HL Deb 11 July 1979 vol 401 cc875-8

2.48 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how it is intended to improve the monitoring of the Helsinki Final Act, with special reference to the human rights clauses.


My Lords, the Government have instructed our Embassies in Eastern European countries to monitor developments and to report regularly on the state of implementation of the Helsinki Final Act in the countries in which they are accredited. Summaries of these reports about the progress, or lack of it, in implementation have been presented at six-monthly intervals in another place. They are available in the Library of this House and these arrangements will continue until the next CSCE Review meeting which takes place in Madrid in November next year. The Government believe that they provide a reasonable basis for assessment.


My Lords, may I, with respect, question whether that is quite good enough, with no arrangement whatsoever for Parliament itself to monitor the behaviour of the Communist Governments with regard to their promises arising out of the Helsinki Final Act, or even to hold regular debates in Government time in either House? Could not consideration be given to the setting up of a joint select committee which would have the advantage both of relieving pressure on another place—which has, in all conscience, set up enough committees recently—and of taking advantage of the very considerable experience of Members of the Upper House in this respect. Would the Government look with favour on a possibility?


My Lords, that is a matter for Parliament rather than for the Government. However, as the noble Lord will be aware, consideration is being given in the other place to setting up a committee to monitor foreign affairs. I have no doubt that if that suggestion is proceeded with, that committee will concern itself particularly with matters of this nature. There is also the Helsinki Review Committee, of which the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, is such a distinguished member, and the Government will continue to provide information to that committee.


My Lords, may I offer support for the general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, regarding this matter. The six-monthly reports, based on reports coming in from the field, are indeed invaluable, and the suggestion, which may well be implemented—at least in another place and, I would hope, in this House—for a select committee, is equally valuable. My question is this: Over and above those provisions, is there not room for repeating what the Labour Party did in Government—and I had a good deal to do with this—namely, setting up a specialised monitoring committee, as we did under the very able chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Thomson? Their report on performance, not only in totalitarian countries but wider afield was most valuable and very helpful to the delegation which proceeded to Belgrade.


My Lords, I think that the committee referred to by the noble Lord is the Helsinki Review Committee, which continues in existence and which, as I mentioned, is supplied with information by the Government.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that one of the sub-committees of the North Atlantic Assembly issues a bulletin which is full of useful information on this matter? If the noble Lord thought that it would be helpful, I could arrange for some of those bulletins to be distributed here.


My Lords, I am sure that that would be most helpful.


My Lords, does the noble Lord recall the high expectations about the beneficial results which would flow from the conference at Helsinki, which took place some considerable time ago, and in particular the impracticability of the union in the context of the violation of human rights? Why are we not a little more realistic about it? Why do we not understand that we are going to gain very little from conferences of this character?


My Lords, I would not agree that the Helsinki Agreement has achieved very little. There have been a number of signs of an improvement in the situation in Russia since that treaty was signed.


My Lords, if much improvement, following the agreement, does not occur, would the Government consider suggesting that the Western countries ought to boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow?


My Lords, I do not think that that would be very helpful.


My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the committee which was chaired by my noble friend Lord Caccia. However, is the noble Lord bearing in mind the fact that that review group unanimously and strongly recommended that Parliament should have a monitoring role in these respects? Is he taking into account that Parliament should have a monitoring role, exactly as the American Congress has, with six senators and six members of Congress, together with representatives of four Departments of State, doing an excellent job in keeping Congress regularly informed, Congress debating matters every six months or so?


My Lords, the establishment of a joint committee, such as the noble Lord suggests, is a matter for Parliament, not for the Government.


My Lords, while welcoming what the Minister has said about the present arrangements and the new proposals which have been made, may I ask whether he will agree that this issue of human rights is now of paramount importance, and this not only applies to the Soviet Union but to many countries in the world, even among our old allies? Will Her Majesty's Government bring greater pressure to bear in order to secure the carrying out of the Helsinki Agreement?


My Lords, we certainly attach great importance to all the requirements of the Helsinki Agreement, and we will continue to monitor it on a worldwide scale, as we have already done.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, is it not true that if the Government were to recommend to Parliament that it should set up a committee, that would be done, and Parliament does not normally act without the guidance of the Executive?


My Lords, I do not think Parliament would quite agree with that.

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soames)

My Lords, perhaps this House of Parliament might agree that we should move on to the next Question.