HL Deb 11 July 1994 vol 556 cc1510-2

2.46 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

What developments there have been in efforts to secure the release from long-term solitary confine-ment of Mr. Mordechai Vanunu since Baroness Chalker of Wallasey's answers to questions on 7th February (col. W.A. 108).

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as I explained in my reply of 7th February, we have no formal standing to intervene. There is no evidence of any illegality in the UK and Mr. Vanunu appears to have been treated in accordance with the normal judicial process in Israel. Nevertheless, on humanitarian grounds we have raised with the Israelis the length of Mr. Vanunu's solitary confinement.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on having done that. Is it not the case that there are grave doubts about the manner of Mr. Vanunu's arrest and the nature of his trial? Is it not a fact that solitary confinement over a long period of time is known to be inhumane and is not indulged in by civilised nations? Will the noble Baroness join me in believing that many of us are gravely disappointed in the Israeli Government for failing to recognise those facts? Is she aware that Amnesty International has recently joined the campaign to obtain the release of this man from his arduous and long-term imprisonment?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand that following an Israeli internal review last July, there are improvements in the conditions under which Mr. Vanunu is held. He is held in solitary confinement because it is said that he would reveal further information if he were released, and for his own safety. I have had a report on the improved conditions under which he is held and they are quite substantial. We cannot comment on the way in which Mr. Vanunu was arrested, but there is no evidence that any UK law was broken at the time of his departure from this country. This is a matter for the Israeli authorities, not for us.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Israeli authorities sent us a note on the conditions under which people like Mr. Vanunu are held in their prison system, that we tried to get verification from Mr. Vanunu himself via the Israeli ambassador that those conditions were being observed, and that following two letters to him, we did not receive a reply? We do not know whether that was because the letters did not reach him or because he was unwilling to communicate with the outside world. Will not the Minister take the Israeli authorities' word for it that the conditions that they say are being observed in respect of Mr. Vanunu's detention are in fact operating, but ask whether somebody can go to see him to verify that on the spot?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am informed that Mr. Vanunu has a cell larger than the standard size in Israel, with an adjoining lavatory and shower. He has radio, television, video and a Walkman tape player. He receives books and newspapers without limitation. He can spend time out of doors daily. His lawyer may visit him in private at any time. His family can visit every two weeks. He is permitted visits by a member of the clergy. If that is so, we should be able to verify it through those people who are allowed to visit. I understand that when the Israeli Minister of Justice visited Mr. Vanunu in his cell, Mr. Vanunu made no complaints about the conditions of his detention.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that that one person—Mordechai Vanunu—has received remarkable attention, for which I believe the noble Baroness should be thanked and congratulated? I have kept in touch with people who know Mr. Vanunu and what he has been going through. They are of the opinion that the British Government's intervention has made a tremendous difference to what he has been going through and led to a more civilised form of imprisonment. While I thank the Minister for what she has done, may I ask also that she will continue the good work so that justice will ultimately prevail?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for what he has said. We shall continue to watch what is going on, but I must make your Lordships aware that we have no role in this except to ensure that human rights are observed.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, may I repeat the Question to the Minister that I asked on 20th May 1992? Have the Government yet received any representation from my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney for the posthumous rehabilitation and pardon of Dr. Klaus Fuchs and Dr. Alan Nunn May?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, not to the best of my knowledge.

Baroness Blacks tone

My Lords, in answer to the Question asked of the Minister by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney on 7th February, the Minister indicated that this is a serious matter. Will she tell the House whether the discussions with the Israeli Government to which she referred have taken place since then, or is she referring to the informal discussions which took place before that Question was answered? What kind of response have the Government had from the Israeli Government in those discussions since the very long period of solitary confinement involved here raises human rights issues?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I accept that there is concern about the very long period of solitary confinement but, as 1 commented earlier, there are reasons, including Mr. Vanunu's own safety, why that has been done. We last raised the matter with the justice ministry in 1993. As I said earlier, we have no locus to intervene, but I know that a member of our embassy in Tel Aviv is in regular contact with the justice ministry, and has been since I answered the last Question to which the noble Baroness referred. We are well aware that there is good reason for Mr. Vanunu to remain in solitary confinement.