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Misha Voikhansky

Volume 950: debated on Wednesday 24 May 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will ask the Soviet authorities to review the case of Misha Voikhansky, in the light of the Helsinki Agreement.

The long separation of Misha Voikhansky from his mother gives cause for concern, and Dr. Marina Voikhanskaya is aware that Ministers share the anxiety of a great many people in Britain about it. The Government have raised this case with the Soviet authorities on a number of occasions, in the context of the family reunification provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, and will continue to do so.

I am grateful that the Government have raised this case on a number of occasions. But will the Minister ensure that the Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, who is now in the United Kingdom, is made fully aware during the trade negotiations that thousands of people here regard cases such as those involving the separation of an 11-year-old boy from his mother, as a means of punishing the mother for speaking out courageously at the abuse of psychiatry in Soviet hospitals, as a detestable and barbarous act, which is against the meaning of the Helsinki agreement?

Most hon. Members will endorse that view. I shall try to ensure that the hon. Member's views and those of the House generally are made known to Mr. Kirillin, who is in this country.

Is my hon. Friend aware that at this morning's meeting of the national executive committee of the Labour Party there was unanimous opposition to what has happened to Mr. Orlov and others like him? [HON. MEMBERS: "So what?"] If hon. Members would keep quiet they would realise that we are fighting against injustices in all parts of the world, including the Soviet Union. Is my hon. Friend aware that we feel that the Government could be a little more forthright on the question of those who are monitoring the Helsinki agreement in the Soviet Union?

We understand that the British Government do not want to endanger our relationships with the Soviet Union. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because we have to live with the Soviet Union. But it is vital that as a country and as a Labour movement we make our position absolutely clear, namely, that we are totally opposed to the methods adopted by the Soviet Union towards its dissidents.

I am pleased to hear what happened at the NEC this morning. I am perplexed by the reaction of many Opposition Members. I am sure that the Soviet Government will regard this morning's decision as more representative of the views of the mass of the people than some other expressions of opinion.

I cannot accept what my hon. Friend said about the Government not being forthright about Mr. Orlov's case. The Prime Minister made the Government's views clear on 18th May. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary issued a statement on the same day expressing his concern at the harsh and unjustified treatment of Professor Orlov, which might make constructive relations between East and West more difficult.

Does the Minister agree that it is helpful at all levels to bring to the attention of the Soviet Union the disgust that we feel at the continuing breaches of the Helsinki agreement? Does he agree that it would be helpful if youth organisations, such as those of the National Council of Churches, Methodist churches and other organisations, which have accepted an invitation to go to the World Festival of Youth in Cuba in July, were allowed to carry out that intention?

Is the Minister aware that these organisations are facing difficulties because the £5,000 Foreign Office grant has been withdrawn simply because the Young Conservatives movement, having accepted the invitation, for reasons best known to itself has now declined it?

I agree that the more forcefully organisations and the House of Commons express their views on this matter the better it is and the more clearly the Soviet Government will be aware of the strength of feeling.

The right hon. Member is mistaken about the World Festival of Youth. The British Government give substantial assistance to the British Youth Council. That organisation is grateful for that help. We decided that we could not assist in sending a delegation to the Havana festival because that is not part of our function. We remain totally neutral on the question whether they attend that festival. It is up to them to spend their own funds if they wish to go.

Does my hon. Friend accept that on questions of human liberty and freedom of movement we cannot afford to be selective in any way? Does he agree that those voices in the Opposition which are trying to make this issue an attack on the Soviet Union are not helping Mr. Orlov or Mr. Voikhansky? Does he further agree that wherever human liberties are at risk, whether in Chile or the Soviet Union, we should stand up in defence of them and not use them as a vehicle for partisan assaults on a particular regime?

I agree that there is a danger that legitimate and deeply felt concern might be depreciated because it is felt that it is expressed for party political purposes. For that reason I believe that the expression of opinion by the national executive committee of the Labour Party, which cannot be suspected, might have greater weight than the opinion of some other organisations.

I was surprised to hear the Minister's comment when he referred to attitudes on the Opposition side of the House apparently not entirely conforming with our abhorrence of the abuse of human dignity wherever it takes place. That is not so, and it has been made abundantly clear on many occasions.

Does the Minister realise that at this time, with the accumulation of threats from the Soviet Union to the whole way of life that we favour, there is special anxiety about further abuse of the kind referred to in the Question?

I totally reject the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I have made clear several times in the last few minutes that I was talking about the views of the whole House. I hope that they will be carefully noted by the Soviet Government.

We must continue to make clear our views and we must emphasise to the Soviet Government that actions of this kind are clearly in conflict with the terms of the Helsinki agreement, which specifically refers to family reunification. We shall emphasise that over and over again.