HL Deb 24 May 1979 vol 400 cc481-4

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 what steps they have taken in conjunction with other Governments to implement the provisions of the Helsinki Agreement.


My Lords, we are in active consultation with the Governments of other co-signatory States with the aim of promoting progress in all aspects of implementation of the Helsinki Final Act.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to take into consideration and, with other civilised people, deal as effectively as he possibly can with the terrible acts that are taking place at the present time against people particularly in the USSR, where, for example, a woman named Ida Nudel has been exiled to Siberia, has been put in a hut with criminals and with no other women about, and is being quite unlawfully detained? Will he see to that and other cases of people in both the USSR and other countries, in view of the fact that there are considerable breaches at present of the Helsinki Agreement?


My Lords, I shall certainly look into the case which the noble Lord raises if he will give me details afterwards; it is not one about which I have details at the moment. There are two additional points I might make which I hope will help the noble Lord and the House. We take the view that the best way to proceed in the question of the Russian dissidents and "refuseniks," as they are called, is by action and discussion behind the scenes rather than a continual strident denunciation of Soviet policies, which seems to happen in other countries and which we think is sometimes counter-productive. Our activities in this regard have not been without success. There are now nearly 40,000 successful applications for exit visas in the USSR each year and only about 2,000 initial refusals, and some of those initial refusals are granted at a later date. This number of successful applications has shown a dramatic increase in the last 12 months.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Soviet Union is not indifferent to public and international criticism?


No doubt they are not indifferent to it, my Lords, but as I have said before, it is sometimes counter-productive and we prefer to use the other course.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the Answer he has given, but may I ask whether he is aware—I am sure he is—that there are still many people making applications and being refused and in some cases being sent to mental hospitals in order to be given treatment which is terrible and most degrading? Is he further aware that, as my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell said, the USSR is in the view of many of us sensitive to criticism from abroad of a public nature, particularly now, when the Olympic Games are about to be played?


Yes, my Lords, I think we accept that but, as I said, we prefer to take the line of careful consideration behind the scenes. We do not rule out public declarations in appropriate cases, but in general we prefer the more cautious line.


My Lords, do the Government really think that as realists it is possible for the Soviet Government to abide by the non-binding obligations in respect of human rights of Helsinki?


I do not suppose they will comply with all their obligations overnight, my Lords. We never thought they would, but some progress has been made—notably, as I have mentioned, in the number of exit visas granted to Jewish citizens in the USSR which, as I have said, have nearly doubled in the last 12 months.


My Lords, may I inform the Minister, drawing on my own experience, that I agree on the efficacy of diplomatic bilateral approaches in these matters? At the same time, as my noble friend has pointed out, it is necessary to keep this issue very much alive in the public mind here and in other countries. May I have his assurance—I am sure he will give it me—that between now and the next review conference, which will be held in Madrid next year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will, as we did in my time, seek to have bilateral discussions with as many countries as possible who will be involved in that review conference particularly on the question of human rights, so that we all arrive in Madrid with a better prospect of practical results on human rights than we did in Belgrade?


My Lords, I gladly give the assurance which the noble Lord seeks. In fact the bilateral discussions he mentions are already in progress.


My Lords, may I ask whether those bilateral discussions will be extended in particular to the Nine, so that, with good fortune, by the time we reach Madrid there may be some common European approach to these problems?


Yes, indeed, my Lords; the discussions include the Nine.


My Lords, the Question refers to the provisions of the Helsinki Agreement. Would the noble Lord not agree that the major section of the Helsinki Agreement was concerned with economic co-operation and integration, and can he report on the progress which has been made in that respect?


My Lords, I would not say that that was the major provision of the Helsinki Agreement, though it was certainly one of them. With regard to progress on that particular matter, since the Belgrade meeting there have been three meetings below ministerial level, and one in particular—the meeting at Valletta—covered the question of economic co-operation, and I am happy to say that some progress was made.

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