HL Deb 24 May 1978 vol 392 cc955-61

2.36 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what reports they have received on the trial of Dr. Yuri Orlov with what he was charged; which charges in their view did not arise purely from his leadership of the group monitoring the Soviet Government's attitude to human rights following their promises at the Helsinki Conference; and what views they and our European Community partners have expressed to the Soviet Government.


My Lords, the Government have received reports from our embassy in Moscow that Professor Orlov was indicted under Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code, which deals with "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda"; the charges against him evidently related to his monitoring of Soviet implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. Her Majesty's Government have stated that they regard the treatment of Professor Orlov as harsh and unjustifiable and are concerned at its effect on the good relations between East and West which are so important to us all. The Soviet Government is in no doubt of these views.


My Lords, I am most grateful for that reply. However, is it not a fact that the protests of successive British Governments since 1945 about the failure of the Soviet Union to carry out their obligations where human rights are concerned would fill a very large volume? For how long are protests to be regarded as substitutes for policies? Secondly, since the Soviet rulers have yet again breached their obligations under the United Nations covenants, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government will make the terms of the co-operation agreement which is at present being renegotiated with Mr. Kirillin in London plainly subject to the Soviet Union carrying out their clear obligations under the United Nations covenants and with regard to the Helsinki promises?


My Lords, I think it is very important to remember what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, that the Soviet Union is one of the two great States of the world and that we must not cut off relations with her, however strongly and rightly we feel about human rights. To contemplate the alternative is really too horrible and we must not give up easily on this matter. We must press on with every means in our power to get adherence to the human rights principles which the Soviet Union freely signed at Helsinki.

On the second supplementary question which the noble Lord put to me, I think he has not quite got it right about the Joint Commission which is meeting this week in London, where Academician Kirillin will attend and where incidentally, as is routine in these matters, he will be received by the Prime Minister. This is in fact a most important forum for the discussion of bilateral economic and scientific questions.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the Government realise that the kind of action which is being taken at present in respect of the Orlov case and the cases in which people are still being detained without any trial, such as Shcheransky and others, is horrifying the whole civilised world, and it is indicative of the kind of practice that existed at one time during the Stalin regime when innocent people were murdered under the pretext that they were doing some harm to the Soviet Union? I should like to ask my noble friend to get in touch with the other civilised nations so that protest can be made before the other trials take place, and so that other people may not be condemned in the same way as Orlov was condemned, on false accusations.


Yes, indeed, my Lords. The whole House appreciates my noble friend's particular interest in this subject. We are in touch with other Governments. The House will have noticed that the French, the German and the Netherlands Governments have already issued critical statements—as well as the United States, of course—and we are in touch with them all the time.

What exactly one can do to bring home to the Soviet Government the international condemnation of their attitude on human rights is, in a sense, a matter for opinion. But Her Majesty's Government are trying to adopt the tactics which will be most productive of a good result. And I think that detaching ourselves is not the right way to do it.

As to Alexander Ginzberg and Anatoly Shcheransky, whom my noble friend mentioned, the House will be very glad to know something that may not yet have appeared on the tape. Academician and Mrs. Sakharov delivered a message to the Moscow Embassy two days ago for the Prime Minister and the British Parliament. It is a very dignified and cogent statement and is about the Orlov trial. The British Government have taken note of it. It deals also with the future of those people like Shcheransky and Ginzberg who are detained, but who have not yet been sentenced. We hope very much that international opinion will cause the Soviet Union not to proceed with those further trials.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that what we could do is not help the Soviet Union economically? We do, after all, give them credit, and in many ways we help them from the point of view of economics. The noble Baroness asks what we could do, apart from protest. Could we not do that? Why must we help the Soviet Union?


My Lords, I think it is important that we should keep all avenues open with the Soviet Union—cultural, economic, and every other kind—in the hope of influencing them on the human rights issue.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness answer one question? Have representations been made to the Soviet Ambassador concerning the international implications of this trial and sentence?


My Lords, I could not answer specifically about representations to the Ambassador, but I am quite sure that he will have read the newspapers. I am quite sure that he will know of the feeling in this country. I am also sure that the Joint Commission, which is coming from Russia this week, will be in a very good position to report back to its own Government on what the feeling is here.


My Lords, I should like the noble Baroness first to understand that the last thing we on this side of the House would suggest—in view of what she said, repeating the Prime Minister's words—is that we wish to break off diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Just because we happen to disagree with political philosophies, we do not believe that the right thing is to break off diplomatic relations with countries, be they large or small. But in view of the fact that so much of the indictment of Dr. Orlov was concerned with the human rights aspect of the Helsinki Conference, and his determination to do what he could to monitor whether or not the Soviet Government was living up to its promises —which was the only thing for the Russian people that came out of Helsinki—will the noble Baroness say whether Her Majesty's Ambassador was instructed to see that a member of his staff sought to attend the trial as a demonstration of the importance that Her Majesty's Government attach to it?


My Lords, yes, indeed. The Ambassador had discovered that the American Government had been refused permission to attend the trial. They felt that standing outside the court was not, in their sense, the best thing to do. It was reported in one daily newspaper that the American Government had been disappointed by our attitude. I can deny that completely. The American Government entirely understood our position. We think that we took the best action that we could in the circumstances.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether historical evidence does not show, from Lord Russell of Killowen's presence at the Dreyfuss trial onwards, the desirability of neutral observation of these trials, and whether it would not have been desirable at least to request the presence of an independent observer?


My Lords, sadly I am afraid that there was no chance of any neutral people being allowed at the trial.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware, while recognising her difficulties in this matter, that this particular case has caused worldwide indignation outside the Soviet and Communist countries, particularly in this country? Will the noble Baroness go a little further in what she has already said? I agree with my noble friend that there is no question of breaking off diplomatic relations; but must we not show rather more strength of will in making our protest really felt in the Soviet Union?


My Lords, I cannot believe that the world does not understand that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister have condemned the action taken. In the words of the Foreign Secretary, it was harsh and unjustifiable. I think that that is going pretty far.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, whatever the might of the Soviet Union, what is happening to Dr. Orlov is a crime against humanity?


My Lords, the whole House will, I am sure, endorse what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that the prime object of any protest is, in some way or other, to get through to the Russian people the abominable things which are being done in their name? Would she not agree that probably the best way of expressing our abhorrence in this particular instance would be for the Western countries to refuse to go to the Moscow Olympics?


My Lords, I know very well that there is very strong feeling on this subject, but I must point out that, for instance, the selection of the site of the Olympics is a matter for the International Olympic movement. Participation in the Olympic Games is primarily a matter for individual athletes and above all for the national Olympic associations. I think human rights is one of the most difficult questions that faces the civilised world at the moment. The British Government have one standard for human rights throughout the world. But our tactics in dealing with particular nations must be those that are most productive in each case. That is exactly what Her Majesty's Government are trying to do.


My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the Soviet Union knows that the consequences of ignoring Western protests are absolutely nil, and that we are going down the road of appeasement which got us into such trouble in the past?


My Lords, I do not agree with that. I feel that the Soviet Government have taken notice of international protest, particularly if one remembers the protests on the psychiatric question. I think that there has been some movement there as a result of international protest, particularly British protests and those by fellow practitioners in the psychiatric profession.


My Lords, by what criteria are Her Majesty's Government guided in deciding whether there is any link between provision of trade and aid on the one side and the suppression of human rights on the other? This is clearly recognised where Uganda is concerned. It is clearly recognised where South Africa is concerned. It is recognised in the new draft preamble to the Lomé Convention, which Her Majesty's Government support. But it is not recognised, for reasons which I cannot understand, where the Soviet Union is concerned. Why, may I ask?


My Lords, that is simply a misconception and an oversimplification of the whole situation. Of course it is recognised. But we do not give aid to Russia in the sense that we gave it to Uganda. The solutions to the two problems are entirely different. I must be absolutely honest with the House. I see no easy solution to the problems of human rights in the Soviet Union.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness help us a little by affirming—and I hope that she will find this acceptable—that, when a crime similar to this one takes place in the Soviet Union, it is of course helpful if important and unimportant people express their personal abhorrence, but there are certain special occasions on which it is important that Her Majesty's Government are seen to be protesting clearly and loudly?


My Lords, that is precisely why we have done what we have done. We have condemned it roundly.