HL Deb 29 November 1988 vol 502 cc179-81

2.45 p.m.

Lord Chelwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their continued de jure recognition of the independence of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia means that these annexed countries are unequivocally entitled to self-determination; and whether this recognition accords fully with the United Nations charter.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, we have never recognised de jure the forcible incorporation of the former Baltic states into the Soviet Union and make this clear to the Soviet authorities whenever necessary. It follows that we would respect the right of the peoples of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to say what their own future should be. This accords with the United Nations charter and indeed Article 72 of the Soviet constitution.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that there is an insistent and growing demand in all three countries for a greater measure of economic and political sovereignty, highlighted best, perhaps, by the vote of 258 to one in the Estonian Parliament two weeks ago? Is it not further highlighted by the fact that 3.5 million of the Baltic people have signed a petition asking for greater sovereignty?

My noble friend mentioned Article 72 of the Soviet constitution. Is that not unfortunately contradicted by other articles? Does my noble friend not agree that one acid test of Mr. Gorbachev's sincerity will be his reaction to this increasingly dangerous situation?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that recent developments are more encouraging in respect of recognition by the Soviet authorities of the need to give all the Soviet people the right to choose their own future. It is important that we bear these encouraging trends in mind. I repeat what I said in my earlier Answer; namely, that it is important for the people of those countries to have the chance to express their own views freely and democratically and to discuss the various possibilities and options.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us find the situation ironic? For many years—for decades, in fact—these three countries have been annexed by Soviet Russia. Today. because of Mr. Gorbachev's liberating—if that is the right word—freedom of thought, and so on, the people in those three countries are saying. "We want to go back to where we were". Would it not be a good idea for Britain to shut up, mind its own business, keep out of the matter and let the Russians sort it out? Some of us find the situation most amusing.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord that it is a very delicate time. Certainly, caution is needed.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I sympathise with the aspirations of the peoples of the Baltic states. However, does the Minister not agree that the best contribution this country can make is to improve trade relations with the Soviet Union? That, in turn, would help President Gorbachev's perestroika programme? Can the Minister tell the House what steps are being taken by Her Majesty's Government to improve such relations?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Question relates specifically to the countries of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, not to general matters of trade with the Soviet Union. However, I shall certainly see whether more facts about general trade with the Soviet Union relevant to the Question are available. I shall let the noble Lord know.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, following the correct and, I think, very useful Answer the Minister has given with regard to three particular states in the Soviet Union, can he say whether the same policy applies to other peoples whose lands are occupied other than by Communists?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am trying this afternoon to answer a particular Question relating to the Baltic states. I do not think it is necessarily right for the noble Lord to infer that anything I have said about this matter relates to any other part of the world.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is probably in everyone's interest in present circumstances that any disputes or differences between the Soviet Union and, say, Estonia. Lithuania and Latvia, are settled peacefully and satisfactorily and that the best we can do to assist is to say as little as possible?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Lord is, I believe, absolutely right. The fact is that in the eyes of some there are still serious problems about the way these countries are run and the history behind that. As the noble Lord suggests, I am sure that it is quite right for us to say as little as possible.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I do not ask this question in a carping mood, but does the Minister accept that it might be possible to add a note of dissent to that answer? If we hope that perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union will have a beneficial effect on the relations between our two countries should we not bring pressure to bear on the Soviet Union to translate its words into actions?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as I said in my earlier Answer, we raise that matter whenever necessary. I can assure the noble Lord that our views will be made clear, as appropriate, whenever the occasion demands it.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is this not a matter of some delicacy, bearing in mind the demands that are emerging from Wales and Scotland?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that is another interesting point. I suspect that when it comes to various other aspects the noble and learned Lord may well have put his finger on a very important point.