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Mr Anatoly Shcharansky

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 18 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the Soviet Union for the release of Anatoly Shcharansky.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the case of Anatoly Shcharansky with Mr. Gorbachev last December. Most recently Mr. Shcharansky's case was among those raised by our delegation to the conference on security and co-operation in Europe experts meeting on human rights in Ottawa.

I congratulate the Government on raising Mr. Shcharansky's case at a very high level, but does the hon. Gentleman feel that there is any thaw in the Soviet attitude towards dissidents and individual liberty? If not, what further steps beyond representation do the British Government propose to take to ensure that such a thaw occurs?

I regret to say that it is very difficult to discern any significant evidence of any change in attitudes by the Soviet authorities towards dissidents or questions involving human rights since Mr. Gorbachev's accession to power. Naturally, we hope that that situation will change, and we shall lose no opportunity to impress upon the Soviet Union that if, like us, it wishes to see an improvement in East-West relations, an improvement in human rights would make an enormous contribution towards the realisation of that objective as well as being in accordance with the Soviet Union's obligations under the Helsinki final act.

I thank my hon. Friend for his own strong commitment to this cause and for the heavy pressure that he has placed on the Soviet Government in an attempt to do something about it, but is he aware that, rather than getting better, things are getting worse? We must take every possible opportunity to press the cause not only of Shcharansky and other dissidents and refuseniks but of Soviet Jewry and other Soviet citizens who want the right to emigrate from that country.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his personal comments. We sought to use the recent Ottawa meeting to pursue the exact objectives to which my hon. Friend has referred. Next month is the 10th anniversary of the Helsinki final act, and therefore it is an appropriate time to remind the Soviet authorities of the explicit commitments which they undertook to honour at that time, but which, sadly, they have failed to do.

Is the Minister aware that the annual award of the all-party parliamentary committee for the release of Soviety Jewry went to Anatoly Shcharansky in a previous year and is this year to be awarded to Professor Alexander Lerner? Will my hon. Friend please emphasise to the Soviet authorities the importance to all hon. Members of respect for the rights of people accorded by the universal declaration of human rights and the Soviet Union's own constitution, so that people may leave that country in accordance with international law in a way that they are not permitted to do at present?

It was very appropriate that that award was made to Mr. Shcharansky, who, after all, was a member of the original Helsinki monitoring group in the Soviet Union. The fact that that monitoring group was persecuted by the Soviet authorities shows, I regret to say, how cynical is their attitude towards the obligations into which they have entered.

While it is understandable that hon. Members should raise in the House the question of Anatoly Shcharansky and Nelson Mandela, both of whom have been found guilty of crimes in their own countries by their own Governments, what are Her Majesty's Government doing about Graham Coveyduck, a British citizen incarcerated without trial in Nigeria?

Is the Minister aware that there would be more hope for the release of people such as Anatoly Shcharansky if the Soviet authorities allowed Russian brides out of the country to join their husbands who are working in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that that aspect should also be pressed on the Soviet authorities?

The hon. Gentleman is correct to emphasise that that, too, was an undertaking which was entered into at the time of the Helsinki final act and which has not been properly honoured. Her Majesty's Government do all that is required of them in terms of their obligations to their citzens to try to ensure that anyone detained without trial is released at the earliest opportunity.