HL Deb 10 December 1985 vol 469 cc107-11

2.52 p.m.

Lord Rea

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 join in recognising the achievement of the IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) which is today receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in improving international understanding.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we strongly support all honest attempts to secure greater understanding on disarmament issues between East and West. The achievement of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, however, has been markedly one-sided, as the group has lent uncritical support to Soviet propaganda themes. The group is not in our judgment a genuine bridge-building organisation.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, which was, I must say, predictable and rather disappointing. Is she aware that many of the members of this organisation, the IPPNW, are critical of the human rights record of the Soviet Union? Is she not aware, nevertheless, that this does not stop them supporting the main aims of this organisation, which is single-targeted upon the prevention of nuclear weapon build-up? Is she aware that the 135,000 members of this organisation, as health professionals who are responsible for the care of individuals and communities, feel that they should act on that first dictum of health care, namely, that prevention is better than cure, especially when there is no cure for the effects of nuclear war?

Baroness Young

My Lords, in answer to the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary, as I have already indicated we support all organisations which are honestly attempting to promote greater understanding between East and West. But in the case of this particular organisation it is significant that the World Peace Council has given prominent support to the IPPNW in its currrent programme of action. I also understand that the programme of the World Peace Council's sub-committee for scientists and doctors urges its members to co-operate with the IPPNW, and that organisation receives considerable publicity in World Peace Council publications.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister indicate whether, in direct contrast to the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord. Lord Rea, the Government are considering following the example of Chancellor Kohl in condemning Dr. Chazov's deplorable record in the persecution of Dr. Sakharov?

Baroness Young

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend Lady Cox, I confirm that a message was sent to the chairman of the Nobel Peace Committee in Oslo on behalf of the Conservative Party on the 6th December in terms similar to those sent by Chancellor Kohl.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is it not time that Her Majesty's Government dissociated themselves from the post-mortem pacifist activities of the inventor and promoter of dynamite?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, that would be a noble gesture!

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, as a peace prize winner we have been frequently hearing Bishop Tutu on the wireless. Does the noble Baroness recommend the observations of that splendid man Laurens van der Post? The Bishop's signature tune always seems to be a plea for more violence.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think the noble Lord's question is wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that if any organisation is created which seeks to improve international understanding it will gain the support of the Government and possibly be awarded the Nobel prize? If she did, and if any Member of your Lordships' House seeks to improve international understanding, according to the way they look at it, is there any likelihood of that Member of your Lordships' House being awarded the Nobel prize?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord has misunderstood what I said. I repeated what I said in the first part of the Answer to the Question; namely, that we support honest attempts to secure greater understanding on disarmament issues. That does not mean that everybody who supports these organisations qualifies for a Nobel prize.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that it is most unfortunate that there should be many worthy doctors in the world who are misled by the Soviet disinformation services, particularly observing what my noble friend Lady Cox pointed out in her question?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have already indicated the Government's view about this organisation. It would be very regrettable if people were to believe that this organisation was other than what it is. The IPPNW is not a Soviet front organisation of the traditional kind, but since the World Peace Council's world congress in 1980 new international peace groups for particular professions (in this case doctors) have emerged, in most of which the Soviet hand is apparent.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that this particular organisation was initiated in the United States and was proposed by the American doctor to the Soviet doctor? Is she not aware that, since peace must necessarily involve talking to one's adversaries, an organisation of this sort is very valuable? Does she not agree with me that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to it, which is what it was, was well deserved?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I accept the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question. As far as the award of the prize is concerned, this must ultimately be a decision for the committee that determines who should receive the prize. I think it is a very serious matter that one of the founders of this organisation, Dr. Chazov, directs the fourth chief administration of the Soviet health ministry, has special responsibility for the health of Soviet leaders, and to that extent probably has working links with the KGB.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that, according to the latest information, at the ceremony this morning the two joint recipients of this award used the occasion once again to state, and state only, the Soviet point of view on current international proceedings—a point of view which is very well known and on which their assistance is not required? Does this not again suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, is totally mistaken in his view about the organisation which he wishes us to congratulate?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not have in front of me the speeches of the recipients of the Nobel prize. But I agree with the second observation that my noble friend has made.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this Professor Chazov has been a deputy Health Minister in the Soviet Union for 17 years and is a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party? Is she aware that as such he shares direct responsibility for the war in Afghanistan and for the enormous build-up of Soviet superiority in nuclear weapons? Is that not a rather strange contribution to the peace of the world?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I have already indicated in answering an earlier question, Dr. Chazov directs the fourth chief administration of the Soviet health ministry, and therefore is in a central and senior position within the Soviet Union. To that extent he must bear responsibility for Soviet Union policies. But of course the ultimate decision on who should receive the prize must be a decision for the Nobel prize committee.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether the Nobel Peace Prize committee is not a highly reputable organisation? Are not some of the supplementaries that have arisen out of this Question to some extent implied criticisms of the decision of that body? Should we not be a little more careful than to turn the Question into a kind of unsubstantiated witch-hunt?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not think that anything that has been said in the course of this exchange this afternoon has been intended to be a criticism of the Nobel prize committee. Their record is clear enough. However, I think one must make it quite clear that their members on this particular occasion may not have adequately considered all the factors involved before making their award and in making it they have therefore called into question their impartiality on a matter of this kind.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, but do they ever consider any other side?

Lord Rea

My Lords, does the noble Baroness know of the remark attributed to Andrei Sakharov himself which is that when any rational being finds himself on the edge of a precipice, on the brink of disaster, he first makes moves to distance himself from that brink and afterwards looks to the satisfaction of other needs? I think those other needs are human rights. Will the noble Baroness not agree that it is first important to get rid of this danger of total disaster, and then the human rights situation will see to itself?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am not quite clear that I understand the question of the noble Lord, Lord Rea. All I know is that people in this country and in many countries of the West have on many occasions called for the release of Dr. Sakharov and expressed their concern about his fate in the Soviet Union.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, can the noble Baroness the Minister confirm or deny the allegations which have been made about the conduct of this Nobel prize winner, particularly with regard to Dr. Sakharov? If they are true, surely criticism of the Nobel prize committee is in order and should be made. Perhaps this does not happen on all occasions, but on this occasion it would appear that the committee have awarded the prize, if it is true, to somebody who cannot possibly be worthy of it and I think the Government should not be ashamed to say so.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I hope that in what I have said I have made it quite clear that these two particular recipients would not be our choice for this prize.