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Orders Of The Day

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1977

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Supply

[18th ALLOTTED DAY]— considered

Helsinki Final Act (Belgrade Meeting)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Ashton].

4.8 p.m.

The Opposition have decided to use one of their Supply Days today to bring forward on a motion for the Adjournment consideration of the Belgrade Review Conference on the Helsinki Final Act. They do so in the belief that there are many in the House who would like to express their views on a wide variety of matters arising from the conference, views which may go wider than the specific meeting which is to take place from 15th June. If we were to limit ourselves to that meeting, the debate in the House would necessarily be narrow, and that is certainly not the Opposition's wish.

The truth is that the framework of the Helsinki Final Act embraces, implicitly or explicitly an extremely wide variety of matters concerning the relationships between the West and the East. The Opposition believe that there should be the opportunity for these to be fully ventilated today by all those who are interested in so doing before the preparatory work begins.

It is realised, of course, that the meetings on 15th June represent a preparatory phase and that the discussion and representation will no doubt be at a relatively low level, but later in the year, in October, it is expected that, as a result of the preparatory work at a ministerial level, the conference will be resumed and will then turn its attention to the real implementation of the Helsinki Final Act and look at what has happened in the intervening period. On that basis, therefore, I should like to treat this debate as a focus for all aspects of confrontation or tension which may exist in the East-West relationship.

Drawing from the broad paragraphs of the Final Act itself, I believe that that review can best concentrate on three separate sections. The first is the humanitarian aspects of our relationships. The second is the commercial aspects. I refer particularly to the fact that the European Community is clearly involved in defining a joint approach by the member States to his wide range of considerations.

The final section is the political and military aspects of these relationships. However, I know that the Final Act itself made specific reference to the fact that the military relationship was primarily the concern of the discussions of mutual and balanced force reductions and that therefore the military aspect of the Final Act was somewhat restricted in its range.

I turn first to the humanitarian issues. Largely through the efforts of President Carter, the human rights aspects of that wide range of humanitarian considerations have been thrown into highlight. In his address to the United Nations on 17th March, the President said:
"No member of the United Nations can claim that the mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business."
That is an important declaration that will obviously affect the whole context of our discussions of these matters with the Soviet Union and other countries.

Today of all days, when we have been confronted by the awe-inspiring contents of the report by the International Commission of Jurists on what has happened in Uganda, one cannot but be struck by the appositeness and topicality of President Carter's remarks. It would therefore be wrong not to make it abundantly clear that we on this side—the Foreign Secretary has already said this for his side—stand beside and behind President Carter's remarks in this relationship.

Of course, there is a strong Soviet counter-argument—that one of the basic principles of the Helsinki Conference was that intervention in the internal affairs of member States should not be a matter of consideration. But the Carter declaration has largely answered and rejected that argument as it affects human rights of citizens and the general concern that we must all have about the treatment of people as individuals, worldwide, without discrimination and without double standards, even about ourselves.

It is not only a question of what President Carter has said. It is clear from the terms of the Final Act itself that the argument for the insistence on the observance of human rights in other signatories is not contrary to the principle declared in the Act of non-intervention in the affairs within their domestic jurisdiction, because the parties have all contracted inter se. It is a reciprocal obligation, which is enforceable throughout.

I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. That is a clarification which can only be useful in the circumstances. My particular reference to President Carter's remarks relates to the fact that his insistence upon it so recently underlines the very undertakings given at the time of Helsinki.

I therefore believe that the question allows us, as a result of the conclusion of the Helsinki Final Act, to regard it as a matter of world concern on every individual country and Government not only to be concerned with the maltreatment, perhaps, of individuals, the lack of consideration of their interests, which may be prevalent in other countries, but to look searchingly at the treatment of their own citizens, so far as that may equally give rise to concern.

However, when one comes to the overt handling of the issues, it is inevitable that the individual countries will deal with these matters differently. It is normal to imagine that the very difficult judgment to be arrived at, as to whether a specific and overt method of handling complaints and disagreements with the treatment of individual citizens exists, may be regarded by some countries differently from others.

An evident case in point is the problem that the Federal Republic of Germany has in relation to the German Democratic Republic and the problems of securing the best interests of the respective citizens of those two countries. Therefore, although the principle is undeniable, the application is subject to specific considerations of individual countries.

It was not only human rights issues which arose in the humanitarian field of consideration. There were other and very important ones, relating to such matters as cultural exchange and particularly the communication of ideas among countries. As one looks back over the period since the Helsinki Conference and the signature of the Final Act, one sees that there is room on all accounts to express real anxiety and concern about what has happened.

Do not let us forget that it was a European initiative that promoted this area of concern into consideration at Helsinki. It was picked up subsequently by other States, notably the United States of America, but it was primarily a European initiative that promoted that proposition. Looking at the matter with European eyes, we must register the fact that on all those counts the performance on the other side has been manifestly inadequate in comparison with the reasonable expectations arising from the signatories involved.

We must, therefore, charge those who now move into the discussions at Belgrade at their various levels with expressing the degree of concern we have about that slow movement and inadequate development in these fields and demand that the examination of implementation should very much demand and seek a much more determined application of the principles to which we all subscribe.

I turn next to the commercial area of concern. I happen to believe that the extension and development of commercial relationships between ourselves and the Western countries generally and the Soviet Union and the other Eastern countries is a desirable development. It is a hard issue to argue. It is very difficult to find compelling reasons to substantiate my feeling on the subject, but, having been engaged over 12 or 13 years now in intensive discussions in this area, particularly with the Soviet Union but also with other countries, I feel that the maintenance and development of these commercial relationships are a profound and important factor in the lessening of the causes of tension and the lessening of the real remoteness which otherwise creeps into the relationships and damages the possibility of lessening those tensions.

However, there has to be a great balance of judgment about these matters. To some degree, that balance of judgment is provided for within the provisions of the COCOM arrangements, whereby specifically the transfer of capabilities which would be damaging to the security of the West is already put aside.

But the matter goes much deeper. When I visited Moscow some years ago, it was explained to me by the planning organisation how the system was worked out whereby a substantial number of individual and major projects were set aside in the planning activity within Gosplan to see whether they could be realised without a call upon the Soviet resources themselves. They were not authorised to be developed, that is to say, until they could be shown to be developed without a call on Soviet resources within the five-year planning period.

The very fact that that kind of consideration is given to the development of such very major projects quite clearly makes it evident that, if they are proceeded with without a call being made on the resources of the Soviet Union, they represent a specific improvement of its total resources at no cost to itself, at least in the short term. We have to give very serious consideration to the wisdom in times of great difficulty of sustaining the resource development of the Eastern countries in this way.

This equally applies, I believe, in the whole area of the transfer of technology, out with the questions covered by COCOM. The fact is that we have to watch and keep very carefully under appraisal the wisdom of transferring technology which at times may indeed represent such a deliberate accretion to the capability of the Soviet Union as to be something of a danger to ourselves.

There are, of course, counterparts to this. I have frequently observed in the development of major projects in the Soviet Union that the inserting of a technology developed in the West automatically tends to lead to the continuation of the up-dating of that technology as time goes on. This obviously has advantages in terms of the broad commercial relationships to which I have referred.

Equally, we have to be very concerned about credits. It is hardly rational to believe that for a country in our particular economic circumstances to raise money on international markets at high rates of interest and then to accord enormous credits to the Soviet Union at very low rates of interest is a particularly intelligent thing to do. One has therefore to call into question whether the commercial advantage of ourselves and the West generally is served by such arrangements.

The same consideration applies equally to what are called compensation deals. We have seen today in the newspapers the announcement of two massive new methanol plants to be installed in the Soviet Union at very high cost, with a compensating factor in terms of the supply of the material produced by the plant as the method of payment for the plants themselves. Here, again, it may be that the advantages lies in so doing, but they must be the subject of very careful reappraisal.

While agreeing to the broad concept of the improvement and extension of our commercial relationships, I believe that our ability in this country on our own, but more generally in the West as a whole, to reappraise from time to time the direction in which we are going, the extent to which we are committing ourselves, and the advantage we are conferring, should be very much more acutely watched than is currently the case.

As to the military and political aspects of the problem, I have been on record several times, notably in this House, as expressing very grave anxiety concerning the fragmentation of the military dialogue. It seems to me extraordinarily unwise for the strategic arms limitations talks to be conducted without very careful interlocking with the discussions on mutual and balanced force reductions, and equally with the whole question of the manoeuvre of notifications which are implicit in the Hensinki Final Act. I believe that our present capability of seeing that the best general advantage in terms of our military balance with the East is secured is not adequately assured by the means of co-operation and co-ordination which currently exist.

I believe that we must pursue the question of détente as a whole. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has quite recently visited China, where undoubtedly the view is that the whole idea of detente is in itself an illusion and that we are dealing with a body which cannot in any sense wish to respond to our desire to lessen tension, except in the sense of taking advantage of our concessionary attitude in order to try to out manoeuvre us. We do not believe that that can be the attitude for this country to adopt. With all the difficulties, we believe that it is essential to find areas of improvement in any of these fields and in others.

Was not the philosophy that the right hon. Gentleman has just outlined exactly the same philosophy as the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition used in her speech at the very time that the Helsinki Final Act was being signed?

No. I do not think so. If the hon. Gentleman will look at my right hon. Friend's speech and compare it with what she said most recently when she was in Peking, he will find a very great similarity between the two. My right hon. Friend underlines the very real areas of disagreement and tension which exist between the two sides, but she clearly maintains the need to seek rational, fair, and balanced improvements. That has been very clearly her view, and I entirely endorse it. I believe that it represents a contrast with the view she found in China, but I sustain very strongly the need to find such areas of detente as may exist.

I return to the belief that the whole question of détente is in itself indivisible. The Foreign Secretary has reiterated that view in a recent speech in this House, and I hope that he will say the same again today.

In my own rather particular dealings with the Soviet Union I have been faced with areas in which the inter-relationships of issues arising in totally different fields of consideration are none the less enormously co-ordinated in the Soviet Union with a view to securing maximum advantage. I remember very well, as will many hon. Members, the period in 1972 when it was found necessary to call for the departure from this country of a certain number of accredited representatives of the Soviet Union. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that that determined action called into being a restriction on the trading relationships between Britain and the Soviet Union of a quite definite character. I am certain that this restriction existed, and I am equally certain that it has taken a very long time to override it.

Another perhaps less evident case, but nevertheless one of great importance, is the approach of the Soviet Union to the use of apparently purely commercial issues in support of major methods of affecting—damagingly at times—the interests of the Western economy. I refer to the development of the commercial marine in the Soviet Union on a basis of use outside the normal transport requirements of that country and at rates of freight which are clearly damaging to the conduct of the normal marine operations in the Western countries. The same can be said of the use of the Soviet Union land mass as a land bridge for the conveyance of goods between Western Europe and the Far East.

In the Soviet Union it is a matter of normal policy to try to draw maximum advantage from the inter-relationship of quite separate issues which may be under consideration. That has been my personal experience. There is a general strategy in relation to the Soviet Union's total undertakings and discussions with the Western world, all of which is centred upon the major purpose of securing the balance of advantage to the Soviet Union as between the various issues concerned.

This is very much part of the whole framework of what is referred to by the Soviet Union as the ideological struggle. The truth is that the ideological struggle is the centre of the Soviet Union's purpose. It has a system which it wishes to see dominating the system of the West.

It seeks that domination by every means that it can find within the compass of its manifold activities and relationships with the Western world. My great concern is that we on our side have no such capability. I see that, for instance, in the way in which we have been so deeply concerned in this House recently, and will continue to be, with regard to the intervention of the Soviet Union—a kind of devolved intervention through the media of Cuban forces, guerrillas, or whoever it may be—in the affairs of Southern Africa. That is part of a concerted planning system which seeks to draw advantages in general from the disinterest of our own side.

The same is true of the subversion activities that we have seen in many countries. They are justified in the broad belief that whatever one may say in the Helsinki Final Act, or whatever one may agree in the broad principles to which one adheres, the basis of the ideological struggle and the supremacy of the Soviet system and its need to be implanted is the primary concern, which will not be abandoned on any account.

I have little belief in the bringing about of a head-on conflict with the West by the Soviet Union. The means of achieving the ends not through a head-on conflict is something with which we have to be deeply concerned. I do not see any evidence of a wish to compromise. On the contrary, I see evidence of a wish to assert a basic purpose pursued with relentless determination with which we have very little capacity to compete. Indeed, I see on our side a very fragmented response to that concerted effort.

If there is any real improvement that has to be considered at this stage with our allies and friends throughout the world it is the need to take a total view of our relationships with the Eastern countries. We have failed to do so. It seems to me that the corollary to President Carter's call last week to NATO for a greater effort and a more concerted view of the requirements and the reasons for NATO is to be found in the absolutely essential need to find some method of bringing together the totality of these relationships and examining them with the same ruthless determination not to concede our interests which the other side has deployed in order to seek the interests of the Eastern countries.

Unfortunately, the detonators which could lead to explosions are widening all the time. The truth is that the territorial limits of NATO were set without adequate regard to the areas from which the dangers to the very purposes it seeks to achieve might arise. These undoubtedly are greatly widening.

We have to aspire to the will to prevail over what is a continuously expanding infiltration of the Western social order. The Foreign Secretary's remarks the other day in the debate on foreign and Commonwealth affairs left me with some cause for concern. He seemed to be admitting too readily that the presence of the Soviet Union in Africa was entirely and acceptably a reasonable purpose. I find that a worrying concept simply because it adds still further force to this tendency to compromise away our interests.

I simply hope that the purpose of this debate will be served in trying to underline the essential need to move to a much better co-ordinated method of handling what otherwise could be a grave threat to our interests for ourselves and for our children.

4.37 p.m.

In less than a month's time, on 15th June, representatives of 35 nations will assemble in Belgrade in order to discuss the preparations for a meeting later in the year to follow up the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which was concluded by the signature of its Final Act in Helsinki in August 1975. The purpose of the meeting, to quote the Final Act, will be

"to continue the multilateral process initiated by the Conference…by proceeding to a thorough exchange of views both on the implementation of the provisions of the Final Act and of the tasks defined by the Conference, as well as, in the context of the questions dealt with by the latter, on the deepening of their mutual relations, the improvement of security and the development of co-operation in Europe, and the development of the process of detente in the future."
I admit that is quite a mouthful. Like most multilateral documents, the Final Act can hardly be distinguished by the crispness or by the clarity of its prose. But there can be no doubt as to the importance of the Belgrade meeting.

Its task of assessing the progress which has been made along the road which was charted at Helsinki is vital. The Government greatly welcome this opportunity for a full debate on the United Kingdom's approach to this very significant and important European occasion.

I also pay tribute to the fact that the Sub-Committee on Defence and External Affairs of the Expenditure Committee—I am glad to see the Chairman of that Committee, the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), present—has examined this very subject. Its report is coming out very shortly and I hope that this, as well as the debate, will help us in forming views for this important conference.

I greatly welcome the fact that the Select Committee has examined this area. I hope that the Committee feels that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given it all the help that it can in evidence. I am glad to see that the Committee took its evidence from a wide range of opinion.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister himself attended the final stage of the CSCE at Helsinki together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), who was one of the 35 Heads of Government who put their names to the Final Act. I do not share, and have never shared, the doubts which from time to time have been expressed in this House as to the potential value of that document.

How can my right hon. Friend reconcile his support for détente with yesterday's dismaying agreement at NATO to aim for a 3 per cent. increase in spending? Will that not deliberately heighten international hostility? Does not my right hon. Friend think that this will cast doubt on the sincerity and the professions of the NATO leaders to secure agreement? I warn my right hon. Friend that this will be bitterly opposed by Labour Members, and Labour men outside, particularly at a time when the Government are cutting arms expenditure and when negotiations are taking place to stop this. It is going in the opposite direction.

I have made my views on defence expenditure perfectly clear in this House and they remain the same. I believe that no one wishes to keep up the current level of defence expenditure unnecessarily or to keep it if there is a real chance of reducing it. But the fact has to be faced, and my hon. Friend has to face it, that throughout the last few years there has been a constant increase in the percentage of GNP devoted by the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries to defence expenditure. I wish I knew the reason for that very remarkable increase over the last few years. As my hon. Friend knows, I am dedicated to trying to get serious progress on disarmament. I look to a serious agreement at the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and, certainly, I look for real progress at MBFR, which have taken a long time. I shall deal with some of the other aspects. But it is a one-sided coin to look only at our defence expenditure. It must be compared in fairness to the substantial increase that has gone on over the last few years by the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.

I was talking about the potential value of the Final Act. I stress the word "potential" because the CSCE Final Act is and will be of value only to the extent that its provisions are implemented.

The Government look to Belgrade not in any spirit of false optimism but with the firm intention of using this follow-up meeting to make a clear and honest assessment of the progress that has been achieved so far and to do what we can to develop and build upon the undertakings given at Helsinki. We shall, of course, not be satisfied until all the provisions of the Final Act have been put into effect by all the States which subscribed to it. We intend to play a full and active part in reminding all its signatories of the commitments into which they have entered, and of their duty to fulfil them, and I note the interpretation of the Final Act by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies).

The CSCE was and remains a product of détente, not its origin or mainspring. It remains true that the original source, and continuing test, of détente lies in the effort to avoid nuclear confrontation and to reduce the armaments which make such a confrontation more likely. But the conference of 35 European and North American nations in Geneva and Helsinki was part of a wider trend in East-West relations which resulted from the general recognition of the dangers of confrontation and of the possibilities for co-operation in a world in which mutual interests were coming increasingly to be recognised.

Elements of confrontation between East and West of course remain, as they are bound to do between two political systems professing philosophies which are in many respects irreconcilable. But, as a result of policies pursued by the Governments of both East and West, the areas of co-operation have been enlarged and, especially in Europe, contacts of all kinds and at all levels between Communist and non-Communist societies have been very substantially increased during the past decade.

In these circumstances, it proved possible for 35 nations to discuss and, after a long and extremely difficult negotiation, to agree upon a code of behaviour which would be appropriate to the new political climate in Europe, and to which they could all subscribe. This code of behaviour and the specific results which should flow from it are set out in detail in the Final Act. As I have said, the Act itself does not make exciting reading, but the aspirations which are embedded in its wordy and convoluted clauses are exciting since they delineate the more secure, more tolerant and more humane Europe towards which its signatories are committed to work.

These aspirations could not be brought to life in the form of concrete results simply by the act of signing the Helsinki document. What the 35 Governments did was to commit themselves to observing certain ground rules in all their policies, both internal and external, and to implement the many specific provisions which go to make up the document.

It was clear from the start that some participants would have much further to travel than others in giving full effect to the Final Act's provisions. I do not think that any participant could honestly sit back and say that he had no distance to travel at all, and no Government have so far been accused of doing so. But it is obvious that such provisions in the Final Act as those which affect freedom of movement and the free exchange of information require a greater degree of change from those societies which have placed and continue to place restrictions on such freedoms than from those which do not.

Even before the signature of the Final Act, Pravda could be bought on the Charing Cross Road. The number of Western newspapers freely available for sale in Moscow remain pitifully small, but since 1975 the Soviet authorities, I am glad to say, have permitted the import of 18 Western newspapers which were previously excluded. What we shall be looking for at Belgrade is sufficient evidence of progress in these areas, as in all areas covered by the Final Act, to establish the sincerity of the Governments concerned in committing themselves to its provisions. In many areas—and here I agree with the right hon. Member for Knutsford—progress has been painfully slow: in some, it has been non-existent. But there has been some indication of movement and change. Our task at Belgrade will be to maintain its momentum and to increase its tempo.

We and other Western Governments have been accused by the East of adopting an unbalanced or one-sided approach to the implementation of the Final Act. It is said that we stress the importance of Basket III—that part of the Act which concerns co-operation in humanitarian and other fields—to the exclusion of everything else.

This is not the case. It is of course natural that the part of the Final Act which has the most direct bearing on the lives of ordinary individuals should attract keener interest on the part of public opinion in the West than those parts of the Final Act—Baskets I and II—which are of greater direct concern in the first instance to Governments, institutions and companies. It is also natural, both prior to Belgrade and at the Belgrade meeting itself, that those parts of the Final Act in the implementation of which there has been the least progress should demand the most attention and discussion. The Government, nevertheless, see the Final Act as a unified whole and intend, at Belgrade, to review its implementation in this spirit. That is my response to the quite correct claim by the right hon. Member for Knutsford that the process of detenté is indivisible.

We shall be concerned, in the area covered by Basket I, to work towards a clearer agreed interpretation of the principles which are set out in that part of the Act. It is worth recalling, incidentally, that the most important reference to
"human rights and fundamental freedoms"
to be found in the Final Act occurs not in Basket III but in Basket I in the seventh principle.

We shall be concerned to rebut any arguments to the effect that any one of the 10 principles, such as that concerning "non-intervention in internal affairs", can be invoked to override or cancel out another, such as that for
"respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms".
Since the Act states that all the 10 principles it sets out are all of the first importance and must be equally applied, there can be no question of any one principle overriding any of the others. It may be necessary at Belgrade vigorously to reassert this truth.

The Government also attach importance to another item in the first basket, namely "confidence building measures". We shall be concerned to review the progress which has been made in applying these and actively to consider, with our partners and allies, the possibility of developing them further. We believe that the growth of confidence across the frontiers of the two European alliances, on which European security must in the last resort depend, can only gain from the more active application not only of the letter but also of the spirit of confidence-building measures concerning, for example, the notification of military manoeuvres and the exchange of observers, and we shall press for this. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) that it is these sorts of measure which can create a climate for genuine disarmament.

The Government will be concerned to review at Belgrade progress in the implementation of the provisions of Basket II of the Final Act, which concerns co-operation in the economic field. Economic co-operation and the normalisation of East-West trade are I agree with the right hon. Member for Knutsford, important ingredients of détente in Europe, and the Government are concerned to make a reality of the Final Act's provisions for the improvement of facilities for foreign business men—particularly for those representing one economic system on the territory of another—and for improving the availability and exchange of economic and commercial information.

Again, some progress has been made but we wish to see more. With our partners, we have played and will continue to play an active part in the work of the Economic Commission for Europe which, as the Final Act recognises, is the appropriate forum for multilateral efforts to promote and deepen economic co-operation in Europe as a whole.

As I have said, parliamentary and public opinion in the West has very largely been focused on the provisions of the third basket of the Final Act since the signature of the Act nearly two years ago. We should not forget the Acts other important provisions which I have mentioned. The Final Act firmly placed on the international agenda, for the first time, important issues affecting the daily lives of ordinary people which, although they are in this Government's view an essential element in détente, had not previously been given the parity with the more traditional elements of the inter-State relations which they deserve.

The Final Act accords such parity to issues such as freedom of movement, the reunification of families, the free availability and exchange of information, the improvement of working conditions for journalists and greater individual as well as institutional contacts in the fields of culture and the sciences. All these are now legitimate and proper items on the international agenda, and this Government propose to keep them there.

As to humanitarian cases, since the signature of the Final Act, the Government have been especially concerned to press for the implementation of the Act's provisions on family reunification and marriage cases. Our persistent approaches to the Soviet and East European authorities on these matters have produced some limited results; in the case of Romania, where such problems until recently existed on a considerable scale, I would describe the results as encouraging. But in general there has not been nearly as much progress as we should have wished.

We shall continue to emphasise to the Governments concerned, both bilaterally and at Belgrade, the strength of feeling that exists in the United Kingdom about cases of this kind, and to stress our view that detente will not be credible or complete while families remain divided, or young people are prevented from marrying, by political or national frontiers.

It remains the Government's view that progress in resolving cases of this kind is more likely to result from confidential negotiation and discussion than from public remonstrance and recrimination. Public expressions of feeling and concern, whether by groups or individuals, and in or outside Parliament, have an important and legitimate role to play. Societies must express and defend their values freely, forcefully and openly. The role of Governments, however, must sometimes be less spectacular if practical results are to be achieved; but a difference of approach by no means implies any difference of objective.

The signatories of the Final Act have promised to facilitate wider travel by their citizens and in particular to simplify and to administer flexibly the procedures for exit and entry. They have promised to respect the freedom of religion or belief. They have promised to respect the right of persons belonging to national minorities to equality before the law. The relevance of these provisions to religious and ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union, such as Jews and Baptists, is clear.

I am very interested in what the Foreign Secretary is saying. Recently I wrote to the Soviet ambassador making what I would call "soft" representations about the treatment of certain Jews and families of Jews in the Soviet Union. I said that I was sure the Soviet Union did not wish to be misunderstood by the world for the way in which it is treating these citizens. I received a reply from the ambassador saying that the Soviet Union did not require me to tell it how to manage its internal affairs. How does this accord with the Helsinki Conference?

My hon. Friend was lucky to get a reply at all.

My hon. Friend has raised a serious and important issue, but I think that we can draw some encouragement from the fact that a large number of Jews have been permitted to emigrate from the Soviet Union during the past few years. Although the rate of emigration has dropped, which causes concern, I understand that it has still been averaging about one thousand departures a month over the past year.

Nevertheless, it is right that we should be deeply concerned about those Soviet Jews whose applications to leave have been denied and—perhaps more important—about those who, in present circumstances, have not felt able to incur the risks involved by applying. The present situation of Jews in the Soviet Union is a matter on which many Members of this House feel deep anxiety, as the signature by 143 hon. Members of a letter in The Times on 8th May testifies. I met some of those Members privately on 24th March: they will know that it is a question to which I have been paying close attention.

Since December a Jewish Cultural Symposium has been suppressed; serious allegations have been made against well-known Jews in a television film and in newspaper articles; and two of these leading Jews were arrested in March, though they have yet to be brought to trial.

It is understandable that these and other events should have caused alarm within the Soviet Union and abroad. I think everyone would agree that we must, in view of past history, be extremely vigilant. But after a careful assessment, I do not believe that the present evidence justifies assertions that the Soviet Government are mounting a deliberate and broad anti-Semitic campaign, which some have compared with the events of the 1930s. The individuals against whom action has been taken have taken a strong and courageous stance on a matter of great sensitivity; but the moves which have been taken against them do not so far appear to constitute a campaign on a mass scale directed by the Government against all Jews.

I am loath to interrupt my right hon. Friend but I was particularly interested in this point. I have just received a letter today from the son of an elderly Jewish man, aged 77, who, together with his wife, was given permission by the Soviet Union to leave on a date between 1st April and 22nd April this year to join his son and family in Israel. The elderly man's name is Boris B. Gutman. After permission had been given and Mr. Gutman had been retired for two years from the Pulp and Paper Institute of the Soviet Union, he made arrangements and began to dispose of his assets and to acquire the money to go to Israel. He told his son that he was about to come. On 8th April he received a telephone call to say that permission had been withdrawn owing to some technical objection from the Pulp and Paper Institute. This denies what my right hon. Friend has just said. The Soviet Union does not act merely against those who take a positive stance. Elderly, inoffensive people are also subjected to this kind of treatment.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I said that the rate of emigration had dropped recently and that this was causing concern. It is important that in the way in which we handle these issues I should not comment on individual cases. I shall help my hon. Friend in any way in this particular case, and I am ready to discuss it with her.

As I was saying, these individuals have been singled out not because they are Jews but because they are activists. It is part of their tradition of radicalism that many Jews are activists on these very issues, and this is one of the reasons why they are very greatly respected in this country. I shall continue to watch developments with care and concern and shall not hesitate to speak out if I see any evidence of a deliberate campaign. But, as I have said, I do not see such evidence at present.

At Belgrade it will be right for the Government to bear in mind that the area covered by Basket III of the Final Act is—since it calls for the progressive modification of internal regulations and practices—one of the most sensitive aspects of détente. Understandably, it arouses stronger emotions—on both sides—than the more institutional or technical aspects of relationships between countries. By adopting a balanced approach between the legitimate expectations of public opinion on the one hand, and the potential dangers of confrontational polemics on the other, we hope to use Belgrade to ensure that the very modest progress so far achieved in the field of human rights and of Basket III is carried forward at a more encouraging tempo in the future.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. He has been very patient and courteous and the House is in his debt. We do not want Belgrade to break down into a series of recriminations or, on the other hand, to be just a series of platitudes. Some of us are horrified that the committee set up under Professor Orlov to monitor the working of the Helsinki Agreement in Moscow has been virtually disbanded by exile for some of its members and imprisonment for others. Is this the sort of question that the Government feel they have a duty to raise?

I have told the House that there are cases which cause concern, and the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has highlighted one of them. I think the individual way in which we deal with cases will have to be decided in the period immediately prior to the Belgrade Conference. I do not wish to take a firm position. I wish to strike a balance—it is a difficult thing to do—between not making recriminations and not just talking platitudes. It is a hard task. I see this as part of a process which not only will take place in Belgrade but which will be carried on continuously so that we may make progress as rapidly as hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish.

If I may take up the point mentioned in the intervention by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), the House might wish to know that the all-party Human Rights Parliamentary Committee wished to send an observer to Professor Orlov's trial and that I have been asked to attend. In view of the commitment to greater movement among people within the Soviet Union and other countries, will my right hon. Friend do something to persuade the Soviet Union to permit the lawyers and observers to monitor and attend Soviet trials? When seeking to attend such trials for Amnesty and other organisations I have been refused such requests three times. I cannot get into one Soviet trial. Since that action contravenes the spirit of Helsinki, and the wording too, will the Foreign Secretary seek to raise that matter?

I am trying scrupulously to avoid being drawn into individual cases. However, I shall bear in mind what my hon. and learned Friend has said and I shall speak to him about the matter.

Headlines on the front pages, however, gratifying politically, are not necessarily best calculated to assist the fortunes of the uncelebrated individual people—or even the celebrated—whose happiness we are seeking to promote. We shall not hesitate to speak out at Belgrade in identifying shortcomings and calling for their remedy. But if we are to achieve results from the Belgrade meeting, our approach in these matters must be seen to be constructive even when it is critical. We must seek to achieve a balance in these matters and it is a constant task.

It will be clear from what I have said that the Government see the review meeting at Belgrade as only the first checkpoint along what will inevitably be the long road towards realising the vision of Europe which the Final Act contains. As the Final Act requires us to do, we shall be looking to the future as well as to the success or failures of the past. The agenda for the meeting will include not only evaluation of the implementation of the Final Act—an evaluation which we are determined to make both comprehensive and honest—but also possible new ways of improving security and developing co-operation. The Final Act also require us to consider the possibility of further similar meetings, or of a new conference.

We must use Belgrade as an opportunity to inject new life and momentum into the CSCE process. For this, new ideas will be needed. But we must be careful not to be distracted by new proposals which could either distort the careful balance of the Final Act or divert attention from it. The Final Act must remain the centre and focus of multilateral co-operation throughout Europe; and the new proposals put forward at Belgrade which this Government are most likely to sponsor or to welcome will be those designed to secure more effective implementation of the Final Act. We shall listen carefully to suggestions made in this debate directed towards implementation of the Final Act. We shall consider carefully whether we can take them up.

So far as further meetings are concerned, we hope that the experiences of the 35 Governments at Belgrade will be such as to encourage them to establish a second such checkpoint, perhaps in about two years' time. But this time, if the Belgrade meeting meets our expectations, we should perhaps consider whether it should be at Foreign Minister level. I must admit that it came as some surprise to me to find that I am not able myself to attend Belgrade. But my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, the Minister of State, will attend.

I made at the outside a brief reference to the preparatory discussions which are to open in Belgrade on 15th June. I think it is important to see these discussions in the right perspective. The Final Act lays it down that the purpose of this preparatory meeting is to
"decide on the date, duration, agenda and other modalities"
of the main meeting which is to follow. There can be no doubt that these apparently purely procedural issues are issues of real political importance if the main meeting is to be a success.

But we shall continue to resist suggestions, which have been advanced by some Communist Governments, that the task of the preparatory meeting should be to construct a political framework for the main meeting by laying down, for example, understandings on the "atmosphere" in which the main meeting is to be conducted. There is no reason why the preparatory discussions should stray into issues of political substance. We see no need whatever for the elaboration of any "political concept" of the main meeting going beyond the perfectly clear provisions of the Final Act on follow up.

One of the most heartening features of the process both of negotiating and following up the Final Act of the CSCE has been the proof which it has given of the effectiveness of political co-operation and consultation between Western Governments. I am confident that my colleagues in the Nine and in NATO would agree with what I have said to the House today. I am confident because these matters have been discussed a great deal. This gives us firm grounds for confidence in our approach to Belgrade. Far from weakening and dividing the West, the CSCE has had the contrary effect. The close co-operation of the Nine and of the members of the NATO alliance, which was one of the dominant features of the CSCE in Geneva and Helsinki, has been maintained at the same high level since the signature of the Final Act.

We have also engaged in a great many discussions on CSCE with the neutral and non-aligned countries, both bilaterally and in the Council of Europe, as well as with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. I have enjoyed my meetings with Foreign Ministers from Eastern European countries. We have played a full part in the multilateral CSCE follow-up which has been taking place in UNESCO and the Economic Commission for Europe. When all this is taken together, Belgrade must have a good claim to be considered one of the best-prepared meetings in history.

But this domestic success, in Western terms, must not blind us to the essential limitations of the CSCE process. We must remind ourselves of the signal lack of progress towards making Europe a safer continent. The Soviet Government's recent tendency to combine professions of eagerness to talk about peace and disarmament with its assiduous improvement in the quality and quantity of the armaments at its disposal has been and remains deeply disquieting.

The confidence-building measures agreed at Helsinki and enshrined in the Final Act constitute a small step in the right direction. But the Government are all too conscious of the fact that they are insignificant beside the crucial issues involved in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the MBFR negotiations in Vienna. Anything that is achieved in the CSCE context will be of strictly limited value unless parallel progress can be made in the military sphere.

We are, therefore, under no illusion about the CSCE process. It must be viewed realistically and in its proper perspective. The Final Act must still be described as having a greater potential than actual value. But its impact in European affairs so far is not negligible. The publication in the countries of Eastern Europe of the commitments into which their Governments entered at Helsinki has had a profound effect on the peoples of those countries and has inspired in them new hopes for the future.

The Belgrade meeting now offers us a valuable opportunity to give further impetus to the movement which it has set in train towards an improved quality in European relationships. This is an opportunity of which we intend to take full advantage. Our approach to Belgrade will be balanced. We shall be conscious of the need to fit it into the broader context of detente; but determined to impart new momentum and vitality to the process initiated at Helsinki nearly four years ago, on 3rd July 1973. In my view this debate will be of great help to the Government in formulating their final position.

5.18 p.m.

I am heartened by the Foreign Secretary's approach to this issue. What is supremely important about the Belgrade meeting is the mood in which the delegates assemble and the purpose for which they gather. It is of the utmost importance that they should be there determined to do all they can to make some progress, however modest. If the conference were to degenerate into a shouting match between both sides bent on securing political points, as it could easily do, it would be a disaster. The whole prospects for peace in Europe would be set back long before the conference proper began.

It is important to stress again and again the sheer practical danger of modern weapons involved in a conflict between East and West. However much we may hate many features of the Soviet system, we must learn to live with them. The alternative is to die with them. The problem is as simple as that.

Detente means essentially living with the Communist world in peace but not necessarily in agreement. The latter is too much to hope for. I feel deep concern about those who seem to want to destroy detente and to declare it folly. They want to dance on the grave of detente but they may be dancing on the grave of civilisation. Some say that Helsinki was a hand-out from the West to the East, but they are totally wrong, just as wrong as those who are inclined to say that all that has happened since Helsinki has been concessions by the West. That is not true. There have been precious few concessions on either side and in so far as there have been concessions about disarmament on our side, they have not resulted from Helsinki but from the folly of our own Government and the Government's failure to recognise how essential defence is for security and peace.

Helsinki itself obviously solved no problems. It was a precious opportunity—that we must cherish—to move ahead with the solutions that will take an enormous time to become effective. There was no cause after Helsinki to stand down a single Western soldier and no reason to expect great changes in a short time. Those who expected any rapid change in Russian attitudes were extremely naive. A vast nation does not change the whole form of its policy in the space of one year. The Russian people are remote, withdrawn and suspicious and have lived with tyranny throughout all their history. Lenin did not introduce tyranny to Russia; he merely institutionalised it on the basis of a new dynasty. We shall get nowhere by shouting at the Russians. We must exercise infinite patience and, in Sir Winston Churchill's words, "Never weary, never despair". That must be the fundamental spirit in which these negotiations and discussions must be conducted.

There are two main issues involved—that of defence against military and political aggression and that of human rights. As the Foreign Secretary rightly said, progress on disarmament will result not from Belgrade or Helsinki but from the SALT talks and MBFR, because this is basically an American-Soviet issue since disarmament now is a matter not of quantity but of quality. The whole picture has changed. The stupendous destructive power that science provided for modern weapons outstrips any number of men, tanks, aircraft or infantry. Hon. Members may have seen a story in The Guardian today about a new radiation weapon that has been developed by the Americans—a horrific and terrifying weapon. No doubt the Russians are engaged on similar research and experimentation.

In considering the balance of forces on each side, we must look not only at the quantity of arms but at the quality of their destructive power. We must achieve some balance between the two. Imbalance is the greatest danger. One is not attacked because one is strong enough to defend oneself but because one is thought to be too weak. It is imbalance that creates danger, and it is on balance that our security will continue to rest. That is the great principle in military negotiation.

The other form of aggression that must be viewed against the background of detenté is political aggression, and this is continuing. It has taken a new turn in Southern Africa—which all of us deeply deplore and find extremely worrying—but it was naïve to expect that Helsinki could mean an end to political aggression. Political aggression will stop at the end of the detenté process, not at the beginning, because it is part of the insurance that countries have against the failure of detenté. Just as Helsinki did not justify our standing down a single soldier or the disposing of a single piece of equipment by either side, nor did it justify either side in relaxing the political struggle, because that is an essential defence.

The Russians will certainly continue to take any chance offered to reduce our influence in any other part of the world, and I profoundly hope that we shall do precisely the same thing, particularly in the Middle East. Political disarmament is like military disarmament. It is a process of hard-headed negotiation—slow, persistent, and, above all, wary. Helsinki has not solved the problem but just created an opportunity. However, it is a precious opportunity because the collapse of detenté would mean goodbye to political disarmament.

One thing is certain. There can be, and should be, no truce at all in the war of ideas. We must admit no restraint at all on our freedom and will to advance the cause of freedom and democracy. However, if we justly claim that right, we must expect the Russians to demand the same freedom in advancing what they genuinely believe to be right—although we consider it to be wrong.

I come now to Basket III. I agree that developments in this have been extremely disappointing. It was in this matter of the movement of people and freedom of ideas—in which we have many hopes and to which we attach much importance—that the Russians could have done much at relatively little cost. It is profoundly disappointing that they have not made more progress. However, they have made some progress and our object must not be to deride what has not taken place but to build on what has taken place and to try to improve on it. We must remember that there are great difficulties.

The Helsinki Final Act was pretty ambivalent. I listenened with interest to the intervention that was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). It is true that the obligation to respect some principles is overriding, but so is the obligation not to interfere in other people's business, and the interpretation of those principles in any given country cannot be the subject of intervention by other Governments. That is why the Foreign Secretary was quite right in saying that the proper public expression of disapproval in this country was by strong public protest about individual cases. However, the Foreign Secretary is also probably right in saying that Government intervention is more likely to be counter-productive than effective in the long run.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) for his reference to my intervention during that speech. Surely the reconciliation of those passages in the Final Act is that while it is true that according to the Final Act there must be no intervention in matters that fall within the domestic jurisdiction of the participating State, if all the participating States respect the other declaration, if they observe human rights and fundamental freedoms—which is a reciprocal obligation contracted inter se—there would then be no question of interference arising. A State, by definition, would be observing its contractual commitments, and no intervention would be called for. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that that reconciliation explains the wording of the Helsinki Final Act.

I see some difficulties in intervention in individual cases. The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) wanted to be present at trials in the Soviet Union but could not. I have a feeling that a Soviet political presence when we were discussing Agee and Hosenball might not have been entirely acceptable to hon. Members. We must accept the technicalities in this matter. The Foreign Secretary was right in saying that public pressure about human rights is correct but that diplomatic pressure or the exercise of Government influence might not necessarily, in the long term, be in the interest of the people concerned.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that comparing such cases—which are, happily, rare—as those of Agee and Hosenball with those occurring almost daily in the Soviet Union is an absolute travesty? Is it not right that in this country—fortunately with only the rarest exceptions—our courts are open for anyone from any country to appear and listen? Is it not right that lawyers from any country are welcome to come and observe? It would be disastrous if this Government or any other took the view that intervention on behalf of individuals would do those individuals harm. The individuals concerned, including one named Josif Begun, who was put on trial today, and another called Sharansky, who has been held for two months without trial, are relying on this Government and every other Government to let the Russians know that they are watching individual cases and to demand decent treatment under the Helsinki Agreement.

We have the same objective in mind. The difference is over the approach that we should adopt, and this is a matter for argument.

What I am saying is not designed to condone the tyrannical and oppressive features of Communist rule. I am concerned about how to do something about that. Shouting at the Russians will not help anyone. Persuading them, in the long run, will. Condemnation is not enough. We must continue to show absolute determination to fight effectively, if challenged, in the defence of freedom and we must show, as we have not necessarily so far done adequately, that our form of freedom is always worth fighting for. This is a task that we have not yet accomplished in the Third World.

We must continue to press for and exploit freedom of communication in the battle of ideas that must never be restrained, but in the end the aim must be peace, and the key to success is perseverance.

5.22 p.m.

The Helsinki Conference covered a wide variety of matters and it is obvious that we shall cover the same wide variety in our debate, but I wish to concentrate on the issue of human rights.

At the opening of the Helsinki Conference in July 1975 my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), who was then Prime Minister, said that the real test of the conference would be not in the undertakings signed there but in the progress in fulfilling them. The conference represented no more than a beginning, he said, and he pointed out that détente meant little if it were not reflected in the daily lives of the people whose leaders were gathered in Helsinki. My right hon. Friend said in the House:
"The actual undertakings must be the subject of continuous monitoring and, finally, the test of Belgrade."—[Official Report, 5th August 1975; Vol. 897, c. 234.]
We are now approaching that test, and the continuous monitoring which the Foreign Office has undertaken must have provided information about the progress or lack of progress towards the recognition of human rights in the countries concerned. The lack of progress that has been observed by the Foreign Office must be raised at Belgrade.

It would be wrong to expect any massive improvements in the granting of human rights since the signing of the Final Act in those countries where, for so long, they have not been observed. We must not be too impatient, and must not be seen to peer too sharply or critically into the internal affairs of other nations. We must, in our relations with other countries, concentrate on those areas on which we agree, and not on the areas on which we disagree, so that we may eventually widen the areas of agreement, but to do that constantly and continually is a counsel of perfection, where there seems little evidence that some nations are making any progress whatsoever towards the observance of human rights.

I doubt whether the Foreign Secretary has seen any favourable changes in the Russians' attitude towards human rights within their own territories since the Helsinki Conference. Certainly I have not been able to observe any such changes.

In our foreign affairs debate on 10th November 1975 I spoke about the political prisoners in the USSR, most of whom are Ukrainians. There are thousands of these people, and they have committed no crime against the State or society, yet they have been tried, unconstitutionally, thrown into prison and made to endure many hardships that do not apply even to criminals. They are not murderers, swindlers, hooligans or thieves, yet they have been transported, often vast distances, from their homes and forced to do work for which many of them are not physically equipped. They have been subjected to physical and mental suffering, divested of every aspect of human dignity and denied elementary rights in every way.

They are people whose only crime is that they believe that their religion, language and culture must not be stamped out. They have been committed to the terrible conditions that I have described despite the fact that their rights are guaranteed by the constitution of the USSR, by the constitutions of its individual States, by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, more recently, by the Helsinki Agreement.

The Russian constitution grants many freedoms, and the Russian leaders cheerfully sign scraps of paper while pointing smugly to their own constitution which seems to enshrine the freedoms written on those pieces of paper. It is not, however, the law of the Russian constitution that has sat in judgment upon these thousands of prisoners of conscience, but the internal law of the USSR, which nullifies the rights set out in the constitution. Let any man dare to believe in the sanctity of constitution, let him lay claim to the rights that it supposedly guarantees to him, let him act as the Helsinki Agreement says that he may, and he will find himself unconstitutionally denied those freedoms by his rulers.

As the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said, these things have been going on in Russia for so long under the Communist and Tsarist regimes that one would have thought that the Russians would have learned certain lessons. Apparently, they have learned nothing. The resistance of so many brave men and women in the various States of the USSR is a proud indication of the fact that one cannot wipe out the desire for freedom in a nation, even by the most savage oppression over many long dark years. One cannot remove from the minds of men and women the longing and the need for a national cultural heritage no matter how ruthlessly every manifestation of that feeling is stamped out.

Ought we not at least to be reminding the Russians of their errors and telling them that we expect them to make some progress towards the observance of those human rights which, on paper, they recognise? The House and the whole British people condemn the terrible crimes being committed in Uganda. It may not be as spectacularly monstrous slowly but surely to destroy a human being by shutting him up in a psychiatric insitution merely because his convictions happen to be at variance with the leaders of the Communist Party in Russia, but surely it is just as heinous and savagely inhuman as that which is taking place in Uganda. I believe that it is. I believe that we cannot fail to tell the Russians how we and the British people feel about these things. We look to them to ensure that there is progress in the treatment of their own people.

5.31 p.m.

There has been pressure from both sides of the House for this debate. I believe that it will be useful not because it will show great divergences between the two sides of the House but because it will demonstrate that there is an enormous degree of agreement on what we want to try to achieve from Belgrade.

I do not dissent from the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maud-ling). If he will allow me to say so, he made an interesting, moderate and realistic speech. In answer to the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the degree of intervention in one country compared with another. For example, the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) was refused permission to go as an observer to a trial whereas in this country we have only to consider the recent case before the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. First, Britain agreed to submit itself to the jurisdiction of that international court in respect of allegations against this country that have yet to be determined concerning Northern Ireland. Not only were the Russians allowed to be present, but it must be remembered that the Russian Press corps provided the largest individual corps in the world.

That is the comparison that must be made. We expect others at least to accord to us what we are prepared to accord to them. We follow a long and honourable tradition going right back to the Alabama claims. Britain was one of the first countries that were prepared to refer a controversial issue to international arbitration. It agreed in advance to be bound by the result.

I think that the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) were correct to remind us that, despite our interest in Basket III, we are also dealing with other matters of security and economic co-operation. What I found particularly interesting, and what I crave leave to support, was President Carter's tremendously exciting declaration for human rights all over the world. He implied that there was still a quite separate initiative required for disarmament. He said that disarmament was not to be bargained against human rights. That is to say that disarmament is something in its own right that should be negotiated and worked for and that we should not say to the Soviet Union that we shall not move to disarmament unless and until we see certain progress in the realm of human rights. I think that the President was right.

I do not believe that the issue of disarmament is negotiable against any other prospective benefits, but I agree with the Foreign Secretary that the MBFR and SALT negotiations, which fall largely within the purview of America and the Soviet Union, will be the real determinants in resolving whether we shall get world disarmament. There will be the special session of the United Nations, but that will largely reflect the success that the two super Powers have had.

Like ourselves, the Soviet Union is interested in disarmament. It is interested for two interlocking reasons. The first reason, apart from the obvious one of living in a safer world, is the cost to both sides of the arms race. The second reason is the need for an expansion in East-West trade. I believe that that is of greater importance to the Soviet bloc than to ourselves. For example, COMECON is indebted to the Western world to the extent of about $40,000 million for capital equipment. That illustrates the enormous importance that the Soviet bloc attaches to trade, especially in respect of industries such as those dealing with computers, chemicals, shipping and motor industries. For example, there is the need for imported circuit breakers for high voltage transmitters, which are vital for the development of its energy. This indicates a continuing dependence upon European countries and upon the West.

I say unashamedly that I believe that economic expansion and progress should be dependent upon progress in other spheres. I am not prepared to bargain disarmament against any other consideration. I believe that it stands on its own. Any nation that took that course would be playing with fire. The expansion of credit and the export of technology and capital equipment should be partly influenced by the progress that we make in other spheres. I believe that that was President Carter's message. It was a great relief to hear a Head of State make a speech in which economic considerations and mammon were not the first priorities. It is a difficult argument when we face great unemployment in the West, but it is a moral argument and the right argument. I believe that military matters stand on their own and that economic matters must be judged against progress in other spheres.

I turn to the issue of human rights. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) said, we are sickened by the ICJ Report on Uganda. We are also sickened by the hypocrisy in the world in failing to deal with it. I speak as Chairman of the United Nations Association in this country. I am appalled and sickened by the hypocrisy of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which is not prepared to tackle the problem. I do not believe that that is attacking the United Nations. It is an attack on the member States that fail to live up to the spirit of the charter.

We are entitled to ask about the progress that has been made in respect of human rights since Helsinki. The paradox is that in some ways it has toughened up the nations of Eastern Europe. On the other hand, it has given encouragement to those who find themselves in disagreement with their regimes. That is an extraordinary paradox.

In Czechoslovakia we have seen the first protests in that country since the massive Soviet invasion. We have seen the Manifesto Group issuing Charter 77 and some 300 prominent intellectuals calling for a restatement and restoration of basic civil rights. They are being locked up, but we are seeing the flowering of dissidents, if that is not a contradiction of terms. We have seen that such people have been encouraged. Perhaps it is dangerous encouragement, but that is something that we must face. The fact is that encouragement has been given to those who are fighting for freedom.

In Poland last June we saw workers' strikes and riots as a result of increased food and other price increases. The Workers' Defence Committee was set up to give legal aid and assistance to those in imprisonment. Workers, intellectuals, Communists and non-Communists and the Roman Catholic Church have come together and are demanding the end of police brutality.

In Eastern Germany we have seen expressions of dissatisfaction with the system. That has led to about 100,000 people applying to renounce their citizenship. We witnessed the reaction when Wolf Blermann, a singer and poet, had his passport withdrawn when he was in the West. He was virtually exiled from his own country.

In the Soviet Union we have seen one of the most startling and unexpected developments. The Orlov committee in Moscow has been monitoring the results of Helsinki. There have been similar groups in action in the Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania and Armenia. We have also seen the support of individual liberties across frontiers. We have seen the Polish Workers' Defence Committee joining Sakharov and Hungarians to support the movement for freedom in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. We have seen the Russian movement to support the Poles and the Poles and Hungarians supporting the Czechs. It is not insignificant that we have seen Communist parties in the West, especially those of France and Italy, protesting that people are being imprisoned without trial for political offences.

That is one side of the coin. We have seen a real increase in the demand for individual freedom and liberty in Eastern Europe. We are not being selective when we say that Belgrade is basically about Europe. It is about freedom in Europe, with the welcome addition of our allies from the North Atlantic.

What is the reaction? The reaction has been different in different countries. In Poland people are still locked up. There is the suggestion by Mr. Gierek that there will be an amnesty for workers who took part in the June strike. We have seen a statement that no action will be taken against the Workers' Defence Committee. The reaction in East Germany has been somewhat ambivalent. In the Soviet Union we have seen perhaps the harshest reaction to Professor Orlov and six other members of his committee. Professor Orlov was arrested on 10th February and others were arrested subsequently and have to date been held incommunicado. Their offences consist of having sought to monitor the agreements to which their country was a party.

When we consider Professor Orlov's report, we see allegations of torture through hunger of prisoners in punishment cells, the abuse of psychiatric hospitals, the expulsion of Catholic children from schools for attending church services, the harassment of former political prisoners, the interruption of international postal and telephone services and the destruction of the homes of Crimean Tartars who try to return to their historic homeland—the Crimean Steppes. All these allegations have been made by Professor Orlov and given to the West.

I ask, what offence has that man committed against not only the spirit of Helsinki but the criminal law of the Soviet Union? When is this man to be charged? Why is he denied the services of a lawyer who sought to advise him from this country? Why to date has it been impossible for him to have an observer or to see anybody—not even a lawyer or his wife—since he has been held in prison?

I believe that those are questions of the kind that we are entitled to ask at Belgrade, not in order to relapse into recriminations but to establish clearly that, when the West talks of human rights, it means it. If that means that the Soviet Union brings up charges against this country of alleged brutality or malpractices in Northern Ireland, very well, let us say that it is entitled to do so and that we in turn will deal with them on their merits.

What I find somewhat depressing about the position of those who protest in the Soviet bloc is that we can encourage them, we can publicise their cases, we can do almost anything, except intervene to assist.

There are those who say "Whatever happens, you must not publicise their cases because it makes matters more difficult". One point came out pre-eminently when I met Mrs. Alexseyva, the secretary of the Orlov committee. She said that, to her knowledge, no case in the Soviet Union had been made more difficult by publicity and that publicity was the one thing that the Soviets feared. One of the statements in the ICJ Report on Uganda pointed out that, after publicity about the mass slaughterings, they reduced somewhat in scope. Therefore, we must appreciate that matter.

When Soviet citizens come to this country, the one piece of advice which I try to give them—I gave it to Mr. Bukovsky and to Mrs. Alexseyva—is "Whatever may happen, do not get caught up with any one political party when you arrive in this country because you do not understand their power structures. You want to appeal to them all." This is not a one-party political issue. I believe that there is some danger of Right-wing groups hijacking Soviet dissidents, and immediately their value is debased. They should be totally independent. If after six months, having seen our crazy system in operation, they find, miraculously, one party to which they are attracted, it is for them to decide. I hope that that slight remark will be taken to heart by the National Association of Freedom and its Right-wing supporters in this House.

We must tell the Soviet Union that we are genuine. We passionately believe in and want to see individual freedom. We cannot, for example, accept or understand how Professor Orlov could be imprisoned and held without trial simply because he sought to monitor the Helsinki Agreement which the Foreign Secretary will discuss in Belgrade.

We must go much further along the road to freer travel. In some cases it is almost impossible for a person to rejoin a partner whom he or she has married. It is better for these matters to be negotiated privately rather than for them to be given banner headlines which—although loved by the Press—do not necessarily product results.

We should not be frightened to tie economic considerations to human rights considerations. I believe that they are inter-related. We should not be frightened of giving publicity to cases. We should not be frightened of campaigning for the release of individual prisoners or groups of prisoners. We cannot sit back and enjoy our freedom. We must use all the freedom and economic power that we have to influence events and the lives of people in other countries. I do not believe that is interference. If it is, it is rightly allowed under the Helsinki Agreement. Therefore, I intend to continue to do that for many years to come.

5.45 p.m.

The question of détente does not begin and end with Helsinki. The process was in operation before Helsinki and we hope that it will continue after Helsinki.

The main object of this exercise—this has been outlined by several speakers in the debate—is the survival of humanity. It is a question whether the arms race, the multiplication and further sophistication of weapons capable of greater and greater destruction, is to continue, with the inevitable result, if it goes on, of the end not only of detente but, as the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maud-ling) said, of civilisation. I am sure that that is what primarily concerns not only the Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations, but the West, in pursuing this agreement.

I do not know the relative strengths of the Soviet and Western forces; it is difficult for the layman, ill-informed about military matters, to make his way through the propaganda that he hears from both sides about the size of each other's armaments, but there is no doubt that the race is proceeding and that the quality and dangers of that race are enormous. The arms race consumes a vast proportion of the resources of the nations of East and West. It consumes many times the aid given by the West to under-developed countries. If we could reduce arms expenditure by 50 per cent., the resources released would provide a real possibility of ending poverty throughout the world. There is no doubt about the burden that is imposed on us, and there must be a similar burden on the Soviet Union and America.

The object of Helsinki was to prevent, or, at any rate, to diminish, confrontation—a situation in which each bloc looks at the other as a potential enemy and prepares for the eventual clash. That is an object with which most of us agree. There have been various talks—SALT and the Vienna talks. In my view, it is a matter of extreme urgency to proceed with these agreements. Again, it is difficult for the layman to find his way through these talks and to decide who is right and who is wrong or whether both sides are right or wrong. Disarmament should be regarded not as a long-term project, but as extremely urgent.

I now turn to Basket II which deals with trade. I am sorry that I absolutely disagree with the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) who suggests that this can be used as a political instrument. That is mistaken. I shall give one example, which concerns credit. The amount of credit which the whole of the Soviet bloc—consisting of about 350 million people—owes to the West is equivalent to little more than two years of the public sector borrowing requirement of this country. To suggest that it is a major factor in Soviet calculations is a serious error.

I wholly concede what the hon. Member has said, but the significance is not the cash value but the technological hardware. That is what they need. That is the hardware that we can either supply or not supply.

In that the right hon. Member is also mistaken. I do not think that it would be possible to get agreement between all the Western countries to deny a certain amount of hardware to the Soviet bloc.

Would not this method of attacking Socialist countries also be contrary to a section in the Final Act signed at Helsinki which says that economic coercion must not be used to obtain any advantage over another country?

I am sure that it would but it would fail and be counter-productive.

The credit offered to the Soviet Union amounted to between £900 million and £950 million. Only £200 million has been taken up. That has been the subject of a complaint by the Prime Minister and other people in this country. Complaints have been made to the Soviet Union that in that respect the promises have not been fulfilled. It shows that there is no burning urgency in the Soviet Union to receive these credits and that they are not vital. They may be useful to the Soviet economy, but they are not vital. It would be mistaken and counter-productive if we began to use trade as a political weapon, particularly since it would not secure that which is intended.

We are disappointed about the trade aspect, although other countries in the Helsinki Agreement have come off better. I am chairman of the Anglo-Soviet Group in the House. We have made frequent representations to the Soviet people that it would help the process of detente if they would use the credits and buy more goods from this country. Nothing is more likely to produce a better effect for detente than the provision of jobs for workers. There has been some improvement recently, but, frankly, we are somewhat disappointed so far. We should tell the Soviet people about that.

I know that they say that our salesmen are not sufficently aggressive—that they are not as aggressive as the Germans, for instance. They say that our prices are often too high. Whatever the reasons, the situation is disappointing, and I hope that there will be an improvement. It would make a contribution to detente. It would not have the opposite effect.

I now turn to Basket III. The Soviet Union is not a liberal democracy—and that applies to other East European countries. The Soviet Union does not pretend to be a liberal democracy. Whatever Basket III says and whatever interpretation is put upon it, it is naive to expect that by our representations we can convert the Soviet Union into a liberal democracy.

We regret many of the events that occur there, but they are part and parcel of the system. If there are dissidents under a non-democratic and, in this respect, repressive system, it is obvious that those dissidents will be persecuted. That is part of the system and cannot be dealt with separately.

I am disappointed that over the last 60 years a country which is now firmly based politically should not have made more advance in that direction. I am disappointed that it cannot absorb its Bukoveskys and Solzhenitsyns or allow their criticisms. I think it was Dr. Kissinger who said that one could not change the system overnight. An alteration will come, but it will come through the dynamics which exist in that country. There are in that country many features which will lead, whether painfully or painlessly, to some alteration.

Indeed the country is rapidly changing. The Soviet Union is now becoming an urban society with an advanced system of education and industrialisation. Foreign languages are taught in every school. Whether or not the leaders of the Soviet Union will it, these are likely to produce a change in the political atmosphere. It will not come overnight, but it will come—although I am disappointed that it has not arrived as yet.

I was pleased about the approach of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to this problem. We can do a great deal in Helsinki provided that we do not expect too much too soon. Representations can be made without public denunciations even by a Government, provided that they do it in the correct way. Some of the decisions that are taken in the Soviet Union and with which many of us are concerned are not politically, centrally decided. They are decided by the bureaucracy of that country.

Although most of us are disappointed at the progress that has been made, will my hon. Friend tell the House that any further progress is not helped by stupid, silly and completely inaccurate comparisons between the treatment of dissidents in the Soviet Union and the behaviour of the Nazis in the 1930s.

I entirely agree. Obviously there is no comparison.

One must bear in mind that there have been some developments in the Soviet Union since the mid-1960s and before. For instance, it is interesting that today there are dissidents. There were no dissidents 15 years ago. That movement itself arises from the relaxation of the system. One of the symptoms of the relaxation is the emergence of dissidents. Many changes have taken place, and this is one of them. There is, for instance, the fact that over 100,000 Jews have been allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Before the mid-1960s one could not get one Jew out of the Soviet Union. Germans have been allowed to go from the Soviet Union. There is the fact that people who would formerly have been put in prison or in a concentration camp are exiled instead of being dealt with in a much more drastic fashion. One finds on examination that there has been a change. It has not been sufficient but, none the less, it has been in the right direction.

I agree entirely that Belgrade should not be a matter of denunciation and of always bringing up these matters. If there are denunciations—a proclamation on one side and a proclamation on the other side—that will be exceedingly damaging to the whole of what we desire to achieve concerning Helsinki.

Many things were achieved before Helsinki. For instance, with regard to East Germany, notwithstanding the war it is a fact that every year about 8 million people from West Germany alone travel into East Germany, and that about 1 million people—admittedly, older people—are allowed to travel in the other direction. There is a vast gap in the Iron Curtain. There have been many interchanges. I am glad that these are being promoted under Basket II—I think—of the Agreement. I hope that there will be a continuation of these things.

Finally, I am not pessimistic about Helsinki, provided that we do not expect too much too soon, and provided that we adopt the approaches that have been outlined today by the Foreign Secretary.

6.3 p.m.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak after the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman), because although we do not always look at political matters from the same viewpoint, we shared not so long ago a very instructive, enjoyable and hospitable visit, as parliamentarians, to the Soviet Union. I think that we both learned a great deal from that visit, particularly with reference to Helsinki and Belgrade.

I want to direct my speech mainly to how we ought to behave ourselves at Belgrade and the way in which we ought to approach the main conference. However, before doing that, I should like to set out certain of my background thoughts on the whole question of détente, the Final Act and the review conference.

First, I have always approved the moves that were made towards Helsinki when the Conservatives were in Government, I approved the signing of the Agreement by the Labour Government, and I now approve a continued pursuit of those ideals that were enshrined in the Final Act. Perhaps it is clear from that statement that I do not go along with the over-optimism mentioned by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and, equally, that I would reject the views of certain of my hon. Friends, which we heard at Question Time the other day, who say that they do not think that it is worth going to Belgrade at all. Certainly we have to pursue a middle course.

However, having said that, and having said that we must, therefore, pursue a balanced approach, I do not think that very much has been achieved, except a certain semantic simplification. After all, no one goes to a conference with an unbalanced approach, or saying that he has an unbalanced approach. Therefore, although it sounds fine for the Foreign Secretary to say that we are pursuing a balanced approached, I do not think that means a great deal unless it is qualified a good deal further.

Having said that, I do not agree with those of my hon. Friends who have felt that Belgrade was a complete waste of time. I should emphasise, of course, that I believe that détente can be no substitute for defence. Also, I am under no illusions that, so far as the Government of the Soviet Union is concerned—if I may mangle an old maxim—détente is merely the continuation of the cold war by other means.

I have also no doubt that the aims of the Soviet Government in détente, of which Helsinki and Belgrade are a part, are, first, to weaken and to divide the West; that is, to divide the United States from Western Europe and, indeed, to divide the countries of Western Europe among themselves. The second aim is to consolidate the Soviet Union's hold on Eastern Europe. The third aim is the general aim of reducing for itself the risks in Europe as a whole.

The Soviet Union is pursuing this policy in the light of the great and growing problems that it has itself. They are social problems—dissidents have been mentioned—problems and technological problems, and there is also, of course, the threat of China on the Soviet Union's eastern frontier.

Having made that bow, as it were—it is a sincere bow—to certain of my hon. Friends, I must also say that although that is certainly the view of the Soviet Government, we need to remember that there is an even more important distinction, perhaps, between the views of the Soviet Government and those of the Soviet people than there is between the views of the British Government and those of the British people, as a necessary corollary of our electoral system.

If anyone in the House or in this country thinks that the endless repetitions by the Soviet Government of their yearning for peace do not reflect a very great yearning for peace by the Soviet people, I think that he is wrong. The people of the Soviet Union are in my experience very conscious of the need for peace and of the evils of war. I attribute that to their history, which includes the loss of 20 million people during the last war, including 6 million in the siege of Leningrad, and all the rest of it. That is true. However, the aims of the Soviet Government and of the Soviet people should not necessarily be confused.

Secondly, I say to those who argue that these are evil aims of the Soviet Union, or the most objectionable to ourselves, that those may indeed be what the Soviet Union wants but it does not mean that it is what the Soviet Union will get. It is precisely the aim of our diplomacy, very often, to use the same conferences and the same atmosphere of détente to pursue quite different aims. I certainly accept that is what the Foreign Secretary is trying to do.

The third point that should be made as a background thought and a qualification—this is a subject for almost infinite qualification, if one had infinite time—is that it is quite wrong to speak about Helsinki and Belgrade as though it is us, the goodies, on one side and them, the Soviet Union, as the badies, on the other side. There are almost infinite variations between the Soviet Union's aims and the way in which they may be interpreted at Belgrade, and those of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and so on. We ought continuously to remember, in thinking of the approach that we ought to take, the great differences and variations that exist between the different countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself.

The last background thought that I put is that naturally, because this is called the Belgrade Review Conference, we are all thinking of the conference as one of reviewing what has happened in the past two years. However, I consider this conference much more than merely a review. The conference, of itself, is possibly the most important part of the whole process of détente that we have had since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975. It is not just a review. It is a vital part of the continuing process of detente.

I shall now deal briefly with how we should behave at Belgrade. All the speeches so far have been middle-of-the-road speeches. Some hon. Members were keeping left and some a little more right. There were two approaches. One was the rather mild approach that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) adopted, which seemed to me even milder than that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. There was also what I might tactfully describe as the not-so-mild approach.

When I speak of a mild and conciliatory approach, I do not use the phrase in a pejorative way. There are very good reasons for not putting the Soviet Union in the dock at Belgrade, to use a current phrase. I shall later give my own views whether they are the dominant reasons. First, there is the argument that I think the hon. Member for Erdington put forward by implication, that we should not push the Soviet Union to move too fast because in the end it will then not move at all. That is a respectable argument for which evidence can be found in the history of the past 30 years or so.

Moreover, anyone who has visited the Soviet Union would have been very struck by how counter-productive it is in private conversation ever to criticise Russia—I say "Russia" as opposed to "the Soviet Union"—because the Russians are extremely patriotic. If one breathes any criticism of their country, even if they themselves have just said something which might appear critical of their own Government, they will at once clam up. Every hon. Member can recall the feelings in all parts of the House when Senator Edward Kennedy appeared to boost the IRA at the expense of the British Government. Every hon. Member said "What does this man Kennedy think he is up to? He knows nothing about it." Whatever our views on Northern Ireland, we consolidated around our own Government. This applies to the Soviet Union as much as it does to us.

I do not want to pose as a great expert on how the Soviet Union works, but my experience of Soviet bureaucracy is that, even when it wants to try to move fast, it can only move slowly because it is the most cumbersome bureaucratic machine I have ever come across, however marginal and on the surface my experience is. We should not expect it to move with the same amazing rapidity as we sometimes see—perhaps not very often—in our own Civil Service and Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

There is another respectable argument that one tends to hear from people one meets in the Soviet Union. After a couple of drinks they say "Of course, we understand what you are saying. I am a liberal, but don't push it too hard because we have many hardliners in the Government. If you make too much fuss you will just strengthen the hand of the hardliners against those of us who are more liberal and are easing towards a more liberal form of Government." I am sure that that argument has weight, but how much weight is one of the key decisions that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, his advisers and the House must decide for themselves.

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet that the Soviet Union—the Russian people, the Georgians, the Armenians, the Ukrainians—are, like us, a product of their history. Their history happens to have been particularly tyrannous and undemocratic. We cannot expect them to appreciate the democratic virtues with the same sharpness and speed as we do. They often find it hard to understand exactly what we are driving at and why virtue must necessarily reside in our process as I am sure it does. They have not lived in a democracy for hundreds of years and it is not easy to appreciate democracy immediately.

One argument for going easy at Belgrade is what is known as the Northern Ireland argument—that if we start being heavy on concentration camps in Siberia the Russians will clobber us over Northern Ireland or, as my right hon. Friend suggested, Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball. I do not accept that argument, but it is one that I often hear and we should know that it exists, even if only to destroy it or take little account of it.

The last reason for being relatively conciliatory at Belgrade, for not putting the Soviet Union too obviously in the dock, is that there certainly have been some signs of improvement. I use the word "improvement" as it would be defined by most hon. Members. I do not say that those signs are great, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has already mentioned the 18 foreign newspapers now available in the Soviet Union which were not previously available. I think that there are only about 150 copies of The Financial Times on sale there each day. It is difficult to obtain. It is under the counter, and usually three or four days late. But the fact that it is available is an advance, and there are other advances.

I have been trying recently to secure a better flow of non-political novels and literature generally between the Soviet Union and this country, though I cannot say that I have any signatures on documents from the Soviet Union. But the Russians are talking about it- There is a possibility. In a number of areas there are signs that, although things may be bad, they are better than they were.

Those are some of the reasons upon which those who advocate taking a conciliatory attitude at Belgrade would place some weight. But there are arguments for taking a rather tougher line, arguments which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned. I single him out only because he is the person who has put the matter best in the debate so far. I should be sorry to see too mild a line taken by the Government and our allies at Belgrade. I know from my own personal experiences that many people in the Soviet Union and the other countries of the Eastern bloc look to us with hope. They are saying "Stand up for what were the ideals of Helsinki". If we fail to do so, they will lose faith in us and in the power and will of the democratic countries to push forward their own democratic ideals.

Another, perhaps obvious, reason for taking a rather less than mild line is the fact that the Soviet Union has breached, in both the spirit and the letter, many of the points which it freely signed. Nobody forced it to come to Helsinki. For years, starting with, I think, Stalin in 1953, the Russians have been urging the Western countries to make just such a signing. The Russians signed freely. If a man, an institution or a country signs a document freely, I think it fair that he should be asked at the end of the day why he has not fulfilled what he freely promised to fulfil.

We should examine the position closely and, if necessary, criticise. It is possible to be critical without being acrimonious, as all of us good-tempered people in the House know so well. If we do not criticise, what is the basis upon which we are to build in the future? If we do not say to the Soviet Union "You have not carried out what you promised before", what earthly reason is there for the Soviet Union to carry out in the future what it might promise at Belgrade?

There is one other very powerful argument against not putting the Soviet Union in the dock. I use that expression although I think that all metaphors in political terms tend to be misleading. I use it merely as a shorthand phrase. When I was last in Moscow I was lucky enough to spend several hours with Professor Sakharov, who gave me many details of cases to back up his conviction that the more row we made in the West the more successful would be the liberal movements in the Soviet Union. He told me how, about nine months previously, there had been a trial in, I think, Lithuania, at which a man had been sentenced to 10 years for merely writing a sentence or two criticising the Soviet Government—the sort of thing we do all the time. Six months and a whole lot of publicity from the West later, another man received only five years for exactly the same thing. In other words, the power of criticism in the free countries of the West had halved that sentence.

Thus, although it is necessary to take with a small grain of salt the vested interests of people like Professor Sakharov, Mr. Bukovsky and Mr. Amalrik and so on—they are dissidents, and the way in which they look at things is not necessarily how we should look at them—we should take strong account of the fact that they, who are up at the sharp end, say, "Fight as loudly as you can: that is what we in the Soviet Union want." It would be foolish to undervalue that.

The main reason that we should take a less than mild line is that we have a good story to tell. At the end of the day, we have nothing greatly to be ashamed of. We may make mistakes here and there, at times we may have done things that we should not have done in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, but at the end of the day we should have faith in our democratic processes and believe that if they are placed alongside the way in which they manage things in the Soviet Union, any fair-minded and objective person will come down on our side.

That is why we have nothing to fear. So if I had to make the judgment which the Foreign Secretary had to make, whether to be mild or less than mild, I would say that our maxim should be to show more concern for making the truth known and less about offending the Soviet Union.

As for what that means about exactly how we should behave when we get to Belgrade, I believe that we should make it clear that we regard Belgrade as a most important diplomatic occasion, not as a mere follow-up to some diplomatic curiosity. It is often said that the Helsinki Final Act does not mean much, that we should not push too hard, that it will not happen overnight. All these phrases are true, but they are not the whole truth.

We must make it clear that this is a major diplomatic occasion. I am very sorry that the small print apparently forbids the Foreign Secretary himself to go. I have a high regard for the noble Lord who it is intended should be in charge of our negotiations, but it is ridiculous not to send the Foreign Secretary to a diplomatic event of this stature. I should prefer the Prime Minister to go. If it was good enough for the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), who was then the Prime Minister, to sign the Final Act, it should be good enough for the present Prime Minister to go to Belgrade with the Foreign Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary made it clear that if it was in his own power to decide this matter, he would be only too pleased to go. The fact that it is laid down specifically in the Helsinki Agreement that it should be someone whom he appoints is the reason why he has appointed my right hon. Friend to attend Belgrade on our behalf.

May I ask that no one else interrupts the hon. Gentleman, who has been talking for 21 minutes already?

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. In answer to the Minister, I said that I knew that that was the case, that it was the small print which forbade our acting in the way I would prefer, but in that case perhaps the Foreign Secretary could appoint the Prime Minister—or perhaps the June conference could change the small print.

In any case, I hope that our presentation will be as strong as possible and that we shall give it the maximum publicity. I should like to see the conference televised, if anyone is interested in watching. The Foreign Office has been monitoring all the breaches of Helsinki. I should like it to publish those breaches—not so that they can be flung about polemically or acrimoniously, but simply to see what the truth is. If the Soviet Union wishes to accuse us, fair enough.

I hope that all sessions, or 95 per cent. of them, will be held in public, that they will be at a political level for the most part and not at Civil Service level. I hope that we shall ask for explanations of what we consider to be clear breaches, like the disbanding of the Orlov committee, the fact that we have not seen the free exchange of peoples and ideas that we were looking for.

I agree that we do not always want Governments to interfere and take up individual cases, but in this instance we should not be afraid to bring up any individual case. I hope that we shall publish these cases and raise them at the conference. I hope that generally we shall ensure that Belgrade is of a diplomatic stature commensurate with the importance of human ideals.

6.26 p.m.

Unlike my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), I shall try to be brief and keep to the points that have come up. This is the only time that I have ever welcomed a speech by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South. I thought that he made a stimulating and constructive contribution, and I only wish that he would follow that practice in other areas.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary welcomes the opportunity presented by this debate to hear the views and obtain the support of all sections of the House in the important task in which he and his fellow Ministers will be involved. I was particularly pleased that he devoted so much of his speech to human rights. That shows his own concern, which I am sure his colleagues share.

I want to confine myself to human rights, and particularly the position of the Jews in the Soviet Union. Conservative Members sometimes accuse Labour Members of having double standards, of denouncing some regimes while saying nothing about the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Today, the boot is on the other foot. If we intend to criticise the treatment of human rights, particularly those of the Jews in the Soviet Union, we should also be clear that we can criticise dictatorial regimes of the Right. Any comments that we may make to the Soviet Government will be greatly enhanced if we also have a reputation for denouncing the destruction of human rights in countries such as Chile. This is a universal concern, and we should not take a one-sided attitude.

I was also glad that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South took to task some of his hon. Friends, who I am afraid seem to want to wage an anti-Soviet crusade, enrolling us all in some sort of holy war. Anyone approaching this conference or the Helsinki Final Act or any other such moves in that spirit will not achieve his objects of a greater loosening and freedom for the people in those countries.

A complex point was raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith)-that of trying to reconcile the inherent contradiction within the Final Act—between the desire for freer communication and movement on the one hand and the respect for the internal affairs of other countries on the other.

Ever since the signing of the United Nations Charter, one of the defences used by many countries—not the Soviet Union but South Africa and many others—has been along the lines "This is a matter within the domestic jurisdiction or our State; therefore, you cannot say anything about it." As one hon. Member said, if one writes the Soviet Ambassador a letter about one of these cases, one gets a nasty reply back: "We are perfectly capable of looking after our own affairs, thank you very much."

The Belgrade meeting must try to reconcile and clarify the importance that the participants place on the other part of the Final Act—the provision that all the principles are of primary significance and will be applied equally and unreservedly. The Helsinki agreement—many hon. Members may have forgotten some of its items—was intended to bring a general loosening and relaxation of restrictions on various people. It aimed to implement travel and contacts on the basis of family ties and the reunification of families. According to the information coming to us from the Jewish people in the Soviet Union, one of the most depressing things is the way in which they are treated when they try to take that provision at its face value.

It is incredible that on applying to leave they are required to surrender their papers, they then cannot get a job, and are accused of being parasites on the State. Although I think that the Foreign Secretary was quite right today in refusing to comment on individual cases, I hope that the principle will be made clear at the Belgrade meeting and that if anyone attempts to exercise his rights, held out in prospect to him under the Helsinki agreement, this will not penalise him in any way. There might be a legitimate reason for refusing an application, but there should be no victimisation of people on the ground simply that they have made an application.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Josif Begun, who is on trial today in Moscow, is charged with precisely this offence? Having been robbed of his job when he applied for his visa as long ago as 1971, and forced out of work, he is now, on the very day that we are debating this subject, on trial for being a parasite. He cannot get a job because he is not allowed to have one.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has anticipated what I was about to say. I could not agree more with the very clear example that has been brought out by him. This man had done nothing that in any way conflicted with the Soviet civil code, yet his papers were removed, he lost his job, he was then accused of being a parasite, and he went on trial today.

It may seem almost incredible that this kind of thing can occur in any State. Surely this is the kind of redefinition that is needed in order to protect the rights of people such as Mr. Begun. I hope that the intervention of the hon and learned Gentleman and the attention focused on the case in the House today will be noted in the Soviet Union. I hope that the Soviet Government will realise how concerned, anxious and indignant we are that any human being, should be treated in this way.

Then there is the question of the reunification of families and the problems arising out of that. Young men who have applied for visas are called up for service in the army and compelled to serve the obligatory two and a half years. They can be compelled to remain for a further five years. No one is suggesting that people should be entitled to evade a legal requirement for military service, but it is strange that this seems to happen immediately they apply for a visa to leave the country. This is the type of problem that has arisen, and I am sure that the Minister will take note that great indignation has been shown by all of us on this issue. These are the kinds of matters that we thought had been put behind when the Helsinki agreement was signed, but instead the position has become worse.

The Foreign Secretary made some comments about the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. The figures suggest that since Helsinki the situation has deteriorated dramatically. The figure for 1973 was 35,000. For' 1976 it was 14,100. The number per month is so consistent that one question that might be explored in Belgrade is whether there is an exit quota—a fixed number of people whom the Soviet Union is prepared to allow to leave the country. Perhaps there are other reasons for this, but the question ought to be examined. The figures raise the suspicion that a quota has been established. We note that it is a consistent figure of just over 1,000 a month. This matter ought to be raised.

The Foreign Secretary said that he was satisfied that the Soviet Union is not mounting an anti-Jewish campaign, but there are some ugly signs. Anti-Zionist films are being shown on Soviet television. There are reports of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and of ugly and unpleasant cartoons appearing in Soviet papers. The Foreign Secretary may have been strictly correct when he said that the Soviet Union was not mounting this campaign, but many of the people within the power structure in Soviet society must be aiding or abetting it, otherwise it could not happen.

The Jews are only asking for the right to their own cultural existence, which is guaranteed in the Soviet constitution. They want the right of recognition and the right to have their own cultural identity. They want the right to be free from vicious attacks of this kind. I hope that these matters will be dealt with when the Minister of State goes to Belgrade.

Information concerning individual cases will help the Government to put forward their views, but what is urgently needed is a redefinition of many of these sections in the Helsinki agreement. We should try to achieve a further loosening. The Foreign Secretary obliquely commended the efforts made by hon. Members in this House and by people outside in mobilising public opinion in aid of those who are, quite candidly, being persecuted, particularly the Jewish people in the Soviet Union.

I was pleased that the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) expressed very forcefully the view, with which I agree, that the best insurance policy that we can give these people is the strength, clarity and persistence of our own voice.

6.36 p.m.

I was lucky enough to be a member of the Inter Parliamentary Union delegation which was in the Soviet Union only three weeks ago. We spoke about many things over there. The chief subjects which concerned us were trade, disarmament, Africa and the run-up to Belgrade. We had the opportunity to discuss these subjects with people in the Soviet Union up to the very highest level, including, on our last day, a two-hour session with the Head of State, President Podgorny.

One feature of the delegation was that, although it consisted of equal numbers of the two main parties in this House, we were of one mind in our approach to the main issues. There was no dissension on our side, and no important gap of any kind in the front with which we faced our Soviet opposite numbers. We talked extremely frankly and plainly on all the subjects we discussed, including human rights; and it is to the subject of human rights that I particularly want to devote my remarks now.

It is to one of those subjects to which the quotation applies—
"there is no power on earth that can stop the march of an idea whose time has come."
I think that in some special way, in just the last year or two, the idea of human rights has captured the imagination of people throughout the world, in particular the European Communist world.

I believe that the authorities in the Communist countries are confronted with a tide that they will be totally unable to stop. This will be one of the most significant features in European politics, not just between now and the Belgrade meeting, but for a very long time thereafter. But we have to face the fact that the Soviet authorities—and, indeed, all Communist régimes will not simply lie down and admit guilt. They will not say: "Yes, you are quite right. We are behaving in a disgraceful way." Their policy is to counter-attack; and if the human rights campaign is to be pursued successfully, we must know what their arguments are and be prepared to meet them.

It is worth devoting a few minutes to examining the arguments on the other side which were encountered by the delegation in Moscow three weeks ago. First and foremost there was the straightforward counter-attack about Northern Ireland. Our Soviet opposite numbers said to us "You are now coming up on trial in front of the whole world at The Hague for the use of torture against political prisoners. How can you come here and lecture us on the way we treat political dissentients in our society?" In their putting of that argument there was repetitive use of the word "torture" and of the term "political prisoner".

They also put to us the argument that the campaign on human rights does not represent feeling held by the mass of people in the West. They said that this is something which has been got up by Governments in the West expressly to embarrass the Soviet Union. "We have noticed", they said, "that every time there is a crisis in the capitalist system the ruling circles there try to create a diversion by launching an anti-Soviet crusade." What is more, they said—and we heard this over and over again—"any campaign from the West is an unwarrantable interference in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union."

We also heard a great deal of abuse of individual dissidents. We also found ourselves met with the argument that the Soviets held a quite different conception from us of human rights. They said, "What we regard as fundamental human rights are the right to a job, the right to a decent education, and the right to proper health treatment when one is sick," and so on. They added, "We see in your Western capitalist countries endemic inflation and high unemployment. What about the neglect of human rights that that situation represents?"

These are the arguments which will have to be met, gone over, and won by us. We cannot just assume, in our approach to Belgrade, that we shall have an easy ride. I believe profoundly that the balance of the argument is on our side. That was the experience we had in the Soviet Union when we argued these things through at very great length.

The Soviet Union claim that the human rights campaign launched by President Carter is simply one launched by Governments to embarrass the Soviet authorities is manifestly disproved by the fact that even Communist parties in the West are publicly embarrassed by the rough treatment of dissidents, and publicly dissociate themselves from it. So there is no way the Russians can sustain that argument. I represent a constituency that contains people at the opposite end of society from the "ruling circles". It is a poor East London constituency where many people are unorganised, un-unionised, unskilled and underpaid, and yet among that section of the population I find genuine concern about the repression of dissidents in the Soviet Union, and the refusal of the Soviet authorities to allow Jews, in particular, to emigrate. There is no doubt that this campaign does represent genuine popular feeling.

The Soviet argument that the campaign represents an interference in its internal affairs does not stand up any better. All our Governments have pledged themselves to treat individuals in certain ways by signing international agreements. The Soviet Union, like the United Kingdom, did it first of all when the United Nations was formed; we all signed the Declaration of Human Rights, which was specifically endorsed at Helsinki. What is an international agreement to mean if one party can refuse to carry it out, and then complain, if the other signatories make representations, that they are interfering in its internal affairs? International agreements cease to have any meaning at all if that is allowed as a good argument.

I give these simply as examples of the fact that the Communist arguments, which will be used over and over again, can be effectively countered. They will certainly have to be met.

There is one respect in which I think the difficulties we confront have been underestimated. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) made a point that is often made, but with which I find myself unable to agree. It goes "Why do the Russians not allow more human freedoms? They could so easily do so without it really costing them anything, or losing them anything." I wish that were true. But I am forced to the conclusion that the Soviet régime is so repressive in detail, so repressive right across the board of personal life, that it would be impossible for it to allow anything like the kind of human freedoms that we take for granted and still hold together.

Let me give a dramatic example. In 1968 the Soviet authorities made what, from their point of view, was a correct judgment about Czechoslovakia. They judged that it would be impossible to allow the Dubcek reforms to proceed and still preserve a Communist hegemony. I think that view was correct. And that is the nature of the problem in the Soviet Union, where it exists on a colossal scale.

We cannot look for any rapid or early liberalisation of the régime in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, I think—partly for that very reason—it is essential for the West to keep the pressure on all the time, unremittingly, and never let up. My experiences in Russia and here have convinced me that for us to continue our protests on behalf of individuals, as well as our general protests, does nothing but good. The dissidents themselves say so with one voice. We must do all we can to force the Soviet authorities along this road that is so hard for them to travel.

But we must not underestimate the change that has occurred. Since Helsinki, there have been substantial improvements. Perhaps the biggest one, apart from the fact that the Soviet authorities now allow about 1,000 Jews a month to emigrate, is the fact that they have stopped jamming Western broadcasts—at least the BBC and Voice of America. We discovered three weeks ago that almost everyone we met in the Soviet Union was listening to one or other of those networks. Even our Russian Foreign Office hosts would come in to breakfast and say "Did you hear so-and-so on the BBC at 7 o'clock?" Everyone we met was listening to these broadcasts. Every Russian now has an alternative source of information and comment to the official source. This is a factor of enormous importance. Although it is a new one we could see for ourselves that it is already widespread in its effect.

One welcomes the fact that the Soviet authorities do not jam our broadcasts, although they still jam some of the others. But surely that change did not follow Helsinki but happened before it. One of the reason may be that the more one jams broadcasts the more attractive they become to people.

It would be difficult for the Russians to listen in greater numbers to Western broadcasts than they do already. One point that was put to me there was that they listened not primarily to find out what is happening in the rest of the world but to find out what is happening inside Russia, because it is only from foreign sources that they can rely on getting truthful information about their own internal affairs.

In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said about the BBC's broadcasts to Eastern Europe, does he not regret the cuts in the budget of the Foreign Office for the external services of the BBC, and will he not urge them to be restored?

I do regret them, and I have already urged that they be restored.

Over the long term, the improvement that is happening in the Soviet Union is so enormous as to be almost sensational. Twenty-five years ago, if one was even suspected of being a possible dissident, one disappeared, and was shot in the back of the head, and that was that. The distance we have come from those days has been tremendous. By our standards, it is still an intolerably repressive society—far more repressive than the great majority of the people in the West realise; indeed, more repressive than the great majority of Conservatives, let alone Socialists, realise. Nevertheless, over the long term it is improving almost out of recognition. Change is occuring, and in the right direction. We should do everything we can to hasten the Soviet Union along that road.

6.48 p.m.

Two years ago, when representatives of 35 nations put their signatures to the Helsinki Final Act, it was agreed that in 1977 there should be a meeting in Belgrade to see how the Act had been implemented and how best it could lead to improvement of security and co-operation in Europe, a deepening of mutual relations, and the continuation of detente in the foreseeable future.

Alas, I find the phrases "a policy of detente" and "the process of detente" worrying, because they are liable to great misunderstanding. I was a little concerned today when the Foreign Secretary said that we must continue this policy of detente. No one has yet defined what the policy of detente is. It can mean one thing to one country and another thing to another country. In Europe it can mean something different from what it means in America. Part of the trouble is that the word "detente" has no direct translation either in Russian or in English.

My sympathies are entirely with former President Ford, who, when this question was discussed at Helsinki, said "I shall not use the word ' detente '. I do not know what it means and I do not think anyone else does." The nearest English translation that one gets of this word, which is French, would be: "A reduction of tension in international relations." But, alas, in the East and the West the word "detente" has been associated with policies that have included aims other than the mere reduction of tension. To the Americans it means the imposition or adoption of human rights, but to the Russians that is an interference in their internal arrangements. The Americans think that detenté has something to do with disarmament and an agreement between the two sides. Somehow we must soon define exactly what we in this country mean by a policy of detente. We have not yet done so.

For a long time the Soviet Union has preached the gospel of co-existence, but to the Soviets that means avoiding any real confrontation that might lead to war until, inexorably, according to the Communists, the capitalist system has been destroyed by its inability to resolve its internal contradictions. To the Communists co-existence must be practised until such a time as the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries have been sufficiently strengthened to be able to abandon the concept of co-existence, since by then, they believe, there would be no danger of a war that would embroil the Soviet or its satellites.

To the Soviets, peaceful co-existence is merely an extension of the class struggle to the international arena—a political, economic, ideological struggle, but certainly not a military one. To the Soviet leaders detente helps to diminish the risk of a third world war, as can be seen in Mr. Brezhnev's speech to the Soviet Communist gathering last year.

I should like to read a short extract from that speech. Mr. Brezhnev said that:
"communists take as their starting point the general laws of the development of revolution and of the building of socialism and communism…. In our time, when detente has become a reality, both in the international workers movement and amongst its opponents, there often arises the question how it influences the class struggle. Some bourgeois politicians express astonishment and create a fuss about the solidarity of Soviet communists and the Soviet people with the struggle of other peoples for freedom and progress. This is either naiveté or, most probably, the deliberate befogging of peoples' brains. For it is as clear as can be that detente and peaceful coexistence relate to interstate relations. This means that disputes and conflicts between countries must not be solved by means of war, by the use of force or by the threat of force. Detente does not and cannot in the least degree rescind or change the laws of the class struggle…. Strict observance of the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other states, respect for their independence and sovereignty—that is one of the prerequisites of detente. We do not conceal"—
I emphasise this—
"that we see in detente the path to the creation of more favourable conditions for peaceful socialist and communist construction."
That is exactly what the Soviets are doing at the moment. Having read those words one might well ask "When is intervention not intervention?" The only answer there can be is "when it is practised by the Soviets".

The use of the word "detente" is at the moment indefinable. That is one of the reasons why the Soviets interpret the Western insistence on human rights and fundamental freedoms and the freer flow of information and persons between all countries as an interference in their own internal arrangements. Many people, especially in the United States, have been dismayed and outraged at the repressive habits of the Communists in Russia and the satellite countries by those who took the Helsinki accords seriously enough, as, for example, did the Charter 77 signatories in Czechoslovakia. They are now suffering for what they believed to be a right given to them by the Helsinki agreement.

Like other speakers, including the Foreign Secretary himself, I believe that we must remember that the Soviet system is the successor of centuries of tyrannical and dictatorial repressive Governments. The Foreign Secretary is quite right to make clear that the pace at which the Soviets can advance in terms of human rights must differ entirely, for example, from the conditions in the United States or in our own country, where freedom has been a distinguishing mark of our society for a long period. That does not mean that we should abandon our desire to see that fundamental freedoms of religion, speech, information, assembly and travel between all countries should be vigorously promoted when we get to Belgrade. But on no account should we approach Belgrade in the spirit of trying to put the USSR, or any of the Warsaw Pact countries, in the dock, behaving as though we had a moral right to make accusations and expecting the Communists to enter a defence. Belgrade is not a court of law and cannot be seen in that context. To adopt such a pose would be inimical to our own interests and the interests of the West.

At Belgrade we should seek further ways of increasing security and improving co-operation between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe. The CSCE by no means created a new Europe, but it did at least confirm the acceptance in principle of a material understanding that differences of interest should not be disregarded on either side but that, on the contrary, these differences should be recognised and an attempt should be made to find ways of subordinating them to the common cause of security and peace. Indeed, it might be argued, and easily argued, that Helsinki brought in a new form of diplomacy based, for once, on pragmatism. That is a new and important element in East-West relations.

The great advance at Belgrade is that it is now perfectly legitimate for any of the signatories to ask questions and to demand answers. This is also the privilege of the Soviets and the satellites. The great difficulty of international gatherings up to now has been that one could ask questions but could not be sure of getting answers. I hope that the negotiators from the West will not feel inhibited in asking such questions as why the Soviet Union is spending so much of its GNP on armaments and armies, why it is producing more and more tanks, ships, submarines, nuclear weapons, and so on, and against what Power it is rearming to such an extent. We should ask why the Soviets feel it necessary to spend all this money, which would be better spent on social services and the raising of living standards.

It must be recognised that there has been virtually no progress whatever in certain of the baskets. For example, there has been no progress on disarmament, no development in the talks on strategic arms limitation and no advance in the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions. Why, I ask the House and particularly the Government Front Bench, should we continue to use the words "policy of detente" without defining what we mean? To the Soviet Union those words mean anything it wishes them to mean. It is rather like the character in "Alice in Wonderland" who, when asked what a certain word meant, said that it meant exactly what he wanted it to mean, neither more nor less. "Detente" is the in-word, which we should either define or abandon.

The Communists use the word "detente" whenever they want to embarrass the West. While the Soviets present themselves as the champions of oppressed peoples outside Europe, particularly outside Eastern Europe, they make no attempt to promote liberty, equality or justice in their own country or in the satellite States.

In Helsinki Governments subscribed to certain principles and gave certain undertakings about East-West co-operation which should guarantee respect for fundamental freedoms, increased human contacts and a fuller flow of information. Since the Soviets interpret President Carter's views on this matter as interference in their internal affairs, surely we should raise the question of Soviet interference in, for instance, Hungary, Czechoslovakia or, more recently, Angola or Mozambique. Now, obliquely through the intervention of Soviet allies, there is a Cuban presence in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Surely these non-interference agreements are not confined to the 35 signatories of Helsinki. This is another point to be taken up at Belgrade. If we talk about non-interference in the internal affairs of countries, that should extend to the Third world, to Africa, South America and elsewhere. We should seek clarity and clarification of that issue.

It must be admitted that the advances of the last two years would appear to favour the Warsaw Pact more than us. If ever the Soviet Union were to conclude that the forces of the West were so weak that Europe no longer contained the germ of a potential third world war, the so-called policy of detente would be used to enslave the whole of Europe. That is our dilemma. We must actively pursue the quest of reduced tension between East and West, but on no account should we pursue the so-called policy of detente at the expense of our defence. I believe that the old adage is one to which we should pay heed now
"Let him who desires peace, prepare for war."

7.3 p.m.

One of the great joys of this country is that there are very wide areas of agreement spread out between those areas of disagreement which enliven the debates of this House, sometimes more than the agreements which unite us tonight. However, within the areas of agreement, that concerning human rights is pre-eminent. As the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said, we disagree not on what we are seeking to achieve but on the tactics by which we are seeking to achieve it.

I should like to consider one or two of the tactics and to ask the House to listen to views that I know some of my friends in the Soviet Union would dearly love to express were they here and to put to hon. Members who go to the Soviet Union. I know how much the efforts of hon. Members on all sides to assist are appreciated, and how much appreciation there will be for the words which have been expressed on all sides today, whether from the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies).

It is only through words such as those which go far beyond this House that these people have any hope of attaining the freedom that we enjoy and take so much for granted. It is only because we are able to magnify the cries of those who are stretched on the rack of persecution that those victims have any hope of being released. I pay tribute to those hon. Members who work on the all-party committee for the release of Soviet Jewry, which has been labouring for the past seven years, and to the current chairman, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury).

Efforts to help have been made by hon. Members on all sides, in this country, in Brussels, on visits to the Soviet Union and when Soviet parliamentarians come here, and these efforts are tremendously appreciated by those who are not in a position to express their appreciation.

The question is; what we should do at Belgrade? There is room for all sorts of instruments in any orchestra from the top brass down to the tiny piccolo. Equally there is room for both the quiet approach and for the open protest and demonstration. Those who meet the Soviets in private are able to express the views of the British people. But all sorts of demonstrations are required provided only that they are lawful. Every kind of protest is useful, provided only that it is not the sort of protest that the Soviets do not want to highlight—that is, the protest which comes outside the law of this country, where protest is free and proper.

Quiet moves made by Government are also important. The words of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary giving his assurance of continued support will be enormously appreciated. I am sure that when he said he had to resist the temptation to name individuals he meant the temptation to name them publicly, not privately. We all know that the private naming of individuals has saved lives and achieved freedom. Certain public protests have been very successful. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), when he was Prime Minister, called for the freedom, for example, of the Panovs and they were released swiftly thereafter.

One of the differences between the Soviet Union and the Nazi régime is that the Soviet Union listens to protests while the Nazis did not. These protests must continue to be made in this House and to echo throughout the free world. The naming of individuals is of great importance. The argument that I regard as vicious, unfair and pusillanimous is one that is sometimes put forward by those in our own ranks who say that it is "counter-productive" to name individuals because to do so will harm them. That is a shocking and cowardly argument.

I always recall the cries of the people who were incarcerated in Auschwitz and who demanded that their camp be bombed because that was their only hope of getting out. They said that if they were killed in the process they did not care. The Americans retorted that they could not bomb innocent people, that they had no right to do so, and so the victims of Auschwitz died in its gas chambers.

We must listen to the voices of those who cannot be here. They know best what will save their lives and get them out of prisons. They are the people who will suffer, not us. We, thank God, are free; they are in chains. They say "Name us, because if you do so we have a chance of getting the freedom you enjoy", and that for them is freedom in the United States or Germany or, in most cases, freedom to rejoin relatives in Israel.

"Parasitism" was referred to by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East. Josef Begun has been mentioned in the debate today. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) raised another case that has come to her attention and I asked her to name him. It is by naming these people that we can help them most. The Soviet authorities know that if a person is named and then he or she disappears, this House will be on guard and will take action. When a man like Anatoly Sharansky is in prison and he is named, there is hope for him. His wife comes to this country and says that we should name him, but some people in this country say that we should be quiet, because naming him will harm him and be counter-productive. It is not our right to say that; it is our duty to do as she asks.

There are many names that are familiar in this Chamber. Some are in prison: some are not, and it is no secret that their freedom is due to the fact that they were named not only by hon. Members in this House but by Senators, Congress men, French and Belgian Deputies and leaders in many parts of the Western world who will judge the Soviet Union not so much by the way it treats its millions but by the way it treats individuals.

It is much easier to picture individuals than millions of people. We have heard that President Amin has slaughtered between 90,000 and 100,000 human beings. That was in a report by the International Commission of Jurists, published yesterday. But people here are more likely to remember that he strangled, murdered and burned the body of one aged lady. We can picture one elderly lady but we cannot picture 90,000 people. We could not picture 6 million Jews who died in the gas chambers.

The individuals tell us to name them, and therefore we must name them. The individuals say that they are being held to ransom as an example to others, and if their freedom is achieved not only will others get out as well but the situation as a whole will improve.

Many Jews are afraid to apply for visas because they think that they will suffer the same fate as others have done in the past. I thank the Foreign Secretary for drawing attention to the fear of those people who would like to apply to leave Russia but do not dare to do so.

Whether there is a broad campaign of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union is a matter of dispute—even among Soviet Jews. Many believe that there is. Fewer young Jews are allowed into universities. Compared with 10 years ago there are very few in high places, although there are a few tame Jews who are paraded on ceremonial occasions. But it is very difficult for Jewish people to apply to leave the Soviet Union.

The Soviet authorities take in tax 70 per cent. of funds sent in to provide sustenance for people who have applied to leave. The number of visas has been cut down, as the Foreign Secretary said. There are more trials, persecutions and more harassment, and, as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East rightly said, whether or not this ill-treatment comes from the Soviet Government, the fact remains that the Government certainly do nothing to stop it, as they could if they wished—certainly in areas of the Press.

The Foreign Secretary and I may disagree on the question whether there is a direct campaign of anti-Semitism but we do not disagree that the increase in anti-Semitic activity must be stopped. Nor must we be fooled at any level by what the Russians say publicly.

What is heard in this House is important. What is heard on television and radio is much louder. Consider what may seem a fairly trivial example of this.

A very well-known broadcaster, Jimmy Young, went to the Soviet Union. He is my favourite disc jockey; he plays music that is right up my street. He went to Moscow and he was told he could talk about anything he liked. He interviewed a prominent apologist for the régime who said that everything in the Soviet Union was marvellous and that nobody was persecuted. That interview was broadcast not in the Soviet Union but in this country. We must not be conned. I challenge Jimmy Young to allow me to give the other side publicly in a country where people are free to speak. He should have asked Josef Begun, Academician Levich, Vladimir Slepak or Ida Nudel, or any other person who has been named in this Chamber, to say what he or she thinks about the freedom that Jimmy Young is prepared to accept exists in the Soviet Union.

We have the right and the duty to speak out for human rights in every part of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman) said that we must accept the positon as it is. I do not agree. We must constantly campaign with patience, care, courtesy and understanding, in a way best suited to our particular personality, to obtain freedom for these persecuted Soviet people who are among the most courageous that I have known.

I am not allowed into the Soviet Union, like some other hon. Members who have spoken today. The people that I have named are not allowed out. I hope that the echo of our voices here today will bring them warmth, comfort and good cheer. I hope that our voices will be heard again in Belgrade, and will ultimately secure the freedom of the enslaved.

7.17 p.m.

The Foreign Secretary said that there was no evidence yet of a broad-based, anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet Union. I hope that he is right. But his words brought back to me the memory of similar words—and I am sure he could find them if he looked in Hansard—said by Conservative Ministers about events in Germany before the last war. I hope that he will hearken to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) because this is the best way of ensuring that nothing similar happens, if it is still within our power to prevent it from doing so.

I was a student when I met Mr. Neville Chamberlain between the time of the Munich agreement and the occupation of Prague. I asked him about his policy of appeasement and he replied that we must give Hitler the benefit of the doubt. But how long do we give people the benefit of the doubt? At what stage do we decide that confrontation is safer than compromise or concession? Had we decided to stand up to Hitler earlier we might have saved the peace.

This meeting at Belgrade must not be treated as if it were an academic exercise in which points are scored one way or the other. It must be looked at against the background of mounting rearmament by the Soviets in Europe, and in the skies and on the seas all over the world. The war clouds are gathering in Africa, not only Southern Africa, which gives most concern, but in places like Libya and Algeria and in the Horn of Africa. This is a year of decision for France and Italy. This is not an academic debate—the Belgrade Conference is taking place at a critical period in the evolution of East-West relations.

Regarding Basket III, we have not had much change out of either the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact Powers, although I was very glad to hear the Foreign Secretary say that he was able to make an exception of Romania. That country has had a very tough régime but it is good to hear that it is expressing independence by being more independent on human rights than other countries. At the end of the day in Europe the question of Basket III will stand or fall by the Berlin Wall. As long as the wall is there, there is no real prospect for human rights.

This is not a European matter alone. I appreciate that the Helsinki Agreement referred only to Europe, but in this matter all men are brothers. The worst breaches and offences against human rights declarations have taken place in the last few months in Libya, Ethiopia and Uganda. All three are supported diplomatically by the Soviet Union. In the case of Ethiopia the support is financial, but Soviet instructors run the police in Uganda and the Soviets equip the Ethiopian armed forces.

The recent report by the International Commission of Jurists suggests that the situation in Uganda is not merely the responsibility of its barbaric President. He would not stay in power without money from Libya, an ally of the Soviet Union, nor would he stay in power if it were not for instructors sent by the Czechs, Cubans and East Germans to train his armed forces, or if he did not have a bodyguard drawn from the extreme Left wing of the PLO.

Is there any greater breach of human rights than an act of terrorism? Should there not be protection against crimes of murder in other countries? Yet on this matter the Soviet Union is ambivalent. The attitude of the Soviet Union appears to seek to dignify terrorists with some sort of combatant status.

In regard to Basket II, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), I have done my best to promote trade with the Eastern bloc countries. But they now owe us in the West $50 billion collectively—a very large sum of money. Despite the good credit rating of most Eastern European countries, there seems to be some anxiety in financial circles whether that liability can be discharged. Certainly there is no political pay-off, The Soviet Union has said publicly that detente means no diminution in the ideological struggle, nor does the borrowing of great sums of money from us mean any pay-off or improvement in relations on that account.

What has been the impact of the money we have lent? If they had not had that money, they would either have had to cut their defence budgets or tighten belts still further. With the aid of the money, they have been able to increase their defence expenditure without any added hardship to the considerable hardship which their people are already bearing. We must face the fact that we might as well give them—or sell them—weapons at a cut rate as to conclude the kind of deal into which we have entered. It would give the same advantages in terms of jobs and pay packets, and it would produce the same result overall. How right Lenin was to describe a capitalist as a man who sells you a rope with which you intend to hang him!

I turn to the crux of the matter—Basket I. In disarmament there has been no progress in SALT or at the Vienna talks on force reductions. The Soviets are stronger now in Europe, in the Indian Ocean, in Africa and in the Atlantic.

The position in Africa is interesting. On the east coast of Africa, from the Horn of Africa to the South African border, the only part of the continent that is not in Soviet hands is the Kenyan coast. All the rest of the territory offers facilities to the Soviet Union. On the west coast, the Soviets are well established in Luanda and in Guinea-Bissau, and to the north, in Algeria and Libya, they are offered all they want. Indeed, in Libya they appear to be stockpiling arms—not for the Libyan army, but for their own. In addition, the Soviets are masterminding guerrilla armies against South-West Africa, Rhodesia and Zaire, and with the support of Soviet instructors, aided by Cuban mercenaries.

What has been the Western response to the falling of the bastions of Western influence? It is difficult to characterise it in any other way than by use of the word "appeasement". The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made a speech in Maputo yesterday which was well reported in this morning's Press. What was the burden of his speech to those assembled there—a largely Left-wing dominated or Moscow-dominated audience who were baying for blood? The Minister said "Do not fight. We shall give it to you without the necessity for you to fight." That was his message. It was clear that he was not concerned to ensure that the majority should decide what happened but that he would take very much into account the claims of the guerrillas, whether in South-West Africa or Rhodesia. He and his American friends are working in concert. They are not concerned with principles.

When Zaire was attacked, not a word was said by the present British Government. There was no word of support for Morocco and Egypt or for the efforts made by President Giscard d'Estaing. What of Uganda? All we have had has been a condemnation in general terms. There is no question of any sanctions or any action to be taken against Uganda, and this is because it has the backing of the rival super Power.

I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not take it amiss if I remind him that President Podgorny said the other day that a black Smith in Rhodesia would be unacceptable to the Soviet Union. If a moderate black regime were to come into power in Rhodesia or in South-West Africa, would the Foreign Secretary urge the West to defend it against continued guerrilla attacks? I do not believe he would. I believe that the policies on which the Foreign Secretary and his American friends have decided involve avoiding confrontation with the Soviet Union at any price. They want to feed the crocodile in the hope that it will not chase us further.

I come back to where I began. How long do we give the Soviet Union the benefit of the doubt? How long do we go on pretending that the situation is not approaching a crisis point? How long do we continue to appease? It is on a par with the staircases one finds in Venice. There is a fine head to the staircase, with marble banisters, but when one tries to climb down it the steps begin to crumble—and if one is not careful one loses one's hold and falls. The Munich agreement led to the Second World War; the Yalta agreement led to the cold war, as well as to the Korean and Vietnamese wars. Will Helsinki lead to a Third World War? Belgrade must be the place where the buck stops. We should stop giving the Soviet Union the benefit of the doubt. Does that mean that I am saying that war is inevitable? No; it does not, but it will become inevitable if we continue to appease and to give ground in the way we are now doing.

7.28 p.m.

I lay in my bath the other morning listening to the radio and was dismayed to hear the BBC announcer refer to "the forthcoming Belgrade conference on human rights". I was not surprised because it is little wonder that even the well-informed journalists who compile the BBC news were not aware of the contents of the Helsinki Final Act.

At the beginning of the exercise, we, along with the other 34 signatories, were supposed to publicise the results as widely as possible in our countries. Obviously, we in the United Kingdom thought it sufficient publicity to issue a White Paper costing 75p, with a print order of a few thousand. We believed that that was sufficient publicity for what the Foreign Secretary has described as a document containing many exciting ideas.

In the Socialist countries, the full text of the Helsinki Agreement was published by the million. A friend of mine who led the Polish delegation and handled the negotiations in the years leading up to the Final Act told me that the section of the Final Act calling for full publicity to be given to the Act had been insisted upon by representatives of Western European countries because they thought that the Socialist countries would not wish to publish the full text. In the event, the reverse took place. The text was published and it was possible for the many millions of people in the Socialist countries to read it, but in this country only a few thousand people can have read the full text.

Indeed, a friend of mine, Mr. Gordon Schaffer, in an attempt to publicise the Helsinki Agreement, drew up a document putting all the main points of the agreement. It was published by the London co-operative movement and sold quite a number of copies. It was also translated into several European languages. That demonstrates to my satisfaction that we did not carry out even the first requirement of the Helsinki Agreement.

As a result of that, most people in this country believe that the Helsinki Agreement was concerned only with human rights. If those people listened to "Today in Parliament" at 11.15 p.m. tonight or "Yesterday in Parliament" at 11.45 a.m. tomorrow—provided that programme carries an accurate précis of the speeches that have been made here today—they will still be mistaken because most of the speeches today have been concerned with only that aspect. That is why I was glad that the Foreign Secretary indicated that there are many other aspects that he wishes to pursue in Belgrade. To give him his due, the Opposition spokesman also made that point. However, since then the speeches have almost totally concentrated on human rights and centred particularly on Jews.

I have no complaint about such speeches. Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to make speeches about what they see as the most important aspect of the matter. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) on behalf of those people for whom he has compassion. However, it is easy to be critical of other people and other countries and to forget what happens in our own country. One of my hon. Friends touched on this subject because he said that there are the questions that will be asked of us if we use the Belgrade Conference as an instrument for attacking the Soviet Union about human rights.

What about the Irish situation? We must answer on that. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, yet hon. Members were quite satisfied, for a number of years, to sit back and allow internment without trial. Admittedly that has now been stopped by this Government, but it went on previously. If any hon. Members are as interested in human rights as they appear to be, I suggest that they read the document that has been prepared by the Northern Ireland Civic Rights Association. That association is independent of any Catholic or Protestant influence. The document simply sets out to show those cases where innocent bystanders—men, women and children in Northern Ireland—have been killed and for whose deaths no one has ever been found guilty. People have been brought to trial but there has never been a conviction that has stood up in the appeal court. We have something to answer for.

We talk about the unification of families. I have many immigrants in my constituency from the Indian sub-continent and I have heard many harrowing tales of people who have had to wait between two and seven years for their families to join them. These people are permitted to have their families join them but there is often a long wait. Therefore, we have things to answer for.

We should remember in going to Belgrade that although we may point the finger at other countries—and not just Socialist ones—we cannot be satisfied that we have a completely clear conscience about what happens here.

Of course nobody can have a entirely clear conscience about what happens here, but there is a fundamental difference. In this country. Parliament is available so that grievances can be aired and, as far as the House can achieve it, redress obtained. There is no such redress or free Parliament in the Soviet Union.

I certainly accept that, but the method of organising society is different in the Soviet Union.

We have heard a little today about how the word "detente" should be defined. There are many different definitions, but there are also various definitions of the phrase "human rights". It is all very well for hon. Members to boast that the citizens of the United Kingdom have the right to travel within the EEC and to other countries quite freely if they wish to do so. One can say to an 18-year-old boy or a 16-year-old girl who has just left school, who has no job and cannot find one, "I am sorry that there is no job for you in our society. I do not know whether you will ever be trained for a worthwhile job but you may have social security of £9 to £10 a week and you may travel the world if you wish because you have that freedom." If one says that, one is likely to be told that it is rather a curtailed freedom because of the lack of money.

Should we not be concerned about rights and freedom in our own society when we are unable to provide employment and a proper standard of living for our citizens? We must exchange ideas on these matters with the Soviet Union and with other countries, but we must not go to Belgrade with the idea that everything that we do is correct and everything they do is wrong.

As for Jews, the Foreign Secretary said that after a careful examination of the facts he was not satisfied that there was a campaign aimed at the Jews, as such, in the Soviet Union—at dissidents, yes, but at Jews, no. Those who cry out so loudly about the Soviet Union's attitude to Jews—notwithstanding what the Foreign Secretary has said—should remember that 20 million citizens of the Soviet Union were killed in a war that was fought to ensure that there were some Jews left alive in Europe. They should recall that if that war had not been won by the allies—the Soviet Union, ourselves and the United States together—there would be no Jews who could emigrate from any part of Europe to Israel.

Does the hon. Gentleman not recall that the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression act with Germany at a time when the Jews were persecuted there, and that the reason why the Russians fought and lost so many people was that they were invaded by Germany?

That is a point of view, but it is also true that this country had a pact with Germany at a time when Jews were persecuted. Under the guidance of Chamberlain, this country was prepared to sign a non-aggression pact. If the Soviet Union did that, it did no worse than we did ourselves.

The facts are unarguable. Without the fight that the Soviet Union put up against Nazi Germany the Jews would have been anihilated. I do not mind hon. Members suggesting to the Foreign Secretary that he should concentrate on this matter in Belgrade but, important as human rights are, it is much more important to ensure that we develop that part of the Final Act which is concerned with disarmament, because we cannot claim that there has been the slightest progress in that direction. In fact, it was announced only the other day that we had agreed, on the insistence of President Carter, that we and our allies should step up the amount of money spent on arms by another 3 per cent.; that is, another £200 million contributed by this country each year.

It has been suggested that we should improve our readiness to meet the increasing power of the Soviet Union, but is the power of the Soviet Union being increased? If we ask anyone in the Soviet Union, he will say "No". I have heard the suggestion made in the House on many occasions, but it is always without documentary evidence and I do not wait until I come to the House to ask about these things.

Only last week we had at the British-Soviet Group two military experts from the Soviet Union who were passing through on their way from the United States. The hon. Members who show so much interest in these matters obviously missed the announcement in the Whip, but I went to the meeting with three other hon. Members and told the Russians that I wanted to ask them two questions. I asked why they were spending so much on arms and increasing their arms expenditure and why they were persecuting Jews in the Soviet Union.

They answered that they were not increasing expenditure on arms and that there was a real fall in the amount being spent on arms in the Soviet Union.

One of them, a lieutenant-general in the Red Army, said that he did not know much about my second question, but he was a Jew and had never been subjected to persecution of any kind. That bears out what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said. As a Jew, that man was not persecuted. If he had been a dissident he might have been persecuted.

The hon. Gentleman will have read his own Government's White Paper on defence. Is he saying that the information compiled by the British and American Governments and the NATO intelligence system that is summarised in the White Paper is eyewash or does he believe it could be true?

I think that it is subject to further verification. Successive defence White Papers have said that there is no concrete evidence of any aggressive military intention by the Soviet Union against the West.

The Foreign Secretary is not going to Belgrade, but I am satisfied with the person he has appointed to represent us. I hope that in the conference that takes place on 15th June the rôle of the British delegation will be constructive. We should point out the errors of the ways of other countries and we could ask the Turkish Government why they have troops occupying the sovereign area of another signatory to the agreement. Such questions could be asked of all 35 countries participating in the conference, but we should not look upon the conference as another instrument in the continuing political war between the East and West on the lines of the despondency that ran through the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). He denied that he believed in the inevitability of war but that was the only conclusion that one could draw from his speech.

7.44 p.m.

I was interested in the references of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) to information given to him by two people from the Soviet Union to the effect that the defence budget had been reduced. With the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), I was a member of the IPU delegation that went to the Soviet Union about three weeks ago. We pursued a number of matters, including defence, where we came up against the problem of different interpretation of statistics.

The Soviet Union claims that last year it reduced its defence budget by 7·2 per cent., but the Government's White Paper and other evidence available in the West that is based on pretty objective information suggests that Soviet defence forces have increased, in real terms, by 5 per cent. a year over the last five years and now represent 12 per cent. or 13 per cent. of the Soviet Union's gross national product.

Even allowing for misunderstandings about statistics—there is a need for long discussions with the Soviet Union about the interpretation of defence statistics—the evidence in the White Paper about the preponderance of the Warsaw Pact in conventional terms in Central Europe, the growing strength of the Soviet Union's northern fleet and the dramatic expansion of the Soviet navy to all parts of the globe was not denied in the IPU discussions.

The hon. Member for Leyton set out our discussions in the Soviet Union fairly and accurately, and I did not disagree with any of the main impressions that he formed on our visit. I wish to say one or two words on the Helsinki Final Act and detente and to incorporate my experience of that visit in my remarks.

We discussed thoroughly the Act and the progress that could be made under it. I reached the firm conclusion after our visit that if we are to persevere with negotiations for peace, it is essential to talk to the Soviet leaders and to seek more of an understanding with them and the Soviet people than we have at present. This should be mutual, and there should be far more exchange between our countries and between the Western and Eastern worlds. We must go on talking and talking because, in the words of Mr. Vorster, the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

I got the impression that Soviet leaders respect blunt speaking and, unfortunately, strength, and these are factors that we must understand in our relationship with the Soviet Union.

I believe that the Final Act could be a long-term instrument—and I stress "long-term"—for building peace between East and West. The Belgrade conference provides an important first opportunity to evaluate progress under the Act and to review how things are going in a frank and straight manner.

It would be wrong to make Belgrade a polemical occasion, since the Russians are genuinely frightened that we may turn it into a crusade and use court room procedures. That would be counter-productive, and everything would come to a halt. However, if we are frank, straight and objective in our assessment of the progress made under the Act, steps may be taken in the right direction.

In our assessment of human rights and Basket III, it is natural that we should discuss the Soviet Union, because it was one of the main signatories to the agreement. However, when discussing human rights it is essential to avoid the danger of falling into the trap of double standards. The Soviet Union is rightly a topic of interest in the debate, but we must be equally concerned with human rights in many other countries. Uganda, South Africa, Chile, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Czechoslovakia are but a few examples.

It is essential that we should be impartial and objective in our approach. We must be prepared to answer charges made against us in the West about our standards. For example, during our visit to Moscow the Northern Ireland issue was raised. We must point out that the difference in our procedures is very marked. We must make it clear that we have an open procedure and that when allegations have been made about human rights they have been taken to the European Court of Human Rights. We have an open procedure, and the Russians can come and observe it if they wish, whereas in the Soviet Union we do not believe that there is a fair system of trial. Although by no means do we have a perfect system, it is in marked contrast to the system in the Soviet Union.

The United Nations machinery has been demonstrated to be utterly farcical by the terrible situation that has developed, for example, in respect of Uganda. The Human Rights Commission of the United Nations was set up to maintain standards of human rights in every country of the world. In fact, it has been biased, and it has been impossible to get effective action when required. I have in mind the allegations that are being made in respect of Uganda. I agree entirely with the view of President Carter that the Human Rights Commission needs to be strengthened and given teeth. In the Helsinki Final Act we have a basis upon which we can make some progress between East and West in Europe on the subject of human rights.

We found in the Soviet Union—it is quite understandable, because of our different systems—that we came up against a problem as a result of misunderstandings in the interpretation of human rights. What do we mean by human rights? Probably every one of us in the Chamber has different views on the matter. We found in our talks that the Russians were always wanting to put emphasis upon human rights as they saw them—for example, the right to full employment, the right to have a free health service and the right to free education. Incidentally, many Russians did not realise that we have a free health service and a free education system. That highlights an incredible lack of understanding of what goes on in the Western world. In contrast, we were putting emphasis on the freedom of conscience and the freedom of worship and thought. There is bound to be disagreement, when Lenin himself said that
"Freedom is a bourgeois prejudice."
We are bound to be looking at human rights in a different light, because of our history, experience and philosophical beliefs. The Act itself seems to interpret human rights in the broadest possible sense. At least this provides a basis for discussion between East and West.

I now come to the argument that when certain matters are raised in respect of the Soviet Union it is said that our interest in them represents gross interference in the Soviet Union's internal affairs. They pointed out that the important 10 principles include the inviolability of frontiers and non-intervention in other people's affairs, but we lay stress upon the seventh principle, which highlights the importance of human rights and respect for them.

It is important to point out to the Soviet Union and other countries that the need to uphold human rights is enshrined not merely in the United Nations Charter but in the Final Act. Therefore, it is a valid basis for discussion between our two sides. It is essential—we did this when in Moscow—to highlight that we in the West, as part of our democratic system, pay respect to public opinion, and that when public opinion feels strongly, as it does, about human rights, that is bound in turn to have an effect, directly or indirectly, on inter-State relations. That is another factor that it is important for the Soviet Union to understand.

We come to the issues that have been raised about the development of human rights in the Soviet Union. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), who said that we must understand that the history of the Soviet Union is very different from that of this country. Indeed, the people of the Soviet Union do not view freedom in the same way as we do. They have known virtually nothing else in their history—whether under the Tsars or under Communist régimes—than authoritarian rule. When we consider the issue of human rights in the Soviet Union, we must do so with that perspective in mind.

Nevertheless, it is a matter of international concern that the Jews in the Soviet Union should be permitted to emigrate to join their families in Israel or elsewhere if they wish to do so. It seems that there are still about 280,000 Jewish applicants wishing to emigrate. That is an important factor. Although we do not know the precise number, we know that there are a great number of political and religious prisoners. Amnesty International says that there are 10,000, whereas the Economist recently stated that there are 1½ million. That is another factor for concern.

We are concerned, rightly, about the treatment of so-called dissidents. The Russians told us that they are criminals and hooligans. Very well, if that is what they feel, surely they should have fair and open trials, so that their own people and the Western world may judge whether that is really the case.

We observe the treatment of people such as Professor Orlov, who was trying only to operate with a group of people in Moscow who were monitoring the progress of the Final Act. What could be more reasonable than that? We observe the fact that Professor Orlov has been arrested and has not yet been given a fair trial. In other satellites—Poland and Czechoslovakia, particularly—we see similar repression and abuse of human rights.

It is essential that we should concentrate on Basket III and regard it as important in the Belgrade review. It involves the question of the Jewish emigrants, the reuniting of families, and freer travel for those who live in the Soviet Union. Under Basket III there is a need for a much stronger understanding between our countries, so that we may dispel the ignorance that exists on both sides of our different positions. In that way, by means of continual dialogue, we can enhance the prospect of peace.

I end by touching briefly on the general question of detente, which is of the greatest importance. A great many people in the Soviet Union—I am sure the majority of those who actually live in the country—and the majority of those in the Western world, want to see a relaxation of tension and an improvement of relations, but not on Russian terms only. We are entitled to ask—we should be doing ourselves a disservice if we did not—whether it is real and genuine detente if we try to reach an agreement with a chap on one subject and find that on another subject he stabs us in the back.

I welcome increased trade between the Soviet Union and Great Britain. That is an important development. We want more trade and more exchanges, but we must point out that if the Soviet Union wants our technology it is not right—indeed, it is dangerous—that it should divert some of its resources to undermine the position of the West, whether that is by the expansion of its defence force or by creating a more difficult situation for us on the African continent. We cannot help but observe that it is trying to make the situation more difficult for the West in Angola and Mozambique and that it is developing an offensive capability in their defence forces. At home it is still persecuting and imprisoning.

I come to the conclusion that the best chance for long-term peace for our country and for the West in general is for the West to show greater resilience and determination in its relationship with the Soviet Union.

Mr. Richard Nixon, during a broadcast last week, paraphrased in his own language one of Lenin's instructions:
"If you encounter mush, proceed. If you encounter steel, withdraw."
I maintain that there has been too much mush in the West for too long. What we need from the West is a steely determination to maintain, for example, the military balance, and to warn the Soviet Union that if it tries to undermine our position we must feel bound to respond. If the Russians want an improvement in the situation, we shall be only too ready to respond if they demonstrate that wish by practical action.

Whatever the motives of the Russians, we must warn them that we are prepared to react to any undermining of our position. They must understand that we believe in our own kind of freedom, that we are prepared to fight for our own kind of freedom, and that at the end of the day—they can judge this best from our history—we are prepared to die for our freedom.

I believe that this new Western resilience which is now required could lead to a realisation in Russia that it would be in the Russians' self-interest to coexist with us peacefully. Surely, at the end of the day, détente will flourish only when that massive insult to mankind—the Berlin Wall—is dismantled. When that happens, I believe that we shall have a good chance of making progress towards peace.

Order. I remind the House that approximately one hour remains for nine hon. Members who have been present throughout the whole of this excellent debate to speak. I should like to accommodate them all, but I have no power to limit the length of speeches. I leave it entirely in the hands of hon. Members

8.2 p.m.

As you have correctly said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this has been an excellent and interesting debate.

I do not believe that we can have double standards in terms of human rights. Therefore, when I criticise the Soviet Union, as I shall, I should make it clear that, were South Africa or Chile signatories at Helsinki, I should also criticise them. The standards that we use must be the same—they must be objective standards.

My hon. Friend the Member for Old-ham, East (Mr. Lamond) was, in my view, propounding an unusual argument. If, for the sake of argument, he and I were fond of kicking people as they lay on the ground and one day I came up to him as he was kicking a poor man on the ground and said "Why are you kicking that poor man on the ground?" and he replied "Why say that to me when you kick people on the ground?", that would be no solution to the poor man lying on the ground whom he was kicking.

My hon. Friend's argument, that if we can show that in other countries there is injustice, that therefore prevents the criticism of injustice elsewhere, would stultify criticism of Chile, South Africa and Uganda as well as the Soviet Union. I do not accept that argument. It is possible for those in this House who criticise our actions in Ulster or elsewhere to use the opportunity of debates on those issues to criticise the Government.

I spent a lot of time with the Russians from 1946 to 1948. I was trained by the Army as a Russian interpreter. I have since taken some interest in Russian affairs. I can fairly easily read Soviet newspapers and literature.

I am not inspired by any desire to knock the Soviet Union. However, I am inspired by a desire to improve the dignity of individuals and to ensure that they have more freedom wherever they live. The fact is that in the Soviet Union—one of the signatories to the Helsinki Agreement—there are matters of criticism in those areas.

The first point that I should like to make relates to trials in the Soviet Union. I make a personal point. The International Commission of Jurists, which has just published its report on President Amin, has from time to time published reports on other regimes. When it is critical of South Africa, as it often is, the South Africans say that it is a Communist organisation, and when it publishes attacks on the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union says that it is a Fascist organisation. That is the hard road that a human rights crusading organisation such as that has to tread.

The ICJ sent me to South Africa and South-West Africa to observe trials. What I found did not please me, and I criticised what I saw.

I have made three attempts since 1967, on behalf of Amnesty International and other organisations, to enter the Soviet Union for the purpose of acting as an observer, as a lawyer who knew some Russian and as a British Member of Parliament, at the trials of Soviet citizens.

We have an open system of attending trials. It seemed to me that the Russians might have paid me the compliment of assuming that I would report what I had observed in as detached a way as I could. In fact, this enormous empire, this huge and powerful State, seems to regard itself as insufficiently strong to permit a solitary British Back-Bench Member of Parliament, or indeed any other observer, to witness a Soviet trial.

I have been to the Soviet Union on one occasion. That was with an Inter Parliamentary Union delegation in 1968. That had nothing to do with issues such as human rights. All the delegates were asked what they would like to see in particular. I asked to see a Soviet court. After a pause, that was agreed to. But somehow or other it was always delayed. There was always something else happening, and I was not taken to see a Soviet court.

I do not know why the Soviets are so nervous. If they have nothing to hide—one hopes that they have not—they should be prepared to open their courts to foreign observers. If they say that there is no denial of human rights to dissidents, Jews, Christians or Tartars, one way of disproving the charge, one way of bringing in the fresh air that they need to prove their innocence of the charge, is to allow foreign observers to attend trials. They do not allow that. One hopes that when an attempt is made to send an observer to the trial, whenever it should take place, of Professor Orlov, they will at last decide on a change of policy.

It goes against the spirit of the Helsinki Agreement to deny entry into the Soviet Union for the purpose of attending court proceedings. The Soviets must learn that it does not show ineradicable hostility to the Soviet Union to want to observe what goes on there in order to make an independent judgment. I am not prepared to accept from two Soviet officers, as I should not be prepared to accept from two United States officers or two Ugandan officers, what they say about what goes on in their country about freedom, levels of expenditure or anything else. It is better to have an open society.

I hope that the Soviet Union will gain the necessary self-confidence in the end to run an open society. So far it does not seem to have achieved that confidence. The Russians react with hostility so that when one asks to observe a Soviet trial one is not permitted entry. The first time that I asked to be allowed to observe a trial in the Soviet Union, in 1967, I received a reply. Latterly I have received no replies to my requests for entry for that purpose.

Reference has been made to the separation of families. This morning I received a letter from Bradford about a man in the Soviet Union called Lev Gen-din who, in 1970, applied for exit from the Soviet Union. His wife left the Soviet Union with permission in 1972. He has not been permitted to join his wife. At various times he has spent 160 days in prison. I know of no comparison in British practice to that, despite the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Old-ham, East. This man lost his job as an electrical engineer and he has been doing rough work or been unemployed. All that man sought to do was to join his wife outside the Soviet Union.

The Helsinki Final Act states that the signatory States shall deal in a positive and humanitarian spirit with applications of persons who wish to be united with members of their families and that such cases shall be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. That man has been waiting seven years and has been suffering from persecution. Surely it cannot hurt the Soviet Union to release people of that kind. Such actions have led to the suspicion that people are prevented from leaving and are persecuted simply to keep down the number of applications from citizens who wished to leave.

If a country considers that its system is sound and that it can stand comparison with other systems, it should have the courage to allow its citizens free movement. The European Convention on Human Rights and other documents concerning that subject stress that there should be free movement out of a country.

The Soviet Union could ease the hostility towards it if it dealt with and reformed its psychiatric practices in relation to those who offend politically. It is unfortunate that the Soviet Union has found a method of avoiding putting dissidents on trial. The Soviets have avoided putting on trial literary people and others who may have committed no offence under Western law but may have committed an offence under Soviet law. They are declared insane because of a psychiatric illness. For instance, practising Christians are regarded as being psychiatrically unstable because of their belief in God.

Unfortunately, they tend to run up against the Serbsky Institute in Moscow, which is run by the MVD and the KGB—the Ministry of Internal Security and the State Security Committee. Once a man is certified as insane, either on the grounds of paranoic behaviour or of schizophrenia, he is regarded as being unfit to plead. Once he is regarded as being unfit to plead, he cannot stand trial because he is held to be not responsible for his acts.

If one can get a man certified by a KGB psychiatrist, often in uniform, one can avoid putting that man on trial and avoid unpleasant publicity. One can also avoid people from the West observing a trial and foreign journalists standing around the court. That happened to Bukovsky and others.

Soviet medicine had a high reputation. It is a tragedy that Soviet psychiatrists should behave in this way. One psychiatrist, a Mr. Gluzman, revolted against the system and was sent to prison. One has to be very courageous in the Soviet Union to buck against the system.

It could be said that if one makes this criticism of the Soviet Union one is bound up in some imperialist game, that one is being manipulated in some way, just as if one attacks America one could be accused of playing the KGB game. If we see the oppression of and injustice for human beings it is the duty of all of us to speak out, as we speak out against General Amin and what is happening in Chile.

As one of the great nations of the world, the Soviet Union must lose the inferiority complex which makes it so sensitive to criticism. It must have more confidence in its régime, if it is as good as its leaders think it is, so that its people may have choice and its dissidents may be treated with more dignity.

I have never taken the view that criticism of human rights in the Soviet Union should concentrate only on the Jews. One is entitled to raise a voice in protest against its treatment of writers, musicians, engineers, dancers, Christians, Tartars and atheists. If there is repression it is the duty of those who can see it and have the opportunity to speak, to speak out. I have been a member of Amnesty International for many years. I do not come to this debate simply to wallop the Soviet Union.

I am disturbed when I hear Opposition Members attacking the Soviet Union and saying nothing about South Africa and Chile. It is also disturbing to hear some of my hon. Friends attacking South Africa and Chile and saying nothing about the Soviet Union. The prime responsibility of hon. Members is to defend democracy itself. Democracy must mean the defence of human rights. It must mean upholding human rights and dignity, standing up for habeas corpus and encouraging freedom. We must speak everywhere in the world, no matter what annoyance that causes to members of one's own party, to other parties or to the States concerned.

I believe that the Soviets have listened. They now listen to decibels of protests if they are long and loud enough. That is why I have taken the opportunity to speak in this debate.

There seems to have been a misunderstanding about my appeal to hon. Members earlier. I appealed for brevity in speeches.

8.19 p.m.

The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) has done a service to the debate by widening the definition of the violation of human rights. He has brought in a new dimension about which he is an acknowledged authority in the House.

The House has done well to stick to its tradition by emphasising Basket III of the Final Act—the human rights issue. I shall do the same. Before I come to that, I want to repeat what has been said from both Front Benches and other parts of the House. That is that the Helsinki Final Act is only a part—though it may be an important part—of the whole purpose of this House, this country and the West. It is only part of the job of trying to bring about a more stable East-West relationship.

The other part, of course, must be the mutual and balanced force reductions between the East and the West. That is perhaps even more important than Helsinki, because that is where the real fear lies—in the vast increase in Soviet arms expenditure. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) about this. He accompanied me, with other hon. Members, to Moscow the other day. This is the question that the Soviets will not answer. What is the purpose of this massive build-up in offensive arms? They are not merely purely defensive arms in order to maintain a balance with the West but massive offensive weaponry and maritime forces that can be used only in circumstances other than the defence of the Soviet Union.

Having said that, I must stick very briefly to the question of Basket III, the human rights issue. It is very important that this issue should stand alone and on its own merits, because this is not part of the great ideological war between the East and the West. Human rights stand above that war. I think that it has come out in the House today extremely well how these are issues about which all of us in the House and the people we represent feel deeply.

This is not part of a massive campaign in order to undermine the stability of the Soviet Union. It may be, of course, that freedom of speech would undermine the stability of the Soviet Union. I believe that that is what the Soviets think. Nevertheless, we here feel that a greater degree of freedom and an end to the obvious violation of human rights in that country, as well as in other countries, stand out on their own and must be supported and discussed absolutely on their own merits.

As our arguments were countered by the Soviet leaders in the Kremlin a week or two ago, undoubtedly the same arguments will be put forward in Helsinki—that this emphasis on the individual human rights of people living within the Soviet Union or other countries is part of a great campaign in order to bring down the whole philosophy of Marxist-Leninist Communism, or whatever one calls it. Though that may well be the long-term effect of it, the whole purpose of our speaking out and of individuals in the West speaking out is in order to help the people who are affected deeply in Soviet Russia by any violation of the basic human rights as we see them. Therefore, this has been an extremely useful debate in bringing this point home.

I was privileged to raise these issues, as frankly but as courteously as I could, with the Soviet leaders the other day, with my colleagues. I emphasise and underline what other hon. Members have said—that we have to speak out about these issues fearlessly and firmly on every possible occasion. It is no use pussyfooting and trying to pretend that the Soviets respect us if we do not say the things that we really mean and about which we feel deeply.

Although I can fully understand the view of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the need of the Government not to take governmental action on individual cases openly—because that could be harmful to the individuals concerned—I think that it is right for private individuals, Members of Parliament and associations in this country to express abhorrence of violations of human rights whenever they occur.

I entirely agree that there should not be double standards in this matter. We have got to be prepared to stand up to criticisms, from wherever they may come, of what happens in this country and what happens in countries for which we have been or are responsible. We shall have those attacks. We shall have to expect an attack from the Soviet Union on the high level of unemployment in this country. That is natural. We shall have to expect an attack on our activities in Northern Ireland. That is to be expected. But we must answer those attacks openly and clearly, and in doing so we must show up the need for other countries, such as the Soviet Union, to answer the attacks upon them when we accuse them of violations of the normal human practices, as we have done today.

Helsinki was the beginning of what will be a very long, slow process of trying to ease the tension between both sides. It cannot be expected to work in a matter of two or three years. I do not believe that the Soviet Union intends it to work other than at the Soviets' own pace, the pace of its choosing. I believe that the more we try to hammer at the Soviets to rush into some of the proposals to which they agreed at Helsinki, the less likely it is that the Belgrade Conference will be a success and the more likely it is that there will be increasing tension between the East and the West. We must try to continue the steady pressure to get a change in relationships between the East and the West, but we cannot expect it all to happen overnight. We should go into these negotiations realising that the amount of progress that we shall make is limited but yet whatever progress we do make is worth while, and it is only one more step on a very long road.

8.23 p.m.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that he was rather surprised to discover that he was not actually invited to the Belgrade conference because it is a meeting of Heads of State—although a Minister of State would be there. Perhaps I misunderstood that. However, it seems to me that the really crucial issue facing us is that of the preparations for the conference rather than the conference itself. That may seem a rather strange thing to say, but in my view the preparations for this conference, to be started on 15th June, seem to be the most critical part of the arrangements.

As for the Belgrade conference itself, I think that on present form it is likely to be a rather frustrating and, on the whole, rather disappointing affair. I do not say that in a knocking spirit. I hope that many of the aspects mentioned so eloquently by my hon. Friends, particularly the human rights aspect, will play a very important part in the conference, but I think that on the whole it will be a frustrating affair, because the Russians now feel very uncertain about Belgrade.

The House will recall that it was the Russians' propaganda offensive which led to the idea that there should be some kind of pan-European conference and which eventually led to the Helsinki accords. The Soviet Union used a great deal of its influence through indigenous Communist parties and its diplomatic machinery to bring about such a conference, because it hoped and believed that it would yield great results and great rewards for the Soviet system. Of course, the Russians wanted some lasting arrangement with the West because they wanted credits and access to Western technology. That much we know. We know that the Russians were prepared to pay a price, I believe a reasonably heavy price, for access to that technology. But what they completely underestimated was the profound political implications of Helsinki, which I believe the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) underestimates.

I believe that the Russians are profoundly worried by the growth of Euro-Communism. That may be thought a strange thing for me to say. Why should a Democratic Socialist like me say something like that? From a Western point of view, we have our own concerns about the growth of Euro-Communism. However, that is not the point. The interesting thing is to look as far as one can at the Russian assessment of Euro-Communism.

An analysis of anything the Russians have said, of any of the statements they have made about the Portuguese, Spanish, Italian or French Communist Parties, all adds up very clearly to one message—that the Soviet Union does not understand how to react to Euro-Communism. The Russians look with deep suspicion on its growth and think that it is all tied up with the Western campaign on human rights, and aimed at them. They think that at Belgrade they will be attacked not only by the Western Powers —obviously, for human rights lapses, and so on—but by Western Communist Parties, which will all issue hostile statements before the conference.

One can imagine the situation. The Russians will have to contend with that. I do not believe that we in this country, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in particular, have given sufficient thought to that aspect, which will put the Russians in a very defensive mood.

It seems to me there are minimum demands that we must make and have met in Belgrade. I hope that it does not turn out to be the frustrating occasion that I expect, because there are a number of vital matters that must be at least stated and conceded in Belgrade. But there will be a great deal of trouble.

We have concentrated on Basket III, but I should like to say something about Basket I, where it seems to me we shall have the greatest difficulty, because there will be a great argument about interpretation of the sixth principle, dealing with non-intervention in the affairs of other States. The Russians interpret that not as non-intervention but as non-interference, a much broader interpretation than non-intervention, where I think we have much more in mind a military intervention. The Russians have a much broader conception in their argument about non-interference. That is why they are mounting a campaign against Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. They look upon those radio networks as interfering in the legitimate affairs of the Soviet Union. They have not attacked the BBC, but that is always on the cards.

Therefore, it seems to me that the question of the access of material to the Soviet Union, freedom to get not only newspapers but the written and spoken word into the Soviet Union, is critical to the whole question of detente. We should get information across to the wider public in the Soviet Union and not just to the dissidents. Much as I believe that it is right to concentrate on the dissidents, I think that it is wrong to concentrate narrowly on them, because there must be a larger segment of the population inside the Soviet Union who have no desire to leave but who are dissatisfied with the amount of information they are given and the simple lies that they are told on issue after issue.

The critical matter in Belgrade is to make sure that we do not move one inch on this issue. If we can maintain that the Russians' interference with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty is an attempt to negate the whole idea of Helsinki, the whole exercise may be frustrating, but in the long run it will be worth while.

8.35 p.m.

To many hon. Members this may seem strange ground to hear me upon, but it is strange only in this Chamber. All of those who had the chance to spend some of their studying years abroad, as I did, and any who were in Berlin in 1961, will know well why I feel particularly fervent on this issue. Having been in East Berlin just a few days before the wall was built and having brought elderly ladies' bags across in the train late at night, when we all knew that things were up, one is left with a completely ineradicable memory of what that wall has done between East and West Berlin.

Even this year and last year, the tearful partings at Checkpoint Charlie, as elderly and not-so-elderly people went back into the eastern part of Berlin, were enough to remind everyone of the reality of the situation of that part of the division in Western Europe. Even more dramatic, perhaps, is the area known as the three corners of East Germany, West Germany and Czechoslovakia, where years ago I saw farm houses and normal farming scenery behind the wall. That ground has now been flattened by the bulldozer into a completely straight strip.

People in this country and in the world at large should be more aware not simply of what happens between East and West Germany, or just in the Soviet Union, but worldwide, on the issue of human rights and human freedoms.

Two years ago the Helsinki Final Act was viewed with some scepticism, I think, but we view with a little anxiety the steps that may be attempted at the Belgrade preparation conference on 15th June. We know how vital those stepping stones will be towards the October discussions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said that the real cause for concern was the inadequate progress of nations towards achieving human rights. I should like to say why I think that, in the context of Belgrade, it is important to voice our fears about what has gone on in the two years since the Act was signed.

Basket III contains political aspirations rather than any legal intention towards the freer movement of people, ideas and information. That is a legitimate reason for concern for people throughout the world. It is no accident that the Foreign Secretary spoke today about "standing up for democracy". It is only by developing democracies that tyranny, whether in Chile or in the Soviet Union, can be combated.

It is often said that there are too many armchair democrats around. I fear that unless we continue to speak out there is a danger that there will be more armchair democrats—people who pay lip service to, and value, what we have in this country, but who do not look beyond our shores or beyond those of Europe.

I was amused, and in one way saddened, about the Jimmy Young show broadcast from the Soviet Union this week. The carefully selected Vladimir Pozner said on that programme, to 6 million listening United Kingdom citizens, that there was religious freedom in the Soviet Union. He denied that there was official persecution of critics of the Kremlin or persecution of the Jews.

However, when the Controller of Radios 1 and 2 was asked how people were chosen to take part in the programme, he said:
"We told them"—
meaning the Russians—
"the areas we were interested in and asked them to provide experts who could speak fluent English. We had tremendous co-operation from the Soviets."
I am not surprised, because the Soviet intention obviously is to put over the story that they want believed.

But we have a duty to look behind the curtains. We have a duty to know what has been going on. We have never expected quick change, in spite of Helsinki. However, we had hoped not to see any steps backwards. Yet in the two years 1973 and 1974, 54,000 Soviet emigrants went to Israel, compared, on the available figures, with only half that number—fewer than 28,000—in 1975 and 1976. In the two years following the Final Act, about half the number of exit visas have been issued. That does not seem to be progress.

We also have to remember that the fee for an exit visa has been dropped from 400 to 300 roubles for people wishing to leave the country, but anyone wishing to go to Israel has to pay an additional 500 roubles for an exit visa. That goes against the spirit of Helsinki.

We now know that a stricter interpretation is being used of the definition of "family" for emigration purposes. This has very serious implications for reunification.

The Soviets have tightened their rules on incoming gift cash, and that is detrimental to prospective emigrants. They have increased the duties on gift merchandise and have put a stricter limit on the number of items that can be sent to relations in a single package. This is very unfortunate in terms of so-called progress, although that is not to deny that there has been some progress, particularly in the satellite States.

But it is not just for those people who wish to leave the Soviet Union or the Eastern bloc countries that I am concerned; it is also for the freedoms of those who wish to stay and to live freely in the Soviet Union, their home country, and to worship as they would wish.

Many people are trying quietly to assist. Some are more outspoken. But we do not concentrate enough on those who wish to remain and for whose freedoms within the Soviet Union there needs to be consideration in the deliberations at Belgrade.

We know that there is a major risk to anybody applying to leave the Soviet Union. We heard of the seven "refusniks" who, on 4th March, following a newspaper article, had a simultaneous raiding of their homes. This sort of act is not what we expect to see following the Helsinki agreement.

We know, too, that documents have been wantonly destroyed, and we can cite case after case where the Soviet Union has created a big problem for itself, because actions of this sort, by restricting freedom, bring about a greater demand to leave the country. The suppression of ideas can do nothing but lead to a greater undermining of freedom, and perhaps a stricter enforcement against those people who wish to speak out within the Soviet Union.

In the West we believe in the defence of individual freedoms. Normally we do not indulge in the practice of attacking those who are unable to defend themselves. As I have said, there have been improvements, but many of the people for whom we speak in this House and in a wider sphere have seen none of these freedoms.

We can cite the case of Ida Nudel, who in May 1971 applied for an exit visa and in January 1972 lost her job. She then learned that she was supposed to have State secrets. She had been a food hygienist, and said that the only secrets she had were those of the mice who ran round the shops in which she had tried to control food hygiene.

These are the realities that did not come over in the radio programme from Moscow that we heard in Britain this week. The reality of what is happening within the Soviet Union is not known to many of the people there. We have a duty and a major responsibility to see that, through the discussions leading up to the conference in October, we make sure that the reality of the situation is faced and help the Soviet Union to realise what it is doing against the interests of peace and not even in the interests of pursuing its own great might and power.

8.44 p.m.

All speeches should start with a resounding statement of the obvious, and many of them do. My opening statement is no less important for being obvious. It is that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the foundation of a free and democratic society—Basket I. So, too, is the unity of the family—Basket III. President Carter is quite right to strive for the recognition of these rights of human beings everywhere. But the question not yet posed, which should be posed, is: how far this can be advanced within the limits of foreign policy?

President Carter is using human rights as an instrument of diplomacy, and human rights is now the most visible element of American foreign policy. If one asks why it is the most visible element of American foreign policy, one explanation is the obvious one of Watergate, Vietnam and all the other trauma, and thus the need for Mr. Carter to inject into American foreign policy a high moral content—and there is nothing that the Americans like more than a high moral content. So, clearly, Mr. Carter has a constituency in the United States which wishes very strongly to emphasise human rights as such.

But diplomacy is the art of what one can achieve, the art of the possible. The United States has the power to stop financial aid to those States of which it disapproves—for example, some States in Latin America, including the Argentine, although it has not yet stopped financial aid to Mozambique, where there is a great deal of repression. But what means has the United States or the United Kingdom or the West to induce the USSR, or any other members of the Soviet bloc, to stop arresting intellectual opponents of the régime, those who, within the Soviet Union, demand the observance of the Helsinki Agreements?

The answer is that we have none, because the Final Act of Helsinki is not a treaty. None of the undertakings contained within it is enforceable in any sense. The Soviet Union is not a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. If it was, we would all have marched the Soviet Government to Strasbourg years ago.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Marshal Brezhnev—he has made himself a Marshal of the Soviet Union and is bedecked with more medals than one can imagine—regard the Carter policy as being actively hostile to the interests of the Soviet Union and as threatening the legitimacy of the Soviet State. On this point they are more sensitive than any other, because they are illegitimate in the proper sense of the word, having seized power in 1917 by an act of revolution, and the human rights isue underlines to the world the essential illegitimacy of the Soviet regime itself.

Marshal Brezhnev has described the human rights attitude of President Carter as
"intervention, direct or indirect, individual or collective, in the internal or external affairs falling within the domestic jurisdiction of another participating State…"
—quoting Basket I of the Final Act. He has further declared that any interference in the affairs of the Soviet Union is "intolerable", and that such intervention, of course, will make normal international relations quite impossible.

This, no doubt, is largely bluff, because the USSR on balance has gained more from detenté than have the United States and its allies. More importantly, Basket II will speed up the process whereby the Soviet Union has access to our grain and our machinery, and loans at lower than the market rate, and it is this which is so important to the Soviet Union, which, although it is a military super-Power, is not yet an economic super-Power, and will never become so until or unless we in the West are able to supply it with grain, machinery and the know-how which will enable it to do so.

Clearly, whatever Brezhnev says, it is highly unlikely that the Soviet Union will stop the SALT negotiations with the United States by which the nuclear stalemate is maintained simply because of the nuisance caused by the external support for intellectuals within the Soviet Union, which its police can most easily contain.

Whether we like it or not, the Soviet Union is a highly stable society. Whatever Jimmy Carter may say, or whatever we may feel about the negation of human rights, the Soviet Union is stable enough to be able to cope with that particular matter. The absolute control over the individual on the part of the State, to the exclusion of all spiritual and other loyalties, is fundamental to the Communist system, and nothing short of a major upheaval will be able to lessen it. It is very difficult to see in what way the United States and its associates might bring this about. The immense Soviet military superiority in Europe is a sufficient deterrent to prevent any active American attempt to change the nature of Soviet society.

The only lever that the West has—it is a strong one if the Western OECD nations are united in their resolve to use it—is to stop or reduce the flow of economic aid to the Soviet Union. While that is desirable in itself, for reasons of security, I do not really think that the West is sufficiently united to come together to restrict the flow of economic aid to the Soviet Union and impose an embargo. For example, even if some of us could agree, the French would be the first to undercut that agreement and re-affirm their so-called "national independence" by making a bit of money on the side.

What can be done? Quite clearly at Belgrade the West must make the most of a good case. It must remind the world of the negation of human rights in the Soviet Union because, to a certain extent, the Soviet Union is sensitive to that kind of criticism. By suggesting that the Soviets negate human rights we make it harder for the Soviet Union to make an appeal to the Third world and to compete against the West itself. On the level of Government, and to a lesser extent as Members of Parliament and individuals, we must go on helping individuals within the Soviet Union. But the real question is how we measure the success or failure of a foreign policy which is based upon human rights and which uses human rights as a weapon of diplomacy?

What are the measurements? The first measurement is surely the extent to which the Soviets relax, or make very more severe, what happens to those people within the Soviet Union who are courageous enough to oppose the régime. That must be the first measurement. It might well be that the Carter policy is counter-productive. We must watch that very carefully because it is easy for us to luxuriate in indignation, but we do not have to show the courage that they do in the Soviet Union.

The second measurement is equally important, perhaps even more so. So far no one in the debate—I have not been present throughout and I may be doing a grave injustice to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)—has stressed the remarkable instability within Eastern Europe itself. It is easy to assert that the Soviet Union is a stable society. That is not true of Eastern Europe. Look at each country in turn. Look at Warsaw and the Poles. A combination of Christianity, of Roman Catholicism, a feeling for independence and an economic recession has made the situation in Poland highly volatile. As a country it still looks westwards, as do the Czechs and Hungarians. The Soviet Union does not look westward in this sense whatever. Eastern Europe has lost its freedom. Russia has never had it.

We must be most careful about the extent to which we use human rights with regard to Eastern Europe because the situation there is volatile and highly dangerous. Indeed, the instability which might result from a revolt in Poland, or the Soviets having to decide yet again whether or not to intervene, as in 1968, in another revolt in Czechoslovakia or East Germany, is the sort of circumstances which are more likely than any others to cause the outbreak of the third world war.

Hence the obvious apprehension of Chancellor Schmidt, who has disapproved all along of the American President's new policy based, as it is, upon human rights. Herr Schmidt has felt, not unreasonably, that he has a special interest in preserving what relationships there are between the Federal Republic and East Germany and Eastern Europe. He, sitting in the centre of Europe, knows the dangers that a globally-designed moralist policy might induce in central Europe.

Human rights are all very well. It goes without saying that we all favour them. However, they have this added advantage for the purposes of this debate: the Right in politics seizes upon human rights in order to tease the Soviet Union. The Left seizes upon human rights in order to cover itself with a warm glow of moral rectitude. It is this combination together with all our good will and our good nature which makes us want to help people who need to show courage where we need to show none. We must never lose sight of the simple fact that we are playing with fire, and this factor has to be measured all the time.

One of the most interesting developments to come out of the London Summit was that President Carter is now soft-pedalling on human rights. At the end of the 100 days there is a return to a more realistic view of what American and Western foreign policy should be.

8.57 p.m.

It is to the credit of the House and the debate that nearly every speaker who has contributed to our most interesting discussion has made human rights his principal theme. There may have been slightly different messages from right hon. and hon. Members, but the theme throughout has been the same.

There is nothing new in this, because history provides various examples of concern for human rights, particularly concern in one country for a national or religious minority in another country, perhaps leading to regrettable upsets. Mr. Gladstone conducted a very famous campaign on an issue which would now be called human rights.

Human rights are not a new dimension in international affairs. What is new is the increased awareness by more people of conditions in other countries. Today's debate has reflected that increased awareness, and that fact is to be welcomed and encouraged. This increased awareness and concern is the very best reason—better than any of those advanced so far in the debate—for linking Basket III with Baskets I and II when we consider at Belgrade progress on the Helsinki Agreement.

If detente and co-operation in Europe is the objective, all our constituents will require progress on Basket III from the Eastern bloc. After all, the West's contribution to Helsinki was made at the conference at Helsinki in the sense that we then subscribed to the declaration giving international approval to the Soviet Union's post-war boundaries. The Russians' contribution to the Helsinki Agreement was to come mainly in human rights. This debate has shown that we are, unhappily, all too aware that that contribution has been very slow in materialising.

I refer briefly to two aspects of human rights, and I will not take up the time of the House with details. On various occasions we have referred to religious freedom, and there is absolutely no doubt that it was part of the Helsinki Agreement. The Final Act of that conference said:
"Within this framework the participating States will recognise and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practise, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience."
That is absolutely clear.

I have no doubt that there are great and grave restrictions throughout the Eastern bloc on the practice of religion. I will not enumerate them, but they include the training of priests, the harassment of religious communities, the prevention of instruction to young people, and the fact that priests are forbidden to have radios. If the Foreign Secretary would like any further information for our representatives at Belgrade, there are very many people, including myself, who will be prepared to give it.

There is no doubt that throughout the Eastern bloc there are great impediments to the freedom of worship. The position of the Jewish community has been described by many other hon. Members particularly the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson). Because of the increased harassment, many of the Jewish community—perhaps 2 million to 3 million—want the right to leave. It is not just a question of the reunification of families. It is because of the signs of growing anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

The subscribers to the Helsinki Agreement gave their support to the principle of the Charter of the United Nations and to other international obligations and agreements, such as the convention on elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. The right to leave any country, including an individual's own, and the right to return to his country are basic in the two conventions on human rights. There is no doubt that any subscriber to the Helsinki Agreement subscribed to the right of any individual to leave his country and go to another.

I hope that our representatives at Belgrade will take the opportunity to remind the Soviet Union of these points. This can be done without recrimination. I do not wish to see any recriminations. We should look forward, not back, at the Belgrade Conference. It has been confirmed by the debate that the British people expect that the opportunity will be taken to remind the Soviet Union of these matters.

Finally, I suggest that we should take the opportunity at Belgrade to emphasise to the Soviet Union and all Eastern bloc countries the essential link between progress on detente and progress on human rights. I hope that we shall take the opportunity to press for regular and frequent reviews of the progress of the Helsinki Agreement. I hope that we shall consider the possibility of establishing a standing committee of the signatory countries to review progress of individual cases on a continuing basis. If we do these things, we shall not have betrayed the desire of many of the people whom we represent to make progress on human rights, which means progress toward real detente.

9.4 p.m.

I think that the high standard of the debate shows that the Opposition were right to choose this subject for discussion today.

The House has been right also not to limit itself to discussing the nuts and bolts of the conference next month but to look at the wider issues lying behind that conference and the one that will take place in the autumn.

My hon. Friend the Member for Seven-oaks (Sir J. Rodgers) said that the meaning of detente was unclear. I believe it is important that we should try to clear our minds on what detente means. I do not agree that its meaning is unclear. What is important is that it means different things to the two sides. To us, in the West, it means something permanent—a genuine relaxation of tension. To the Soviet Union it is a tactic and means something temporary. It is intended, as I read it, to exploit to the utmost the genuine longing of the West for a reduction in tension. It is intended to lull us into complacency.

The House will remember the fable of Aesop about the competition between the north wind and the sun to see who could first get the traveller to remove his coat. The north wind blew hard and the traveller drew his coat round him tighter and the more it blew the more he wrapped himself up. Then it was the turn of the sun, which shone more and more warmly on the traveller, and off came the coat.

In my view, the object of detente on the part of the Soviet Union is to divest us of our protective clothing. At the same time those in the Soviet Union reserve the right to themselves to continue to build up their armed forces, to continue what they describe as wars of liberation in the Third world, to continue subversion in Western countries, while nevertheless expecting to benefit from trade with us, from our technology, grain supplies and credits.

The curious thing is that the Soviet Union makes no secret about its objectives. Not too much is said about these things in writings for the outside world, but much is said to the people in the Soviet Union in seeking to assure them that the objectives of the Soviet Union have not been abandoned.

If detente is a tactic, what is the strategy? My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)—whose speech I regret I did not hear—asked, as I understand, how long we should give the Soviet Union the benefit of the doubt. I do not have much doubt about the strategy of the Soviet Union. Its strategy is described by the Soviet Union as peaceful co-existence. I shall not go into the Russian definition of that term, because it is immensely long and appears to mean exactly the opposite to what it does mean, which is often the case with Marxist language. But if I may paraphrase its meaning, it involves seeking to change the balance of world power in favour of the Soviet Union by all means short of a third world war.

The Soviet Union has made considerable progress in that direction. The House does not need to take my word for it; it can take that of Mr. Gromyko. He said in 1975:
"Henceforth the forces of peace and Socialism"
—by which he meant Soviet power—
"will be able to prescribe the navigable channels of international relations."
That is a striking and graphic phrase and it means that the Soviet Union has already succeeded to a substantial extent in reducing the options for the West. Although Mr. Gromyko said that in 1975, he could not have said it in 1965. That is a measure of the progress that the Soviet Union has made in those 10 years.

This advance cannot be attributed solely to détente itself. It is due in large measure to the failure of the West to understand what the Soviet Union is about—and the failure of the West to persuade its own people to take the necessary steps to counteract the Soviet version of détente.

What is required in the West is a new posture—a more robust posture—vis-à-vis the Soviet Union which would encourage that country to modify those of its policies that are a danger to us. I shall return later to what that posture should be.

How, then, should we approach the Belgrade Conference? First, we must recognise the limits on the scope of the Helsinki Final Act. There is nothing in the Act about defence. That is not surprising, because many of the parties to it were neutral countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said that detente is no substitute for defence. He was absolutely right. Maintaining our defences is a condition of maintaining détente. When the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) complained about the NATO agreement, announced yesterday, that defence spending is to be increased by 3 per cent., he had exactly the wrong point. The hon. Gentleman regarded that as a danger to peace. In my view it is a reinforcement of peace, because the greatest danger to peace now lies in the weakness of the West and the impression that the Soviet Union has what we lack—the will to look after ourselves.

We must remember that Europe—and that is what we are talking about today—would be a major prize for the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union can dominate Western Europe the balance of power throughout the whole world will irrevocably turn in the favour of the Soviet Union and against the United States. It is important that the Soviet Union should not attain strategic superiority, because if it did so we do not know what the Soviet Union would do with it. However, we have only to look at what happened in Angola to realise that we should be unwise to allow temptation to be put in its way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ham (Mr. Luce) made a point—with which I entirely agree—that was based on his recent visit to the Soviet Union. He said that the Soviet Union has a great respect for power. Conversely, it has contempt for those who lack power. Stalin said at Potsdam that policies should be based on the calculation of forces. It was also Stalin who asked, in relation to the rôle to be allowed to France after the war:
"How many divisions has de Gaulle? "
While defence in the military sense is important, arms alone are not enough, because over the past 60 years we in the West have been militarily stronger than the Soviet Union. In spite of that, the Soviet Union has steadily increased its influence in the world. There is something missing from Western policy apart from arms. That thing is will. There is a lack of will. We have recently given the impression of moral confusion, boneless-ness and lack of belief in our own values.

We should also study carefully the right way to approach the Soviet Union at Belgrade. Too many of us have accepted too readily what I call the Dr. Spock policy—that is that we should treat the Soviet Union as Dr. Spock used to advise parents to treat difficult children. He said that parents should not impose discipline, never be firm, and never say "No", and that if parents went on in that way the child would grow up to be a worthwhile member of society. However, it is notable that Dr. Spock has recanted, and it is high time that we recanted from that policy in relation to the Soviet Union. Firmness, frankness and consistency are required.

I was interested in the remarks that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen). He found during a recent trip to Moscow that it was better to speak bluntly because in that way one evoked more respect from one's interlocutors on the Soviet side.

Another lesson in negotiating with the Soviet Union is that one needs patience. I am confident that the NATO and EEC countries have learned that lesson because the first conference on security and cooperation in Europe, which was expected to take a few months, in fact took several years. It had what I regard as a successful result with the Helsinki Final Act. We achieved that only because we were not in a hurry. As soon as the Soviet Union feels that we are in a hurry, it presses its bargaining position harder.

There is another lesson that we must learn and this was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) when he opened the debate. We must look at all our policies with a single eye. Foreign policy is no longer, if it ever has been, a separate compartment. In the British Government, as in every other Western Government, it should be understood by the Secretaries of State for Trade, Energy and, of course, Defence and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that they have functions that are relevant to our foreign policy, our posture vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, and our survival. They understand that very well in the Soviet Union. They remember that Clausewitz said that a country needs an effective total policy towards the outside world. In the Soviet Union every important foreign policy decision is taken in the Politburo.

The EEC and NATO countries must work together in as close co-operation this time as they did before the Final Act was signed. I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary say that this was happening.

It was implicit in the Foreign Secretary's speech that we should regard this year's two conferences as part of a continuing series. That affects the way in which we play our hand. We want to make sure that the other parties are prepared to continue the series. I am doubtful whether we should be seeking any new arrangements at this year's conferences. I hope that the Minister will deal with this in his reply. I think myself that we have enough in the Final Act to last not just for these two review conferences but for many more.

We shall have to consider all sections of the Final Act, but there are some points to which we should attach special importance. First, we must say to the Soviet Union that we do not regard the way in which it interprets detente as consistent with the Final Act. The Soviet Union keeps saying that its objective is to overthrow our way of life. We cannot be expected to accept that if we are to continue a dialogue with the Soviet Union. Obviously the Russians will not change that policy in the short term, but our long-term objective must be to persuade them that this attitude is unacceptable to us.

We must also make clear that it is not acceptable that the Russians should continue trying to encourage wars of liberation in the Third world. That is their admitted objective, and they encourage these wars by subversion, the supply of arms and the use of proxies, as we saw in Angola.

We must regard detente as world wide. Although the document that we are discussing relates to security and cooperation in Europe, the preamble refers to detente being universal in scope. We must make it clear to the Soviet Union that this interpretation should be accepted. No amount of legal quibbling by the Soviet Union that it went to the aid of a party in Angola that represented the Government will convince me that its action there was consistent with detente.

We should tell the Russians that we regard their encouragement of the use of force in Africa as one of the most dangerous factors in the world today.

We should also raise the question of freedom of information. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) said about the effect of the Jimmy Young show. I agree with what she said. It confirms what happens when the handling of information is given to a governmental body rather than an individual.

I think that we should refer to the treatment of journalists. That is an important issue in the context of the Final Act. I recognise that there have been changes in this respect in the Eastern bloc countries, but they have been uneven. I should like to see us press for greater equality of performance by them.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) referred to the BBC Overseas Service, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and the importance that he attaches to them. I understand that it is a fact that the expenditure by the Eastern bloc on jamming the last two stations now exceeds the total budgets of those two stations put together. I cannot believe that that is consistent with the Helsinki Agreement. I welcome what the Prime Minister said yesterday in answer to questions about the importance of the BBC overseas services. I hope that the Government will continue to give them every support.

The last two topics to which I shall refer are trade and human rights. In this connection we must insist that the Final Act be taken as a whole. I suspect that the Russians will want to talk about trade and will be reluctant to talk about human rights. After all, more trade, more credits and more technology are some of the objectives of detente from their point of view. We must insist that we go into the human rights issue.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford that it is high time that the free industrialised countries should reappraise their policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) was rather pessimistic about the results. He felt that we could not succeed in stopping our economic aid for the Soviet Union. I do not think that it is our object to do so. The object is to concert our guidelines for the supply of technology, credits and grain to the Soviet Union, so that we can ensure that we are not giving permanent benefits to the Soviet Union at our expense, and so that we can ensure that we can use trade and finance as a means of persuading the Soviet Union better to perform its obligations in other respects.

The hon. Gentleman made that point earlier, and it is a totally false one. I am prepared to see the Final Act performed completely if the Soviet Union is prepared to follow every part of it. I am not content if the Soviet Union picks and chooses and says that it will perform the economic sections of the Act but not the human rights sections.

We have now a situation in which the British Government are providing a £950 million line of credit for the Soviet Union for the purpose of building up its industry. Among other things, the result will be that in due course products from the new factories that we shall be building will come back to this country. I look forward with some trepidation to the reaction of the people of Yorkshire and Lancashire when the textiles from the new factories begin to come into places such as Oldham. Possibly the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) will have the same reaction when the time comes.

The £950 million line of credit is a good bargain for the Soviet Union. Among other things, it enables it to move more resources into armaments. As Andrei Amalrik has pointed out, it helps to reinforce and maintain its police State. It is a bad bargain for us. According to reliable calculations that have been made for me, it is likely to cost the British taxpayer over £200 million if fully taken up. That is something of which the British taxpayer is not yet aware.

The hon. Member for Oldham, East said that it provided jobs. That is true. But could not the same number of jobs be provided by putting an equal amount of effort and money into exports to some other country which is not dedicated to our overthrow?

I hope that the free industrialised countries will tackle the problem soon. I observe that President Carter suggested that there should be a review of East-West relations conducted by NATO. That could possibly be the forum in which this process could be begun.

On the question of human rights, practically every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has quite rightly expressed concern. Of course, we are going to be attacked on this subject. The Soviet Union will not simply sit back and allow us to criticise its breaches of human rights. It will attack us over visas, unemployment and Northern Ireland.

We should not be afraid to discuss these matters. If there is a mote in our eye, there is certainly a beam in the eye of the Soviet Union. We can make two points. First, in this and in other countries in the West these matters are subject to free discussion and some are even referred to international tribunals. Secondly, we can say that in some cases the practices criticised have stopped and that in other cases it is our policy to make progress to improve the situation. If the Soviet Union were able to make those two claims, the problems of the world would be a lot less serious.

I believe that President Carter has done the world a service by raising human rights to the level that he has. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that when we get to Belgrade we do not want a shouting match. We want a sober, rational consideration of human rights, how the various countries have performed and how they can perform better.

I agree with those Members on both sides of the House who have pointed to the need for finesse in handling the issue of human rights. We must make it clear that the object of raising the question of human rights is not the overthrow of Soviet society. We must also make it clear that this matter has to be discussed in depth if only for the reason mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury)—that our public opinion expects it.

I hope that the European Economic Community as a whole will give broad support to President Carter's position on human rights, as the Foreign Secretary rightly did in his speech on 3rd March, and I hope that he will encourage the Prime Minister to take a similar line. The arguments for our doing so are overwhelming.

First, the Final Act describes human rights as an essential factor for peace. Secondly, the Soviet Union claims that it will continue the ideological struggle. Hitherto, the ideological struggle has been very one-sided. All the weapons have been in the hands of the Soviet Union. At last we have something with which to reply.

It is objected from some quarters that our use of the human rights issue amounts to interference in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union. That certainly will be said by the Soviet Union at the conference.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) made a good point about the participant countries having accepted reciprocal obligations when they signed the Act. The Foreign Secretary made the point that it is agreed in the Act that all the principles are of equal value. But there is yet another reason why we cannot accept that to discuss human rights in the Soviet Union is an unjustifiable interference in that country's affairs. It is, quite simply, that Moscow Radio, Pravda and other organs of Soviet opinion are continually attacking us—for example, over human rights, as they describe them, in Northern Ireland. It is not unusual for them to refer to us as bastions of Fascism or bloodthirsty forces of world imperialism. If they are able to do that under the Final Act, surely we are entitled to discuss human rights in the Soviet Union.

One of the leaders of the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia, the Charter 77 movement—Professor Jan Patocka, who died recently after interrogation by the security authorities—said:
"We thus have to report that people are again aware that there are things for which it is worth while to suffer; that the things for which one may have to suffer are often those that make life worth living."
We cannot fail to respond to courage such as that.

What do we expect to achieve at the end of the series of conferences? What is our long-term objective? We are not asking for a complete internal change in the Soviet Union. We are asking for stability and peace. We are asking that instead of trying to overthrow our society by all means in its power the Soviet Union should do all that it can to live in accord with us and our allies. That is an ambitious objective. But the Foreign Secretary was even more ambitious. He said that he looked forward to the day when the whole of the Final Act would be performed. Let us hope that that day comes.

I ask the House to cast its mind back to the wars of religion in the Middle Ages. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was assumed that the wars and hostility between Protestants and Catholics would continue for ever. But in the middle of the seventeenth century, by the Treaty of Westphalia, they came to an end.

I am not saying that we should look to one treaty, but we can have a long-term objective—that after long negotiations we can persuade the Soviet Union to change its attitude to the West. We can achieve that by being patient, firm and strong, and by telling the world—and going on telling the world—that we have something better to offer than anything that the Soviet Union can provide—and that is freedom.

9.33 p.m.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) took credit on behalf of the Opposition for having asked for this debate on such an important subject. I hope that he will also give some credit to the Government for accepting and welcoming the debate. We thought that it was important that the House should have the opportunity to discuss this vital topic before the first of the Belgrade conferences.

We think it right that the Government should have the benefit of hearing the views of hon. Members on all sides of the House. It is right that we should go to the conference knowing that we speak with the authority of the House and knowing its views, which have been clearly expressed on this subject.

This debate has shown at least that the matters that we have been discussing today are not matters of inter-party dispute. A wide variety of views have been put forward and different aspects have been stressed in the speeches of different hon. Members. But these have not demonstrated any great difference of view between the parties and the debate generally has demonstrated a surprising unanimity of view in this House on the essential points.

May I first try to list some of these points of agreement? First, virtually nobody has expressed dissent from the general aims of the Helsinki Final Act. That is a welcome change, I may say, from the situation two years ago. Nobody has suggested that we should not, therefore, take part in an active and positive way in the successor conference at Belgrade. There is, I think, a widespread belief in the value of détente, even if we might differ on the way that concept should be interpreted. Most people accept too that the Helsinki Agreement represented a small but useful step in promoting détente and a better modus vivendi between the Powers of East and West. It would have been surprising if anybody were to oppose that general objective; there can be few people anywhere who welcome or approve a state of tension between East and West and the military threat and instability which may accompany it.

The main purpose of the Helsinki Agreement was to provide a framework within which hostility and tension might be reduced. The doubts and objections that have been expressed, therefore, are not about the aim of détente itself. The concern has been that the benefits should not be confined to certain particular aspects of the Agreement at the expense of any others, that, as one or two speakers have said, détente should not be used as a smokescreen which may persuade some to drop their guard while others arm themselves even more strenuously than before so that the balance of forces is disturbed.

Secondly, I think that most speakers in the debate have accepted that the Helsinki Final Act itself—the hon. Member for Blackpool, South specifically mentioned this point—represented a carefully framed balance of commitments and undertakings which we have to accept as it is, as an interrelated whole. The balance represented the outcome of long and difficult negotiations and reflected the lowest common multiple of what the participants at that time would accept. If we could have dictated the terms ourselves unilaterally, we would no doubt have produced an entirely different document in which the balance would have been quite different. But we have to accept the Agreement as it is.

In any case, I think that we all accept that there is something of value in all of the various parts—Basket I; in the proposals for reductions of military tension; in closer economic and commercial links, as Basket II provides; and above all—at least for those of us in the West—in the promotion of freer contacts and more unrestricted freedom of movement for people and ideas between East and West, as provided for in Basket III.

So, while we may each find particular parts of the Final Act to which we attach special importance—and a number of speakers in the debate have shown which is the aspect which matters most to many of us in this country—we cannot and should not seek to destroy altogether the balance between the parts, since in seeking to diminish the importance of the parts that matter to others we might in effect forfeit the willingness of other parties to implement those sections which matter most to us.

Thirdly, the view has been expressed by a number of speakers—and I entirely endorse this view—that this is a matter on which we cannot be content with words alone. There is little value in the signature of an agreement, however carefully drafted, however laboriously negotiated, unless its effects are felt in concrete terms in the lives of ordinary men and women in East and West alike. Our concern at the present stage particularly, two years after the signature of the Agreement, must be to ensure that it is fully and fairly implemented—in other words, to make sure that words are in fact followed by deeds.

This, of course, is one of the main purposes of the Belgrade Conference. Our task there will be to try to ensure that the Helsinki Final Act is better implemented in the future than it has been in the past. On that point we would agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool, South that the conference should not be taken as a single, once-and-for-all act for scrutinising the performance in implementing the Helsinki Agreement. We certainly hope that there will be future conferences, or even some continuing mechanism—that is possibly the ideal solution—on an East-West basis for examining the performance so far in implementing the Agreement.

Fourth, many speakers in the debate have recognised that the Helsinki Final Act, whatever else it represents, has not brought a final end or even a truce in ideological and other conflicts between East and West. Indeed, several Opposition Members, the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) in particular, deplored this fact. I do not think that I would agree with that view.

It is true that Mr. Brezhnev has said that the ideological struggle must continue, but I do not share the opinion that this represents in some way a violation of the Helsinki Final Act, and far less that it is a statement or a threat of which we in the West need to be afraid.

I would willingly accept the challenge that Mr. Brezhnev has laid down. I have not the slightest doubt that the West and the ideas for which it stands can more than hold their own in any free competition aimed at winning the hearts and minds of peoples all over the world. All that we ask is that such competition takes place on genuinely equal termini other words, that our ideas should enjoy the same opportunity to be heard in the countries of the East as their ideas enjoy in the West.

The final point of fairly general agreement that I would note is that the Belgrade Conference represents an opportunity of special importance for the future of relations between East and West. Some of us feel that one of the main problems of Europe over the last two or three decades has been that contact and communication between the two halves of Europe have been so inhibited, because of various reasons that we all know well, that hosility and tension have been exacerbated.

In both blocs, largely because of these barriers, an image has been built up of the other party as a dark, dangerous and threatening force. The unknown is always fearful, and it is almost always feared. The two halves of Europe have been far too unknown to each other for far too long. One of the hopes that we had of the Helsinki Agreement was that by promoting communication and contact it would help to alleviate this fear of the unknown on both sides and promote more genuinely trustful and warm relationships between them.

Our regret is that so far the Agreement has not done enough to facilitate contact and communication to achieve this. This debate has shown that most of us still share the hope that ultimately this might be at least one of the outcomes of Helsinki. We in this country still hope and expect that the proceedings of the Belgrade Conference will ensure that in the next year or two expectations on this and other matters are better fulfilled than they have been so far.

May I now reply to some of the specific points raised in the debate? A number of speeches have reiterated, perhaps not surprisingly, a single theme, namely the feeling, very widely shared in the country as a whole, that, whatever the merit of the Helsinki Agreement, progress in implementing it has been far too slow. That is a point made by many speakers who were referring particularly to implementation by the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.

I cannot conceal that we in the Government share this sense of disappointment. Achievement so far has been very much less than we had hoped. That is one reason, perhaps the main reason, why we attach such importance to the forthcoming Belgrade Conference. One of our main aims is that it should be the means not only of scrutinising the record of achievement so far within all the signatory States—we must not forget that the aim of the conference is to examine the performance of Western countries as much as that of Eastern bloc countries—but of considering how performance may be improved.

It is widely felt that the provisions of the Final Act have not been implemented in the way or to the extent that was hoped. That is the feeling, at least in the Western nations and in many of the neutral countries that will be represented. We should not forget that the neutral countries are an important factor, that this is not simply a conference between nations of East and West but that a considerable number of important neutral countries will be bringing their influence to bear. That feeling of which I have spoken extends to all three of the so-called Baskets of the Act.

One of the provisions of Basket I mentioned by only one or two speakers concerns prior notification of major military manoeuvres. Unfortunately, in the Helsinki Agreement this was confined to major manoeuvres involving more than 25,000 men, although in addition the signatory States had a discretion to notify "other military manoeuvres". Unfortunately, so far we have had to note that only six military manoeuvres have been notified by the Warsaw Pact countries, against the 13 manoeuvres which NATO countries have notified during this time.

We have to ask whether that fully reflects the balance of military activity by the two sides. Obviously, the small number of manoeuvres notified reflects the fact that it is confined only to the largest ones. We should like to see a more general practice of notifying manoeuvres even though a much smaller number of people was involved—for example, any involving more than 10,000 men. I hope that that issue may be discussed at Belgrade.

The Helsinki Agreement also provided that notification of major military movements—in other words, other than those occurring during manoeuvres—was to be further considered by the participating States. It would obviously do much to promote a greater sense of security in Europe if all such movements were notified in advance, and I hope that one outcome of Belgrade will be further progress towards that.

But a still more important objective in this part of the Act was the provision that the participating States might invite observers to attend military manoeuvres. That would surely do more than any notification to promote confidence on both sides. Western countries have issued such invitations, but, unfortunately, they have not been accepted. No such invitations have so far been made to Western countries by the Soviet Union to send observers to Warsaw Pact manoeuvres. That is another matter that we hope to see discussed further at Belgrade.

Similarly, the record in the field of Basket II, concerned with promoting economic, scientific and other exchanges, has been somewhat disappointing. At first sight, this is an area where one might hope for most, where there is the greatest degree of common interest. Whether or not the Final Act had been signed, both East and West would have wished to trade and co-operate with each other in economic and technical affairs, as Basket II provides.

Economic co-operation has certainly expanded considerably since 1975, although it is not easy to say how much of the process has resulted directly from the Final Act. However, a part of what we hoped for in this respect has not been attained.

We have attached great importance to the provision for improving facilities and contacts for business men and to greater availability of economic and commercial information. There has been some progress in relation to facilities and contacts—Eastern countries are now more aware of the legitimate needs of visiting and resident Western business men—but I am afraid that the position on economic and commercial information is still unsatisfactory. Little progress has been made there. That is another point that we shall wish to pursue at Belgrade.

It is no business of mine to speak up for the Soviet Union, but truth is more important than anything else in our debates. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that we have twice been invited to send observers to Soviet manoeuvres and that on one occasion not we but, I think, the Turkish Army was invited to some manoeuvres in the Caucasus. Whether they did send observers, I do not know.

I am relying on the advice that I have received. The right hon. Gentleman may be referring to a different invitation, but I am reporting what I have been told. Perhaps I could look at the matter and write to the right hon. Gentleman about it.

In relation to Basket III also, and perhaps especially there, there is a widespread sense in the West that not as much has been done as we had hoped and expected when the Final Act was signed. There are still divided families. We have notified a considerable number of such cases in which we hope that steps will be taken to enable people to leave their countries to join other members of their families elsewhere. In a few cases that has been allowed, but in many others it has not.

Nor has the aim of securing a greater exchange of information been implemented in the way we had hoped. For example, the number of Western newspapers on free sale in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe remains deplorably low. I believe that today there are still only three British newspapers available for sale anywhere in the Soviet Union—The Times, the Financial Times and the Morning Star. Except for the last of these, which is a rather special case, only 200 or 300 of these papers are normally sold. I believe that the position is similar in the rest of Eastern Europe Since the Soviet leaders have called for ideological competition, they surely cannot fear that such newspapers can represent any threat to them, and it is difficult to understand why they cannot be made more accessible to their population.

There are also difficulties in expanding opportunities for tourism, or for meetings among young people, and, indeed, human contacts of all kinds. Most of us hope that in all these areas we shall see much more substantial progress if the Final Act is to be implemented in the way that we assumed when it was first signed.

Perhaps the issue raised most insistently in the debate has concerned the protection of human rights, above all in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries generally. Mention has been made of a considerable number of aspects of this question, such as the position of Jewish people in the Soviet Union, and of the so-called dissidents, writers and human rights workers. Mention has been made of Mr. Orlov and the human rights committee and of a number of other groups which find themselves in some difficulties in the Soviet Union. The Government fully share the concern which has been expressed about all these groups and all these matters.

I agree also with what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) said about the need to speak up clearly and boldly on this matter. It was also mentioned by my hon. Friends. I think, however, that the House will recognise that there is some difference here between the position of ordinary citizens and groups of citizens in this country and that of the Government. The fact that the Government do not speak out quite so loudly and clearly on matters of this kind does not necessarily mean that we have not just as strong feelings on the question as have hon. Members.

We have to consider what is likely to be the most effective method of bringing about results in questions of this kind. I hope that hon. Members will therefore understand and forgive us if we do not always speak in quite such bold and heroic terms as other people do, I am glad to say. It does not mean that the Government are inactive or not concerned. We have to consider carefully what is the right way to proceed. We have taken up a number of cases of precisely this kind in confidential discussions, and it is our general judgment that this is more likely to be productive of results than making some of the more strident calls that are sometimes asked of us.

It is sometimes suggested that the Helsinki Final Act has been concerned primarily with contact between East and West and with matters affecting relations between East and West in the military, cultural and political fields, rather than with the policies of individual signatory Governments in relation to their own populations. It is certainly true that the former questions have been particularly stressed in the Act, but in fact very clear undertakings concerning human rights are also made under the Agreement.

In the Declaration of Principles which comes at the beginning of the Final Act, the signatory States undertook very specifically that they would
"respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion".
They also undertook that they would
"promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and are essential for his free and full development".
To many, these undertakings in the field of human rights are at the very heart of the Agreement. It is clear, therefore, that when the implementation of the Act generally is considered at the Belgrade Conference, it will be open to all who take part to consider the implementation of these undertakings concerning human rights.

Perhaps particularly significant was the undertaking made in the same set of principles that the signatories confirmed
"the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights and duties in this field".
One of the significant developments over the last year or two in Eastern Europe has been that the Helsinki Final Act and its undertakings have themselves become very well known to the populations of these countries, and have been quoted by those of them who have been calling for an extension of their rights in one field or another. This is a very important development. Those who take part in the Belgrade Conference will be hoping that they will be able to obtain further assurances that the rights which are so clearly laid down within the Act are made fully known to all those who are expected to enjoy them under the Act.

May I put one final point about the conference and about the whole process of detente between East and West and the way it can best be promoted? As I have said, and as has been indicated in many speeches in the debate, East and West have somewhat different views of the Final Act. I think that that is the underlying cause of some of the difficulties we have had with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe over our view about the way it should be implemented. The Soviet and Eastern European Governments have tended to stress different aspects of the Final Act and to underplay those aspects, particularly Basket III, of greatest concern to most of us in the West.

But I suggest one point at least on which it seems to me there could exist a common view concerning the whole process of detente, because it reflects a genuine common interest between East and West. Both sides, whatever else they hope for, want to see an increase in mutual understanding. The Communist States want us to see, hear and know more about their views, ideas and feelings, just as we want them to know more about our views, ideas and feelings on all the many questions which arise between us. This is a task in which the Final Act can be of great assistance if we use it in the right way.

I will mention, for example, a measure which I would have thought that both sides might strongly welcome to this end—that is, an exchange of television programmes comparable to the scheme by which Western European television channels exchange programmes. Such programmes should be not merely of the kind already mentioned in the debate—semi-comic programmes which do not go deeply into affairs which mainly concern us—but should include current affairs programmes which would genuinely contribute to a greater interchange of ideas about vital topics of the day between our countries. If peace in the world is to be more securely based than at present, and the dangers of war and hostile feelings between East and West are to be reduced, an increase in mutual knowledge and understanding of this kind can surely only be of the greatest possible benefit.

That, at least, is the type of initiative, one of the possibilities, that should be considered and discussed at Belgrade. Delegates from this country and other Western countries will listen carefully there to the proposals put forward by our Eastern colleagues and consider them in a sympathetic and constructive spirit. These include, for example, Mr. Brezhnev's ideas for European conferences on various subjects, although we shall wish to examine carefully the question of the right forum where such topics should be discussed. In return, I hope that Eastern delegates will be willing to look at any ideas that we may put forward, including the sort of proposal I have just described, in a constructive and helpful spirit.

We shall not approach the Belgrade Conference in any polemical frame of mind, nor with any idea of scoring points or winning propaganda victories. We believe this to be a serious conference, which should be approached in a serious spirit. We believe that our Soviet and Eastern European counterparts will approach it in the same way. We do not believe that either side should seek to take advantage of the occasion to try to score points off each other.

Let us hope that, on that basis, we can at the conference undertake an effective survey of what has been done so far to implement the Final Act. Let us hope, in addition, that we shall there be able to examine what more may now have to be done to promote further the high aims which all had in mind when the Final Act was first signed—that is, the aims of stabilising the security of Europe; of promoting further co-operation in many areas, such as commerce, science and technology; above all, of ensuring a better quality of life, a fuller enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms, for all the people of our Continent, where-ever they may live.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

European Community (Atmospheric Pollution)

10.0 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of EEC draft proposal R/540/76 on Health Protection Standards for Sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter in urban atmospheres and R/90/76 on the Sulphur Content of fuel oils, and the relevant Government explanatory memoranda dated 2nd April 1976 and 9th March 1976 respectively.
These two Commission proposals arise from the first Environment Programme. Sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates—in simple English that means "smoke"—are included in the list of pollutants for priority action.

A directive on the sulphur content of gas oils has already been agreed, and was implemented in this country last December by regulations under the Control of Pollution Act. The two proposals before the House are the next steps aimed at further reducing the emissions of these pollutants. The two documents contain a draft resolution and directive on health protection standards, R/540/76, and a directive on the sulphur content of fuel oils, R/90/76. Both proposals would require the United Kingdom to work to air quality standards for sulphur dioxide and smoke, standards which we would be required to achieve by specified dates in the mid-80s.

Coal and oil both contain sulphur, and so produce sulphur dioxide when they are burnt. If they are burnt ineffciently, they also produce smoke. The House will remember that during the smogs of 1940 and 1950 many people died from the effects of these pollutants, which lower resistance to throat infections and to bronchitis. About 4,000 extra deaths were recorded in London during the Great Smog in December 1952. However, since the passing of the Clean Air Act 1956, which introduced smoke control, there has been considerable progress. Over 5,000 smoke control orders have been made, affecting some 7·5 million premises. Ground-level concentrations of both smoke and sulphur dioxide in urban areas have been radically reduced.

I am glad to say that the results can be seen. What a fine sight it is to look out across London now that we have controlled our smoke pollution. We have now cleaned up our buildings, and London produces one of the most pleasant aspects of any capital city in the world. We have led the world as a result of the smoke control activity which this House and local authorities have followed. What has happened in London has happened in many other cities, as I know from my own city of Birmingham and the success story of Sheffield. We should note that in passing, as we rarely discuss this aspect of environmental health matters. Smoke control has brought great physical and aesthetic benefits.

There is no doubt that the worst of the problem is long gone. But there are many areas which can still benefit from smoke control. Nationally, local authorities have completed some 60 per cent. of their self-imposed targets, so in their view about another 4·5 million premises still need to be brought under control. There are a variety of approaches across the country and varying rates of progress. But there is no doubt that smoke control still has a valuable part to play. I shall enlarge on this later.

The health protection standards resolution lays down criteria specifying the effects on people of these two pollutants, and selects long-term and short-term exposure levels which the Commission is suggesting should be the basis for Community action. This is the procedure laid down in the environment programme. The resolution does not itself carry any obligations. It simply provides an agreed basis for action when the time comes to formulate directives. The criteria are based on the best available scientific evidence. Here again we can take some satisfaction, because the evidence is largely based on British work. It has been collected by an expert group under the auspices of the World Health Organisation, and published in its report No. 506. It is probably the most complete evidence on medical effects available for any air pollutant.

Discussions on the resolution have started in Brussels between officials, and we hope to reach agreement on it before long. Obviously, however, we shall pay particular attention to any views expressed in the House this evening, and we shall be delighted to consider them in full.

The health protection standard directive is based on the levels in the resolution. It requires member States to monitor for sulphur dioxide and smoke, and to take action to reduce pollution below the specified levels by 1982, with some exemptions allowed until 1987.

This approach is acceptable in principle to the United Kingdom because it allows us to take whatever measures are appropriate in any particular area under our policy, which has the support of both sides of the House, of adopting the "best practicable means" to achieve our objectives. There are, of course, some points of detail which we shall seek to amend. In particular, we shall need carefully to consider the figures in the annexes.

There are matters of principle which I must draw to the attention of the House. The use of air quality standards to be achieved by a stated time represents a new departure for us. But there are no legal penalties involved for individuals. It is left for us to determine how we would meet the required standard, and, provided that our negotiations at working level are fruitful, appropriate means of so doing are available to us in our existing legislation through the Clean Air Acts, the Control of Pollution Act, the Alkali Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act.

We anticipate that in most areas smoke control would be the means of implementing the directive. Particularly in view of the present scarcity of resources, I think this would mean our giving priority to pushing forward with smoke control in areas which did not meet the standard. In a few areas—for example, London and Sheffield—where smoke control is complete but there might still be a sulphur dioxide problem, regulations under Section 76 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 could be made to limit the sulphur content of fuel oils.

The proposed directive on the sulphur content of fuel oils is a rather different matter. It is brought under Article 100 of the Treaty of Rome, which deals with barriers to trade, rather than Article 235, which is the one normally used for environmental measures.

The directive would require member States to designate areas in which the pollution levels in the annex are exceeded to be termed "special protection zones". Oil-burning installations inside these zones would be required to use low-sulphur oil, although plants with tall stacks or using flue-gas scrubbing could be exempted. Domestic oil users would not be affected by this directive as they use other grades of oil and not fuel oils. We believe that it is unlikely that it will produce a significant improvement in air quality, and so the Government will oppose it.

Also, large oil-burning installations, wherever sited, and groups of installations outside a zone but which contribute to pollution inside a zone would be required to monitor air pollution and to maintain a stock of low-sulphur fuel. When high levels of pollution have been recorded for 24 hours these installations would be required to switch to low-sulphur fuel until pollution levels fell.

We are opposed to these provisions since they would contribute very little to reducing pollution but would impose considerable costs on industry. It is feared, for example, that the CEGB particularly would have to incur a heavy increase in its costs, which could only be passed on to the consumer. I think that that would be unacceptable to the House.

The basic fault with the Commission's proposal for fuel oil is that it deals with one fuel, whether or not it is responsible for sulphur dioxide pollution in a particular area. Also, the directive will be superfluous in part if the health protection standards directive is accepted. This is the one that we propose to support. Once the air quality standards in that directive have been achieved, there probably would be no special protection zones. In any case, in areas where sulphur from fuel oil is a problem, action would be taken under the health protection standards directive. In our view this would be most appropriate and more relevant to the problem. Therefore, we propose to oppose this sulphur content of fuel oils directive in Brussels.

I have some notes on the cost of these directives which I shall give later. I promised to be brief, and I hope that I have achieved brevity.

I conclude by asking the House to support the Government's line that the health protection standards resolution and directive are acceptable in principle subject to amendment in detail, and that the fuel oil directive should be opposed.

10.12 p.m.

Unhappily, we are familiar with the practice of reaching matters of this sort at a rather late hour and towards the end of the parliamentary day. The House will recognise the importance of these matters and is aware that we are in a period when the Secretary of State is the Chairman of the Council of Environmental Ministers.

It is a matter of regret that we shall be half-way through the last month of the Secretary of State's term of office as Chairman before the meeting of the Council takes place. As recently as 9th May the Secretary of State admitted in a Written Answer that the precise date for the meeting was not yet fixed. All he could say about the agenda was that it would include those items left unsettled at the last Council meeting in December.

We are concerned about the programme of action on the environment by the European Community. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State at Question Time today, replying to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), drawing attention to the valuable contribution our membership of the EEC is making towards the improvement of the quality of the environment. I hope that the Secretary of State will show more enthusiasm by convening more frequent meetings so that progress is more rapid.

The right hon. Gentleman displays an alarming lack of interest in environmental improvement programmes in the United Kingdom. The fifth report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, published in January 1976, made important recommendations on measures to control emissions into the atmosphere from industrial sources. On 9th May I was told that the Secretary of State was not yet able to report on the consideration of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That scarcely seems to me to denote pressing attention being accorded to a subject which is of not inconsiderable importance.

Against that background, I welcome this brief debate and the Minister's comments. I also welcome his approval in principle to Document R/540/76, because this matter has been the subject of a great deal of scientific research. There has been some criticism of the detail of that research and even criticism of the list of sources given in the document. However, I wish to say how much we welcome the inclusion of an annex of documents, which should be more frequently seen in these environmental proposals from the Commission.

These matters are of critical importance. Perhaps we do not appreciate how critical they are to the health of many people. I suspect that the Minister has read the evidence given by Professor P. J. Lawther from the St. Bartholomew's Hospital environmental hazard unit to Sub-Committee G of the European Communities Committee in another place. It is frightening to see evidence of how people—particularly those who suffer from lung damage; for example, pneumonia—can suffer from the effects of sulphur dioxide, or, as the right hon. Gentleman put it, smoke.

In the light of evidence given to that Committee in another place by the Greater London Council scientific branch, it can be seen that the scene in London is not as lovely as the Minister appears to find it when he contemplates it from his seventeenth floor office.

I was on the eighteenth floor until the Transport Department took over and occupied the building. I have now moved down to the fifteenth floor.

I suppose the Minister can now see a little more of London from the fifteenth floor than he could from the eighteenth. I am sure that he can see a great deal more of London following the passing of the clean air legislation brought in by the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, to whom we should give a credit.

Because we can see a little further, that should not be taken to imply that all is well with the situation. Implementation of the EEC proposals—this was clear from evidence given by the GLC scientific branch—would reduce the annual sulphur dioxide emissions in the Greater London area from the figure of 212,000 tons to 182,500 tons with a 2 per cent. sulphur limit and 123,000 tons with a 1 per cent. sulphur limit.

Before we take the view that everything is all right, we should bear in mind the fact that sulphur dioxide is a major pollutant. Most importantly, it pollutes people, animals and plants. It is also a matter of major concern because of its effects on our architectural heritage. Throughout Europe sulphur dioxide or sulphuric acid in mild solution have eroded the stonework of buildings and sculptures. This must have effects on the architectural and artistic heritage of Europe. Europe must try to act together in this matter. We should remember that progress made in the Community countries to reduce the amount of sulphur dioxide is progress made towards the longer retention of our architectural heritage.

I welcome the Minister's approval in principle for the first of the two documents. I agree with his comments and his opposition to Document R/90/76, which is a somewhat defective document. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) will be able to explain the matter in more detail because he has been involved in discussions on this matter in the European Parliament.

One point that I should like to put to the Minister is about the principle of "polluter pays". Does the Minister agree that it follows from that principle that absolute emission standards must be inappropriate. I do not see how one can argue both that the "polluter pays" principle should always apply and that one should have absolute emission standards. It is not absolute emission standards that worry people, that damage plants and harm buildings. It is the environmental quality that affects those things. Surely the Minister should argue with our European colleagues that environmental quality standards should be examined. That is relevant in determining whether pollution is damaging the environment.

I have already referred to the report of the Select Committee in the Lords. It is an extremely valuable document. It draws attention to the doubtful value of concentrating on oil fuel as a pollution source. Indeed, there is evidence from the Greater London Council's scientific branch that the assessment of the 1974 sulphur dioxide emission in Greater London demonstrated that fuel oil was responsible for 147,400 tons of pollution but that solid fuel was responsible for 49,500 tons. It does not make sense to concentrate solely on one source of pollution, particularly if by doing that one increases another source. We might end up much worse off.

I also agree with the Minister that there seems to be doubtful value in trying to avoid high sulphur dioxide levels occurring on only one day a year. One could end up spending large sums of money in order to avoid a brief, high level of concentration that will, I understand, be extremely difficult to avoid in practice because such levels are almost entirely the result of a combination of meteorological circumstances that must produce adverse effects however low the emission standards may be.

Perhaps most important of all, as the Minister said, there seems to be a profound lack of full economic assessment of the energy implications in Document R/90/76. I therefore support the Government's view that the document, in its present form, must be opposed in Brussels.

More attention should be paid in both the European and the United Kingdom contexts to environmental improvement programmes, and I hope that there will be opportunities for the House to give attention to those matters. The European dimension is of great importance in these programmes, but it must allow, if it is to be meaningful, discretion to member States about the methods employed to achieve the agreed standards. A fragmented approach that is concerned with only one source of pollution cannot make sense. Attention must be paid to both the action and the research programmes, because one can conclude from these documents that there is not yet sufficient agreement about the best methods of research. I do not think that there is any agreement at all on any standards for assessing and monitoring environmental pollution. I hope that the Council of Environmental Ministers will be able to pay attention to this when the promised meeting of the Council eventually takes place in mid-June.

The more that one considers the environmental and economic implications of sulphurous emissions from coal-fired and oil-fired power stations, the more attractive nuclear power generation becomes as the means of bringing about environmental improvement. Many people are not as aware as they might be of some of the environmental attractions of the nuclear power programme—or of its safety attractions.

10.25 p.m.

Some people would take a robust line on a draft directive on this subject from the Commission and say that the Commission should not meddle in matters that are essentially of domestic concern with the only implication for other member States being any barriers to trade. That is the ground on which the second directive—the first in time—is brought forward.

Coming from an area of older industry where people's health has suffered for decades from the effects of industrial pollution, I welcome this external pressure group on the Government in environmental matters. Like the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), I detected just a note of complacency in what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said about air quality controls in this country.

We have a proud record in regard to clean air Acts and so on, but much needs to be done. The external pressure group that was also involved in the debate on lead in petrol seems to have persuaded the Government to go a little further than they intended along the road that they were travelling, and this has had beneficial effects for this country. However, a balance must be struck in each case between the environmental advantage that will accrue from the adoption of any measures and the cost to our industry and its competitive basis that will result.

I was also glad to see the Government's pragmatic decision to view the draft directives on their respective merits. They have, by and large, accepted one and rejected the other.

The first draft directive on health protection standards is clearly useful and acceptable. It is flexible and will allow member States to use appropriate means, according to the methods at their disposal, to meet the requirements and objectives. There is an element of choice. It should not be made consistent with the traditional British practice and approach of the best practicable means.

The new statutory standards in the draft directives will provide a basis for guidelines and allow the continuation of existing policies. It is puzzling that there should be two directives. Why did the more general directive not supersede the earlier and particular directive relating to fuel oil?

It is odd in principle that we are invited to take action on fuel oil when this might not, in particular cases, be the polluting element. Domestic smoke control may be a more effective means in some cases.

The Central Electricity Generating Board is opposed to the fuel oil directive for several reasons, not least on the grounds of cost and effectiveness. The Board says that there is a vast amount of experimental evidence to show that power stations are negligible contributors to air pollution in urban areas and this conclusion is supported by the Warren Springs laboratory. The Board says that the power station contribution is least when urban air pollution levels are at their highest. By requiring control on power station emissions, the directive would not succeed in substantially reducing air pollution. As the hon. Member for Hove said, there may be times when pollution incidents are of relatively short duration. However, to meet such incidents substantial costs could be incurred by the oard, not only administrative costs but costs involved in stockpiles and machinery in preparing for what could be relatively short pollution incidents. It has estimated that acceptance of the fuel oil draft directive would involve it in costs in excess of £20 million. The fuel oil draft directive should be opposed on the ground that it is ineffective and costly with little or no environmental benefit. As my right hon. Friend has argued, it is largely superflous as the aims it sets out to achieve can be achieved by means of the adoption of the generalised first directive.

Against that background we are forced to ask why we should single out fuel oil. The only plausible explanation that I have heard is that a number of other member States want to burden our industry with the same costs as they have imposed upon themselves. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will say whether within the Commission plans are lurking to single out other elements. I am told that the CEGB is concerned about possible measures in respect of coal. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will deal with that issue when he replies.

10.32 p.m.

I endorse the excellent contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury.) I thank the Minister of State for the advice he gave me when I was appointed rapporteur for the Energy and Research Committee of the European Parliament. This was my first experience as rapporteur. I assume that I was given the assignment because the parliamentary committee officers thought that the issue was non-controversial. I assured them at the time that they did not know what they were talking about, for in my view this was perhaps the most volatile issue that they could have given to a new member of the European Parliament.

I am not certain whether this issue has gone through the European Parliament. I did my best to block it, but if one happens to have a minority view it is difficult to press that view, which a rapporteur is entitled to do, against a committee that includes Members from other nations with other interests and against other committees.

I was making a report for the Energy and Research Committee. I found that when Members on my own side—that is, right of centre—put on an environmental hat they could not go with me. I entered the Chamber a little late in the Minister of State's introduction but I understand that this issue will soon be before the Council of Ministers. Is this not a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted? I was dealing with the matter about 18 months ago. Last June I managed to persuade the Chairman of the Assembly of the European Parliament, through Mr. Schwartz, acting for the rapporteur for the Environment Committee, Mr. Muller, that there should be a postponement. I suspect that this measure passed through the Assembly later without debate because I had already made my objections in the Assembly.

I support both Front Bench spokesmen in treating health and the amount of sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter as one issue and sulphur in fuel oil as another issue. As so often, the issue is two-fold. Obviously there are Members of all Parliaments in the European Economic Community who are aware of the need to provide energy and power for industry and heat for our homes. Equally, there are those who are conscious of sulphur dioxide and other particulate matter than can affect our atmosphere and our health—namely, Members concerned with the environment and public health. Therefore, I was faced with a problem when these issues came before the Assembly.

There have been many conferences on pollution. Last June there was one in Oslo. There is no doubt that Members of Parliament from different countries had to have sympathy with clean air and the environment if they were to seek re-election in their own countries. Certainly elections were due in Germany at that time.

The Parliament had produced two reports—the rapporteurs were Mr. Kater and Mr. Rosati—on the desulphuration of fuels and on the proximation of the laws of the member States relating to the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels. Those reports resulted in a sulphur and gas oils directive going before the Parliament. That seemed reasonable at the time.

My view is that individual States are endeavouring to improve the atmosphere. Britain had the Clean Air Act 1956. The then hon. Member for Kidderminster, the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, and the then hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside, Mr. Winterbottom, had much to do with that. One of the essentials is to establish how much sulphur dioxide and particulate gives rise to and constitutes a health hazard, and under what conditions. Another is to establish uniform monitoring conditions throughout the Community. Britain has a wealth of experience based on work at Warren Springs and elsewhere. I am sure that other member States have similar experience.

I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). Coal in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Leicestershire has a relatively high sulphur content compared with the lignite and brown coal of Germany, which is relatively sulphur-free. Therefore, if sulphur in gas oils and in liquid fuels is considered without looking at solid fuels, there is a danger of evading the issue.

As I mentioned earlier, I had some difficulty because, although I belonged primarily to the Energy Committee, I found there were different views and contributions by different countries. I wanted to reject the proposal for sulphur in fuel oils outright. I had immense difficulty, as rapporteur, in expressing that as the view of the committee to which I belonged. But this is the result of the interchange between Members of Parliament of the Nine on different issues.

The key conclusion in my report of 31st March 1976, as revised, was:
"The introduction of a measure such as the present proposed Directive could have serious consequences for the equilibrium of the energy market. In certain areas fuel oil would be placed at a disadvantage in relation to solid fuels."
In support of that I maintained that the directive did not refer to solid fuels:
"In some cases these can contribute significantly to suspended particulate matter and sulphur dioxide pollution levels, and this should increase if there is an increase in the use of solid fuels."
The fine performance in terms of clean air in the industrial and urban areas of Britain has been due to the lack of the use of solid fuels. Natural gas has certainly improved conditions—namely, clean air—in Sheffield for instance.
"The proposal thus appears to be discriminatory since, if taken at its face value, pollution caused by the combustion of coal would have to be compensated by stricter pollution control measures on fuel oils. Although for large users of coal, particulate removal technology, though extremely costly, is available, it can be understood that until some commercially economic method of removing sulphur dioxide from coal combustion (for example, flue gas desulphurisation, gasification) is available, the inclusion of solid fuel in the proposal could have serious consequences for the use of such fuel."
It is important to point out that the British Central Electricity Generating Board has estimated that a future directive similar to the present proposal by the Commission, but aimed at solid fuels, in which emissions from high stacks were not exempted, would imply capital expenditure of well over £1·500 million—at 1976 prices—for the CEGB plants likely to be affected, which, together with substantial running costs, could increase the price of electricity from coal by between 15 per cent. and 30 per cent. Since then there has been an important programme, and even a directive from the Commission, to assist those who generate electricity to move from oil to solid fuel. However, the point at issue is the removal of sulphur from the atmosphere. There is more sulphur in solid fuels than in liquid fuels. To pass a directive for liquid fuels without concentrating on a measurement of standards puts the cart before the horse rather than the horse before the cart.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Commission Document R/75/77 which we debated yesterday was intended to encourage Commission countries to use coal generation for electricity and that that is nonsense unless it also provides for low sulphur emission from the use of coal when looked at in conjunction with these documents?

I could not agree more. The Minister must be careful about this because already his Ministerial colleagues appear to be representing their country as one which is out of step with other European Community countries on too many issues.

The Minister knows my views from records of the committee and the Assembly, which put forward those of the Economic and Social Committee, which is basically the third parliament. It has different views from those expressed by politicians, where motives are more inclined to preserve the environment.

There is a problem facing the House. It is right to pursue standards, to determine the criteria about dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere, but the draft directive relating to sulphur must imply that the Commission has got it wrong. I hope that it is possible to persuade the Ministers to look at the real issues, and accept that the Commission is leading them down the wrong road in this respect.

10.44 p.m.

I express my appreciation to the House and hon. Members who have spoken for their support of the Government's line, which I announced earlier. I appreciate it because it will be helpful if when we meet I can say that I have the whole House with me when accepting one directive and opposing the other.

That brings me to a question asked by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). We believe that there is not much point in holding meetings of the Council of Ministers unless there is something effective to discuss. Work has been going on since December on certain issues on which we could not reach agreement then, and on others that are being brought forward. I am glad to say that we have fixed the date for the next meeting of the Council of Environmental Ministers under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It will be held on 14th June.

I think that this will be the first time in the history of the EEC that there has been a meeting of this Council in the first half of the year. If their chairmanship has fallen in the first six months of the year, most countries which have had the chairmanship of the Council have not convened a meeting. Therefore, rather than expressing apprehension about this matter, the hon. Member for Hove might congratulate us on having broken new ground in this respect.

I have no hesitation in congratulating the Secretary of State on breaking what appears to have been a rather bad run of performances by the chairmen of this Council. However, I hope that the Minister of State's other remarks do not indicate that he or his right hon. Friend feel that there is nothing that needs doing, that no action programme is required and that no direction on priorities requires to be coming forth from the Council. I hope that the Minister agrees that there is plenty for the Council to do and that he blames previous chairmen for not calling meetings more frequently.

I have been attending the Council over the last three years and I have found European Ministers most agreeable to deal with. I think that I can claim that most of them are now personal friends of mine. Whatever happens in other parts of the EEC, I am glad to say that on environmental matters there is a very happy and constructive approach.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) rightly drew our attention to the fact that he was dealing with these matters 18 months ago and was seeking to oppose, very properly, that proposal which the Government now intend to oppose. I deal with that point immediately. The situation is that these questions do not come before Ministers until they are brought before them by the Commission. The Commission takes advice. No doubt it gets conflicting advice from different countries, which have their national interest with which to concern themselves. When these matters gets on our agenda, we deal with them. We are still dealing with the first environment programme, as the hon. Gentleman will know. Therefore, it is not a question of fixing a programme or determining priorities for the next environment programme.

We have had one or two troublesome matters. On the last occasion on which we met, just before Christmas, I found myself in isolation from my eight colleagues, as the House will remember, on one matter concerning discharges, on which I felt it right, on behalf of British industry, to claim that we could reach the same standards in our industry as they were attempting. I could not accept that additional expenditure should be loaded on to British industry when that was unnecessary.

It is interesting that the second of the directives that we are now discussing does not emanate from the article dealing with environmental matters but, as I explained in my opening remarks, from the article dealing with competition in trade. This is a very important point, and I am glad of the opportunity to comment on it. The fact of the matter—and this is why I have paid attention, though not in a complacent way, to what we have achieved in clearing up pollution in this country—is that we are way ahead generally of almost every other country, whether it be in discharges to the atmosphere or to rivers and waterways, in our pollution legislation.

I think that our legislation on the control of pollution, for example, is in advance of anything that I have heard of in any other country. In many ways we are ahead of other countries. British industry on the whole has already accepted the costs of clearing of pollution, and this is an important factor in my thinking and the Government's thinking We should not impose further costs on industry following a specific line of development on the ground that production might be distorted if we did not do so.

That argument has often been put to me in Brussels. My answer has been that we have already accepted these costs and that we are already ahead of our European partners. I am glad that our partners are now tackling their problems with new vigour, but that in itself is not sufficient reason to impose additional costs on British industry. This is an important principle for the House to bear in mind when we deal with such pieces of EEC legislation.

I hope that at the meeting of Environmental Ministers there will also be Ministers concerned with industry and competition policy. I have outlined to the Minister the following problem. An hon. Member who is concerned with the energy industry, as I am in this case, and who tries to ensure that we produce energy economically and keep down the cost to the housewife is in conflict with hon. Members who are concerned with cleaning up the air for all our citizens. I hope that the meeting will not be attended only by Environment Ministers.

Secondly, one of my difficulties was in convincing my European parliamentary colleagues that Britain, after the 1956 Act and the experience we have had over 21 years is ahead of the rest. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find the same difficulties when the Ministers meet in Brussels next month.

I have never suffered from any difficulty in proving that we are ahead of our colleagues in this matter. I had a piece of good fortune once when I was seeking to prove that we were ahead in cleaning up our rivers. I delivered an eloquent dissertation on what we had done with the River Thames, and on the same day a salmon was caught in the river for the first time, which was clear evidence of the results of our activities in clearing up pollution.

Is the right hon. Gentleman sure that it was a salmon? Some years ago it was reported that a salmon had been caught in the Medway, but the photograph showed that it was a dirty old pike.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the species to which I referred was a salmon, not a pike.

I come now to some of the other points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Hove asked me about sulphur dioxide in London. I entirely agree with him that this is a problem, particularly in London, but tackling sulphur dioxide on its own is not the first matter with which we should deal. In most cases smoke is still the problem that should be tackled first. However, we should bear in mind that we have nearly halved the concentration of sulphur dioxide in the air in London in the past 10 years, which further strengthens my argument.

I turn now to the fifth report of the Royal Commission. The Government attach great importance to this report. We are having the fullest possible consultations about it. Hon. Members can be sure that we are giving every consideration to it, and we shall give our view on it as soon as we can.

I confirm that the principle that "the polluter pays" is still Government policy. But if the hon. Member for Hove means a uniform emission standard, irrespective of the varying environmental circumstances, some factories will be bearing unnecessary costs. I am sure that he would not wish that. I agree that this is not strictly in accordance with the "polluter pays" principle, which we accept, or with our principle of applying the "best practicable means" approach.

I was arguing that it followed from the "polluter pays" principle, with which I think both sides of the House agree, that absolute emission standards must be wrong. The damage is not done to man, beast, the environment or architectural heritage other than by the environmental quality, and therefore it is environmental quality that we must look at if we accept that the polluter pays, because the polluter should pay for the environmental quality which results from what he does.

I think that that is absolutely right, and it is our approach. It is the environmental quality standards to which we must hold and to which we attach a great deal of importance.

I accept the approach of the hon. Member for Hallam and appreciate his support, particularly as he is the rapporteur of his group. Both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) raised important questions about the effect of possible subsequent developments of these policies on the CEGB. I think that the hon. Gentleman spoke of a £1,500 million capital programme if coal were singled out as the next substance to have a treatment by directive, and he suggested that the cost to the consumer of electricity would be between 15 per cent. and 30 per cent. I can confirm that we are well aware of the situation and that we understand the CEGB's concern. This is an additional reason why we should oppose the second directive, because it is wrong in principle and would lead us into wrong practices, with unfortunate financial results.

It is the total quantity of pollution that must be dealt with, the total standards of emissions into the environment. The cause of the unsatisfactory rise in emissions needs to be analysed to find the source whether coal or oil, from which the sulphur dioxide is emanating. That is our approach. Therefore, it would be wrong in principle to accept what would be major financial impositions upon the electrical industry.

I do not think that I shall have an Energy or Industry Minister with me when I go to the Environmental Council, but the hon. Gentleman need not worry on that account, as they are never far from my elbow—or, more accurately, they are never far from the telephone, which is always at my elbow when I attend these Environmental Council meetings. We are naturally in frequent communication.

The hon. Member for Hove and my hon. Friend referred to Sir Gerald Nabarro's part in the passing of the Clean Air Acts. I am delighted that hon. Members have recalled his name in connection with that legislation, as well as the name of Mr. Dick Winterbottom. I would wish to be associated with what they said. I was very much involved, because I was chairman of the committee of the Birmingham City Council that passed the first smokeless zone control order. When I came here in 1955, the first major Committee on which I served was that considering the Clean Air Bill. I therefore know how much we owe to Sir Gerald and to Dick Winterbottom and others. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) also served on the Committee, I believe.

That was a happy instance of cooperation on major and, in those days, pioneering environmental legislation. Twenty years on, I am glad that the House is still co-operating on this important area. Some of our detractors think that we look for arguments in this place, but our co-operation in this respect has achieved lasting benefits for the British people. It is in that spirit that we shall go back to Brussels and face these directives.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House takes note of EEC draft proposal R/540/76 on Health Proection Standards for Sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter in urban atmospheres and R/9/76 on the Sulphur Content of fuel oils, and the relevant Government explanatory memoranda dated 2nd April 1976 and 9th March 1976 respectively.

Post Office Bill

Ordered,

That the Post Office Bill now standing committed to a Committee of the whole House be committed to a Standing Committee.—[Mr. Coleman.]

Hospital Services (Medway Towns)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Coleman.]

11.2 p.m.

In the Strategic Plan for the South-East, issued in 1971, the Medway towns were designated an immediate growth area. Because the area has first-class railway services to London and relatively cheap housing, many young families have moved there. Over 30 per cent. of the population is under the age of 15. The Medway Health District has the highest birth rate in the country—4,336 births last year. No other health district in the South-East exceeded 3,000 births.

Future trends are even more alarming. It is forecast that by 1981 the number of children under the age of 4 will decline throughout the South-East, with the sole exception of the Kent area. It is expected that the increase in Kent will be 23,000 and that 45 per cent. of them will be in the Medway Health District.

The hospitals in the Medway area cannot cope with that increasing pressure, and, despite promises, little appears to be happening. The district has a total of 1,027 hospital beds, but that figure is 9,000 short of the last DHSS recommendations. The district has many major deficiencies in the maternity, acute surgery, geriatric and psychiatric services.

I have mentioned the increasing pressure on maternity services, but the immediate problem is the special care baby unit at All Saints Hospital, Chatham. Although the district's requirement in the unit is a provision of 32 cots, the unit is allowed to hold only 16 because of the risk of infection.

The unit is housed in an old building and, because of its style of construction—it has exposed steel beams, with old-fashioned radiators and pipes—it is impossible to keep it clean. There is no artificial ventilation, and, as a result, dirt and pollution come in through the open windows. There are no changing facilities. The 28 staff regularly have to change from their outside clothing in the sterile area of the ward itself. There are no isolation or resuscitation units.

Last year 34 babies had to be taken to other hospitals in the South-East and 19 of them could have been cared for at All Saints if the facilities had been available. They were transferred to hospitals in the London area, at least 30 miles away. I have been told by the staff of All Saints Hospital that two babies lost their lives last year because no London hospital could be found to take them and All Saints did not have the facilities to deal with the crisis.

One doctor told me that he had to hand-resuscitate a baby for six hours while his colleagues were frantically telephoning London hospitals to find accommodation for the child. I am pleased to say that, despite all these difficulties, thanks to the diligence and devotion of the staff of All Saints, Medway has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the region.

Another area of concern is acute surgery. Medway Hospital, at Gillingham, is the accident centre for the district, serving a population of some 330,000. The hospital, however, has only 50 surgical beds. Because of the pressure on these beds, patients have to be moved to other hospitals for convalescence, perhaps before it is medically prudent. Last year the length of stay by the average patient at Medway Hospital was just over six days compared with the regional average of over nine days.

I think that the most surprising statistic that I have found in investigating this matter is the length of time a bed is unoccupied. In the South-East Region the average time between a patient leaving and another coming into a bed is about 2·7 days, but in the Medway area it is one-tenth of a day. Perhaps one can claim that this is a saving of cost because beds never get cold!

This movement of patients is a matter of some controversy locally. One prominent surgeon has said that patients are at risk as a consequence of moving between hospitals. Medway Hospital is the former Chatham Naval Hospital. It was modernised in the 1960s, although only 213 beds were provided. Administrative facilities and other services were built to cater for a hospital of nearly 800 beds. At present only two operating theatres are in operation, and emergency cases have to wait up to six or seven hours before receiving treatment.

Medway's geriatric problem is no greater than those elsewhere in the region, but we have problems, because in the Medway area we have a large percentage of houses built 60 or more years ago. These older houses have little or no heating in their bedrooms and often have outside sanitation. As a consequence, general practitioners tend to send older patients to hospital whereas normally they would be dealt with in the comfort of their own homes. When I last made inquiries into the subject of psycho-geriatric cases, I found that there were some 15 urgently waiting to be admitted to hospital, and many of these patients were a danger not only to themselves but to the relatives trying to care for them.

The problems of Medway Health District are exacerbated by being in the comparatively rich South-East Thames Region. The lion's share of the resources are given to the three teaching hospitals and the other prestige hospitals in the London area. This is to the detriment of Kent in general and Medway in particular. I have pressed the Minister many times on this subject, and last year, my right hon.. Friend the then Minister of State, now the Foreign Secretary, assured me:
"The Regional Health Authority are fully aware of the problems facing localities such as Kent, and are taking steps to start correcting the imbalance which has been allowed to build up in the past."
That promise has not been kept. This year Medway's capital allocation has been slashed by the region. It has been reduced so that it is only 66 per cent. of the previous year's total, and a mere £50,000 has been granted when it is estimated that Medway needs £1½ million to make up its deficiencies. The Medway district has some £66,000 to spend on small works. If the district were allowed to forgo this sum and roll over the money into future years, this would be one way of accumulating capital, but under the present rules of the Department that is not allowed.

Although I am only a layman in medical affairs, I am convinced that a crisis situation exists in the Medway hospitals and that emergency action must be taken to remedy the neglect of the past. One solution that has been suggested is that at the Medway Hospital itself, where we have a great deal of space, the ward accommodation should be increased by the erection of industrialised buildings. These might not be up to the Department's standards, but they would save a great deal of time in construction. I should like the Minister's observations on that suggestion.

But the real problem in the Medway area is the sheer shortage of money. The region is aware of the situation, but is dogged by the continuing problem of having to serve the ever-increasing designated area of the South London teaching hospitals and the prestige hospitals, particularly in Greenwich. What is needed is not just a mere statement of policy by the Secretary of State but a determination on his part to see that his policies are carried through. I would also welcome an assurance that in the future years policies will be observed and that a monitoring system will be set up to see that areas such as Medway do not lose out.

I notice that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is present. If he would like to come in at this juncture, I am willing to give way.

11.11 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean) for allowing me time to speak, because this is a matter going far beyond party politics. We have argued for our constituencies, both of which are affected, on the broad basis that we want to get something done.

The Minister knows from his files that for at least three years I have been pressing for urgency in this case. Indeed, he is also no doubt aware that I sent the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), then Secretary of State, a series of extremely good articles, well researched and factual, produced by one of the local newspapers after I had formed a small committee, including consultants, doctors and others interested in operating and in the National Health Service generally. They all expressed the utmost anxiety about the situation that was developing.

This was followed by representations to the present Foreign Secretary, then the Minister of State responsible. He was good enough to say that he agreed that the situation in Medway was extremely critical and that he recognised the point that the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham has made.

One of the most important features of this whole situation was the growth in population and the additional strains that imposed on the Health Service. The then Minister of State said that he hoped that this would be taken into consideration in dealing with the problem. He also insisted—and this was the crux of the matter—that the shortage of money was such that it was extremely difficult, indeed, probably impossible, to go as far as he would like.

I also took the matter up with the chairman of the South-East Region, Mr. Donne. I felt that was necessary since he had the duty of dispensing the moneys made available by the Government to the particular areas that he represents—Kent and, I presume, part of South-East London. It was a very wide area. He has a very difficult task, but I felt it was absolutely essential to point out the problems that existed and that would grow in intensity and become even more critical.

He accepted that view of the situation. Although he implied that the services were inadequate, he said they were only kept at the standard they were at because of the dedication and hard work of the nurses and others involved. Unfortunately, since then there has been a deterioration, not least because of the growth in population, to which the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham had referred and for which there has been no compensating improvement.

Indeed, a very eminent consultant wrote a letter to Her Majesty drawing attention to the problem in the town. He is a surgeon who is operating in the wards that carry out the whole of the emergency operations and he said that his ward was frequently more like a casualty-clearing station on a battle field than a hospital ward in a civilised country. Those are very strong words for a consultant. It is almost unprecedented for a surgeon to speak in that way. He also made those observations to the Press. Another surgeon in a hospital in the Rochester and Chatham constituency made similar observations.

We are in a position in which these factors cannot be disregarded. I am sure that the Minister will not wish to disregard them. I know that he will say that the finances available make it difficult to provide for any improvement. If a certain sum of money is available for the whole area, I believe, as I told the chairman for the area in 1975, that Medway must be treated as a special case.

The money that goes to areas that do not experience the population growth found in Medway must be siphoned off from those areas and put into Medway. In no other part of the area have there been such complaints as have been made in Medway. That part is unique for the expressions of anxiety and dissatisfaction made about it.

The consultant told me that last Saturday there was only one qualified nurse for the ward that has to deal with all the emergency operations and that has 50 beds. She was the ward sister. On Sunday the only qualified nurse was a staff nurse.

I know the Minister fairly well and I know that he will not attempt to gloss over this problem. I know that he will realise that something has to be done, and I hope that tonight he will tell us just what will be done.

11.19 p.m.

I feel sure that the people of Medway will appreciate the continuing efforts of their Members including my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean) and the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), in drawing attention to the state of hospital services in their district, the latest being my hon. Friend's admirable presentation this evening. In fact, those efforts have continued for several years, as the hon. Member for Gillingham said, and involved approaches at local and regional as well as national levels.

I can well understand the serious concern which has been expressed but I know that the relevant health authorities neither deny nor disregard these very real problems. In present circumstances, however, when we must for the next year or two move slowly and deliberately towards a fairer distribution of resources, even long-standing inequalities may take some time to be righted. But the fact that fewer immediate improvements are evident than one would like to see certainly does not mean that the authorities are not already taking the first difficult steps essential for a fairer future.

As hon. Members will well know, my right hon. Friend has reiterated the commitment of this Government to a fairer distribution of the financial resources of the National Health Service in relation to health care needs. He has also stressed that redistributing resources to help deprived neighbourhoods in better provided regions is just as important as helping equally deprived parts of less well-off regions. But the pace at which redistribution should go—whether between or within regions—is constrained by such practical considerations as the historic pattern of hospitals and other capital stock which could not be fundamentaly changed without a programme of investment greater than we are likely to be able to afford in the foreseeable future.

There has, I suspect, been some misunderstanding over the nature of the equalisation "targets" calculated on formulae proposed by the Resource Allocation Working Party, which was set up in May 1975. I should therefore make clear that the task of that working party was—namely, to recommend the criteria on which long-term allocations of money should be based, not the speed at which inequalities emerging from application of these criteria should be corrected. This is a matter for political decision, just as the practical problems of redeploying resources within a region or an area are for local consideration and decision.

In its first interim report the working party interpreted the underlying objective of its terms of reference as being to stress that there should eventually be equal access to health care for people at equal risk. I stress that this was to be the eventual result. In its full report last September the point was expanded. It said in paragraph 1.5:
"Resources allocation is concerned with the distribution of financial resources which are used for the provision of real resources. In this sense it is concerned with the means rather than the end. We have not regarded our remit as being concerned with how the resources are deployed. This must be a matter for the administering authorities and is essentially part of their policy-making, planning and decision-making functions in response to central guidelines on national policies and priorities. Resource allocation will clearly have an important influence on the discharge of those functions and be the most critical guideline within which they have to be discharged."
In pursuit of these objectives, the resource allocations made to the regional health authorities in 1976–77 and 1977–78 have been related to equalisation "targets" broadly based on the RAWP formulae and have taken a modest step towards those targets. My right hon. Friend has on more than one occasion commented on problems faced by the relatively richer regions, including those based on London, which have, for example, particular problems in meeting the needs of an ageing population. We are beginning to get to grips with a major redeployment of hospital resources including the closure of small hospitals that are no longer viable, and, above all, we need some room to manoeuvre to permit redeployment of services to meet the hitherto neglected priorities identified in the consultative document. With these problems in mind, marginal additions in real terms were made to the allocations to the Thames regions so that none should find its resources at an absolute standstill. We have freely acknowledged that keeping within the cash limits set would still not be easy, but this is an essential discipline.

The letters informing regional authorities of their cash allocations for the current year also advised them of the criteria each would be expected to observe in the complex task of breaking down the total figure between their constituent areas. The provisional assessment of resource targets was recommended, at least for areas, but preferably for districts as well, to provide some measure of relative need. Generally, a limited movement towards the "targets" should be possible. Exceptionally, this might be delayed to enable other areas to rationalise services and thus have funds in order to enable more rapid progress to be made elsewhere in future years. A wide range of factors would have to be taken into consideration—including, of course, those which have been instanced at Medway and are already well known to the South-East Thames Regional Health Authority. The Department will monitor closely the national level of progress in implementing RAWP principles and RHAs will be informng us of their intra-regional allocations and the basis on which they were decided.

The South-East Thames Regional Health Authority had already been giving a great deal of thought to this question and had set up an internal resource allocation working party. Broadly speaking, it had accepted the necessity for redeploying resources from the London end of the region to the periphery, particularly to Kent, and had indeed taken a modest step in that direction in 1976–77. However, it felt that in 1977–78 a breathing space was needed to deal with various special commitments, including the expenses of running new facilities resulting from capital expenditure previously agreed and in particular overspending by areas which had not had time to take essential measures of rationalisation. Inner city areas, for example, may appear to have an excess of acute hospital beds, but it is not possible to switch such resources immediately to remedy the gaps in, say, primary care. I accept that my Department has a clear monitoring rôle here. I hope that this will reassure my hon. Friend. To exercise this rôle we shall require proper reports from the authorities. These must, however, await the outcome of further discussions between the RHA and its AHAs on what is now proposed.

Although the very existence of the targets proposed by RAWP marks a significant advance, such targets for use both by the Department and by health authorities are admittedly subject to further refinement. For example, the need for health care is affected by social factors that are the province of other programmes—housing, for example, employment, environmental health, even transport. The NHS cannot remedy deprivation in these fields, but it has to respond to the effect on health services to which such deprivation may give rise.

The point that I wanted to put was simply that we have been struggling for two years with the South-East Thames authority and others. The best monitoring that the Minister could do would be to come to the Medway towns himself. I understand that the hon. Gentleman will possibly do that and I hope that he will now give a categorical assurance that he will come and monitor the position himself.

I shall come to that point in a moment.

Again, the pace of change in the future will be influenced not only by the national availability of resources but by the capacity of health authorities to plan ahead for rationalisation and improvements of services. With all this in mind my right hon. Friend has indicated that authorities should plan their redistribution with the influence of the growth rate on the time scale very much in mind and take account of those factors that cannot be quantified—just as he has done nationally. Thus, while one must expect that inequalities between areas in the South-East Thames authorities and even between districts in the Kent area will persist for some time, those inequalities might not be so marked in reality as might appear from a straightforward comparison of resident populations because of the need to take account of a variety of modifying factors. The RAWP report itself comments on a number of these and I shall not elaborate them here. To take one example, London weighting and the extra cost of medical education are other factors that must be taken into account.

However, I can well imagine that the comparisons that the average patient makes are only indirectly concerned with allocations. He is interested in what facilities are available to him, whether, for example, he has to wait longer than similar patients elsewhere. Here the real problem is in ensuring that like is being compared with like. Different hospitals treat different mixes of conditions, for example. There is no absolute yardstick by which the adequacy or otherwise of a particular level of service can be judged. However, I am not aware that patients in the Medway district, wait longer for treatment than patients in other districts in Kent, although comparison is difficult.

However I agree that the details of acute in-patient services at Medway Hospital on the face of it demonstrate that the hospital is using its facilities to the best advantage. Bed occupancy is high and the turnover interval low. Incidentally the turnover interval for general surgery is in fact 0·9 days. I am certainly not seeking to pretend that services are not under pressure in Medway, but one interpretation of the facts is that at least they are being operated most efficiently and I pay tribute to the staff.

If the Medway Hospital can apparently make such intensive use of its facilities, there must surely be room for improvement in other hospitals. It was this kind of improvement, after all, that the Department was hoping for when it recommended in last year's consultative document on priorities that in future there should be a switch of emphasis from the acute to the geriatric, psychiatric and community services. A recent letter from the district management team shows that it feels bound to attach greater priority to schemes for providing additional geriatric and psychiatric accommodation than for the improvement of baby care and surgical facilities. Also, the last year's report from the community health Council shows a properly wide-ranging concern with all aspects of primary and secondary care.

My hon. Friend has also mentioned capital funding. In due course we shall also be discussing with the South-East Thames Authority its capital cash limit for 1977–8 and assumptions for the two following years. The Department had to calculate these figures in a very complicated manner which owed much to the level of ongoing commitments—such as building schemes in progress—in different parts of the country and relatively little so far to RAWP principles. The RHA has publicly protested about its low level of capital funding compared with others and this has attracted local Press headlines throughout the region.

It must be noted, however, that even if its figure of £12 million capital had been set at, say £15 million—which is about the national average—it would still pale into insignificance beside the region's revenue allocation of £352 million. In fact, it is within the authority's discretion, if desired, to bring about that kind of improvement itself by transferring up to 1 per cent. from revenue to capital purposes.

The requirement to make better use of resources is one of the cardinal features of the new planning system that is just getting under way. It might help if I dropped a line about this to the hon. Member for Gillingham and to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham. I have been invited to examine the Medway situation for myself and I shall be glad to take up this invitation when the opportunity arises.

In the meantime, I accept that in future years additional resources available must increasingly be directed towards remedying deficiencies in health services in such districts. We shall be carefully monitoring this process year by year and discussing with the authorities the appropriate rate of change.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Eleven o'clock.

Second Reading Committee

Wednesday 18th May 1977

The Committee consisted of the following Members: Sir Stephen McAdden(in the Chair)

Berry, Mr. Anthony (Southgate)Parry, Mr. Robert (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)
Brotherton, Mr. Michael (Louth)
Davis, Mr. Clinton (Under-Secretary of State for Trade)Prescott, Mr. John (Kingston upon Hull, East)
Dodsworth, Mr. Geoffrey (Hertfordshire, South-West)Ridsdale, Mr. Julian (Harwich)
Steen, Mr. Anthony (Liverpool, Wavertree)
Johnson, Mr. James (Kingston upon Hull, West)Viggers, Mr. Peter (Gosport)
Lloyd, Mr. Ian (Havant and Waterloo)White, Mr. Frank R. (Bury and Radcliffe)
McMillan, Mr. Tom (Glasgow, Central)
McNamara, Mr. Kevin (Kingston upon Hull, Central)Wigley, Mr. Dafydd (Caernarvon)
Woodall, Mr. Alec (Hemsworth)

MERCHANT SHIPPING (SAFETY CONVENTION) BILL [Lords]

10.30 a.m.

I beg to move,

That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee rcommend that the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.
The Bill was introduced in another place on 8th March and received its Third Reading there on 28th April. It has now come before this House for consideration, and I trust that we shall give it as smooth a passage it as received in another place.

The purpose of the Bill is to permit the United Kingdom to ratify the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. The convention is the fifth in a line of conventions on safety of life at sea—often known as SOLAS Conventions for short. Indeed, they go back to 1914, when the first convention was adopted under the shadow of the disaster of the "Titanic" two years previously. Unhappily, that came to noth ing, due to the outbreak of the First World War. There were a series of subsequent conventions leading up to the 1974 convention.

The existing SOLAS Convention was drawn up in 1960. We gave effect to it by the Merchant Shipping Act 1964, and the convention came into force a year later. It is adhered to by more than 80 countries, including all the world's leading maritime nations, and is the principal international instrument governing marine safety.

Nevertheless, the 1960 convention, however excellent, cannot stand for all time. Our unflagging resolve is to learn from experience, constantly to improve standards of safety on ships and to equip ourselves with the right machinery to be able to adapt quickly to and, indeed, to anticipate the demands of the new and constantly unfolding technology. The members of IMCO—the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation—which is the United Nations specialised agency concerned with maritime affairs and is responsible for SOLAS Conventions, recognised that the 1960 convention stood in need of improvement. Accordingly, an IMCO conference was held in London in 1974, largely at the initiative of the United Kingdom, the purpose of which was to draw up a new convention.

That conference had two main objectives. The first was to incorporate into a new convention all the amendments to the 1960 convention which had yet to come into force. Some of these amendments were up to eight years old and were designed to fill the gaps which had emerged since the convention had been originally framed. The amendments were clearly needed to improve safety, yet under the terms of the convention they could not come into effect until there had been a large number of positive acceptances by individual Governments.

This led to the second objective of the conference. Apart from the need to implement past amendments, it was plain that action was needed to quicken the pace at which future amendments would come into force. The conference therefore agreed to adopt a so-called "simple SOLAS" method of amendment whereby the updating of the convention could be accelerated.

Having laid out the background to the convention, I turn now to the Bill which implements its provisions for this country. The IMCO text of the convention was laid before Parliament last April in what was unquestionably and unavoidably a long and complex technical document. In comparison, the Bill appears to be short and simple. The reason is that existing statutory powers are adequate to implement the vast majority of the requirements imposed by the convention. As I have already said, the existing 1960 convention was implemented by means of the Merchant Shipping Act 1964. The convention before that, of 1948, had been put into effect by the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1949. These two Acts, the 1949 and 1964 Acts, provide powers broad enough to carry out most of the requirements of the 1974 convention. All that is needed is to translate the existing references to the 1960 convention in the two Acts into references to the 1974 convention. Clause 1 of the Bill makes the provision by having these two Acts apply to the 1974 convention. However, there are a number of comparatively minor provisions in the 1974 convention where existing powers are inadequate and, accordingly, the Bill has to make provision for them.

The convention lays down, for the first time, rules on the oil fuel used in machinery on board ship by prohibiting fuel which is liable to ignite at low temperatures. We are not empowered at present to make the regulations needed to meet the terms of the convention in this respect. Subsection (4) of Clause 1 therefore makes minor amendments to the 1949 and 1964 Acts to enable the necessary rules to be made.

Secondly, in that part of the convention dealing with the carriage of grain, which has been substantially revised, there have been two extensions of coverage. On the one hand, processed grain, which can be as hazardous a cargo as natural grain in that it is equally liable to shift and disturb the ship's stability, is made subject to the grain regulations which currently apply only to natural forms. On the other hand, the regulations will bite on all ships carrying grain, regardless of the volume of the cargo in relation to the size of ships, replacing the present position under which only ships whose cargo of grain exceeds one-third of their tonnage are affected. Subsection (5) of Clause 1 provides the powers to make rules in respect of those two developments in the grain regulations.

The third and final area where further powers are needed to implement the convention relates to nuclear ships. Nuclear ships axe not a new matter for SOLAS Conventions. The 1960 convention dealt with that subject. However, at that time the building of nuclear ships was still under debate. The United Kingdom reserved its position on nuclear ships by indicating in its instrument of accession that, while we agreed with the requirements on nuclear ships, we should implement them only as soon as it became necessary to do so. In our view, that time has now come with the construction of a small number of ships meeting the convention's definition of a ship provided with a nuclear power plant. Though there are still very few such ships, and none on the United Kingdom register, there is, because of the special safety hazards that they pose, a need for effective regulation. The convention lays down the terms which this regulation should take, and Clause 2 allows us to make rules in accordance with them.

I shall next deal with the question of future amendments to the convention, which is covered in Clause 3. I have already stressed that the conference which framed the convention was concerned to accelerate the pace at which amendments came into force. The procedure which was eventually adopted is contained in Article VIII of the convention. I shall not go into the complexities of the new amendment procedure, but the aim is clear—to accelerate the introduction of amendments needed to maintain up-to-date safety standards consistent with the fullest possible consultation between contracting Governments. No Government would be bound to accept or implement any amendment to which it objected, so there is no question of a loss of national sovereignty. Furthermore, under Clause 3 we should implement amendments by means of Orders in Council subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Parliament, therefore, will have a proper opportunity to scrutinise future amendments.

Finally, I underline the urgency with which the Government view this measure. Naturally, we are anxious that all those who go to sea should be protected by the highest possible safety standards. On that score alone, we should now wish to ratify the convention. However, beyond the needs of the moment are longer-term considerations.

The large number of tanker accidents off the United States coast which have occurred recently has precipitated a call in the United States for immediate unilateral action to control all ships trading with that country. Pressure for unilateral action is particularly strong in the Senate and is backed up by a powerful environmental lobby. I well understand the call for higher safety and pollution standards. Indeed, not only I but everybody in the Committee and the House would share this aim. However, to achieve that aim, we believe strongly that the best method is to get uniform standards accepted through international IMCO regulations and not by unco-ordinated action by individual States. While the adoption of unilateral measures may have some short-term attractions, they would rapidly have the effect of undermining the framework of international regulations built up over many years.

We therefore place the utmost importance on ensuring that the urge for higher safety and pollution standards in the United States and elsewhere is channelled through established international machinery. It is most encouraging that President Carter indicated in a recent statement that he wanted to see international agreement reached on improving safety and pollution prevention. It is therefore important that the international route can be shown to be effective.

Already IMCO is beginning to face up to the challenge. Its programme of work over the next 12 months has been stepped up with the aim of holding a special conference next February on tanker safety and pollution, which will enable full consideration to be given to recent United States proposals. This country, as one of the leading members of IMCO, will be playing its full part in these events.

Along with developing new standards, IMCO is applying itself to enforcing those conventions which are already in force, as well as working to bring into force all outstanding conventions. It is important that the United Kingdom can be seen to be in the van in ratifying the latest convention.

First, we hope shortly to seek powers which will enable us to ratify the 1973 Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Second, we need to ratify the 1974 SOLAS Convention with the powers this Bill would give us. In order to come into force, SOLAS 1974 needs to be ratified by at least 25 States, whose combined merchant fleets amount to at least 50 per cent. of the world's gross tonnage. The convention takes effect 12 months after the necessary number of ratifications has been received. To date, six countries have ratified and IMCO is urging member Governments to ratify so that a target date for coming into effect by July 1979 can be met.

Our ratification will not in itself bring the convention into effect. I want to make that clear. This will happen only 12 months after at least 25 States with a combined tonnage representing at least 50 per cent. of the world's gross tonnage have ratified the convention. However, because of the size of our merchant fleet —currently third in the world—it is bound to have a powerful effect on other countries to try to meet the target which has been set. I hope that this will be the result of our action in this regard.

I think it would be wrong to allow this opportunity to pass without referring to further legislative proposals which we intend to put to Parliament at the earliest opportunity. I have in mind a far longer Merchant Shipping Bill, which will cover such matters as discipline on board ship, safety standards, pilotage, limitation of liability to seafarers and to passengers. The Bill is in the course of preparation and is a candidate—I hopefully say a strong candidate—for inclusion in next Session's legislative programme. Suffice it to say that, while I should have liked to proceed with a Bill of this character this Session, the disciplinary provisions are much more complex than those concerning the ratification of the convention.

Moreover, parts of the Bill will not be ready until the summer, and I do not think that it would have been susceptible to Second Reading Committee procedure in any event. In these circumstances, it was not considered appropriate to advance the introduction of the Bill into the present Session. When the time comes, I am sure that it will be seen that that was the right decision.

The Bill that we are now considering is supported by our ship owners and seafarers here in the United Kingdom. I submit that it is an extremely important step in the international context. I trust, therefore, that we shall give it full support.

10.46 a.m.

Perhaps I should begin by declaring what is essentially, in the context of this Bill, an academic interest, in that it is well known that I have connections with the shipping industry. But as I am told, and no doubt the Committee is aware, the shipping industry wholly supports the convention and the Bill, that interest is purely academic.

Next, I declare my support for the Bill as presented, and I thank the Minister for his studiously objective and interesting discussion of its purpose and content. I wish, however, to make a few comments on the procedure involved today and on the contents of the convention, because it seems to me that although what we are doing is, perhaps, unavoidable—one might think of another way to do it—Parliament is being asked to ratify what one might describe as a package deal by international conference.

The Safety of Life at Sea Convention is a substantial document. I have the volume with me. While most of it is not in any sense politically controversial, it contains a number of interesting and important regulations which I should have thought it would be constructive for us to comment on occasionally, if only because such comment could be fed back to future discussions of possible amendments to the convention. Such comment could be made available to our delegations who, apparently, have the sole right, in practice, to modify and change the convention.

I want to look at the convention itself, particularly at the parts which, as the Minister himself said, are new and affect new spheres of shipping. I start with Chapter VII Class 2, dealing with gases. Regulations are put forward to deal with
"Gases: compressed, liquefied or dissolvd under pressure".
What interested me about this was the requirement in Regulation 3 that the packing of dangerous goods shall be
"capable of withstanding the ordinary risks of handling and carriage by sea".
What disturbed me here was the implication of the term "ordinary risk". It was this which led me to delve more deeply into the convention. As I saw it, in this context the phrase "ordinary risk", if ever taken before a court or an international court, would be subject to interpretation as broad as it is long. One group of scientists, one group of mariners, one group of shipping companies, one country or another, could have different concepts and standards of the term "ordinary risk".

Therefore the definition here—
"capable of withstanding the ordinary risks"
seems to me hardly worth putting into the language chosen. Who is to judge what is an ordinary risk? Who is to define what is an ordinary risk? Who is to draw the boundary—this is perhaps the most important matter of all—between an ordinary risk and an extraordinary risk?

In this context, the Committee may be interested to hear that at the moment the Burmah Oil Company is building, at the General Dynamic Shipyard in the United States, two vessels—there are two on the stocks but there will be more—of the size of the Queen Elizabeth, each of which will carry five 800-ton tanks each of which will be filled with several thousand tons of liquid natural gas.

The risk at sea represented by a ship of that kind is, to my mind, at least equal to that of a minor nuclear explosion, because the amount of energy contained in five tanks of that size in a vessel nearly 1,000 feet long is enormous, and the risk of a collision at sea with such a ship, particularly in narrow coastal waters, is of almost indefinable magnitude. I use that phrase advisedly because the last experience we had of a major disaster with liquid natural gas was, I believe, in Cleveland, Ohio, when a train carrying probably one-fiftieth or one-hundreth of the natural gas that is likely to be carried in one of these ships blew up. On that occasion about 330 lives were lost. So this is a new area of risk of gigantic proportions which is barely touched on in the convention. I should like to have seen in the Convention a much more serious attempt to get to grips with precisely the character, size and dimension of the risk involved with such ships.

We are told further that the
"Cylinders…shall be adequately constructed, tested, maintained and correctly filled."
Here again, who is to define "adequately"? What does the word mean? What is "correctly filled" in this context? Is there a precise technical definition of either of those phrases? The Convention gives no indication that there is any technical parameter. In the event of, say, a major claim against the operator of such a ship who rested his defence of safety on the fact that his cylinders or receptacles were "adequately constructed" and "correctly filled", it would be up to him to produce his own criteria of adequacy and correctness. As I interpret the convention and the way it is applied, no one would seriously challenge that. There are similar phrases throughout the Convention, not merely in this area, and I find that disturbing.

I concede that the hon. Gentleman is more familiar than I am with these technical matters, but it occurs to me that a court, in construing what is negligence—as courts are constantly required to do—must depend upon precedental experience and its own construction of what is careless or not. So I wonder whether these matters to which the hon. Gentleman quite rightly refers are susceptible to closer definition. Can he indicate whether, in his view, that is possible? Does not the convention have to be drawn in this way, subject of course, to the anomalies that could arise and to which he has referred?

There is, I believe, no fundamental disagreement between us on this. The contrast that I was about to draw was with those parts of the convention where there is, perhaps for some good and understandable reason, a very precise defintion of the safety parameter. I give as an example Regulation 18, on page 43 of the Annex to the Convention, where the diameter of the bilge main is defined by a very precise mathematical formula.

Perhaps that precise defintion is something on which it was easy to get international agreement. It could be that the definition of the correct form of construction and insulation of the liquid natural gas tank was something for which international agreement would be very difficult. That would be justification for vagueness on the one hand and precision on the other.

This vagueness and lack of precision goes right through the convention. I shall give some other examples, which I have found a little disturbing and which I think it worth putting on record. But, before doing so, I turn to the next area, Attachment 3, in Chapter VIII dealing with nuclear ships, in which there is similar vagueness of language. Recommendation 2(b) states:
"The reactor installation should be designed to prevent an uncontrolled chain reaction…".
One knows that no one in his right mind anywhere in the world would build a reactor which in any sense whatever would incur the risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction. No group of engineers setting out to build such a reactor would be allowed to get very far. That seemed to me, therefore, to be redundant language.

Next, on the question of radiation limits, the convention gives us very little idea; it simply states that the radiation limits shall be acceptable. In naval vessels, we have experience of a large number of marine reactors. We know what radiation limits have been accepted in nuclear submarines. We know what radiation limits have been accepted in the "Otho Hahn" and in the "John F. Kennedy". There are about 300 nuclear naval vessels afloat now, but only three or four merchant nuclear ships. But, surely, out of this vast experience of nuclear reactors in naval vessels some idea could have been given of an acceptable level of radiation so that the convention would not merely have to say that acceptable radiation limits will be agreed. Once again, there is a problem of precision versus non-precision.

Let us turn now to the more conventional areas of the convention. In Regulation 32(c)(i) the provision of fire hydrants is dealt with. These shall be provided
"to the satisfaction of the Administration".
That is all. But about 30 administrations are involved, and each could have a different degree of satisfaction with the provision of fire hydrants.

The same criterion of the satisfaction of the administration is applied to the provision of portable fire extinguishers in Regulation 32(e).

Regulation 21 on page 84 deals with
"the number and disposition of the means of escape".
Here again, the Convention speaks of such numbers as the administration may deem sufficient, and the 30 or more administrations could deem satisfactory entirely different systems.

If the variation is to be so great, if national discretion is to be so wide, and if all we are putting down here is a counsel of perfection in some form, why should we bother to do it at all? An international convention has far more bite and effectiveness when, as it does in the case of the formula for the diameter of a bilge main, it defines very precisely a limit, a minimum or a maximum. After all the discussion and controversy has taken place, the international convention should give one something to go on, telling one precisely what has been said and done and what standard has been set.

Over and over again, one reads that the administration may pemit relaxations. On the design of watertight doors—a fundamental safety requirement at sea—we are told only that this must be
"to the satisfaction of the Administraton".
Each of the 30 different administrations could have a different idea of the right design of a watertight door.

The more I looked into the convention, the happier I was that I had not been involved at a much earlier stage, because I felt that I should have been a robust critic of some of the things which were said and done. I do not in any sense criticise the objective. Safety of life at sea is an internationally agreed objective among all nations and parties. But one sometimes wonders how effective the methods chosen to achieve that objective are, and whether this enormously costly process of international convention is worth while merely to achieve—to use a contradiction in terms—precise vagueness. That is all that some of these regulations provide.

I come now to another point which is worth discussing at this stage. What is the effect of a convention of this kind on maritime operating costs? No one knows. I imagine that the participants at the conference will have had an idea that if they upgraded a particular requirement, if they increased, shall we say, the number of fire extinguishers per deck or per passage, that would give rise to a precisely definable cost. But the overall cost of upgrading maritime safety in relation to the costs of operating all types of ships throughout the world is something upon which no one has endeavoured to put any sort of figure. I refer to it simply because it is another example of a phenomenon that I believe to be of increasing importance and significance in the twentieth century, that is, inflation by legislation.

There is an imposed increase, agreed by international convention, of real costs of an almost indeterminate amount. That is something to which Parliament should pay more attention, as we carry the overall responsibility for the nation meeting the bill through increased costs of shipping and carriage by sea.

There are two imponderables here. On the one hand, there is the degree of acceptable risk—an attempt to quantify the risk to life in money terms, which is always disagreeable and very difficult to do. On the other hand, there is an almost unquantifiable and indefinable increase in real costs that cannot just be swept under the carpet and ignored.

I make one final point about the convention, after which, having made one further qualification, I shall sit down. I was surprised to see in Regulation 16 the requirement for rigid liferafts. I read that with great attention because it is a subject in which I have taken a special interest. I was astonished to read that, among the regulations for rigid liferafts for all forms of merchant ship, one vital requirement is not specified. No liferaft is likely to be effective in Northern waters unless it has a double bottom. That is well known and well understood. It is not specified in Regulation 16. It may be specified in the national regulations for British liferafts. I believe that it applies to merchant ships, if not to smaller craft.

I was astonished, however, to see that the requirement was not accepted internationally. Clearly, a liferaft launched in Northern waters that does not have a double bottom will not preserve the lives of its occupants. I feel that the least I can do is to draw attention to what I believe is an obvious deficiency in the new convention which, in general rightly, we are seeking to ratify.

Finally, I feel that I should be failing in my duty if I did not draw the Minister's attention to an article which was published in New Scientist on 12th May of this year on the problem of safety and prevention of hazards. That, of course, is what the Committee is debating. One of the authors of the article is the professor of safety and hygiene at Aston University. It deals with the problem of safety in a general sense and does not concentrate specifically on maritime safety.

The article considers the philosophical analysis of safety, and whether the concept of acceptability of risk is one on which we should continue to base all forms of safety legislation. I believe the analysis to be of the greatest importance and it deserves the attention of all those concerned with safety. Indeed, I am bound to bring the matter before the Committee, because Professors Atherley and McGinty state:
"Neither Labour nor Conservative Governments have any declared overall policy to guide decisions on risks taken by their Departments or agencies."
That is a serious criticism. It may not be wholly sustained, but it is made of both Governments. I think that the analysis and the philosophy which the authors set out in a serious and carefully considered article deserve the closest attention of our representatives at future conferences on the safety of life at sea.

11.5 a.m.

I wish to make a few random points following the Minister's workmanlike introduction of the Bill. Apparently 67 countries signed the convention but so far only six have ratified it. I note that in the House of Lords debate it was said that at that time only four had ratified. May I ask the Minister why, after two and a half years, so few countries have ratified the convention, and what estimate can he make of the progress in ratification?

I am particularly concerned to note that, of the four countries mentioned in the House of Lords, none is a member of the European Community. I think that we are entitled to ask our colleagues in the Community whether they are with us on this international matter. After all, if the European Economic Community is to be a meaningful body, it should be meaningful on precisely this kind of subject and, in my view, there ought to be European guidelines which should be accepted by all members of the Community. I suggest that we are entitled to ask the Minister the extent to which we may expect our European colleagues to ratify the convention by the target date.

Secondly, following the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd), I was impressed by his detailed knowledge of the regulations, which I certainly cannot hope to emulate, but I note that in the debate in the other place the noble Lord Lord Oram, in introducing the Bill, said that there was a risk that if nations were not fast enough to ratify the convention there would be unilateral imposition of regulations. He referred to the fact that the United States was contemplating, and even bringing in, its own regulations to govern safety at sea.

Is the Minister satisfied that SOLAS 1974 is sufficiently tight and meaningful in its application to prevent the development of unilateral regulations? Is the Minister satisfied, for instance, following the important comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo, that the regulation of nuclear power sources in the 1974 convention is sufficiently tight for it to be accepted as the appropriate international type of regulation to govern all nuclear ships? Or does he feel, particularly following my hon. Friend's comments, that the convention is not tightly enough drawn and that nations will unilaterally impose their own regulations? We need to know that, because if there is the chance of unilateral regulations developing perhaps the 1974 convention is not sufficiently tight and we should be pressing for tighter regulations now.

Thirdly, can we be sure that British rules are reasonably in step with those of the competition—the competition being shippers of other countries? Can we be sure that the British regulations are sufficiently framed to take account of regulations imposed by other nations? I am fully aware that we must be extremely careful about compromising between the requirements of perfection and the commercial realities. It is not appropriate or sensible for Britain to stick its head in the sand—if that is an appropriate expression to use on shipping matters—and to impose its own regulations which result in the British merchant fleet being the best equipped and safest fleet to serve in if we then price ourselves completely out of the market.

I can give an example of that. In the case of North Sea supply vessels—the case was put to me by a business connection—the Department of Trade laid down requirements for a number of matters which it said would be imposed upon vessels operating in the North Sea. The Department of Trade regulations were so tight that the fleet of vessels built as a result was priced out of the market.

With great respect, either the hon. Gentleman is being selective in examining the information provided for him, or he has not properly studied the matter. Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a disparity between the earning powers of some of our competitors' crews compared with those of our own? They are earning far more. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that, if he were to examine the situation for himself, he would find that the overwhelming number of crews feel that there is urgent need for a tightening of standards? Furthermore, is he not aware that these are not regulations but merely recommendations?

I am sorry that the Minister has taken that line. I certainly was not seeking to criticise or attack; I was merely asking questions. I was asking the Minister whether he was satisfied that the regulations imposed by Government Departments were reasonably in line with those of our competitors. Clearly we should be in the lead in safety and other matters, but it must follow that if we go too far into the lead, to such an extent that we price ourselves out of the international market, we shall be defeating our own purpose.

I shall be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman afterwards. I do not think it appropriate to raise the matter here. I assure the Committee that in one case of which I have knowledge the regulations imposed were so tight that the company in question was priced out of the market. Is the Minister reasonably satisfied that we are not doing that in most cases?

I am not seeking to criticise the convention, which appears to be admirable. Too often the British are reticent and gloomy. We have little cause to be. Anyone who travels abroad gets a better perspective of these matters. I have just returned from the United States. Britain is the insurance centre of the world. It is one of the centres of shipping and banking. It is the medical and educational centre for the Middle East, and a cultural centre for North America. It is right that we should ratify this convention—

Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows he is going outside the strict rules of order. He is making a speech that will, I am sure, be appreciated, but it is outside the rules of order.

The last thing I was about to say was that it is entirely right that we should encourage the British shipping industry to stay in the lead in this sphere and that the Committee should give the Bill a following wind.

11.12 a.m.

I wish first to state not an academic interest but a positive interest in representing seafarers as a member of the National Union of Seamen.

Safety at sea is a matter of great concern to us, and I put on record our appreciation of the work that the Minister has done on it. He has brought before the House a number of pieces of legislation which have considerably improved safety for seamen and fishermen. This morning he has informed us that he intends to bring forward another piece of legislation, which is keenly awaited by the industry, and we are pleased to hear him confirm it. We wish him well in bringing forward that legislation for us to discuss in the House. That is a considerable advance which we very much welcome.

We welcome the Bill now before us. It is, as was pointed out by the Opposition, a non-contentious Bill in the industry. We all welcome advances in safety. It is also an advance in extending international standards. But one or two hon. Members have pointed out that there is some concern about how much advance can be made internationally in safety matters. Clearly there are a number of pressures working on what would be considered the most acceptable safety standards, and that does not necessarily mean the best safety standards to be imposed. There are a number of conditions internationally which lead to one having to find standards which are not satisfactory, in the main, to traditional maritime countries and are standards that could well be improved upon. But the aim has always been to achieve international agreement on certain minimum standards. Within that concept there have been a number of difficulties with which the House has had to contend.

The SOLAS conventions have been with us for many years. We have witnessed many incidents. The Committee will recall that there have been incidents in the English Channel where, at one stage, there appeared to be tanker after tanker, ship after ship, colliding in the Channel causing tremendous hazards and pollution and, more important, causing the death of many seamen.

I am glad to say that the position has considerably improved, largely due to the initiatives taken by Governments of both parties—I make no party point here—in getting together with our European neighbours and attempting to enforce a standard in the Channel to prevent deaths of seafarers and to prevent pollution, both of which have caused considerable concern.

Our action was almost unilateral, if one can talk in the European unilateral sense. We did not seek, because of the time factor, to achieve a result or solution by the mechanism of international conventions. Time is the problem and that, I believe, is one of the problems we face with all conventions.

All the examples of conventions so far seem to show a considerable lapse of time between signing and coming into force largely because of the conditions laid down in the conventions for a minimum number of nations ratifying or for minimum tonnage represented. If I recall correctly, the Minister spoke of 50 per cent. of world tonnage and 25 nations. If my memory serves me aright, I believe that is an even stiffer requirement than we have had on conventions before. I do not believe that we have taken it so high, although from the nodding heads I see in the Committee I may be wrong. However, it is still a very firm requirement which does lead to delay.

I wish now to give an example of what can occur, and I ask the Minister to confirm whether this is a possibility. The countries that have constantly hung back in ratifying are the flags of convenience countries, about which I have spoken a great deal in the House. I do not intend to embark on the subject again today. It is a matter of historical fact that Liberia, for example, has always hung back from signing such ratifications. As Liberia has 25 per cent. of world tonnage, it can have a substantial effect on whether the convention is ratified and how long it will be before ratification takes place and the obligations are implemented.

Which are the six countries which have so far ratified the convention? I understand that that is two more than were reported to the House of Lords. What is the Minister's estimate of the possibility of considerable delay being forced on the convention by some of the major maritime countries, particularly the non-traditional maritime countries such as the flags of convenience countries, not ratifying and so delaying the implementation of the convention?

The Bill is in many ways an enabling Bill. I do not wish to make any points about grain cargoes or nuclear ships. The latter appear to be well on the way, and I only hope that we do not lose ships as we appear to lose uranium ore, as we have seen in the last couple of months, with people not declaring where they have gone. Nevertheless, nuclear ships will bring us increasing concern, as tankers did, and I have no doubt that our administration and technology will enable us to deal with those problems, difficult though they are. I am pleased, therefore, that we are taking one step towards bringing in the necessary controls and regulations on the development of nuclear vessels.

I turn now to the improvement of procedures by which we implement any decisions that are necessary to observe the sovereignty of the House in determining legislation for our own vessels, and to make the procedures much easier so that the House, by Order in Council, can deal with these matters without having to encounter the problem of the legislative time needed to get complicated Bills before the House.

The piece of legislation which the Minister hopes to bring in next Session is clearly one that may well reflect some of the obligations brought about by the convention, and I wish to ask him one or two questions on that matter.

It is clear from Clause 3 that the Bill enables the Minister to take action to comply with his obligations under the convention. Presumably the Minister is required to enter—I am sure that he is—into consultation with all the parties concerned on the sort of measures he hopes to bring in by this procedure.

Will the Minister give some indication of the areas in which he and his Department are working arising directly out of the obligations under the 1974 SOLAS Convention? In the Bill there is no indication of the safety matters which the Minister thinks arise from these obligations. I shall now refer to one such area where the Minister is concerned with drafting orders or new legislation and with which the SOLAS Convention was concerned.

We are involved in changing the convention to protect the safety of people at sea because we found the old convention inadequate. It was inadequate for one powerful reason, that the standards tended to reflect minimum obligations in international safety legislation, and events since then have clearly shown the convention to be lacking in this important respect.

The 1974 convention makes clear that it is concerned essentially and fundamentally with the safety of life at sea. Indeed, that is the very purpose of the convention. But it still represents an attitude much like that of the insurance companies, to which reference has been made. I shall not embark upon a discussion on the rôle of insurance companies, except to say that their attitude was somehow to impose minimum standards for insurance purposes. Those standards related to the strength of the hull of the vessel. In other words, if the equipment and the hull were correct, the vessel should be safe. But the purpose of legislation was to prevent those old vessels from plying the seas and creating a great risk of accident and danger to life.

Since then, many new ships with good equipment, having all the A1 classifications of the insurance companies, have been lost—they collided or sank—with considerable loss of life and pollution problems. We wondered why that had happened. All the inquiries that were made—some countries did not have them—clearly indicated that the standard of competence of the people on board the vessels was nowhere near as good as the equipment itself. It was farcical to have a vessel which complied with the most modern standards and a crew who completely misunderstood how to run the vessel and could not even keep the equipment up to the necessary safety standard that is embodied in the convention requirements.

The kernel of the argument, therefore, which is embodied in our Merchant Shipping Acts—I have been trying to enforce manning and competence standards—lies in the requirement that each signatory to the convention should ensure that the obligations and standards are observed within its own waters and port areas.

The concept of the port State is very much involved in the Convention idea. Our obligations, therefore, were to see that those standards were observed, and every shipowner and country had an obligation under the convention to see that that was done.

Unfortunately, no one defined the obligation in relation to manning. There were some arguments about certification standards, but these varied from country to country. In Liberia, legislation said that there should be these standards, but the great problem there was that there was no one to enforce them, because most of the ships registered in Liberia never went there; they merely plied the seas without any traditional systems of inspection that would enforce those standards.

Perhaps that problem arose even for British vessels, even with our standards of safety—there are arguments for and against them, but I shall not deploy them now, although I have done so before—because under our present legislation many vessels have minimum standards. I give the example of the owner of the vessel "Festivity", who said that if we force certain standards upon him he will have to go abroad. There were no standards for his ship. One man had been at sea for four weeks, another for six weeks, and no one had any certificates of competence on what was in fact a new ship because it was below the tonnage requirements of our legislation for minimum standards. That was deplorable.

Yet our Merchant Shipping Acts make clear—the same point is made in the SOLAS Convention—that
"It is an offence to send or attempt to send a British ship to sea in such an unseaworthy state that the life of any person is likely to be endangered."
But no one ever defined the minimum standards.

I want the Minister to state the Department's thinking in these matters. If the obligation is to improve standards of safety and prevent loss of life at sea—which is what concerns us now—can the Minister tell us what action the Department is taking to bring in Orders in Council, or new legislation to observe the obligations under the SOLAS Convention? Can he also tell us the Department's views on standards of competence on ships, manning, seamen's hours of work and so on, all of which affect the ability of men and their competence in handling ships in ever more crowded seaways? How will he seek to enforce the standards that he hopes will be adopted with the introduction of the Convention when approximately 15 per cent. of seafarers in this country work outside the federal agreements?

Standards, in the main, are imposed by the shipping industry itself through the federation system, but there are wayward ship owners, as we know, who are prepared to ignore standards which are agreed upon by the ship owners as a body but which are not necessarily enforced by legislation. Will the Minister tell us how he proposes to deal with the large sector of shipping which escapes under the tonnage definition? What happens about ships below 1,600 tons, and all the seamen who ply in them? What happens about the many ships around our coasts at the moment which are ignoring even the minimum standards? Can the Minister give us examples of what is being done in such cases?

The European Community aspect of this matter was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). Can the Minister say how far matters have advanced with our partners in respect of obtaining common enforcement of standards, using the port State concept, to see that ship owners who are exploiting the situation do not continue to do so and are forced to face certain standards in the port States? If the port State is to be the controlling unit, does the Minister envisage that our inspectors will enforce these standards, as they have a right to do under the SOLAS Convention, on ships not flying our flag?

I want to put on record, as the issue was raised, that in respect of North Sea operations I should prefer to have heard the name of the company about which the hon. Member for Gosport was talking, to have it put on public record so that the issue was made clear. I know of many companies operating in the North Sea which try to avoid any standard and get out of flying the British flag to avoid taxation and the disadvantages of belonging to a country that seeks to enforce the minimum standards. The death and accident rate among North Sea mariners is among the highest in the country.

The Minister is being pressed heavily to enforce standards. Naturally, there are ship owners who will say publicly that, if the Government attempt to force standards on British ships of the size of their vessels—I think again of the "Festivity"—they will leave the flag. I say that such owners should not be allowed to leave the flag and carry on their trade at the risk of accidents to seafarers at sea. That is against the essence of the convention. A good deal of that sort of thing is going on in the North Sea, and the only people tackling the problem are the unions, which are the only bodies the owners recognise.

What we are asking the Minister to do—to his credit, he has been striving to do it since taking office—is to improve the safety standards of ships. I am sure that this morning's work constitutes a contribution towards helping an industry willing to improve safety standards, and I know that the Minister wants to see that the minimum safety standards are maintained both for and by seafarers in what is clearly a dangerous occupation.

11.29 a.m.

I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friends in supporting the terms of the Bill, and I shall refer to two matters which I believe to be relevant in this context.

I was interested in the Minister's observation about trying to maintain international amity, the object being that everyone should be in step in making progress towards satisfactory safety conventions. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) remarked that nations may be in step but the result is not yet satisfactory and more progress needs to be made.

President Carter, in his message to the Senate on 17th March, made clear that he was not at all satisfied with the present situation, and he intended to take immediate action. He referred to the fact that there had been 15 incidents over the previous 15 weeks, the last of which, on 27th March, involved the loss of 12 lives. I suggest that that underlines that these happenings are taking place regularly, yet the issue does not seem to surface in the public mind as a problem that requires urgent and speedy attention.

President Carter appears to have grasped that nettle. He said that, in view of the recent series of incidents and the risks attached to the job, urgent steps had to be taken. He decided to take immediate action, and I draw this to the attention of the Minister. The President said:
"Starting immediately, the Coast Guard will board and examine each foreign flag tanker calling at American ports at least once a year and more often if necessary. This examination will insure that the ship meets all safety and environmental protection regulations. Those ships which fail to do so may be denied access to US ports or, in some cases, denied the right to leave until the deficiencies have been corrected."
That action cannot be described as unilateral in any reprehensible sense. The leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world is saying "Action has to be taken now", and he is setting out a programme for that purpose.

I believe that the Bill represents progress and will lead to the sort of advance we all wish for. But I have to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that we are at present achieving the rate of progress which the situation demands. On 17th March Jimmy Carter made plain that he did not think that international progress was being made at the right rate. He also listed a number of other matters to which he wished to draw attention and upon which action would be taken. He changed the deadweight tonnage classification of ships, which would have certain consequences in the regulations on, for example, segregated ballast tanks and inert gas systems.

I am not competent to go into a technical exposé of the whole subject, but it seems to me that progress in this matter would be of great benefit to the British shipbuilding industry. Here is an activity in the interests of safety which is of interntional benefit and which could bring to British shipyards work which they are well designed and equipped to carry out. We should examine this opportunity very carefully, because we could at one and the same time make progress on safety and in our internal interests on an international basis.

Clause 2 of the Bill refers to the rules covering ships with nuclear power plants, and I wish to ask the Minister a question about this. There was a brief reference in the debate in the other place to the question of ships carrying nuclear waste. I should like to be quite clear in what circumstances regulations will be issued in connection with this traffic in the future, and whether there is any implication in the Bill which would assist the Minister in those circumstances. Over the coming years, it is likely that we shall see developments in this trade and activity. The routes travelled, the type of containers used, and the recovery opportunities in the event of explosion or sinking will become very serious matters. The consequences of pollution at sea could be enormous.

Having drawn the Minister's attention to those two matters, I conclude by congratulating him on the introduction of the Bill, wishing it God-speed and wishing him well for its progress. We look forward to seeing a further legislative programme which will make a positive and constructive contribution in this field.

11.34 a.m.

This has been a wide-ranging, interesting and constructive debate, and for that I am grateful to members of the Committee who have engaged in it. Many of the points that have been made are worthy of further consideration, and I undertake that they will receive it. I am grateful for the reception which the Committee has given to the Bill, and I shall do my best to answer the specific points that have been raised.

The hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd), whose constituency in its erstwhile condition I once fought without any great success—happily, as it turned out—raised in his opening argument the question of precision of terms used in international conventions. It is well that he did so since he drew attention to a point which needs to be made. But I would say in response that the more precise meanings or definitions which have to be applied subsequently, not only by national Governments but by IMCO sub-committees in the first place, are the subject of consideration. I am informed that an IMCO sub-committee is trying to work out a code to iron out some of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention.

It seems that a wide number of permutations of interpretation could arise in relation to terms such as "ordinary risks", "adequate construction", "correctly filled cylinders" and so on. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that some terms are more susceptible of definition than others, and hence, in an international convention, those that are so susceptible are immediately defined and others that are not so susceptible are not. Then it is for a sub-committee to try to work out definitions.

But, in putting the matter into its proper context, it is right to say that it will have to be left open to the courts—maybe courts of individual countries—to define the terms by precedent, which is the way in which our common law of negligence has evolved over many years. Indeed, even where there are stricter legal requirements of definition—in the Napoleonic Code, for instance—matters of interpretation still arise in relation to the courts.

But experience indicates that, while in theory one can envisage a situation in which there is a vast number of different definitions, in practice this has not happened in relation to examinations of previous conventions or the way in which some countries have achieved legislative clothing for them has evolved. So, although we must not be complacent about the possibility, it does not appear to have been a practical risk in the past.

The hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo raised a question affecting nuclear ships and the obviousness of certain assertions that are made in the convention. I should not have thought that praying in aid a precedent and the obviousness of assertions in certain conventions was at all unusual. But, in practice, the problem affecting nuclear ships is interesting, because what has happened in this area is that control over access to ports of nuclear ships gives a large measure of control over the standards of one country by another. Indeed, we were closely involved in the standards that had to be applied to the "Otto Hahn". That was an interesting phenomenon and indicates the way in which this situation, too, can evolve.

The hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo raised a point about the effect of the convention on maritime costs. I cannot give any indication of those. I have no immediate input with which to favour the Committee in relation to our own industry, because I think that it is much too premature to expect the General Council of British Shipping and its individual members to have undertaken much research.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the requirements for rigid liferafts, and I have noted the point. I am not in a position to respond at present, but I shall, of course, investigate the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman. I shall also take careful note of the article in New Scientist of 12th May that he touched upon, and see whether the British Government—the only Government for which I can speak—are guilty of the offences that were mentioned. The hon. Gentleman will have to make his peace with the authors as far as the Conservative Party is concerned.

I turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). He raised a number of questions that were basically concerned with the rapidity with which an international régime could be brought about. The hon. Gentleman asked why so few countries have ratified the convention so far, a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) touched upon in his interesting observations. Indeed, I think that it would be appropriate to mention the ratifying countries at this stage. They are Monaco, the Ukraine, India, Norway, Mexico and Tonga.

Yes, Tonga. I think that Tonga is to be congratulated. I think that one of the reasons—I do not say that it is the exclusive reason—why other nations, including Britain, have not been able to ratify is that time has to be found for legislation. We are not the only country to suffer from that problem.

I have learned from speaking to my French opposite number that he has a similar problem of time. Indeed, France was unable to introduce any legislation to deal with the traffic separation scheme in the Dover Straits. That is something which will have to evolve as a result of the international convention taking effect. The United Kingdom, of course, was able to do something about the matter much earlier. It is a problem that is not unique to ourselves. I understand that the United States and Greece have said that they intend to ratify the convention shortly. By virtue of our ratification, we shall be able to exert an influence that would not otherwise have been possible. That influence can be brought to bear on our Common Market friends and, I hope, even more widely.

The hon. Member for Gosport then asked whether the SOLAS Convention of 1974 was sufficiently tightly drafted to prevent unilateral action. I think that that remains to be seen; I cannot answer the question. I hope that the answer is "Yes" and that more countries ratifying within the target date set by IMCO will have the effect of preventing countries from applying unilateral standards, which can sometimes also be a cloak for a form of flag discrimination. The situation must be examined with great care.

It is much better to proceed internationally, so that common standards can be applied, and that is the Government's ambition.

If I understand correctly President Carter's instructions to his coastguard service, they set a more stringent standard that the SOLAS Convention requires. For example, the convention covers, I believe, tankers of 100,000 tons and combination carriers in excess of 50,000 tons, whereas the President's instructions deal with vessels over 20,000 deadweight tons. That suggests that he has already introduced a new standard. I should have thought that that constituted unilateral action.

It may be that in some respects the President has acted unilaterally. All I am arguing at this stage is not the detail of the position but the view, in which I believe fervently, that the right way to proceed is not for individual countries to apply their own standards but, through a method of international consultation, to build up the authority of IMCO so that the more reluctant nations can be brought into line. If we go ahead with applying unilateral standards we shall be weakening the effect of IMCO. That is the danger which I believe the American President recognises—at least I hope that is so.

It is advantageous that the United States said that it shortly intends to ratify this convention. Perhaps we shall be able to work together with the United States in overcoming a very difficult problem that it faces. The United States faces a domestic problem through the environmental lobby, and through its own recent experiences. But we hope to be able to suggest to the United States that the authority is the best way of proceeding.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Gosport—I was a little sad that he raised the matter in the way that he did—about British rules possibly being out of step with the rigours of international competition. I believe that it is necessary for countries—and political parties—sometimes to take a lead when people are perhaps somewhat reluctant to come forward. Sometimes that lead can be unpopular. But we were right in asserting—I am open to challenge, of course, and I was attacked by certain people within the industry—that the first and paramount consideration must be the saving of human lives.

Of course, one must look at the nature of the problem. One must look at the real dangers that are experienced, and at the totality of the situation before arriving at a conclusion. But I am bound to say that in the instance the hon. Gentleman raised, which is a good instance of testing this philosophy, I had before me a great deal of evidence from one side which, on examination, was shown to be unreliable—for example, on the relative pay rates of crews here and abroad and the relative conditions under which they worked. I seized an opportunity, having asserted that I had to make a decision, which I believe was the right one, and I do not believe that we have rendered our ships uncompetitive.

Be that as it may, I also sought to back the judgment that I had formed by a visit to Scotland. I was then brought face to face with the realities by the crews. I am not satisfied that we have yet come to the right conclusions, because there are risks that people must run, but the matter is under very close examination.

Agreements will, of course, arise between myself and the industry. It does not follow that because I am a Minister in the Labour Government I shall always agree with the trade unions. That has not always happened. Nor does it follow that I shall always agree with the owners. I try to form my own judgment, and I accept that I am capable of being wrong. But if I am proved to be wrong I look at the situation again. I say that unashamedly.

This is a matter for ministerial discretion, and a Minister must make up his mind about these matters. It is wrong to shilly-shally and it is wrong, I believe, to say that the argument about competition is necessarily right. I can assure the hon. Member for Gosport that all sorts of evidence is procured to indicate that the Minister ought to act in a particular way. Sometimes that evidence is unreliable, and never has it been more unreliable than it was on the occasion in question. However, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

The Minister has pointed out the difficulty in one area of the North Sea of attempting to make agreements on international standards because of the problem of complaints of competition and the question of the disadvantage of one company against another.

In those circumstances, would the Minister give consideration to an argument that has been put to him by me and by such people as Harry Bygate in Aberdeen, the union official involved, who have to fight this battle in this area of the North Sea, namely, the possibility of getting Governments, when making contracts with companies, to make it a condition of the contract that they observe the British standards even if they are operating outside the 12-mile limit so that all companies, whatever flag they are using, observe the same standards?

I have certainly examined that point, as my hon. Friend knows. Unfortunately, there are considerable difficulties arising from the application of international legal requirements and standards.

I do not want to go further because this is a matter that the Government are currently examining and I do not want to prejudice or prejudge the outcome of their consideration. I believe that if it could be applied my hon. Friend's philosophy is absolutely right, but there are real difficulties, and it would be wrong not to say so.

I am grateful for the opportunity of simply saying that I am obliged to the Minister for his comments. The point I made to him was not quite the one that he put back to me. It seems to me that the Minister should be turning his attention particularly to non-British flag operators and ensuring that there is parity by levelling up rather than by levelling down.

I do not dissent from the proposition that one ought to consider the question of non-British flags. It is much more difficult, however, for me to have any influence in that regard.

I do not believe the two matters can be considered in a mutually exclusive way. We have our own standards to maintain and we have at the same time to try to influence others to apply similar standards. That is what I have done. Indeed, I have engaged in a number of bilateral discussions with my opposite numbers in a number of European countries, not only within the EEC, and I do not know what influence I have been able to bring to bear. I only hope that in due course this fact will emerge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), whose knowledge about these matters is respected on both sides of the House and who has been of considerable help to me in the past three years, has raised a number of interesting points. He asked whether the requirements for the coming into operation of conventions are too stringent, namely, the number of countries that have to sign and the proportion of the world's tonnage that they have to hold.

I am afraid there is no great comfort that I can offer my hon. Friend about that. This convention applies similar criteria in that regard to others. One has to devise some international framework within which one can work. This has been the framework.

As for the flags of convenience, my hon. Friend says that the evidence is that they will hold back, and yet growing importance is attaching to the flags of convenience—something I do not particularly welcome, as I have said on a number of occasions. Our attack in the international for a has been on substandard vessels. But I do not like a situation in which there are opportunities for contracting out if not necessarily from the letter of the law, then from the spirit of the law even where the letter is accepted. As a responsible shipping nation, Britain, by ratifying the convention, is seeking to use its influence in the only way possible.

I do not think that it is right for me to offer further reflections on the question of flags of convenience beyond what I have already said.

My hon. Friend asked me about those who had signed the convention. I have dealt with that, and also with the likelihood of others signing. I hope that we shall see results in that regard.

My hon. Friend asked whether I could indicate the areas where we were considering the implementation of the SOLAS Convention 1974. IMCO is giving further study to bulk cargoes, gas and chemical carriers, nuclear ships, lifesaving equipment, and so on. As a result of the expedited procedure I have already mentioned we hope that it will be possible much more speedily than in the past to enact subordinate legislation covering the recommendations made by the IMCO.

My hon. Friend went on to ask me about standards of competency, manning, and hours of work. All these are matters to be dealt with in the legislation to which I referred to be introduced in the next Session of Parliament. There will be subordinate legislation to deal specifically with many of these areas. Having worked in the Department, my hon. Friend knows that these are matters that necessarily need much discussion. We are now far advanced, but I do not think that I should be wise constitutionally to rehearse specifically what we have in mind. I am always a little concerned about whether I go too far in talking about legislation for the next Session. I do not know much about these proprieties, so I have to plead innocence, if not ignorance.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Gosport asked about the influence that might be brought to bear on the EEC. I was asked to what extent there could be common enforcement of standards to ensure compliance by reluctant owners. There is a group of North Sea States, which comprise the Scandinavian nations as well as the EEC nations, which are working out a common code for imposing international standards against sub-standard ships. I believe that that is a useful precedent, and I hope that the group's work will be productive.

I turn to the observations of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth), who spoke about the unsatisfactory rate of development of safety conventions. That may be so. On the other hand, I suggest that it is useful to look at the other side of the coin. I agree that all these international procedures have their blemishes. But I believe that IMCO has a record, in terms of the United Nations, which is second to none in producing effective codes which have become part of the law of its constituent member States.

We need think only in terms of the regulations relating to traffic separation schemes—there are many others—in which this organisation, and it is right to pay tribute to it, has had a major effect in saving lives through the Safety of Life at Sea Conventions and all the others. I do not think that we should simply say "It moves a bit slowly". It does, but it is dealing with a large number of nations.

Those nations have disparate interests but, by and large, to their credit, they do not play at politics in this organisation. Is that not a useful precedent in terms of the United Nations as a whole? It is rare for the activities of IMCO to be taken up to any great extent by political posturing. IMCO gets down to a job of work, and I think that the successive Secretaries General should be complimented upon the way in which

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
McAdden, Sir Stephen (Chairman)McNamara, Mr.
Berry, Mr.Prescott, Mr.
Davis, Mr. ClintonRidsdale, Mr.
Dodsworth, Mr.Viggers, Mr.
Johnson, Mr. JamesWhite, Mr. Frank R.
Lloyd, Mr. IanWoodall, Mr.
McMillan, Mr. Tom

they have steered it along these constructive lines.

The hon. Gentleman asked about segregated ballast tanks. I do not know the answer to his question. I shall write to him on that point.

The position on nuclear waste-carrying ships is as follows. Clause 2 relates only to ships provided with nuclear power plants—as does SOLAS 1974. With regard to conventionally-powered ships carrying nuclear waste, these could be covered by the dangerous goods rules under Section 23 of the 1949 Act. If, as a result of work in IMCO in producing an international safety code for nuclear-powered ships and for ships carrying radioactive substances, SOLAS 1974 should be amended, then Clause 3 of the Bill provides power for making any modifications to our law which may be necessary to give effect to such SOLAS 1974 amendments. That illustrates the value of the expedited procedure, which has been commended by both sides of the Committee.

I have done my best to answer the specific points raised in the debate, subject to the two matters upon which I have promised to write to hon. Members. This is a small but significant Bill. It will advance the cause of safety of life at sea. It is right that both sides of the Committee have commended and supported it. I hope that we shall have a speedy Committee stage and will ensure that the Bill is enacted as rapidly as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Committee rose at one minute past Twelve o'clock.