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Madrid Conference

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress at the Madrid conference.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with the progress made to date in the discussions in Madrid on the Helsinki agreement relating to human rights.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations have been made by Her Majesty's Government at the resumed European security conference in Madrid about the Soviet Union's failure to comply with its commitments under the Helsinki agreement.

The conference reconvened on 9 November. Together with our allies and partners, we have drawn attention to violations of the Helsinki final act, in particular by the Soviet Union and Poland, and given notice of the need to have a concluding document which provides for additional commitments. Western countries have also drawn attention to the need for a clear mandate on a conference on disarmament in Europe.

As the conference has been going on for more than two years, most of that time having been taken up with discussions on human rights, which, while important, is only one aspect of the Helsinki final acts, is it not time now to drop the 14 amendments which Western countries suggested to the draft document put forward by the neutral countries, move swiftly to measures that will increase security and co-operation in Europe, and agree to the European disarmament conference?

During the long time which the hon. Gentleman mentions there have been disastrous events in Poland and a steady deterioration in human rights in the Soviet Union. The Helsinki final act and these conferences provide an opportunity and place on us a responsibility to draw continuous attention to these failures by the Soviet Union. The amendments that we have tabled to the draft concluding document reflect that responsibility.

Bearing in mind the disappointingly slow progress in Madrid, will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, seek an early opportunity to raise with the new Russian leadership the plight of Jews who have been refused basic religious and cultural rights? Will he raise the case of Mr. Yosef Begun, a Hebrew teacher who was arrested in Moscow last month and who may be in danger of being tried and sentenced to a third term of exile?

The leader of our delegation to the Madrid conference mentioned in his speech last week the position of religious communities in the Soviet Union. He mentioned also a large number of individual cases. Where we see opportunities to raise such individual cases direct with the Soviet Union, those opportunities are taken.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from relaxing restrictions on the freedom of information, the Soviet Union has intensified them with more jamming of the BBC's external services? Whereas previously it was not possible for a Soviet citizen to receive written material from outside that country, it is now not possible for him to send books and other written material to other parts of the world. Could it not be said that since Helsinki the Soviet Union has restricted human rights and freedom of information rather than eased them?

There has been a deterioration in the position. My hon. Friend is right about the exorbitant levy and complicated licensing system introduced for the export of books. Both the points he raised were mentioned by Mr. Williams, the head of our delegation at the Madrid conference. That conference provides a continuing opportunity to draw the attention of the Russians and public opinion to the position that my hon. Friend has described.

The Soviet Union's record on human rights is clearly in conflict with both the spirit and the letter of the Helsinki final act. The Helsinki agreement was by any standard a global initiative, and the review conference provides an opportunity to take the East-West dialogue further, especially with the new regime in the Soviet Union. Will the Minister resist any pressures to sabotage the Madrid review conference and assure the House that the Government will press for new initiatives on confidence building and the disarmament conference?

In my original reply I mentioned the need for a clear mandate on the conference on disarmament in Europe, which would include, as a first step, confidence-building measures. The hon. Gentleman would not expect us to separate that from human rights, about which we have been talking. It is not sensible to suppose that we can make satisfactory progress if we leave human rights on one side and concentrate on finding new commitments when the old commitments have not been respected.

Will the Minister ask our ambassador to Moscow to convey to the new Soviet Administration the view that even a modest gesture towards human rights might be helpful in getting negotiations going on major security problems?

We have been trying to convey that message in Madrid. We should like to consider the hon. Gentleman's precise suggestion.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider the evidence that has come from Bonn, at the hearing of the International Commission on Human Rights, that the Russians have been and are still using political prisoners as slave labour on the Siberian pipeline? Will he ask Ambassador Williams to raise that matter at the Madrid conference?