that we were in the days of Palmerston and Gladstone. When President Carter takes up human rights as a major theme in the foreign policy of the United States, many countries may possibly have to face the choice between dismantling the machines that they have built up for terrorising their own citizens or losing substantial amounts of American assistance. We have no such way—at any rate not on the same scale as the Americans—of penalising the nations that flout what we consider to be recognisable norms of civilised behaviour.

Nations, like individuals, want others to like them and are sensitive to criticism. They do not enjoy being the target of world opprobrium, and occasionally, through the sheer pressures of world opinion, they have been persuaded to remedy particularly glaring abuses. Recently there was the case of M r. Vladimir Bukovsky, on whose behalf very many demonstrations took place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere; a large number of letters were written by ordinary people here to the authorities in the Soviet Union.

May I cite an example of another kind. I was delighted to read an article in The Times last Tuesday about the release of Senator Solari Yrigoyen, a radical Parliamentarian in Argentina, who had been incarcerated without trial for a long time and on whose behalf appeals had been addressed to the Head of State. General Videla, from Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and several countries in Western Europe, as well as from the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. However, for every person who is released a thousand remain in the dungeons of these dictators, and more are ensnared every day. In the Soviet Union there is, for example, the case of Andrei Tverdokhlebov, a physicist who was a founding member of the Moscow Human Rights Committee and who has been charged with: distribution of knowingly false fabrications defaming the Soviet State and social system. I mention those cases because it is probably easier for us to understand human rights in relation to particular cases rather than to deal with them broadly. The case of Tverdokhlebov is not by any means untypical. The law which I have quoted shows the failure to distinguish between opinion and facts. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that at least in the Soviet Union one could say that people were imprisoned for breaking a law which might be said to command general support. However, I do not think that is so in the case of laws which make illegal the expression of an opinion and which prevent anyone from successfully using the defence that he or she genuinely held those beliefs to be true, as did Dr. Tverdokhlebov in his defence against that charge. When I wrote to the Soviet Ambassador about that case he replied—through the First Secretary—as I might have expected, that this was a matter entirely within the competence of the Soviet legal system and that he was not prepared to comment on the case.

However, the law under which Dr. Tverdokhlebov was convicted is in conflict with the international obligations into which the Soviet Union had entered, particularly the Helsinki Agreement which allows freedom of expression of opinion. There must be some way of checking whether this agreement is being carried out, otherwise there would have been no point in having it. We cannot accept the argument put to me by the First Secretary that we should read the Helsinki Agreement as a whole, and that because there is provision for non-interference in the internal affairs of the signatory Powers we have no right to say anything about their non-compliance with the sections that deal with individual liberty. Therefore, the rest of the Helsinki Agreement, apart from the non-interference clause, would not be susceptible to any checks from abroad, and naturally neither the Soviet Union nor any other participant will accuse itself of violation. So the Agreement would become a dead letter if one accepted the argument advanced by the First Secretary.

I am also extremely disturbed by the arrest of Professor Yuri Orlov who was, as many of your Lordships know, the chairman of a committee set up in the Soviet Union for the specific purpose of monitoring whether the Soviet Union was observing the terms of that Agreement. That indicates that unwelcome opinions are being stamped on more vigorously than ever, and I hope that the Government will give an undertaking that this repression of those who are trying to voice their free opinions will be taken up at the meetings in Belgrade.

I am glad to have received confirmation from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, with whom I have corresponded on some of these matters, that he considers the abuse of psychiatry, which was mentioned by my noble friend, to be a matter that can be dealt with at the review conference, and also that the interruption of telecommunications in the Soviet Union—which prevents those of us in the West who are interested in these matters from discussing detention without trial and other infringements of liberty with people such as Academician Sakharov—can also be raised at the meetings at Belgrade. It is essential that we make the most of the opportunities presented here to express our abhorrence of the abuse of law in the Soviet Union. Several of your Lordships have also said that we must be careful not to adopt the dual standards of which some of us are accused by Mr. Bernard Levin. I do not know who he is getting at, but there are cold warriors who join in enthusiastically in any criticisms of the Soviet Union and yet resolutely ignore exactly the same evils when they are practised by Right Wing dictatorships, or even may excuse them.

One such gentleman is Mr. Brian Crozier, whose article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, some of your Lordships may have read without being familiar with his antecedents. He has been for a considerable time the director of an organisation called the Institute for the Study of Conflict. That, in turn, had as one of its parents a body known as Forum World Features, which was a front organisation of the CIA. A good deal of information about the connection between these two bodies, and the way in which both resources and money were transferred from Forum World Features to the Institute for the Study of Conflict when it was first formed, has been published both in Time Out and in The Guardian. But in the article in the Telegraph there is not even so much as a mention of Mr. Crozier's role.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? I have met Mr. Brian Crozier only once, so it is not either as a friend or acquaintance that I make this point. Has not the noble Lord made a rather smearing remark about somebody who is not able to defend himself in this place and who cannot refer to the remarks made by the noble Lord outside? We all know what view is taken of the CIA, rightly or wrongly, and I think that the noble Lord has made an unfair remark about somebody who is a patriot of this country.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness is saying that anything that I have said is untrue, then obviously I withdraw it, but the House is entitled to know about a person's antecedents in evaluating his writings. I am perfectly willing, if the noble Baroness wishes to correct anything in the history of the matter, to look into it further or to withdraw if she cares to make any correction, but I thought that it was important that many of your Lordships who will have seen this article in the Daily Telegraph should know who Mr. Crozier is, because no description is attached to his by-line.

He managed to say something nice about Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. which in my opinion are three of the most unappetising regimes in the world. In the Soviet Union, as we know, they arrest dissidents, they go through a charade of a trial, and then they shut them up in penal or psychiatric institutions. But in the countries of the Southern cone of Latin America they send out murder gangs to kill people in their own homes, or on the streets, or they assassinate them after they have been taken into custody. Torture is used systematically and mindlessly against those taken prisoner, as we have learnt from unimpeachable witnesses.

I went to Argentina last November and had the opportunity of visiting the women's prison at Villa Devoto. I talked to a number of women, all of whom told me that they had been tortured or raped. Those accounts, of course, were denied by the authorities, but when one looks at them in relation to the evidence of absolutely unimpeachable witnesses who have been in custody and suffered torture themselves —people like Father Patrick Rice, who I know the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will have heard of—then one cannot question the validity of this evidence. One cannot doubt that torture is endemic in the Argentine prison system. Is it for torturing and murdering their own people that the Generals are to be thanked by the West, as Mr. Crozier recommends in his article?

As for Uruguay, although I have not visited that country personally, it is by all accounts an even more atrocious and loathsome dictatorship than Argentina, because their murder machine reaches outside the boundaries of their own country, and among the nation's most distinguished Parliamentarians were Senators Michelini and Gutierrez, who were assassinated by Uruguayan murder squads after they had taken refuge in Argentina.

Another Parliamentarian. Professor Jose Luis Massera, who is an engineer and mathematician, was tortured so badly that he suffered a fractured pelvis and needed a major operation. The Inter-Parliamentary Union made representations on his behalf, but these have been totally ignored by the Uruguayan authorities. Senator Church of the United States has described Uruguay as "the biggest torture chamber in Latin America". There were 22 well authenticated cases in a document published by Amnesty International in January 1976, and the carnage has continued since then. It is no wonder that more than a sixth of the population has fled the country, and that as a sick joke in the departure lounge in Montevideo airport there is a notice saying, "Last one out, please turn off the light".

In that country political parties are banned. The trade unions are not allowed to function; the universities are controlled by the military; theatres and film studios have been closed; all magazines and eight out of the 12 newspapers have shut their doors. And Mr. Crozier says, "It is heartening, even exhilarating" to visit this country. It must be about as heartening, I should imagine, as a trip to Hitler's Germany in the 1930s, and we were not wanting in those clays dupes and fellow-travellers who went to Nazi Germany and came back applauding that régime.

As regards Chile, Mr. Crozier says that there is only one political prisoner left there now, though between 400 and 500 are detained following conviction on charges of murder or illegal possession of arms. If that is so, it means that a large number of the people who have been taken into custody have been murdered as in Argentina. The report, Chile's Secret Prisoners which has just been published, shows that 121 persons were reported to have disappeared in 1976, and some of them after witnesses had actually seen them in official places of detention. Clearly these regimes, which Mr. Crozier claims have saved their people from a fate infinitely worse than anything now happening, find it cheaper and more convenient to rub out their dissidents rather than to go through a charade of a trial as in the Soviet Union.

May I say one word in conclusion about what we in Great Britain can do. First, I think we ought to speak out against the prostitution of our free Press by the apologists for these inhuman dictators. Secondly, we should seize every opportunity for accusing régimes such as those I have described who are guilty of horrible crimes against their people. We should certainly refuse to sell arms to any of these dictators and persuade our Allies, and particularly our Allies in Europe, to do likewise. We should adopt a positive strategy for dealing with refugees, particularly in the educational field, as recommended in the report which has just been published by the World University Service. We should support initiatives to strengthen the human rights machinery of the United Nations. Finally, we should, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, has said, give every possible encouragement in resources to the overseas services of the BBC.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that it is necessary to express thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for initiating this debate. The whole series of speeches which has followed is an expression of that appreciation. We have had in this House today contributions of a fundamental character which may even be historic. This has been a short debate, with only a few speakers; therefore, I propose to make a synopsis of a speech rather than a speech itself.

We are apt to limit our thought about human rights. The first human right of all is life, yet according to a recent survey by the United Nations, one out of eight of the population on earth is starving and half the world's population is suffering from malnutrition. A child born in the third world is 15 times more likely to die before reaching one year old than a child born in the industrialised West. There are 300 million unemployed people in the developing countries, yet for the millions in the industrialised West the right to work is a human right. The world over, nations are concentrating on instruments of death rather than on instruments of life. All of these are denials of human rights which we should have in our minds.

I agree emphatically with those who in this debate have urged that we should do everything possible to secure all over the world the right of freedom of thought, of speech, of writing, to hold religious views, to worship, and the freedom of movement. Through the ages dissidents—pursuing the right to oppose the establishment of the time—have been the instrument of progress, and the dissidents of one age have become the statesmen of the next. If those freedoms are crushed, no progress will be made in the world.

Some noble Lords have also expressed the view that, although there is so much concentration on the denial of these liberties in the Soviet Union and the Communist world, the denial of these freedoms—imprisonment for political purposes, torture, suppression, and so on —is almost universal in the world today. The United Nations has said that 80 countries are now denying liberties of this kind. Therefore, while we are making our protest about what is happening in the Soviet Union, we must not get the picture out of balance. It is something that is happening in South America, in the Republic of South Africa and, unhappily, in many independent African countries as well, and in Asia. Our assertion of human rights must not be biased because we have a particular ideological opposition to a few of the countries which are practising it.

The Soviet Union has protested against President Carter's stand on this issue. I take the view that it was a little unwise of him to receive certain individuals, but there can be no doubt that he has the right as President of the United States to assert the principles of human rights. The Soviet Union urges that there should be the right in the world to continue ideological confrontation—the discussion of ideas—even when the confrontation of arms is lessened. If the Soviet Union claims that right for its ideology, it cannot repudiate it when we are urging that human rights should be supported.

Despite our depth of feeling on these issues, we must not allow controversy about them to destroy the hopeful tendencies towards détente and peace in the world. Peace is the first priority. A nuclear war would destroy more life than anything of which we can think, so we must be careful to maintain a balance; while we stand for human rights, we must not allow that stand to deter the movements towards peace in the world.

I have a few suggestions to make to Her Majesty's Government about what we could do. First, I urge the Government to give the greatest moral support to organisations such as Amnesty which are doing so much to expose the denial of human rights in the world. Secondly, the Government should use the United Nations not only to draw attention to Governments who do not carry out the Charter in respect of human rights but also to urge Governments who have not yet ratified the Conventions dealing with human rights to do so. Thirdly, we should be eager to provide asylum to the refugees from countries where human rights are denied; not merely allow them to enter but provide facilities for education, work and housing. Fourthly, while we should maintain mutual trade to continue detente, I suggest that we should withhold military aid and even economic aid to countries which are denying human rights. Fifthly, within the European Community, I hope that the Government will seek to influence the other Governments of the Community to make proposals similar to those which have been made in this matter. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will consider these suggestions sympathetically.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, after the very erudite and wide-ranging speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I rise with some diffidence. This is a most important subject and, as my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel said, we must be careful how we proceed internationally if we are to avoid conflicting double standards. I wish to move from the general to the particular, since recently there has been a good deal of criticism about human rights in Latin America. At the present time Argentina appears to be leading the castigation league and receives a great deal of abuse, including some from noble Lords.

In this respect I find myself at some variance with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as I wish in particular to comment on Argentina to redress the balance and to give a somewhat different perspective from that which generally features in the British Press. One could easily get the impression from the British Press that only Left Wing intellectuals and urban guerrillas are entitled to benefit from human rights, although these are intended to be universal.

To understand the present Argentine situation, it is necessary to examine the history of subversion, which goes back to the Presidency of Arturo Illia between 1964 and 1966, when, as is well known to noble Lords, Cuba was endeavouring to export its armed revolution and penetrate Latin America. By the time General Ongania assumed the Presidency in 1966, several different guerrillas groups were in existence. However, during the period from 1966 to 1976, the armed forces did not participate at all in the suppression of terrorism. This was left entirely to the police and to the "due process of law" as applied by the Judiciary. The next important date is the election in 1973 of Peron's nominee, Hector Cámpora, who immediately declared an amnesty. Hundreds of prisoners, including guerrillas who had been convicted under due process of law, together with a number of common criminals, assassins, drug traffickers and so on, were released and rapidly found their way back and joined the terrorist ranks.

In this context, it is worth mentioning that Peron maintained contact with subversive organisations during his long exile in Spain and, indeed, even encouraged the formation of groups which were quite definitely in opposition to each other. These various groups were allowed by Peron to believe that when he returned they would be his chosen people. It was this manoeuvre which gave rise to the extraordinary battle scene which took place at the airport on the day of his return in 1973, when competing groups clashed with much loss of life.

The Presidency of Peron and his widow, covering the years 1973–1976, was the most crucial period since, between them, they frustrated the existing due process of law by replacing the Judiciary with their own nominees, many of whom were already known to be from subversive elements. As a result, the important aspect of an independent Judiciary, to which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred, ceased to exist. As a result, the police and the Judiciary, without the backing of the armed forces, were powerless to do anything about the rapid increase in terrorism. It was also during this period that the most iniquitous and dangerous Triple A emerged under the guidance of the sinister Lopez Rega. The result was that the situation in Argentina deteriorated with constant kidnapping and indiscriminate killing of the police and security forces, so that, by March 1976, the country was in a state of total economic and political chaos.

Contrary to what is generally thought, the resumption of power by the armed forces in March 1976 had as its stated intention the preservation of human rights. The armed forces have undoubtedly undertaken very strong measures, some of which may have been more extreme than was necessary, but it is essential to understand the gravity of the situation in the latter part of 1975 before the military returned. In considering the extreme nature of the action, it is also important to remember the degree of provocation. Armed forces of any nationality tend to get somewhat irate when members of their family are blown up in cinemas, policemen are shot while on point duty and other acts of terrorism take place. In Northern Ireland even the God-fearing British soldiers have been subject to similar strain and put to humiliation at Strasbourg.

In this very short analysis, I have tried to explain the history leading up to the resumption of power by the armed forces in Argentina just over a year ago. What has happened since has been the very rapid restoration of law and order for almost the entire population. This is not the reign of terror indicated in the second leader of The Times on Monday. At the same time, I feel that it is worth mentioning that I take a slightly different view to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, of the article by Brian Crozier in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. However, there is no doubt whatever that the re-establishment of the rule of law, as defined in this debate, has been at the expense of a very small activist minority group, which, by its very actions, has put itself outside the law. It may be that some of the methods used have been strong, but the errors have been small, and the benefits large.

I am quite certain that the military Government of Argentina do not intend to remain in power, but plan first to establish order and then to proceed in an orderly manner to normal civil government. As an instance of this, there is and, indeed, always has been—and this is not the case in many other countries—an entirely free Press in Argentina. At the same time, a properly constituted independent Judiciary such as existed prior to 1973 is being rapidly re-established.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Viscount too many times—he has said much that I disagree with —but would he care to comment on the case of Mr. Rodolfo Walsh, the Argentine journalist who published an open letter of criticism of the Government on 14th March, 1977, and who was abducted and disappeared without trace on 15th March, 1977?


My Lords, I saw that report, but I am not informed on the case, I regret to say. I shall be delighted to discuss the matter with the noble Lord when I have further information.

My Lords, it would be possible to apply a similar analysis to that which I have given of what has happened in Argentina, to many Latin American countries. However, time is short and Argentina has been very much in our thoughts lately. It is also important to adopt a balanced view about Argentina, since the Government will very shortly he negotiating with this important and friendly country on the subject of the Falkland Islands and, hopefully, the joint economic development of the South West Atlantic basin, which was recently debated in your Lordships' House. I hope that what I have said will enable the House to view Argentina more objectively and to realise that the Argentinians, along with many others in Latin America, believe in human rights and in the democratic way of life which exists in the Western World.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for having set down this Motion for discussion and for the excellent way in which he inaugurated this debate. As my noble friend Lord Soper explained an hour or so ago, I believe that it is highly important from the point of view of the observance of human rights to remember, in relation to those who commit flagrant offences against human rights, that in many cases these people have declared that they abide by the Declaration, and to make it clear to them, and also that their own laws indicate that they are committing unpardonable crimes. I therefore believe that this debate, apart from the general discussion that has taken place, in bringing out instances of violations as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others have done, has done something of value so that those States which want the world to believe that they are civilised shall see that the world does not agree.

I hope—and I have often expressed this view in the House—that the Government will use their good offices as strongly as they can with other civilised Governments to suppress the continuance of malicious practices in violation of human rights. I know that my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts has done so on many occasions, and we are grateful to him. We hope that he and our Government will continue to do so. Unfortunately, during my own lifetime I have known and witnessed such agonising, vicious and so often planned attacks by so-called human beings upon their human victims that it is almost impossible to believe they could be perpetrated.

In our short debate today I believe that none of us could possibly deal with even a fraction of the information and views we have relating to this urgent problem, and I shall confine myself to some aspects concerning which I have had many years of particular experience and which have caused, and are causing, me, and innumerable other human beings throughout the world, anxiety and anguish. Thus the actions, in so many cases brutal, of the USSR, in contravention of the Declaration of Human Rights, to which it is a party, and in contravention of its own laws, is a matter of concern to the civilised world and should, in my view, be constantly strongly pointed out to them. The horrific actions of the Nazis, who tortured and killed by cold-blooded murder, millions of men, women and children, including six million Jews, surely brought home as never before the necessity of intervening when human rights are at stake.

I should like to remind the House that at an international conference held in London, in September 1974, in which more than 40 eminent jurists from 20 countries participated, including two of our own extremely well-informed colleagues, a statement on Soviet Jewry and the rule of law was issued. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to some of the passages in that statement. It was stated: The Conference of Jurists assembled in London … to examine the question of Soviet Jewry and the Rule of Law, having studied and discussed evidence and papers submitted to them by legal experts, make the following statement which represents the consensus of our colloquium: 'The Rule of Law provides minimum standards which any civilised legal system must conform to. It implies at the very least that legal and administrative procedure should be applied in a regular, systematic and nondiscriminatory fashion … Soviet Jews wishing to leave the Soviet Union have been consistently subjected to harassment and other forms of maltreatment'. I am not saying that the Soviet Jews are the only ones involved—but, unfortunately, they are placed in an even much more serious position than others who express their desire to leave the USSR. The statement also reads: Oppressive and unlawful measures have been taken against Jewish applicants for exit visas, such as dismissals from employment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unreasonable searches, false criminal charges and unwarranted military call-ups. Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence of a complete lack or disregard of regular and prescribed administrative processes in dealing with such applications. Furthermore in trials of Soviet Jews (from which neutral observers have been excluded) human rights have been denied, Soviet law and procedure infringed, and unwarranted punishments inflicted. As lawyers vitally concerned with the human right of the individual not to be discriminated against on racial, ethnic, or religious grounds, we are deeply disturbed by certain manifestations of antisemitism in the Soviet Union. All these repressive measures against Jews are acute symptoms of a wider pattern of repression: and they militate against the détente which all people of goodwill must favour. We recall the recommendations and proposals submitted to international bodies in respect of fundamental human rights and we urge the end of these repressive measures". The horrific and bestial actions of the Nazis was something which the world ought never to forget. Jewish citizens in Russia are not permitted to lead independent, cultural, national and religious lives. The two and a half million Soviet Jews do not have a single Jewish school, newspaper or theatre. I point this out particularly because that does not apply to any of the other sections. Some kind of permission is available to others, but for the Jewish community there is none. They are not allowed to study their own language and their own history. Any attempt to revive Jewish national culture is immediately severely repressed. They are allowed practically no community rights. The only Jewish activity which exists is attendance at synagogues. However, the number of synagogues has been very greatly reduced, and there are, I repeat, for two and a half million Jews, only about 50 synagogues left now in the whole of Russia. Recent legislation forbids private gatherings for prayer without a special permit for each such occasion.

I am saying this and the other relevant comments because I think it should be placed on record, so that the Russian authorities will know that at least among British people and in our Parliament there is knowledge of what they are doing, and strong resentment against it. The situation of those Jews who apply for visas and are turned down is a wretched and miserable one. After being deprived of their jobs they are accused of "parasitism" They are often attacked by hooligans in the streets, and then accused of hooliganism. They are arrested and accused on trumped-up charges. Under the guise of anti-Zionism there is a great deal of anti-Semitic propaganda in the newspapers. Ugly cartoons are shown of Jews in Russia and in Israel, and Jewish children are tormented and insulted in the schools. Jews are cursed and insulted in the streets and in public places. Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, and tombstones destroyed and removed. Many of those who have been refused visas have their telephones disconnected—which is contrary to international law. There are now 24 Jewish prisoners of conscience in Soviet prisons, in labour camps and in exile. They are the victims of the cynical manipulation of Soviet law. Charges are being fabricated against them. They have been condemned on false evidence. The principles of justice were twisted behind closed doors to obtain predetermined convictions. In the prison camps they are often given near-starvation rations, and criminal inmates are encouraged to assault them. I referred to the Nazi régime, and perhaps the world ought to think once again what the result of that kind of réegime was in so far as the treatment of others in the world in addition to the Jewish community was concerned.

Those Russian Jews who manage to get their visas and leave for Israel are often compelled to leave one or more members of their families behind. Sometimes children are kept back while their parents leave without them, and wives leave without their husbands. We had a visitor in this country recently. Mrs. Scharansky, whose husband is at present charged and accused, in the kind of action which so many of us remember was the sort of treatment that, years ago, was perpetrated against Jews by Stalin. On Friday, 4th March, there was an attack in the Government newspaper Izvestia on seven Soviet Jews named as spies and CIA agents. Without proper investigation or warnings, Izvestia charged Professor Alexander Lerner, Mr. Vladimir Slepak and Mr. Anatoly Scharansky. His wife was here and had the backing of between 5,000 and 6,000 British citizens in a demonstration led by very eminent people, Jews and non-Jews, protesting against abuse of human rights by the USSR. They attempted to serve a petition on the Russian Ambassador but it was refused at the Russian Embassy.

The charge I have referred to accused the victims of, …providing assistance to the CIA in 'obtaining intelligence information on scientific-technical and military subject-matter and on political questions'". Of course, it is absurd as the USSR authorities know. This is not the first occasion on which I have addressed Members of Parliament on similar actions. I remember the early days when the Nazis began to gain power. The information that I had at that time from people who came to me, and which I imparted to the House of Commons, was so horrible as to be unbelievable to the Members. In fact, when one Member of Parliament asked me for the source of my information, I could not tell him openly because it happened to be from a German Jew who had been sent over here especially by the Nazis in order to cover up the actions that they were perpetrating against the Jewish people, and they had kept his family there as hostages. Here we have something which, I fear, unless very strong action is taken, is likely to lead to further vicious perpetrations on members of the Jewish community in the USSR.

I ought to add that Izvestia published its charges to which I referred in three columns in the form of an open letter of denunciation by a candidate of medical sciences, a man called Lipaysky, and added an editorial postscript endorsing the allegations. On the same day, the KGB raided the flats of the men named, ripped open pillows, tore the backs off photographs and turned everything upside down, presumably looking for spying materials. The publication of such articles in the past has been used to prepare public opinion for the arrest and trial of those named.

This is the latest development in an intensified anti-Jewish campaign inaugurated with a peak-hour nationwide TV programme from Moscow on 22nd January, "Traders of Souls", which named four Soviet Jews of very high repute in the scientific world as "soldiers of Zionism inside the Soviet Union". Flagrantly pandering to crude antisemitism, the programme showed a fat Soviet actor smoking a cigar impersonating a rich Jew handing out £5 notes to a number of Soviet extras playing the part of a British "rentacrowd" at Zionist anti-Soviet demonstrations in London. It showed extracts from KGB cine film of named Jewish activists.

My Lords, I could go on further, but I think everybody here will realise what a menace this is to people who are at present in the USSR, and why so many Jewish people want to leave, even those who are Communists. Here, it is not a question of the political ideology of the USSR; it is a question of the type of action that the Russians are taking against fellow human beings. Consequently, I believe that a debate of the nature of that in which we are taking part today is of very considerable value.

My Lords, I should like for a few moments to speak about another subject. A few days ago in your Lordships' House I raised the question of the Arab boycott. I think that in a debate of this kind—where interference with trade is also known to be a part of the declarations in respect of human rights—there is perhaps no better example that I can quote to expose the Arab boycott campaign than a letter which appeared in The Times from the Reverend Jackson. This is what he wrote: I have today, for the second time, issued a baptism certificate to a man who wanted it to prove he was not a Jew. He needed such a certificate to get a visa for an Arab country". I think that letter is full of significance on the question of the treatment of a group of British citizens, and I would say just one or two words more on this particular aspect.

While the Arab boycott officials repeatedly claim that their quarrel is with Zionists and not with Jews, the fact is that they repeatedly refuse entry to British, American and other business men who are Jews. They have discriminated against companies which are owned or managed by Jews, or which have Jews as major shareholders. They have even imposed a tertiary boycott on Jewish firms. Much of this is carried on under the disguise of anti-zionism; but, of course, the disguise is transparent. Discrimination of this sort is contrary to human rights principles, of course. It is an unwarranted, and even illegal, pressure put on British businessmen by the agents of foreign Powers or by foreign Governments. It is a violation of the rights of such individuals. Further, the boycott is, of course, an integral part of the Arab war against the State of Israel, and as war in itself is a violation of the United Nations Charter, so is the economic war being waged in its support. Indeed, the General Assembly of the United Nations, as your Lordships will know, has interpreted Article 2 of the United Nations Charter (which condemns "the threat or use of force" against any State) as including "military, political—and, I emphasise—economic and any other form of coercion". And as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is a part of the UN Charter, such economic coercion as the boycott represents is in violation of that.

My Lords, there is one further, important point I wish to refer to. I shall not detain the House at this late hour for longer than is necessary. A lot of propaganda is made in regard to the position of Palestinians who, instead of taking the advice of those who are following the United Nations resolution for establishing the Jewish State, were persuaded by Arab opponents to leave the country because they said the Jews will be "driven into the sea". Very few people realise that the Arab States themselves violated human rights in a very serious way; 700,000 Jews are today in Israel who were persecuted and had to leave Arab States without their being allowed to take out any of their property and leaving behind their assets. They went to Israel. I think that that is something which our Government should also look into, with a view to their being compensated for the losses which they sustained by the Arab States.

The civilised world can only exist if human rights are observed. It is true that in some respects the approaches to human rights are different; but the illustrations I have given are certainly not excusable or permissible in so far as the breach of human rights by any civilised nation is concerned. Your Lordships will forgive me, but I just cannot help emphasising these important matters that I have raised time after time in this House. I, myself, was extremely anxious to see the Human Rights Charter and the original Charter of the United Nations brought into effect; but today political actions are being enforced in the United Nations by pressurised majorities to bring into effect political wrongs. I think our best plan today would be for our Government, in the first instance, to see to it that the EEC and other civilised countries throughout the world should work to induce the offending nations to stop their actions against human rights.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I must first apologise for the fact that my attendance at this debate has been extremely erratic due to reasons over which I have little control. The speeches I have heard have dealt so comprehensively and impressively with this subject that there is very little more that I would wish to add. Along with all the other speakers this afternoon that I have had the privilege to hear, I would wish to urge our Government to take advantage of the Belgrade meeting to point out that the infringement of the Helsinki Agreement is something which we in the West do not accept. I would ask the Government to use what powers they have, economic or otherwise, to try to improve the situation regarding human rights in countries in which those rights are flagrantly disregarded.

I would only wish to make two points in addition to those already made. Like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I have been privileged from time to time to meet people in other Parliaments who have been working in this field of human rights. The point that has impressed me enormously is the extent to which it is not only a matter of Governments bringing pressure to bear on other Governments but that it is possible for individuals, working through non-governmental organisations of one kind or another with which they are associated, to have some effect on Governments in these other countries and on public opinion which, however muted, still exists in many of the countries we are discussing today.

I am not, therefore, speaking primarily to urge the Government to do this or that, for that has already been done by other speakers. I am urging those Members of this House who individually have many connections with many organisations with which they are associated to use their influence through those organisations in the whole human rights field.

One may feel, as one listens to the appalling catalogue of countries in which human rights are flagrantly denied which my noble friend Lord Gladwyn gave us earlier this afternoon, that this problem is so vast and so overwhelming that there is very little that individual men and women can do. But, in fact, this is not so. May I here pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Janner, and his family for the remarkable work that they have been doing in keeping in touch particularly with Soviet Jewry, with Jews to whom they have been able to give hope and encouragement and who have come here on occasions to tell us what it has meant that individuals have established contact and have kept in contact. When one meets poeple like Mrs. Scharansky, who came here only a week or two ago, and who was bravely attempting to tell us through an interpreter about the position of her husband, it makes it clear to any impartial listener that the attitude in Russia today is moving backwards as far as the rights of Soviet Jews are concerned. Then one meets people who have been able to get out because of the work that individuals combined with Governments have been able to do, and one realises that this is not a mass problem as such but a mass problem made up of thousands of individual human beings and that if one can do something for one or two human beings, one is still contributing something of enormous help to solve the problem as a whole.

My Lords, it can be done. May I add to what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has said in regard to personal cases that have come to this country. One case impressed me immensely. That was the son of a Jewish scientist who came here and I was able to meet him. The point that was so astonishing was that this boy, who had been brought up totally in the Soviet environment with all the pressures of propaganda upon him, none the less had an understanding of what we mean by human rights which would not be matched by anybody brought up in the freest of western environments. That spark is alive and it can be cherished and made to grow by every single case that is helped, and every single person that is got out. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, can tell of many cases of this kind.

My Lords, I am using this debate to appeal to you, who have much influence in many spheres, to use that influence on all the individual cases and all the influences where you have a chance so to do. The second point I should like to make, echoing what other noble Lords have said, is that if we want to be influential in this country with other countries through our Governments and through individuals, then we must be ourselves an example of true human rights. It is slipping even in this country. We find it too easy to make excuses for the gradual infringement of human rights which goes on here.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that in some directions there have been real advances and that many people are more truly free today in many spheres than they were 50 years ago. But while we have advanced in some directions, we have gone back in others. I do not consider that it is a proper recognition of human rights when a man who has worked for many years in a nationalised industry loses his job, pay, pension and all prospects of some kind of future employment, because he has refused to join a trade union. I know that this is controversial. I know that people do not like it said that the denial of the right to work in this way is an infringement of human rights; but to my mind it is and we should not gloss it over. There are other examples where the freedom of speech and the freedom of the Press is limited, directly or indirectly, and we know that this is happening. So I say let us look to our own State here at home. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Soper, when he says that beneath this decline in human rights in this country is the cynicism which to so large an extent pervades the intellectual atmosphere today.

It is the most unintellectual of all attitudes. We need more scepticism; but cynicism is, after all, the lazy man's scepticism. We are surrounded and enveloped in cynicism at all levels. I am horrified at the amount of cynicism I find among the young: the extent to which an unfavourable interpretation is put on people's intentions rather than a search to find why they are doing what they are doing. It is too easy to decry cheaply all defence of human rights, all activities which appear to have some altruistic aim, and to find a cynical reason to explain away why people are saying or doing what they do.

A prime offender here— I know they are a common target for attack—is the media. Can we not protest against the innumerable cases? One has only to switch on the BBC two or three times a week to have examples in which a cynical interpretation is put on what may well be a perfectly genuine intention of right-minded people. We on these Benches have been saying for some time that if we are to be an example of human rights in this country—and it is no good campaigning for human rights in the world unless we are determined to do that—then we need a Bill of Rights for this country. I do not propose to argue that case today. I believe it is part of the case of human rights in the world as a whole.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the entire House will be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for making it possible for us to debate this extremely important matter and is appreciative of the admirable speech with which he opened the debate. There are a number of things that he said which I wish I had the time to discuss in some depth. I will quote only one very impactive sentence which I wrote down while he was speaking. He said something which is basic to all our hopes of progress in this field when he said that the only agreement possible is one based on ascertainable coincident interest. How true that is! I hope that I have quoted the noble Lord precisely.


Only on the basis of an ascertainable coincidence of interests.


"Coincidence of interests". I accept the amendment and incorporate it in the Statute! My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I warmly welcome this Motion. The Covenants to which the noble Lord referred, on which he gave such a full description, reflect our basic values in this country and in a number of other, like-minded countries. I do not need to remind the noble Lord (whose own role in the process was noteworthy) that Britain was at the centre of the United Nations founding effort. Since the framing of the UN Charter in 1945, Britain has played a leading part in the preparation of many international Instruments. Many of them are designed to implement rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, with the two International Covenants on Human Rights, constitute an international Bill of Rights. I refer to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

If we do come to the point of having a Bill of Rights for this country, we might well adopt from an international Bill of Rights at least a model if not the complete form of a national Bill of Rights. It is of course the Declaration, above all, that, in its own words, forms a …common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations". That reinforces a number of speeches which have been made today calling for, so far as possible, a basic and equal attitude by this country and others to countries which are demonstrably in default of the implementation of basic freedoms and rights. I accept that entirely.

I would refer the House to the characteristically cogent and powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, when he gave examples of how we must, if we are to achieve a workable system of human rights in the world, endeavour to strike an attitude of equal condemnation and commendation of performance in different countries with different types of régimes and practice. As he said, this will not be easy.

But we do have an international framework, which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, described, and therefore international fora in which it should be possible for us increasingly to achieve consistent approaches in this matter. I will come later to other ways of influencing affairs in the proper direction, but I want to make that point that we must use the international fora to call on those who have agreed to international Covenants to implement the contents of the Instruments to which they have affixed their signatures and which they have ratified.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for what she said, and also to my noble friend Lord Soper, whose contribution will, I know, have been listened to with great respect by the whole House. He and my noble friend Lord Brockway render invaluable service in calling us consistently back to the moral basis of all we are trying to do in this difficult and important field. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, as well as the noble Baroness and a number of other speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, stressed how important it is, while scrutinising the performance of other countries in this field, to be ever-vigilant about our own performance at home. Of course that is true. At the same time, it should be said that this country, for some centuries now, has been something of a pacemaker in promoting human rights at home and abroad; and to look at the list of rights quoted in the document mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is to be reminded of the role that Britain has undoubtedly played up to now in the development of the corpus of agreement and the possibility of implementation globally as well as internally.

A number of speakers also urged that this country should continue to persuade other countries to ratify these vital Covenants. We ratified last year. I can give the assurance, for which the noble Baroness asked, that it will be part of our international action to urge all those who have indicated agreement to ratify, because on ratification turns the possibility of representation as to implementation. There are now 43 countries who are parties to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and 45 who are parties to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Remarkably, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Home, they include all the Eastern European States and regrettably few Western States. Thus a minority of United Nations Member States have ratified these Covenants which between them cover, in the implementation sense, the whole field of the Declaration. But only a minority of the United Nations Member States have ratified those two Covenants, and only a minority within that minority have good human rights records. It is unfortunately true that even ratification of such Instruments is not always undertaken as solemnly and judiciously as is our custom. By ratifying, this country signified its commitment both to maintaining and improving upon the standards of our own domestic achievements in the protection of human rights and its commitment to the promotion of similar or, if possible, even better standards in the international community at large. It could fairly be said that through the action of successive Governments we are now well placed to encourage other countries to ratify the Covenants and to do our best to see them develop into effective instruments of political and moral pressure.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, would he also take on board the point I made about urging those States which have ratified the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to make a declaration under Article 41, so that they too can be brought before the Human Rights Committee on which they have the right to sit?


Yes, indeed, my Lords; we would not wish to perform ourselves what we do not urge upon others, if I may invert a famous aphorism. We are, of course, "up for grabs" in Strasbourg—perhaps I should say "up for gabs"—where we are the subject of an action. This we knew when we ratified; and in urging other countries similarly to ratify we would urge them at least to do what we have done. Of course, I know that applies to the European field, but it is a substantial beginning that we should present ourselves in Strasbourg in connection with a legal action to defend and, indeed, to defer to a decision.

The most pressing need today is for the effective enforcement of standards which have been laid down in international Instruments. In Europe, as I say, we already have this. The European Convention on Human Rights, drawn up under the aegis of the Council of Europe more than 25 years ago, covers the most important of the civil and political rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration; but, more important, by creating a working system of international judicial guarantee with effective remedies and a machinery of implementation, the Council of Europe countries, 19 in total, have succeeded in transforming the general principles of the the Universal Declaration into enforceable legal obligations.

The European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights established under the Convention, together with the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which is an important aspect of the operation of the European system, continue to safeguard the rights defined in the Convention. As we have heard, this country has accepted one of the European Convention's most important provisions: the right of an individual to seek redress in Strasbourg if a British Government infringe his rights. That is setting a good example, and we shall continue to enjoin it on others. We should like to see similar effective structures established more widely in the world and, as a step towards that, we hope that the Committee on Human Rights, which began its work of supervising the work of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights earlier this year, will live up to our expectations.

The noble Baroness asked me about the progress of that new Committee. I have a note here to which I shall briefly refer and give to the noble Baroness after the debate. The Committee met in New York from 21st March to 11th April. Its first task was to draw up its rules of procedure. It meets next in Geneva on 20th August, I believe, and will then begin examining the reports of States' parties on how they are observing the Covenant. Mid-August, obviously, is the crucial date here. That is when it really begins work. The United Kingdom report is due by 20th August this year and will be examined probably next year. As I say, I will give a full note to the noble Baroness, because I know she is extremely interested in this matter. As she will know, one of our most prominent jurists, Sir Vincent Evans, is an elected member of the Committee, not of course as a British representative, but as a member of an international body, with our complete and full support. The noble Lord, Lord Home, led us into an extremely interesting and indeed vital aspect of this matter. How, and in what ways, should we in Britain seek to promote human rights? The obvious answers are not the conclusive ones in this regard. We are dealing with a vast variety of countries with a wide variety of practices and of philosophies. Indeed, one country's philosophy may very well be another country's poison, and vice versa.

I was very glad to hear what I would call a fearless examination of this basic problem of the interpretation of human rights. My noble friend Lord Brockway gave his definition, with which we would all enthusiastically agree. Others have commented on what human rights really consist of, resting originally, I think, on the late President Roosevelt's definition which has been expanded since. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said—and I agree with him—that there certainly are basic human rights. The first difficulty that arises is to agree what they are, and the second is to agree what they are in practice.

For instance, what precisely is democracy? I must confess that whenever I see the word "democracy" modified in any way by an adjective, I instantly suspect the democracy of the system, whether it is a "people's" democracy, a "popular" democracy or any adjectivalised democracy. That immediately puts it under suspicion. Democracy is democracy. It means freedom; freedom of opinion, of expression and of access to other people's opinions and the expression of them. However, there are a great many people in the world today who would not agree with us as to what democracy is, or would add to it or subtract from it, according to their circumstances in their own country, and indeed their own understanding of the basic philosophy. So I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Home, that one of the tasks to which we have to address ourselves is getting inside the problem of interpretation of what are human rights, to try to get a common interpretation.

There are some who say that this cannot be done; that there are basic philosophies and systems which are mutually antagonistic. I do not agree. I agree with my noble friend Lord Soper. There is a movement. There may be a movement both ways. We in the West do not stand on any static system. I am not referring to any Party programme at the moment. I think it is fairly generally agreed that we in this country, and countries like ours in the West, are prepared to examine and to move, and have moved in directions —in economic and social management—which a mere generation ago might not have been thought possible. Similarly, I think that there is probably a movement East-West, as well as West-East. If there is not, then the problem is indeed insoluble. But I think that in the long-term the movement is there.

The question is: How does one encourage common interpretation, mutual respect and trust? As I said, there are many ways in which we can try to achieve those ends—through the United Nations machinery, certainly; through other multilateral international mechanisms (we all agree on that) where we can speak very frankly, although with judicious thought before we do speak; because agreements have been ratified and have become the subject of discussion in international fora. Then it is open to everybody taking part to speak frankly and fully.

It is when one comes to the question of bilateral representations that the question of technique inserts itself. It is, of course, possible bilaterally to speak loudly and consistently about the infringement of human rights, even in regard to specific cases. But it is not always the best way of helping the subjects of those cases. Sometimes it is the best way; often it is not. While I agree with those who have said that if we do not speak out, and say internationally where we stand, then we will forfeit respect, I equally say that democratic Governments must be allowed a certain margin of resilience, of variable technique, in dealing with bilateral questions, especially those which affect individuals.

There are a number of us, Ministers and others, in this House and in the other place, who have experience of having achieved something for a number of families, by resisting the temptation to thump the table and by using a little patience in more quiet representations. So I would say that, while agreeing that with like-minded countries we should in the international fora make absolutely clear where we stand on these matters, there is a certain margin of judicious procedure that Governments need to have in bilateral matters.

But we are not alone in stating clearly where we stand. A number of noble Lords and Ladies asked whether we are cooperating with, for instance, our friends and allies in Europe. I can give a full assurance on that point. Indeed, it is one of the encouraging features of our membership of the Community that political cooperation, as defined, and also co-operation, ad hoc, on issues as they arise has increased and is increasing, and shows every sign of developing further. So it is a heartening development that Europe is becoming more and more a reality of democratic purpose and, if we achieve an advance on that front, who knows?— perhaps certain reservations about the economics of Europe may fall into place as well. There are regular and detailed consultations in the political co-operation machinery of the Nine, which are designed to improve our effectiveness by consolidating effort in a joint enterprise.

In this struggle it is necessary to advance on all fronts with every weapon to hand. I particularly liked the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about individuals, groups, organisations, trade unions and professional and employers' associations. If I may expand a little on what I know she had in mind—she was rationing her time—it was a very constructive suggestion. A good deal is already being done in this way. Governments are not the only instruments of international persuasion and international co-operation—not by a long way. A tremendous amount is being done by individuals and groups, and we hope that this will increase.

This brings me to the Helsinki Final Act, and to the way in which we are approaching the Belgrade review meeting. Of course, the Final Act was an agreement but not a binding obligation. Nevertheless, it is of immense importance. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, who had a great deal to do with it, that this can prove to be helpful not only to stability in Europe but also, by example and influence, to other parts of the world. The publication of the full text of the CSE Final Act in August 1975 by the Soviet Union and their East European allies provided a written basis for the claims of their peoples for improvements in human rights and fundamental freedoms. This fact is one of the big results of Helsinki. I am glad to say that the countries of Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, have been at least as active in disseminating the contents of the Final Act as the Western signatories.

It may well be that the dissent which has been more obvious in the last few months —I prefer to call it dissent rather than dissidence, for dissent has a very respectable pedigree in this country; the more dissenters there are, the better—has been given a fillip in these countries. It is absolutely right that we should state clearly and publicly that these countries have a right to dissent. We should be careful not to state that we agree with everything that the dissentients say. That perhaps is the point at which one moves from proper comment—condemnation, if you like—to intervention or interference within the confines of a country. It is very difficult to define this, but there is a broad line of definition as between the two operations about which we might well think.

On 15th June representatives of the 35 signatory States at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe will meet in Belgrade to discuss the organisational details and the agenda in preparation for the first formal follow-up meeting which is due to take place later in the year. It is likely that the review meeting itself—with both plenary and no public meetings; there is room and a purpose for both types of meeting in any international conference—will be convened in the middle of September.

We must be careful not to expect more from Belgrade than it is designated to deliver. The CSE is essentially a longterm process. Nobody ought to expect that its provisions can be implemented fully in a matter of two years. We must aim to encourage all countries to review consistently their performance. Those who are lagging behind in performance should be encouraged progressively to extend the margin of tolerance, the expansion of human rights, until they are complying fully with all the provisions of the Final Act.

It has always been a concern of our diplomacy to bring what pressure we can to bear on countries to improve their human rights records and, indeed, to represent abroad frankly the values, as we see them, of British society. We have played our part in encouraging the current emphasis on human rights. We welcome the new life that has been breathed into the debate by the Final Act and what has happened since. My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said recently in another place that Her Majesty's Government: … will systematically take human rights considerations into account and give a high priority to them as part of the many factors that have to be considered when making foreign policy decisions". Our aim will be to protect and enhance human rights everywhere and we shall take whatever action, private or public, that we consider will be effective.

Violations of human rights must, of course, be judged by the same standard, wherever they occur. Our response, however, will have to vary, certainly bilaterally, according to circumstances. Economic and political relations are increasingly complex and interdependent. There is also the point made by my noble friend Lord Brockway that in our pursuit of human rights we must not inadvertently imperil the achievement of the greatest prize of all, the maintenance of peace. I know that Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death", but I think there is much in what my noble friend Lord Brockway has said about the importance of pursuing this aspect of international co-operation as part of the overriding purpose of ensuring the peace of the world.

Maintaining contact and promoting the interchange of people and ideas is often a better way to undermine oppression and tyranny than the severing of links, although sometimes the latter approach, too, has its place. The maintenance of diplomatic relations and contacts can provide a useful channel through which influence for good can be exerted. We shall continue to avail ourselves of opportunities open to us to continue such valuable but necessarily quiet activity.

Our aims are necessarily long term. We believe that we can prevail by seeking persistently and insistently to create a climate of international opinion that will make violations of human rights politically and socially unacceptable. I believe this policy—which is common, I know, to all parties of the State—represents the highest idealism and the best practicality. We shall use every means possible to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. In this promotion, we shall seek to associate ourselves increasingly with friends and allies and, indeed, with all like-minded States. We shall speak out, certainly in international fora, and we shall speak out in bilateral contacts. In the latter, naturally we shall have to take great care that the bilateral representation does not prove to be counter-productive in respect of the people whom we are assisting.

This, my Lords, is a debate which will continue. I think it has been a very valuable contribution to a discussion which will be prolonged beyond Belgrade—and, indeed, beyond the next Session of the United Nations—for a number of years. Once more I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for raising the matter and particularly for the admirable way in which he opened the debate.

6 p.m.


My Lords, I would not wish to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes but I should like to make a few observations on the debate as a whole. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, thinks it has been useful. I hope it has been. I think all the speeches have been constructive and I trust that the Government may derive some benefit from them in the appallingly difficult problems confronting them, notably in what is going to happen in Belgrade shortly.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, rather hinted that I might have mentioned the possible erosion of human rights in this country. That point was also backed up by my noble friend Lady Seear. I agree with that although it was not in my Motion. I agree that it is a point, but I think we might also agree that even if our freedoms are being eroded to some extent in this country, which is regrettable if it is so, nevertheless we are much freer than is almost any country in the world. With the possible exception of Switzerland and a Nordic country or two we are the home of freedom, and long may it be so. That is merely my general reflection on that proposition.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, also had some words of praise for the initiative of President Carter, who most of us saw on television last night. I think there is no dissent in this House that President Carter has well defined what he was trying to do, within reasonable limits, in regard to human rights. We can only wish him luck and back him up and say that his sentiments are our sentiments. I think those sentiments are reflected generally in the House and I am sure the Government agree. I asked them whether they did and I think they do. I see the noble Lord, Lord GoronwyRoberts, is nodding his head.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that it might be an idea for the Government to transmit a copy of today's Hansard to President Carter for his information?


Yes, my Lords, if President Carter has the time to read our debates. Possibly his attention could be drawn to one or two points when he arrives here, and perhaps on his way in the aeroplane to Washington in County Durham he might read our Hansard It is quite a good suggestion from my noble friend. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, would consider it.

Another point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, was that the United States of America had not yet ratified the Covenants. It is quite true that they have not ratified them, and I very much hope that they will. One of the first things President Carter might do in his campaign on human rights is to induce Congress to take such action. Perhaps I was wrong in suggesting that even if there was universal ratification, it would not necessarily affect the practical application of human rights throughout the world. That may have been rather too pessimistic. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, that if the United States ratified the Covenants and had a campaign to insist on the universal application of human rights, it would be a good thing and might have a good influence.

I should now like to take the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Soper and Lord Brockway, together. I think I may say that they speak with one voice on moral issues. They are our "heavenly twins": a preacher and a lay preacher, if I may put it that way. I do not always agree with them, as both noble Lords will know, but on this occasion I agree wholeheartedly with almost everything they said, and they have said it much more eloquently than I. Of course it is a moral issue; we all agree on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, made a point about Soviet law. We may think that Soviet law is deplorable; but it is a law, and it is better than having no law. It is certainly better than anarchy. He also hinted that the Church was not being suppressed in Russia and there were, happily, a great many religious manifestations in Russia. On the other hand, I think I may say without being cynical—and I agree that we should not be cynical at all, which was another point made by my noble friend Lady Seear and others—that possibly the inference is to be drawn that the Soviet Government now have come to the conclusion that religion is the opium of the people, but that this is not a bad thing but a very good thing. Possibly they are encouraging people to have innocent services and to sing beautifully and to pursue their religious vocation, provided of course that they have no influence on anything at all. if that is the attitude of the Soviet Government towards the manifestation of religion, people who take religion more seriously, possibly like the Baptists, may not have much freedom to worship in the Soviet Union, although I may he wrong about that.


My Lords, they have perfect freedom to worship; they have no freedom for propaganda. They would regard a great deal of their worship as a preliminary to propaganda, and that does offend the law. The other point that I might make briefly is that whereas some people will regard that Kingsley phrase "the opium of the people" as part of the definition of religion, Khrushchev defined it as "an active and dangerous heresy based on a superstition". I believe that to be still the official position.


My Lords, whether Kingsley is right or Khrushchev is rightly quoted I hesitate to say, but I am afraid I think they are making a certain use of religion, although I may be wrong.

We now come to the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, who, if I may respectfully say so, spoke as a statesman, which he is. He dealt with the essential point when he formulated the reconciliation of ideals and practice, and he also said—and as an ex-diplomatist I could not agree with him more—that this is one of the more difficult operations in the whole sphere of foreign relations. Of course I agree with him entirely. He said it very well.

The noble Lord also said—and I am not sure that I agree with him on this—that the Charter is binding. In a sense the Charter, and indeed its formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, more specifically, in the two Covenants of 1966, are all binding morally, but unfortunately they are not binding legally. The only ones that are binding legally are the two Covenants in respect of the 43 countries out of 150 which have actually ratified them. I regret to say that nobody else is legally bound by them. I wish they were. Of course the moral obligation is something.

The noble Lord then tackled the awkward question of how far you should, if at all, use human rights as a bargaining factor. That is the essential point. I think he agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that there should be no horse-trading; but I think he would admit that in certain circumstances it might be legitimate to put pressure on certain countries, and notably the Soviet Union, to abide by what we should regard as obligations, whether moral or legal—not legal but moral under Helsinki, and legal under the Covenants. So, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said, a very nice balance has to be struck as to when, if at all, to apply pressure, and that of course is where, as the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, said, diplomacy comes in. I believe he used the phrase that at one stage you have to reconcile ideals with practicalities, and that is the difficulty in the whole question of human rights. We are, as I think he said, in a dilemma. Perhaps he, and the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, were both a little optimistic as to the possible result of the follow-up to Helsinki at Belgrade. I think I should be rather more pessimistic than they seem to be, but we can only hope; and I think the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, accepted my general presentation of the case that we might put forward in Belgrade.

There is one very large point which was not altogether dealt with in the very fine summing-up speech by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. The point raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury, was: How far are human rights now universally valid? The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, rather tended to agree with me that if a country is on the verge of starvation it cannot really have any human rights at all. I see the noble Lord is nodding his head. My thesis was, and I am not sure that it has been accepted by the Government, that it really comes down to a question of material possibilities. If a country is below a certain level, is sunk in misery and gloom and under dictatorship—and it is under dictatorship perhaps because it is sunk in misery and people have not got enough to eat, and so on—how can these rather high-falutin' and splendid ideals apply at all? They cannot apply in practice and it is no good expecting that they would.

The way to eventually get something like human rights as we conceive it agreed all over the world is by first of all getting such countries out of their economic misery, giving them enough to eat, and avoiding war. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who said this was the essential point. Of course it is. If we are at war there is no point in having human rights; we are all blown up, anyway, and most of us will die. We must realise that human rights cannot apply to three-quarters of the world as we know it, and it will not apply until we tackle it by economic, social, or whatever means, in the long run.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Janner, in what he said about the treatment of the Jews in the Soviet Union. It is absolutely scandalous. I have no reason to doubt what he said about the treatment of the Jews there, which is, of course, a sheer violation of all the obligations of the Soviet Union under Helsinki or the Charter or anything else. It is appalling that such treatment is meted out to perfectly innocent citizens, apparently on the sole grounds that they are a suspect minority susceptible to Western ideas of freedom. That is what it comes down to. We must go on protesting against this, and we hope that President Carter will take up the cause and do his best. He will have much more influence on the Soviet Union than we could. We hope that he will go on protesting and doing his best to assist the unfortunate Jews in the Soviet Union.

On the Arab boycott, of course, I agree with the noble Lord entirely. The Arabs say that they are at war with Israel, and therefore apparently they boycott any firm which employs any Jew in any kind of commercial operation with them, which, of course, is fantastic. They may be at war with Israel, but they are not at war with Jews all over the world. It is a ludicrous suggestion and totally unsustainable, and we should protest against it to the limit of our powers.

I think that is really all I have to say. The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, made excuses for the Argentine. I understand perhaps some of the reasons why they have arrived at this situation; politically speaking, it is possible to understand what he says. But I do not think their present action can be excused. Incidentally, I apologise to my noble friend Lord Avebury that I did not make any reference to the appalling Government in Uruguay, which is, so far as I can make out at present, almost worse than any Government, except possibly that in Cambodia.

I am very grateful to noble Lords for listening to my own speech and for taking part in this debate. I hope it will be useful. I think it may be. I think perhaps we have done something. Even if President Carter does not read every word of what we have said tonight, nevertheless in Government circles it may have a certain utility. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.