HL Deb 14 April 1983 vol 441 cc308-10

3.23 p.m.

Lord Brockway

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the proceedings of the Madrid Conference on the Helsinki Agreement.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, at its recent session, the Madrid Conference focused mainly on the draft concluding document and on the amendments which the West had proposed to it. The neutral and non-aligned participants tabled a revised draft on 15th March. We are consulting our partners and allies about the appropriate response by the West when the meeting reconvenes on 19th April.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while thanking the Minister and regretting that I did not hear all her Answer, for which I apologise, I should like to ask this: was there not considerable agreement on the document which the non-aligned countries prepared? Was the difference of opinion on the monitoring of military manoeuvres and on the subject of disarmament? What was the attitude of the British Government on these issues and was any decision reached regarding a European disarmament conference?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, if I did not speak clearly enough. I hope that he will hear my answer. I should like to make it quite clear that the draft proposals put by the neutral and non-aligned countries have features which Her Majesty's Government welcome, but, as has been reported in the press, it does not include Western proposals concerning, for example, the Helsinki monitoring groups, the expulsion of journalists and radio jamming.

So far as our objective is concerned, we continue to seek a satisfactory outcome in the form of a substantial and balanced concluding document covering all areas of the Helsinki Final Act.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, bearing in mind that the Soviet Union does not seem to have carried out many of its undertakings made at Helsinki and apparently has not the slightest intention of doing so, are the Government satisfied that there is any point in continuing with this enterprise in Madrid?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the answer to my noble friend, who has raised a point which has been of concern to many people, is that we believe that, if we were to abandon this process, we should forgo the opportunity to draw attention to Soviet and Eastern European failure to fulfil their commitments undertaken at Helsinki and give up the attempt to build constructively on those commitments.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has there been any progress whatever since the Helsinki agreements were concluded in the matters of human rights, some of which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to herself in the answer to the first supplementary question? Has there been one instance of a person having been allowed to leave the Soviet Union after suffering persecution because of his beliefs, such as the case of Mr. Shcharansky, which the Prime Minister herself took up recently?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I acknowledge that there are many outstanding, very difficult cases, and Her Majesty's Government acknowledge that point. We are, of course, pleased at the release of the "Siberian Seven", though this, of course, is just a step—one instance. But that does not in any way mean that we should give up the attempts to build on an agreement that has already been signed.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that we on this side of the House entirely agree with her that it is vital to maintain lines of communication between the West and the Eastern bloc? Could she say a little more about the draft proposals of the non-aligned countries? Does she agree that there is sufficient substance in those proposals to enable Her Majesty's Government and their allies to seek an agreement in Madrid after the conference reconvenes this month? Is she satisfied that there is a real prospect of a settlement on this occasion, in view of the disappointments of the last two conferences?

Baroness Young

My Lords, of course we hope that there will be a settlement and, as I indicated in an earlier answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, the draft from the neutral and non-aligned nations has, indeed, features which we welcome. But the proposals, which I think the West have put forward, have been very much designed to strengthen the commitments of the participants in all areas that were covered by the Helsinki Final Act, and they include not only monitoring groups but trade union rights, human contacts, the working conditions of journalists and, indeed, a conference on disarmament in Europe.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while welcoming the decision of the Government, does the noble Baroness not agree that it is by this kind of co-operation that there is likely to be some modification of the denial of human rights in the Soviet Union? I speak from some experience. Does she not also agree that, while we denounce denial of human rights in the Soviet Union, we must remember that the United Nations has declared that 82 countries, many of which are our own allies, are denying human rights?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I have indicated, our Government and the Western Governments hope that, when the conference resumes, we shall reach an agreement on a substantial and balanced concluding document. I do not think that there is anything further that I can add on those other matters at this stage.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, would my noble friend bear in mind that the Soviet Union are honouring the rules of the Helsinki agreement more in the breach than the reality? If a new agreement is reached—and there are many of us who support the idea that to talk is better than to shun—can we be sure that these new rules will be carefully and accurately monitored, and monitored from within the Soviet Union, without those in Russia who monitor them being shut up or assaulted, as is currently happening with the present Helsinki agreement?

Baroness Young

My Lords, of course I welcome what my noble friend has said about the attitude that Her Majesty's Government are taking over this matter. He may like to know that the leader of the British delegation has indeed repeatedly described the plight of certain people in the Soviet Union—for example, the Helsinki monitoring groups; certain religious communities; and people in both penal and psychiatric institutions. He has also referred to the Soviet jamming of radio broadcasts, and measures to inhibit the export of books to the Soviet Union. The conference has been left in no doubt about our view about all these things. Of course we cannot at this stage make guarantees about the future, but one must try to work to see whether we cannot get some progress on the Helsinki Final Act.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is it possible to obtain more publicity from the matters that are disclosed at this very important conference? One receives communications from the people concerned which really are alarming in their extent and in their nature. I wonder whether there is any effort made to publicise. I take it that the proceedings there are not themselves public. If that is so, the need for some subsidiary form of publicity seems to be very important.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I certainly take the point of the noble and learned Lord. I am quite certain that a parliamentary Question such as this gives an opportunity to give answers to some of the points that are of most concern, and to indicate exactly where we are at this particular time. However, I shall indeed draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary the point that has been raised, because, although I understand that the Foreign Office does in fact publish information at regular intervals, it may well be that something more could be done.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, what is the present position of the Government towards the proposal for the European disarmament conference, which the Leader of the House has just mentioned and which has, in the past, been more associated with France than Britain?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on that particular point we of course support the idea of the conference on disarmament. Its purpose would be to negotiate in the first phase confidence-building measures which are militarily significant, politically binding, verifiable and of course applicable to the whole of Europe, East and West.