§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Bethell rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have had and what proposals they will make to the meeting of human rights experts in Ottawa in May within the framework of the Helsinki agreement.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity at this late hour to introduce a short debate about the forthcoming meeting in Ottawa within the process of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe of experts in human rights. I feel that this is an appropriate time to raise this matter and to invite my noble friend the Minister to suggest how the problem will be approached in Ottawa in a few weeks' time, and to indicate some of the thinking of the department responsible.
§ I believe that many of us enter upon this spring of 1985 with high hopes—hopes which I trust will turn out not to be mere wishful thinking. We have been through a period of paralysis in our relations with the Soviet bloc over a number of years, and we have watched in particular a deterioration in the human rights performance of the Soviet Union and her East European allies.
§ It is not surprising, therefore, that in a whole realm of other areas—military, trade and scientific contact—there has also been a deterioration in East-West relations. That is why the Helsinki process is so important. Many of my friends—and in particular I have in mind my friends who have been forced to leave the Soviet Union—take an extremely sceptical view of the Helsinki process. Indeed, they believe that our countries should renounce it since it has been comprehensively violated by the Soviet bloc. I find, while I sympathise with their frustration, that I cannot agree with them on this point. I believe on the contrary that we should do our best to enforce Helsinki, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that that is the positive, constructive attitude with which her representatives will be going to the Ottawa meeting.
§ It would seem to me that there can be no better confidence-building measure—to take a phrase from the military side of Helsinki—than for the Soviet bloc to demonstrate, both at Ottawa and in various decisions taken in that context, that she genuinely intends to improve the human rights record of her country and that of her allies. I predict that the Soviet representative in Ottawa will, as he did in Madrid and in Belgrade, fall back on Principle VI of the agreement and insist on the prohibition of interference in other countries' internal affairs. This is a frequent cry from the Soviet Union in recent years; an insistence on the sovereignty of nations, and a rejection of any approach that comes from any other country on the ground that it constitutes an improper, illegal interference.
§ However, I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that she will not see Principle VI as a bar to raising human rights issues at the Ottawa meeting. She could, if she wished, refer to Principle X of the final act under which the participating states undertake to fulfil in good faith their obligations under international law; both those obligations arising from the generally 208 recognised principles and rules of international law, and those obligations arising from treaties and other agreements. She could point out that among those treaties and other agreements there is of course the universal declaration of human rights of the United Nations and the two covenants which derive from it.
§ I hope therefore that she will be able to persuade the conference, with the help of our allies, that raising matters of human rights is not an interference. Indeed I must congratulate the Government and those of our allies in having to some extent established this idea, since otherwise we may take it that there would not be the meeting in Ottawa at all. The fact that we are able to sit down with representatives from the Soviet bloc and discuss human rights is in itself a significant achievement.
§ I would indicate only certain headings which I hope the Government will raise at the meeting. The first is that of the monitors; the individuals in Eastern Europe who have tried to check the human rights performance of their Governments. In the Soviet Union many of these, after some months of hindered activity, were arrested and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. We have in mind in particular the case of Anatoly Shcharansky who is still serving a 12-year sentence on a charge of treason caused by the fact that he tried to monitor the rules under which Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union were allowed to leave.
§ I trust that the Government will suggest to the other signatory states that it should be possible for individuals in all our countries to make appeals to verifying bodies—I have in mind either the United Nations or the International Commission for the Red Cross—that individuals who make such appeals should not be penalised thereby; and that this should be incorporated in an addendum to the final act, or an amendment to Principle VII which guarantees human rights. We cannot of course invite the Soviet Union to change its system but we can make certain constructive proposals.
§ Before I leave the matter of interference in internal affairs I should like to point out that Principle VI in fact concentrates mainly on the question of violent interference in internal affairs of other countries. It invites signatory states to refrain from any form of armed intervention, or threat of such intervention, against another participating state. Therefore, this principle on which Soviet representatives have relied at so many of these conferences was, I would suggest, mainly aimed at violence. This is confirmed in the final paragraph of the principle when states agree to refrain from direct, or indirect, assistance to terrorist activities.
§ I hope that the Government will point out that the fundamental human right is the right to life, and that terrorism is a vicious threat to this human right of life, and that in this country, the United Kingdom, serious attacks on this human right have been carried out by groups from the Provisional IRA and other extremists in Northern Ireland, and that some of these groups have received indirect assistance from the Soviet bloc.
§ I do not have in mind so much the supply of arms and training, although there may be some evidence of that of which I am not aware, but I have in mind in particular inflammatory statements and writings in the 209 Soviet media which tend to glamorise and glorify terrorists who carry out atrocities in this country. I trust that our representative will point out that this sort of inflammatory behaviour by the Soviet Union is indeed a serious attack on human rights here and a disgraceful violation of Principle VI.
§ I turn now to the question of religious activity. Here I would at the outset ask my noble friend to confirm that she will take into account the extremely valuable work carried out in this area by Keston College in Kent, which monitors the situation of Christian believers in the Soviet Union. We know that the Soviet Union will protest that freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Soviet constitution. I remember Mr. Gorbachev saying precisely that a few weeks ago when he was in this building.
§ It was not possible to question him closely on the matter at that meeting, and I think that our representative in Ottawa will find that while of course the state cannot easily control the thoughts of citizens and therefore the inner beliefs of citizens, it can and does control the practice and the behaviour of citizens and their rights to assemble for religious worship. It can punish citizens who allow their children to be baptised, and often does, and this is one of the curses of Soviet behaviour.
§ It can restrict the use of churches and other places of worship, and punish people who assemble for worship in non-recognised buildings. It can punish what it calls unregistered groups, and that applies to a number of religious denominations of minority sects; and it can make unavailable Bibles and certain other objects which are essential to religious worship. I hope that as an addendum to Principle VII we can add a little more detail at the end of the Ottawa meeting and spell out precisely what the freedom to practise a religion means. I hope that some of the complaints that I have mentioned will be recalled in this context.
§ The situation of Jewish believers in the Soviet Union is worse than that of Christian believers. Though perhaps it is a slightly different issue, I mention the problem of Jews in the Soviet Union who wish to emigrate. I hope that this question will be raised, and that my noble friend will be able to confirm that it will be. In 1979 more than 51,000 Soviet citizens of Jewish origin were allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Shortly after that a clampdown was imposed. In 1983 the figure had shrunk to 1,300, and last year the number of Jews allowed to leave the Soviet Union was reduced to a mere 896. The situation of the others who have applied for exit permits and have been waiting for them, in some cases for more than 10 years, is extremely serious. Having applied, as many did, during the years when a large number of permits were granted, they now find themselves in a state of limbo, usually dismissed from their work, ostracised from society and unable to live a normal life. This carries on year after year. I hope that in conjunction with our allies we shall press this on the Soviet representative and indicate that some progress on this matter is essential if we are to see a new spring in relations between East and West.
§ A small point before I leave this area is that I have had representations made to me by Jewish constituents in North-West London that the Post Office in this country is refusing to make complaints about the non-delivery 210 of letters to Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union, even registered letters: that books, letters and other small objects are not being delivered to addresses in the Soviet Union, and that, although the British Post Office has the right to raise complaints at international meetings of post offices, it is reluctant to do so. I understand that my noble friend may require notice of that question, but I hope to have an answer from her in due course.
§ As regards the Jewish religion, there are severe restrictions on the use of the Hebrew language and the manufacture of ritual objects. There is a similar problem with Soviet citizens of German origin. The restriction on their emigration has worsened in recent years as East-West relations have declined. I hope that, together with our German allies within the European Community and NATO, we will raise the matter. The figure was 1,017 in 1983. In 1984 only 655 were allowed to leave.
§ Co-ordination among the Ten is essential if we are to achieve a successful result in Ottawa. I trust that my noble friend will be able to indicate what steps have been taken to co-ordinate a plan of campaign with the other Nine. I also hope that she can tell us what provision is made for parliamentary participation in the meeting, both from the national Parliaments and from the European Parliament. We hope also that she will be able to raise some individual cases. I should have thought that this would be an ideal area for co-ordination among the Ten or among the NATO allies, although I think we should be wary about involving Turkey in this since Turkey's record on human rights has, I personally believe, been faulty in recent years. The Foreign Office will have a list of individuals on its books which it raises from time to time with the Soviet Union and with other Soviet bloc countries—spouses who are unable to meet, people who are unable to visit relatives, and so on. It would be useful to present a co-ordinated list of such cases and to discuss this within the Ten.
§ I believe, therefore, that this is a very important conference, and I feel sure that the Government will tackle it with the care and importance that it deserves. It is, one might say, the last remaining thread in communications between East Europe and West Europe on this important area of human rights. Personal interventions with the Soviet authorities on this point are hard to make and are usually dismissed out of hand. In recent years I have written several hundred letters to the Soviet Ambassador in London on individual cases. Never have I had a single reply to any of these letters. The normal rules of diplomatic courtesy are not observed by the Soviet Union.
§ In Ottawa we have a chance to raise these matters with the Soviet bloc countries. I suggest that it is important, not only to the individuals in Eastern Europe but to public opinion in this country. We must urge the Soviet Union to understand that the Helsinki process is extremely important; that it must be taken as a whole and not just in different parts; and that public opinion in the United Kingdom insists on a serious approach to human rights.
§ 8.8 p.m.
My Lords, I indeed welcome this debate so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord 211 Bethell. My only concern is that I had hoped that a subject of this importance would have attracted a number of noble Lords, and that my modest contribution would be eclipsed by the far weightier offerings of other noble Lords who would speak. However, I find that I am the only speaker "above the line".
I shall deal with one aspect only, but it is a very important one in the context of human rights: that is the situation of the Hungarians in Transylvania which, as your Lordships' probably know, was handed over to Romania after the First World War by the Treaty of Trianon. In speaking in this way I shall be breaking a rule which I made when I first started speaking in your Lordships' House only to speak of subjects of which I have personal knowledge. I must admit that my knowledge of Eastern Europe is very scanty. However I am, as many of your Lordships know, deeply concerned about human rights problems throughout the world and the problems of Transylvania, which have been given considerable prominence in the British press: in The Times, the Sunday Times and the Economist. These problems represent an important facet of the global human rights picture, even though they are far less terrible than the human rights violations which are taking place in Africa, in Chile and in other parts of the third world with which I am much more familiar. But of course all these areas are outside the scope of the Helsinki Agreement to which we must bend our attention this evening. I can assure your Lordships that some of the information that I present, apart from that which has been culled from the press, has been provided by someone who probably knows more about Transylvania and the situation there than anyone else in this country.
Over the past 60 years, the Romanians have imposed all sorts of restrictions on the Hungarians living in Transylvania, who number about 2½ million. These restrictions were directed initially against banks, against industrial enterprises, against agriculture and commerce. Then, something like 200,000 civil servants were ordered to go back to Hungary for refusing to sign certificates of allegiance to the Romanian Government; although the families of these civil servants had lived in Transylvania for a great many years. But it was, in fact, the Hungarian uprising of 1956 which led to the present wave of persecution and this really stemmed, as far as one can judge, from the Romanians' fear of a resurrected Hungarian nationalism threatening Romania's territorial integrity.
Against this threat—an imagined threat it was I think—the Romanians took a ferocious stand. The persecution was and is most apparent in the sphere of education. I can quote only a very few examples. In the Babes Bolyai University only 7.9 per cent. of the students can be Hungarians although the proportion in the country is nearer 12 per cent. And that figure applies to each faculty separately. Then there are the Romanian attempts to suppress the Hungarian language, which seem to have been very successful. Indeed, few young Hungarians now can study in their own language and there is not a single Hungarian secondary school in Transylvania; there are only Hungarian departments in the Romanian gymnasia 212 where there are a few Hungarian teachers. And, moreover, the teaching of the Hungarian language has been largely eliminated from the universities.
Even more disturbing it seems to me is the attempt to "Romanise" (if one may use such a word) young Hungarians. Magyar names are a distinct stigma for teenage Hungarians; so that those young men who wish to become doctors, for example, or professional men of another kind, those who wish for a university place, and indeed in many cases even those who wish to get enough food to enable themselves to exist, have in many cases to swallow their pride, change their names, join the Communist Party and marry a Romanian. Even if some of the Hungarians who have been persecuted manage to escape to Budapest, there is no automatic right of residence for them there. Indeed, when they arrive in their mother country, many of them are told to return to Romania as soon as possible.
So I find it hard to equate the attitude of the Romanian authorities with the feeling of the Helsinki Agreement to which of course Romania, like Hungary, was a signatory. Perhaps I could draw your Lordships' attention particularly to Principle VIII of that agreement, which reads:Participating states will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion".But however tragic the persecution of the Hungarians in Transylvania may be, it surely pales into insignificance compared with what is being done, for example, to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Ndebele in Matabeleland, part of Zimbabwe, and also to the ethnic Rwandese in Uganda. But I shall not dwell on those aspects. So may I express the hope that the noble Baroness the Minister will be able to assure the House that this very important situation, these disturbing violations of human rights in Transylvania, will be taken into full account at Ottawa. May I end also by saying that in my view Her Majesty's Government should regard the problems of the third world human rights violations as being in a totally different sphere and therefore worthy of greater concern.
§ 8.17 p.m.
My Lords, the importance of the Unstarred Question that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has asked this evening rests not only on the significance of the Helsinki Final Act itself but, as I think he suggested, on the inter-relation of the Helsinki process and the nuclear disarmament talks, and on East-West relations in general. Therefore, if we can, through the proceedings at Ottawa, make more of a success than we have been able to achieve hitherto in the implementation of those solemn undertakings which were entered into 10 years ago, that will not only be a real step forward in its own right but, I suggest, it would help, if only in a small way, to create an East-West atmosphere more favourable for the success of the Geneva talks themselves.
I ask myself: what are the chances at Ottawa of that increased success? If that question had been asked in the early 1980s, during the Madrid Conference, nothing but a gloomy answer could have been given; because, as noble Lords will recall, much of the long-drawn-out proceedings of that conference consisted of 213 bitter confrontation and mutual denunciations. Therefore, one certainly hopes that it is possible to do better this time. I believe that it is. I certainly hope that it is. Let us remember that the series of post-Helsinki conferences are intended, or were intended when they were planned, as opportunities for all the nations of Europe to meet together on an equal basis to reach a consensus rather than majority votes, and to conduct discussions of a different and hopefully more constructive kind than the usual exchanges between East and West.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bethel], suggested, East-West relations have indeed been at a very low ebb in recent times. This has been partly, I would suggest, because of excessive rhetoric from both President Reagan and our Prime Minister in approaching Soviet affairs, partly because of the breakdown of the nuclear arms talks which occurred as a Soviet reaction to the West's deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles, and partly, I suggest, also because for a long period now there has been a lack of initiative by successive ailing octogenarian or septuagenarian leaders on the Soviet side; and the combined effect of all these factors has been the grinding to a halt, almost, of the machinery of interchange between East and West.
The question that is now arising, and which may well be answered at Ottawa for good or for ill, is whether what I have called the Helsinki process can provide that element of lubrication which can help the wheels of that machinery to turn again. We must not expect miracles or a sudden major change in the situation. At Ottawa, I suggest, we must work and be content to achieve only modest elements of progress. It is of course the issue of human rights, which is the major subject to be discussed in Ottawa, that was so contentious in Madrid. It will be difficult, but important, to get away from that atmosphere of confrontation, and hope to take matters forward in a better spirit.
I recall that when, last July, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, asked a Question for Written Answer about the Soviet implementation of the Helsinki Act, he received from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, a long, detailed and generally depressing Answer about what had been going on; and, of course, this evening the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has added his own analysis and chronicle of that depressing scene. In my view—and he drew attention to this—particularly depressing is the refusal by the Soviet Union and the East European countries to allow their citizens to emigrate and 10 travel. That has been relieved only very occasionally by individual concessions in response to special pleas. For example, we have had a happy response to the Foreign Secretary's plea in Moscow recently; and my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in another place also made a special plea and had a successful response.
But are we, I wonder, to any degree entitled to indulge in the optimism I am seeking? There are, I think, some gleams of light. During the Madrid Conference it was the Korean air disaster which dominated the scene for quite a while. In contrast, recently there has been the sad shooting of an American officer in East Germany. I suppose that was potentially a dangerous flashpoint which might have marred the discussions at Ottawa, but it seems that 214 moderation has been the keynote of the discussions of that unfortunate event.
I think we can look with some hope, although it is too early to be sure, to changes in Soviet policy consequent upon the election of Mr. Gorbachev as successor to Mr. Chernenko. Our Prime Minister is on record as saying that he is a man with whom she could do business. I believe that struck a very good note when he was over here, and I only hope that that spirit expressed by the Prime Minister in that sense can spread to the discussions at Ottawa.
Above all, let us recall that the nuclear arms talks have started at Geneva again, and the very willingness to talk is a great improvement on the earlier East-West atmosphere. Perhaps it will be said that these gleams of light, as I have called them, are feeble and are an insubstantial ground for optimism. That may well be so, but I hope that as our delegates in Ottawa approach the important discussions that will take place there our Government and our delegates will look in good faith for all possible evidence of a willingness to get together, and that our Government will be putting forward positive proposals to ensure the more effective implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. Let us hope that the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, which will occur, I think, in August of this year, may be seen as one step in the direction of peace. I believe that in our approach to Ottawa that is not too euphoric a note to strike.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for putting down the Question which has inspired the short but interesting debate that we have had this evening. He is something of a specialist in this field. It is therefore natural that his words are listened to with care and respect.
The noble Lord has drawn attention to what can only be described as a significant landmark in the history of the CSCE. The experts, meeting on human rights is to be the first of its kind in the 10 years since what has come to be known as the CSCE process began. From the beginning, we have made clear that we regard the CSCE as having the prime aim of relating policy to people. In bringing together such a variety of subjects within a single document the signatories of the Helsinki Final Act were, in our view, indicating that these matters were all pieces of the same puzzle and one of the pieces was respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion or belief for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language and religion.
The Madrid follow-up meeting in 1983 scored an important first, by agreeing for the first time to a comprehensive series of expert-level meetings, as well as a full follow-up meeting in Vienna in November 1986. These expert meetings encompass many of the important areas covered by the Helsinki Final Act. Security is currently under discussion at Stockholm; the peaceful settlement of disputes was discussed at Athens last year; and culture will be discussed in Budapest in November. Human affairs will be taken at two different meetings. Human rights, as enshrined in Principle VII, will be considered at Ottawa.
215 Human contracts, which will come under Part III of Helsinki, will be discussed in Berne in April next year. It is important to bear this distinction in mind. While there will obviously be some overlap, family meetings and reunification, marriage between citizens of different European states, freer travel, youth exchanges and so on will be for Berne rather than for Ottawa. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will excuse me if I do not address these in any detail this evening, although obviously the points that have been raised in this debate have been noted.
It is clear from the results of Madrid that the West, at any rate, is determined that the CSCE process should be active on all fronts; that advance in one area should not be at the expense of a reverse in another. This balanced approach is something we shall be seeking to maintain in the way we conduct the Western case at Ottawa. The various elements which are covered by Principle VII at Helsinki—civil, political, economic, social, cultural rights and freedoms; the right to practise a religion of one's own choice; equality of minorities before the law; the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights and duties—are all fundamental to Western society. They are the assumptions on which democratic societies are based. In speaking at Ottawa, therefore, the representatives of Western democratic governments will be working from similar positions of principle.
A number of the other participants at Ottawa will be representatives of countries with ideas very different from our own. The assumption underlying the Communist system, as it exists in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, is that the interests of the party and state are paramount. Within this, the interests of the collective are infinitely greater than those of the individual. But the fact is that we all agreed at Helsinki that, however different our systems of government, we would respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in Principle VII. That is the commitment we all made.
It is our view that this has not happened in practice in the majority of the Eastern bloc countries. And I should like to assure my noble friend Lord Bethell that we do not hesitate to point this out. The existence of Principle VII gives us the locus to raise these matters in contacts with East European and Soviet representatives. Last December, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister both made clear to Mr. Gorbachev that human rights are, and will remain, a matter of concern in this country. Reference was made to Helsinki, and individual cases were cited.
We have brought such matters to the attention of senior representatives of all the countries concerned, regularly and with emphasis. The fact that our representations have been rejected regularly will not prevent us from continuing to make them. It is the fact that Western leaders have kept up steady pressure in this field that has produced the results we have seen—never, admittedly, more than a few drops of water from a large bucket but nevertheless of great importance to the individuals concerned.
These are matters which must be addressed at Ottawa. If the meeting is to consider, "Questions concerning respect for human rights and fundamental 216 freedoms in all their aspects as embodied in the Final Act"—these are the words of the mandate agreed at Madrid—then an examination of the record of implementation is clearly a part of this. Another part must be a careful consideration of ways in which the terms of the commitments might be better clarified so as to encourage fuller implementation in the future.
The meeting is only six weeks' long. Even with good will on all sides it will be difficult to get down to a serious discussion, including new texts, if time is wasted on confrontational polemics. This will certainly not be our intention, nor that of our partners and allies. We will, however, tackle the subject directly and in as much detail as time permits.
The mandate defines Ottawa as a meeting of experts. And to reflect this, the Government have chosen Sir Anthony Williams, a former diplomat who latterly led our delegation to Madrid and who therefore has long and detailed experience of the CSCE, to lead the delegation to Ottawa. He has also subsequently served as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, so his credentials on the subject matter of the Ottawa meeting too are well known in the international community.
The approach of the UK delegation will be workmanlike and frank. We do not believe that the awkward and contentious issues can be swept under the carpet. We must be open and clear about the points on which we disagree with the East, but equally sincere in working for a concrete outcome to the meeting, not simply an exchange of vituperative artillery fire.
The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, asked me a number of quite specific questions. First, he asked me about monitoring groups. It is a sad reflection on the Eastern fear of anything unofficial or critical of their governments that human rights groups in Eastern Europe are so repressed. Many individuals with an interest in human rights matters drew encouragement from the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, the best known of these being various Helsinki monitoring groups set up in the Soviet Union, all of which have since been forced into silence. The case of Anatoly Shcharansky, a founder member of the Moscow Helsinki monitoring group, has been raised regularly with the Soviet authorities.
The noble Lord also asked me about the question of terrorism and Soviet support of the IRA. May I make plain that the Government's position on terrorism has, I hope, been made abundantly clear in this House and in many other fora. Your Lordships will need no reminding of the suffering that has taken place in Northern Ireland. Although Soviet propaganda generally stops short of commending acts of terrorism, their attitude to Northern Ireland and its problems is completely out of tune with that of Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government and is not conducive to the peaceful settlement of this issue.
My noble friend also asked me about religious freedom, and he indicated instances of religious persecution and discrimination. I need hardly say that the Government deplore such activities. The East Europeans and the Soviet Union, whatever the atheistic tenets of Communism, will argue that there 217 are large numbers of officially sanctioned congregations. They will refer to the substantial numbers of practising believers in most of these countries. Difficulties arise, they will say, only when people disobey the rules and refuse to apply to register that congregation or to submit to some similar bureaucratic procedure.
But in arguing for such official religion they not only involve the state directly in something which should surely be a matter for the individual, but they contradict at least the spirit of the very clear commitment agreed at Madrid:To ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practise, alone or in company with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience".To us the matter is clear, and it will remain firmly on the agenda of points to raise with the East.
My noble friend also raised a specific point about the Post Office. We have made clear our views on the restrictive Soviet regulations covering what may or may not be sent by mail, directly to the Soviet delegation at the Hamburg Universal Postal Union conference last year. I am not aware, however, of complaints that the British Post Office is not following up on the non-delivery of registered mail. If instances are documented, I shall gladly bring those to the attention of the appropriate Government department.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, raised a very specific point. I think that on this occasion it would be wrong for me to do more than note what the noble Viscount said about Transylvania. That said, I shall certainly bear in mind the points that he raised and the problems of ethnic minorities inside Europe at Ottawa.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Bethell raised a question about including parliamentarians in the British delegation. I would not deny that there are parliamentarians with expertise on human rights and international negotiating experience. However, it has not been our practice to expand our delegation in this way in the past, and for reasons of both precedence and of course economy I would be reluctant to break with past practice. However, perhaps I may say to my noble friend that I have taken note of the points he has raised and I shall look at them carefully when I come to read Hansard tomorrow.
My noble friend also raised the question of whether or not the delegation should include Members of the European Parliament. As I am sure he will understand, that is a question for discussion with the Presidency which will no doubt take account of the practice at Madrid and other follow-up meetings of experts.
I can, however, confirm to my noble friend who asked a question about consultation with our allies and partners that we have, indeed, been in discussion with our allies and partners about the meeting, and have established some useful common ground on the Western attitude to the general conduct of the meeting with which the United Kingdom attitude, which I stated earlier in my remarks, is fully congruent. But there has been some discussion of areas in which new proposals might be put forward.
218 I am sure your Lordships will understand that I am not in a position now to make known what partners have suggested on an exploratory basis, and I cannot predict what the Ottawa meeting will agree to consider. The short time available and the fact that the CSCE decisions are always taken by consensus, and therefore must proceed by agreement between all participants, create obvious limitations.
I should like to confirm again that our approach will be to work to avoid adding empty platitudes to Principle VII. We shall try to identify what will necessarily be small areas where improvements can be realistically sought without at the same time endangering or limiting the wider commitment which already exists. Indeed, the latter may have been honoured more in the breach, but it is vital to preserve at least the agreed yardstick of Helsinki against which we have the right to measure the actions of all signatories.
In the year of the Geneva nuclear arms talks and of a new general secretary of the CPSU—better known in this country than some of his predecessors—it is understandable that there should be some hopes of progress in East-West relations and for tangible results. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Oram.
I fully share that hope, but I must qualify it. Results will come slowly and they will not come without a modicum of East-West confidence. In seeking better relations between this country and the Soviet Union and its allies, we are working for better mutual understanding. Such an understanding is the foundation stone of greater confidence where there is the political will on both sides to build on it.
At Ottawa, too, we shall be dealing with issues of trust and confidence. One of the points we shall be trying to get across is that human rights is an area where some significant moves by the Soviet Union and its allies would do more to foster a greater sense of trust among the public at large in the West than almost any other. It is in this sense that the subjects under discussion at Ottawa relate to the wider issues of stability and security.
We are conscious, therefore, of the importance of this meeting. I can assure your Lordships that we shall treat it with the seriousness that it deserves.